So, You’re Looking for a #WeddingPhotographer ? | Part 6
CONSULTATION ON WEDDING DAY PHOTOGRAPHY
This is a big post. I hope that you have a strong stomach for the following opening.
I think everybody gets it that wedding photography is a great way to preserve and re-experience memories of one of the greatest occasions in peoples’ lives. I do see it as a bit more than that though. I don’t spend all day everyday looking at wedding photos – far from it, but once in a while I look at them just for the thrill of thinking out something romantic. Even though I’ve already been happily married to Kim for many years.
Did I make you throw up just now? Sorry. I don’t know how else to share these thoughts and feelings without sounding sappy or corny.
Years ago, I left my car at home and rode public transit to spend a few hours peoplewatching and doing street photography. I eavesdropped on a short conversation between two girls sitting in the back of a city bus who were probably around the ages of 18 or 19.
Seemingly completely out of the blue, one girl opened up to the other, “I’ve never actually been in love, have you?” The question came out of her like she was having a eureka moment about her life.
The other girl never definitively said yes or no but her reaction to her friend’s question seemed to be that of puzzlement. Like she had never even thought about it at all. I guess that reaction could be an indication that she too had never been in love, whether she in fact had a boyfriend or girlfriend in her life or not.
Given their apparent age, I thought about what my mother would have said if she caught my sister and I talking about falling in love or being in love at any point in our adolescence. In fact, there were times when she did express her opinion, even without provocation from us. “What the hell do you think you know about love! You’re too young to know what love is! You just keep your head in your studies!”
When mum spoke, you did what she said or you died. So, that’s largely what I did. The line-towing of a son of a mother whose heart had been terribly broken by his father’s infidelity.
It’s true that mama didn’t raise no lovesick fool but being careful of what I said and when, and focusing on being logical, practical, pious, solitary and stoic however, did not completely stop me from thinking about girls, sex, love and romance from time-to-time.
Probably like most, I like to believe that everyone instinctively knows what love is but I have to be realistic and concede that that’s not true. There are people who truly have no clue. They’ve never had anyone to love, and don’t really know what it is to feel love from anybody. Not even a parental love or platonic love like that from a highly-trusted friend or fellow soldier who endured the same conflicts.
Even worse, is that there are many who know precisely what love is but simply don’t value it. That’s very sad to me. We live in an era in which the world’s hardhearted cynics enjoy pointing out that being in love is a form of insanity, that “love makes you stupid”. It seems like, gradually, societies are being pushed or bullied into thinking and acting like emotionally suppressed Star Trek Vulcans.
Too bad for the cynics. I’m careful enough to not allow myself to be ruled by emotion but I do embrace the feelings that I have. I’ve always enjoyed thinking about love, and I intend to go on thinking about that primitive impulse called love.
Hearing these two girls in the back of a bus made me wonder what it must be like to have never even optimistically thought about the full prospects of meeting someone who was worthy to share life with in the most intimate way people could. Someone you can count on to always, always, always have your back. Like my wife. Someone that you always, always, always want to reciprocate that loyalty and affection with.
From my perspective, even long after you’ve found someone you should keep thinking about love. Especially after your heart has been broken; as difficult as that is to do. Keep dreaming about it. Find things, like wedding photography, books, movies and ways to inspire such thoughts. Why, because everything about love are important aspects of being the human beings that we are meant to be. Connecting with someone that way, even just fantasizing about it, is truly one of the things that makes life worth living. This whole wide world would be much better off if more people thought about love more often.
When a couple consults with me on wedding photography, creating cherished memories becomes a collaborative process of high importance. This is “the big day”. Love has to be on your mind.
I take the couple through all of the different parts of a typical wedding day that’s in their planning, in the typical order (yes, there are weddings in which events aren’t carried out in an usual way). You need to know how your chosen photographer will be able to successfully record such an eventful day about your union of love on a hectic schedule without creating or contributing to any wedding day letdowns.
Behind the Scenes
This is the term we use for any photography or video work of the production and coordination work behind any event or creation.
A unit still photographer is usually someone hired to shoot the production of a feature film or play. Concert or music photographers don’t just record operas, rock, pop, country, rap and dance concerts. They also cover the cool and sometimes seamy things that go on backstage, in tour busses, in hotel rooms and in recording studios.
The resultant images of behind the scenes photography are meant to be candid and documentary. There is nothing phony to be recorded. The only limits are what subjects are allowed to be photographed, and some have more liberal thresholds than others.
It’s interesting that for many, the experience of laughter, anxiety, anger, pride, confusion, joy and other emotions and reactions – all repeating each other within a few hours before walking down the aisle, can wind up comprising some of the most cherished moments of a wedding day. It is a popular storybook romance kind of thing to have your memories of what it took to get you ready for your “big day” chronicled.
Lone shooters like me can only photograph the behind the scenes moments of brides, which is most common in wedding photography, or grooms. We can’t be in two places at the same time.
If a couple is determined to have both the bride and groom, and their respective entourages photographed, I will subcontract a photographer whose work I deeply respect. That’s an added cost to the couple hiring me.
In your consultation, it’s a good idea to let your prospective photographer know what the theme and colours of your wedding will be. This information could be important for aesthetic composition while shooting the wedding, and even during post-production work.
If your weeding is going to resemble the backroom speakeasy look and feel of the 1920’s and 30’s – with flappers, Prohibition era gangsters, gun molls and FBI agents you should get your photographer thinking about how to help you create a one-of-a-kind wedding portrait within that colourful theme.
Maybe red is an important colour that you want enhanced in almost any picture that will be taken in which something red is visible.
Sure, it sounds like it could be the same thing as behind the scenes but it’s different. There’s less documentary style photography involved. By tradition, the 30 minutes to a few hours – approximately, before the wedding ceremony is the interval in which family, group and solo portraiture of the bride, groom, bridesmaids, groomsmen and so on are taken.
Especially in consideration of brides, this is the time when hair and makeup are at their best, especially on hot humid days.
Many photographers agree that some of the best times to shoot nearly anything outdoors are just after sunrise, and just before sundown on clear or nearly clear days. We call these “the golden hours”. The long red light wavelengths bathe surfaces in reds and golds that inspire warmth and contentment in the minds of many. The angle of the sun so close to the horizon at these times, can create long dark shadows that, when exploited right, can enhance viewers’ perceptions of three-dimensionality of objects and faces, and dimensional depth of distances.
Natural outdoor lighting during the peak daytime hours before most ceremonies – when the shorter blue wavelengths are dominant in the atmosphere; however, is usually best for wedding portraiture, even when your wedding happens to be on a rainy day.
Obviously, your photographer needs to know the wedding location so that the pictures can be taken on “the big day”. It’s also important to identify location during consultation so that you and/or the photographer might be able to make arrangements to see the location days or even months in advance. This is beneficial to planning compositions.
Related to compositions, you’ll want to establish your photo want list for this period with your photographer. You don’t want your photographer to miss photographing someone that you really want a shot of. That is really easy to do because the wedding day is the first time that your photographer is likely to meet most, in not all, of your relatives and friends. Your photographer is unlikely to memorize the names of all of your invites, plus what varying ways each of them mean to you.
From there, everyone gets in their proper places, and on que. The ceremony begins. Your photographer starts working super hard here. Not just to get the best and most intimate shots of the ceremony but in doing so with etiquette – like minimizing the inevitable standing in others way to get those shots.
Please, work out the details of the ceremony with your photographer. There’s the detail of ceremony length, especially if your photographer won’t be present at your rehearsal. There will be times during the ceremony that the servos of a camera shouldn’t be heard above the officiant. The photographer needs to have some understanding of when to not waste time or energy getting useless shots.
With this, there’s the detail of how you will leave the alter at the close of the ceremony and where you will go to next. This is usually but not necessarily to start the receiving line custom, and your photographer is likely to follow you and the wedding party to that spot.
Whether or not photography is permitted during the ceremony needs to be covered openly during a wedding photography consultation. I know, that’s a head scratcher for some but there are some weddings in which it is the call of the officiant or observation of religious rites to not allow anyone to photograph parts or even all of a ceremony.
Let me share an experience regarding the detail of lighting. I shot one indoor wedding in which I had the opportunity to see the venue long before the wedding day. The interior lighting wasn’t great but I could work with it. Or so I thought. No one told me that the pastor was going to insist that the interior lights be turned off so that the ceremony would only be performed under candlelight, and ambient light that was to be filtered through some mighty thick window blinds. FORTUNATELY for me and the wedding couple, I carried a backup lens that would open up to a sufficiently wide enough aperture to make really good shots under those conditions.
This brings me to the matter of strobing or simply the use of flash. I’ve shot a couple weddings in which flash was not permitted during the ceremonies. That candle and low ambient light was one of those. There were guests who got away with using flash that was built-in to their camera phones but I’m the professional. There’s no way that I was going to breech etiquette and fire up the Speedlite that I had ready to turn night into day.
Don’t let there be unpleasant surprises. For your sake, inform your photographer well.
Getting this part right is more important than many realize. It’s about timing. Weddings always have time-sensitive schedules. You can hold up a church, mosque, synagogue, temple or hall for only so long.
At any given point on a wedding day, you want to get all of the right shots in before there is a quick switch to the next event. This is certainly true when a bride and broom prefer to do post-ceremony portraiture instead of pre-ceremony work. When that happens, there’s this traditional thing called the receiving line in which pretty much everyone who showed up for the wedding slowly passes by the bride, groom and their wedding party to say congratulations and chat. This can eat up a lot of precious time needed for the post-ceremony shoot, and pictures of hugs, kisses and laughter are also expected to be made during the receiving line, so the line can’t exactly be skipped.
Advise your photographer how many invites are expected to attend your wedding. The average number of guests in a North American wedding is approximately 150. It is habit that each guest with take up an average of 30 seconds of time saying hello to the newlyweds and their entourage. That calculates to 1 hour and 15 minutes for an average sized guest list. Hey, some folks invite 400 or more guests! That’s a lot of receiving line work for a wedding photographer, even if you have more than one professionally covering the occasion, and it is terribly time consuming for newlyweds or wedding planners who need to keep things on schedule.
If your receiving line becomes too long, you may have many guests peel off from the tail of it if they get fed up with waiting to see you. This may actually be to your benefit as far as keeping a schedule
Strong advice; no matter how big your guest list is, avoid asking your photographer to photograph you greeting absolutely all of your invites. Apart from time consumption, you really don’t want to end up with an album or collection of way too many monotonous candid photos of greetings that all basically look the same after a while. Submit a photo want list or have someone stand by to signal your photographer which guests are essential to be photographed engaging the wedding party.
Seriously consider curtailing your receiving line time for the sake of maintaining your schedule. It may be necessary to pull it off like shift work. For example; the newlyweds breakaway long enough to have their portraits done, and then when they return to the line, the parents go for their portraits, then the maids, then the groomsmen, then the combinations of all of the above. Whatever it takes to stay on track and keep stress at bay.
Many newlyweds feel less stressed after the ceremony, and prefer to have all of the portraiture that traditionally would have been completed pre-ceremony done at this time.
If by this time, the sun is on the verge of going down, you can certainly take advantage of that golden light that outdoor photographers crave.
I find that post-ceremony photography is preferred over pre-ceremony shoots by most of my clients. It works best with the overall planning of their wedding day, including guaranteeing that invites will be there to be photographed. They might not be on time for a pre-ceremony shoot.
Another important reason why people like post-ceremony portraiture more is so that they don’t violate the age-old tradition of not letting the groom see his bride before the ceremony. You have to jump through a few hoops in a pre-ceremony shoot to ensure that a groom and bride can pose for a portrait together without the groom actually seeing the bride. This choreography can actually add unnecessary stress during pre-ceremony if there is already enough to go around at that time.
Timewise, post-ceremony can take between 20 minutes to a full hour depending on how many people there are to shoot, and what compositions are to go into each shot. It is entirely possible that post-ceremony work, as with a pre-ceremony shoot, can far exceed that hour. Keep your schedule in mind.
Alright. You’re almost through “the big day” now, and this is just the wedding photography consultation aspect. Are you beginning to see both your possibilities as well as the details that are worth paying attention to? Your reception party is the last event of your wedding day.
Even if I had an opportunity to see the location ahead of time, I always hope for an opportunity after shooting the receiving line or post-ceremony portraits to steal away and check out where the party is going to be. If there’s any outside lighting able to get in, I’m able to check the lighting conditions at a time of the evening that may stay fairly consistent for the rest of the occasion.
That’s also a great time for me to concentrate on nailing shots of the hall, tables, refinements and the wedding cake before anyone can cut into it or scoop some of the icing with their fingers.
There’s not much else to say except that photography should be winding down. The usual shots will be of the DJ, introductions and entrances of the newlyweds and wedding party, everyone seated at the head table, the emcee and speakers, a few toasts, first dances, the celebration and any traditional customs like the bouquet toss, etc.
I don’t photograph dinners unless there’s a special request. It’s generally not a good idea to capture people filling their mouths and chewing. It just never looks proper. It’s common for brides and grooms to make their way around tables during dinner, nevertheless, to say hello, hug and kiss invites that they may not have had a good chance to connect with in the receiving line. I will capture some of those moments.
Typically, we photographers cease shooting after the cake cutting. It will likely be stipulated in your wedding photography agreement. The specific time depends on when the newlyweds want to do it. Most are smart to cut the cake soon after dinner which are usually held anytime from 5:00 PM-ish to 8:00 PM-ish, or after a few dances.
I shot one wedding in which the couple opted to party until way after midnight and then cut the cake after some of their guests started to leave. Some of the older and experienced folks even whispered to me about how “f____d” the newlyweds were for having me continue to photograph the festivities for so long. I don’t know who they were but I like them.
I just got tons of shots of people dancing, and dancing, and dancing some more. Guess what, so did everyone else who had a camera phone. After a while looking at too many of those images, long after your wedding, gets tiring. That’s the risk you take though when you drag out a cake cutting after your photographer promises to pack up and hit the road after that tradition is captured.
Yes, I too thought that the couple procrastinated that custom for too long but I ultimately didn’t care. I was getting paid for my services, and they were getting pictures of their reception. Even if many of those images were redundant and beyond my control as far as visual creativity. It’s only people who can be patient with others that become fulltime or part time professional wedding photographers.
It’s also like I said before; have wedding photography done with the intention of reminding yourself of the blessing of falling in love.