Glenn's Junk Chest

An assortment of Glenn's writings, photography, gaming resources, flash movies, and other creative output.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Photography: Advice for Weddings

I wrote this for someone who was seeking advice on wedding photography, and thought it might be worth posting on my blog, especially since I'm looking toward doing some wedding work in 2006 and have been thinking about how exactly I want to do it, moving forward. That said, I highly recommend that you not allow yourself to be manuevered into photographing someone's wedding for them unless you're very sure that it is what you want to be doing. It's demanding work, and people can be very touchy. A minimum prerequisite should be experience as a portrait photographer, since the most important shots of the wedding day will be portraits.

Weddings are a one-shot deal, and there are no reshoots. With that in mind, regardless of other technique, there are three things I recommend keeping in mind. In priority order:

1. Take at least two cameras, and use both throughout the day. There are a bunch of things that can go wrong with a shoot and not be noticable until you look at the finished product, and having a backup camera minimizes that risk by a huge amount.

2. Pay attention. Not only to what is currently happening, but to what is about to happen. Get a copy of the wedding program early and consult it during the ceremony. If you're photographing the reception, talk to the DJ or hall coordinator early, so you get a sense of what's happening when. The trick is to be waiting in the right place when something is about to occur, not to have to rush to get there only to miss it while you're setting up your shot. I would say that this alone is what separates most wedding pros from otherwise competent photographers. This is also the hardest thing to simulate without experience, and why our studio traditionally requires photographers to apprentice for a season before they fly solo.

3. Remember the following 13 shots that you have to take or your shoot is catastrophically incomplete:
Portrait: bride alone, full length.
Portrait: bride alone, head to bouquet.
Portrait: bride and groom, full length
Portrait: bride and groom, heads to bouquet.
Portrait: entire wedding party, (inc. kids and ushers)
Portrait: bride's family (inc. spouses and kids)
Portrait: groom's family (ditto)
Portrait: bride and grooms hands & rings.
Ceremony: Bride and groom facing each other at alter.
Reception: Cake
Reception: Bride and groom cutting cake.
Reception: Bride and groom first dance.
Reception: Bride and father dancing.
Don't get me wrong, there are dozens of other shots I consider important, but if I miss them, I don't consider the job blown. If you miss one of the ones I've listed here, however, there's likely to be trouble. These would be especially good photos to be sure you get with both cameras, and to take multiple shots of.

My other piece of advice is about how to shoot the altar portraits. Start with the bride. Have her stand at the top of the altar steps. If she has a train, spread it in front of her by wrapping it around on her right side (your left.) Shoot portrait and full length. (I especially like to do looking at camera and looking at bouquet for each.)

Then put the groom in next to the bride, on her left side (opposite the train). Have him put his arm around behind her, but under her veil or he'll tug it awry. I have the bride put an arm around him as well. Have the bride and groom turn toward each other making a bit of a V, and then have him help hold the flowers with his other hand. (This keeps it from hanging limp at his side, and since the bride is holding them one-handed, they'll be getting heavy) readjust the train. Shoot portrait and full length. The bride and groom will be in this pose for a while, so keep reminding them what do do for the rest of these shots, especially when the groom drops his hand. I sometimes find it helps to tell the bride and groom to tilt their heads slightly toward each other as well.

Add in the best man and maid of honor on appropriate sides. Shoot portrait and full length.

Move the best man to stand next to the maid of honor. Add the rest of the wedding party as couples, women toward the middle, men to their sides. Alternate sides and put each couple one step down from the next couple on that side. If it's a small wedding party put the ushers at the ends, if a large one, have them kneel in front. Kids should be in front of the groom, as close as possible, even tucked a little bit inside the draped train would be OK. adjust the train, and shoot. If desired, kick out the kids and ushers and shoot again.

Kick everyone except the bride and groom out. Have the bride's parents stand on her side, like the maid of honor and best man just were. (If the parents are divorced, put the mother next to the groom instead unless you know they get along.) Shoot. Add in brothers and sisters. Shoot. Add in spouses and children of brothers and sisters. Shoot. Take out everyone except the bride, groom, mom and dad, put in the other mom and dad on the grooms side. Shoot. Drop out the bride's mom and dad and repeat the family build up with the groom's family.

Only when you've done all of the above should you even consider entertaining anything other than the most urgent of requested shots. The reason for this is because there are often time pressures, and if the shoot gets cut short, you want to have the above photos, because it will be hard to do them in any other location. Especially once the groomsmen start drinking.

After 20 years of practice, I can get through the above set of photos in about 15 minutes with a cooperative group, leaving me time for available light portraits by a window and request shots. If this is your first job, I'd expect it will take you closer to 30-45 minutes, so be prepared to feel rushed.

As a job, it really can be fun, but it can feel very high pressure. Make sure you eat breakfast, because it's always distracting when the photographer faints. Happened to an assistant of mine once, I was mortified.


At 1:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great advice! Although I've never had to photograph a wedding, I've seen a lot of tempers flare because "the photographer was taking too long". In actuality, everyone wanted specific shots and the "core" shots ended up being shot 2-3 times. Since the shots usually take place before the bride & groom get to the limo (amid the rice/birdseed/bubble throwing), it usually means that the invitees are waiting 40 minutes to an hour and start getting restless. I will forward this to future brides & grooms too, so they know what to expect.
BTW - It looks like I am visitor 8000 to your blog. Congratulations!
- Mark S.

At 1:42 PM, Blogger Glenn said...

Yay 8000!

Historically, I'm the fastest photographer at A&A photo, our family studio, and I still like to have a minimum of 30 minutes to do the formal portraits, and am much happier with 45. My recommendation to brides and grooms is that if they can possibly stand to dispense with the strangely archaic not-seeing-the-bride tradition, shoot the formals before the ceremony instead of after. You can give it more time, there aren't any guests in the way, the guests aren't waiting around at the reception for you, and you won't have crushed flowers and lipstick stains from the receiving line. (This is especially important if it's an afternoon wedding in a Catholic church, as they often need to start clearing the sanctuary for an afternoon mass.)

At 8:49 PM, Blogger Glenn said...

I thought of one other thing that can really help in preparedness, and that's the pre-job questionaire. I recommend reducing this to some sort of shorthand that you can quickly refer to on a single cheat sheet.

Bride's name?
Groom's name?
Bride's parents alive?
get along if divorced?
Groom's parents alive?
get along if divorced?
Any living grandparents?
Number of bride's brothers?
Any in the wedding party?
Number of bride's sisters?
Any in the wedding party?
Number of groom's brothers?
Any in the wedding part?
Number of groom's sisters?
Any in the wedding party?
How many bridesmaids?
How many groomsmen?
How many ushers?
Any kids?
Kids names and ages?
etc, etc...

We reduce the results of this questionaire to something like this:

Bride: Mary Edgers, BP, 3 bro (2 in) 1 sis (in, MOH), 1 GM, 2GF
Groom: Jim Lathrop, BP (div, mom remarried), 1 bro (in, BM), no GP.
Wedding Party: 6 + 6, 4 ushers, MB + MG, RB + FG.
(Mary-3, Timmy-4, Elizabeth-8, Eric-6)
Ceremony: St. Dennis. 2:00 pm. 45 minutes, no communion. Music: friends. Bride photos before, formals after. Mass at 4:15pm.
Receiving Line: B+G usher out.
Stops: yes, 1 at capital for photos, 1 at bar.
Reception: Elk Club. 6:00 pm, sit-down.
Dance: Yes. DJ, Music in Motion (Andy).

and put it on a single half sheet which we refer to throughout the day. (And I sincerely hope that if you're planning on implenting any of my advice your first job is easier than the hypothetical Edgers-Lathrop union I've just made up.)

At 9:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The other note is to confirm with the officiant that taking pictures during the ceremony is OK. At my brother's wedding, the photographers (I believe accidentally) took a shot, and the pastor was polite, but firm, about it. (As best man, I could see the slightly steely look in his eyes. Oj!)

From my experience (being photographed) it is much easier to do the portraits before, although there's rarely any getting around doing group shots in the sanctuary afterwards.

I'll also say that my MIL's major disappointment was that our photographer didn't get enough table shots, especially of their family.

At 9:59 AM, Blogger Glenn said...

As a pro, I'll say that it isn't worth too much effort to check with the officiant. This is definitely a better to beg forgiveness than ask permission kind of situation when doing pro work. As an amatuer, however, you should not take pictures during the ceremony unless you've checked with the officiant, and know how to turn off your flash and are comfortable doing such photos from the back or balcony. The guest that stands up in the third row during the vows to take a flash photo is a very disruptive guest. If the answer is no, check and see if it would be OK to take pictures during the proecessional and recessional, since the officiant will often care less about those.

But as a pro, you need to keep in mind that the bride and groom have hired you to be there to take photos of the event and it is your professional obligation to do so. Thus, while you do have an obligation to not be disruptive (which is why you shouldn't take flash photos, or walk up in front of the guests) you still need ceremony shots. In the case of the photographer you mention, they got one photo of the ceremony, which is exactly one more than the zero they would have had if they had checked with the pastor first.

The real advice here should be to bride and grooms to make sure that they don't have officiants that are going to be unreasonable about this, especially if ceremony photos are important to the couple.

In the Madison area, it's generally the Lutheran churches that you need to watch out for. One of the things it apparently says in thier TRB is that they should have a wedding coordinator on staff, and those people make it their business to make rules (sometimes a whole page worth!) about how photographers can conduct themselves, often accompanied by dire threats about how you won't be welcome back. It's never happened, but I've entertained pleasant fantasies about being able to tell clients that I'm sorry, but I'm not allowed to set foot in thier stiff-necked church.


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