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The Heart of a Wedding - PPA Today

The Heart of a Wedding

wilkins_storey_heartofweddinghead.jpgBy Storey Wilkins, MPA

A wedding brings together a group of people to celebrate the birth of a new family. My job as a photographer is to capture the heart and soul of the people there. Weddings are joyous, fun celebrations, and my goal is to make the photographs reflect that joy.

Three critical elements to capturing that joy are as follows: documenting the rhythm unique to that collection of friends and family, achieving expression-rich candid photographs of the guests, and creating relaxed yet elegant family portraits with a minimum of fuss.

So let's say a couple is leaving their friends' wedding. They exchange stories of the day...howstorey_heartofwedding1.jpg they caught up with old friends and the new folks they met in the course of the evening, what they talked about, laughed at, and who they gossiped with. They will discuss the ceremony, its ambience, its quotes and its emotion...how this "new family" has been created amongst their group.

They laugh at how much fun it was to get up on the dance floor (that band was fantastic), how great the food was--and didn't that room just take your breath away when you first entered? They'll ask: So what did you think of the signature drink they created for the wedding? What was your favorite amongst that superb range of nibbles?

In a quiet moment, they will realize that this has been a "marker point" for them, a "milestone" for their friends and a special, shared day for all of them. This birth of a new family involves everyone. And I believe that in order to do true justice to any coverage of a wedding, the pictures must ultimately convey all of the above.

What It's All About
Indeed, the bride and groom are at the center of a wedding. They are supported by their parents and siblings, surrounded by their friends who comprise the bridal party...and celebrated by the wider group of friends and relatives, all of whom are special to the bride and groom and their families.

storey_heartofwedding5.jpgThis is not just about the bridal couple, but this is also about the community surrounding this couple. So many photographers get negative about doing groups. I've even read one photographer quoted as wanting to "...get the dumb groups done as quickly as possible and move onto the real photography."

What did that photographer think the "real" photography was? Did it involve taking the couple away from family and friends to a location that had little to do with the wedding and a lot to do with what the photographer wanted to do? I don't think our imaginary guest couple at the start of this article would be discussing the fact that the couple had such fun at the Junkyard taking pictures. Rather, they may well remark at the elongated absence of the bridal couple on their own wedding day.

As an industry, we have increasingly imposed our views on what should be photographed on a wedding day--and this has produced some lovely trends, admittedly. But I believe it is my responsibility as a photographer to capture a balance of documentary, candid and formally posed photographs, and these photographs should be a balance of the bride and groom and their loved ones.
Groups
So let's talk about groups. Any grouping should be arranged lightly, quickly, and above all, with elegance. Anything BUT the "line-up." In a church wedding, go back inside and pose everyone casually and warmly in amongst the pews. At an outdoor wedding, take a few chairs from the supplied seating into the shaded area close by.

The skill here is to be able to sit some subjects (the tall, the slim) and stand some (thestorey_heartofwedding3.jpg "bigger," fuller-figured subjects) and lean others (the "personalities" and/or those with tummies). Once you alter the heights and positions of people away from the line-up, you can flatter people, establish more meaningful familial relationships and connect people more.

All this contributes to group photographs that are valued. People like being in them because they feel casual, more comfortable and involved with each other. I can't begin to tell you the amount of times that other wedding guests observing have commented how lovely the groupings looked. Those guests are helping pre-sell the images (and you) by their appreciation of your effort!

storey_heartofwedding4.jpgIn all of this, you must be a mirror. How you show yourself to those you are photographing has a definite "mirror" effect on your subjects. So be pleasant always, efficient without harassing, well-mannered regardless and always smiling. Whilst we most definitely have a job to do, we should never lose sight of the fact that this is their wedding day--not ours.

Documentary & Candid Photographs
Do you find wedding receptions can be boring or tedious to photograph? Just remember...your clients want to see photographs of as many of their guests as possible. Here is a way to make it fun.

I like to play a game with myself when it comes to the party, a game called "The Point System." This consists of how many reactions I can get from one grouping of camera-unaware people. One "Storey-Point" for one great, flattering reaction, two for two great flattering reactions...and so on.

Guests collect in small groupings, usually two to six people. There is almost always onestorey_heartofwedding2.jpg person telling a story or a joke. Certainly, we want a picture of that person--preferably animated--just after the punch line when he or she is smiling and everyone is reacting. What you are then looking for is a position that will allow you to get as many reactions to that story or joke. But if they see that you are photographing them, don't pretend to fiddle with your camera or hide amongst the plants--that suggests you're trying to "steal" a picture. (Most people actually don't like that.)

In a recent interview, Sebastiao Salgado, the great photojournalist, made an acute observation that when people trust you, they will show more of themselves because they are comfortable with your presence. So when a guest notices you photographing them, acknowledge the person with a smile and a wave, and mouth the words "Thank You!" They will often smile back, but more importantly, they will trust you...then not be concerned with you.

When you allow yourself to start studying the crowd, you will see many such scenarios repeating themselves. These can be old friends re-connecting, which is different to the slight awkwardness of new acquaintances. It could be friends that are always together, or relatives who just see each other at weddings. (This latter group can be wonderful, as sooner or later there are the familiar jokes, the family snaps of the new baby come out--there is a "comfortable" connection there.)

Be attuned to quiet moments as well. It's often in the gentler moments that we see so much that passes between people.

storey_heartofwedding6.jpgThis is also a time ripe for the acquisition of supporting room miniatures. Look for the "language" of the wedding, the "five senses"...how the champagne bubbled, how the flowers smelled, how the music sounded, how the food tasted. Years later, looking through their album, the couple will be able to remember what it felt like that day.

These images--interspersed with party images of people--on a page of, say, 12 smaller images, help describe the ambience of the party, something the wedding planner has spent considerable time and effort over.

Capturing the Heart
It's up to you to make the parts of a wedding you may not be so comfortable with into a pleasure through application and effort. You've heard this before, I know, but you have to love what you do. All of it!

When you do, you will capture the heart of a wedding.

This article was previously published in the PPOC Gallerie Magazine in August 2010. Storey also sends a special thanks to David Anthony Williams for his help. If you would like to learn more from Storey, don't miss her class, "The Heart of a Wedding: How to Showcase the Moment," at Imaging USA (Tuesday, Jan. 18, 7:30am).

ALL IMAGES © STOREY WILKINS

2 Comments

Storey,
Amazing article. I can hear you talk as I read, feel your enthousiasm and imagine the images coming out of your weddings. The early crowd at the next PPA convention better be awake when they attend your program as I know it will be loaded with inspiration. Congratulations.
Sorry to miss your PPA program as I will be making my way back from a speaking engagement in Europe in January. I'll make sure I catch you next time.

I really enjoyed your perspective on photographing weddings. I've also found here in Atlanta that an acknowledging smile goes a long way in building trust with guests when photographing candids.



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Professional Photographers of America (PPA) published on October 12, 2010 2:54 PM.

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