By Mariah Ashley
Trish is looking at me from across the lawn. She's halfway between me and the bride's family who she has just positioned for their formal wedding portrait. She's giving me the "How does it look?" look. I check the back of my camera and give her the thumbs up. I'm shooting with a 200mm lens so I can't exactly shout, "Like $#!+" without everyone hearing.
I make a few adjustments to my ISO and take another shot. I've made it worse. Now I'm sweating. More adjustments to the flash, another shot. It's horrible. To paraphrase my favorite TV show Modern Family, it's like vomit and poop had a wedding inside my camera and this was the resulting image. Cue my complete and utter panic. I hate myself right now.
We should have known better than to attempt family portraits in this location which was plan B (i.e. blaring noon sun and barren background), but in our defense we were blindsided. The wedding was at an exclusive yacht club perched on top of an impossibly steep green hill with a sweeping view of Newport harbor. Truly a magnificent panorama... to your eye.
Upon arriving, Trish and I scoped a few lovely spots with nice open shade and amazing old trees with interesting bark and branches, perfect for portraits. Unfortunately, as soon as we entered the bride's room she spoke the eight words we always cringe upon hearing: "I really want the water in the background."
She added, "Someone in my family suggested doing photos outside under the trees. I don't want that so ignore them. I really just want the water."
Hear that? That's me flushing Plan A down the loo, where plan B actually belongs. Just to drive the point home, the wedding planner also took us aside and said, "FYI, the bride really wants her photos taken with the water in the background." Got it, water in the background.
So here we are; the bride and the groom, the bride's parents and her siblings taking what amounts to the most important photo of the day since the bride's parents have generously footed the bill for us to be here. I am failing miserably at creating a proper Christmas card and framed photo on the mantel for them.
As you probably already know, midday, full-sun family portraits with the water in the background are akin to drinking saltwater to quench your thirst--it looks good to the eye but with disastrous results in-camera. In our case, no one is going to dehydrate and become delirious but all that sun mixed with bald heads, wind and wrinkles is not going to be a flattering sight either. Someone get these people in the shade and give them a cool drink for the love of Pete! For Pete's sake. Who's Pete anyway? I digress.
I have no idea how to fix this so I just keep shooting until we've gone through our list. As Trish tells the parents they are free to go, I spot a small patch of shade in the corner of the yard with some shrubs and even a sliver of blue water in the distance. I make the casual suggestion that we should do a few more in this spot. I am sure the bride won't like it, but the light is perfect.
I look at Trish and scream with my eyeballs, "We need to redo everything we just did!" Lucky for me she knows how to read my eyeballs and she sets about recreating all the groups without it seeming strange at all. I check the back of my camera in between shots and the images are lovely.
When culling the images, we won't delete the harshly-lit photos with the water in the background. That's what the bride wanted, so that's what she'll get. If I had to bet, my guess is she'll choose those shots for her album too. But by redoing the photos, we can feel proud of the images that we deliver knowing we used our technical knowhow and artistic eye to the best of our abilities. We can deliver a set of images that is consistent with what our clients see in our website galleries and on our blog.
I feel strongly that the day of the wedding is not the time to say "NO" to the bride or the wedding planner for that matter. When a client makes a request on the wedding day, it should be met with a positive response and a good old fashioned college try.
The time to say "NO" to the bride happens way before she gets into her wedding gown because, TIP: making the bride cry on her wedding day is major photo-faux pas. Because "NO" can sound a little harsh, let's think of this as giving your client a little Photography 101 lesson. The bride hadn't sabotaged our portraits, we had. By not managing our client's expectations we created an impossible situation for ourselves and subpar photos for them. There's not always time to recreate and entire set of family formals on the wedding day. This time we were lucky. Lesson learned. There won't be a need for a next time.
We send a questionnaire to our brides twelve weeks before the wedding to help us formulate our photo plan for the day. We'll be adding an information section to this questionnaire entitled, "How we achieve flattering portraits of your family and bridal party" with an explanation of why we choose the locations we choose and why the "water in the background" is 9 times out of 10 a bad idea.
You know, like drinking salt water if you're thirsty. We'll tell our clients to think of shade, trees, and background textures like a root beer float. Sweet and balanced with an unexpected dash of cool and deliciously satisfying.
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