For many, the most exasperating and dreaded moment of every wedding is right after the ceremony and before the reception, when everyone in the wedding party is called together for a grand staging, row after height-organized row, of matching taffeta and tuxedo silk.
"It's 'formal' picture-time!" - a wedding element as traditional as cake-cutting and garter tosses.
These days, however, brides and grooms are far more likely to break tradition when it comes to their weddings-and their photography. Couples are throwing creative and intensely personal weddings that represent their relationship. And they want their photography to capture that story-not the one a photographer is directing. Instead of pre-determined, posed stills, brides and grooms want to remember the unplanned, special moments that define the individuality of their wedding: a laugh between bridesmaids in the dressing room; a mother watching her daughter adjust her veil; the intimate moment between a father and his daughter, minutes before walking down the aisle; or the flower girl sitting in the grass, oblivious to her role, more interested in a dandelion than her basket of rose petals.
But there's a catch to pulling off this highly personal, documentary-style approach: you have to be willing to allow the photographer behind the scenes, giving him or her access to your most personal moments, so they can tell the story of your wedding-from beginning to end, and all the hidden parts in between.
Even if you think you've given your photographer unlimited access to your day, there are sometimes sticky situations that are out of your control. Churches, for example, often institute strict rules about where a photographer is permitted to stand during the ceremony. Another common restriction involves the use of flash photography. If that's the case, and there's truly nothing you can do, then you have to be realistic about the photos your photographer will be able to capture. If he or she has to stand in the back of the church, it will be impossible to document the bride's expression as she approaches her groom.
Amy Deputy, a wedding photojournalist and member of WPJA, says that designated church areas are one of the biggest roadblocks to access. "Churches have had such obnoxious photographers in the past, and it is a very sacred event," she says. "Sometimes it helps to talk it over with the pastor, and let him know that your photographer has promised to stay down low in the front and be respectful of the ceremony."
Daniel Sheehan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning commercial and editorial photojournalist, developed a strategy when he started photographing weddings-an interest that arose when he did a photo essay for a friend's wedding. Sheehan likes to attend the rehearsal, if only for a few minutes, in order to identify the key players in the wedding, as well as coach them if necessary on what kind of photographs he likes to capture. "At the rehearsal, they're thinking of everything that's going to happen the next day, minute-by-minute, and I can get an idea of what moments are important." And, if there's still a family member who's not cooperating the next day? "After working in newspaper for 15 years, I'm used to not listening," Sheehan says.
You will be tremendously busy on your wedding day, often with every minute scheduled and accounted for. If you know you want photographs that capture the two of you sharing a special moment alone, you should schedule time together-on a park bench, walking down the street, or just canoodling. "I like to have 30 minutes with just the couple," Deputy says. "Is that faux photojournalism? Maybe. But it's also creating a natural and special moment where they can just be in love." She won't set up a shot, but she encourages you to make the time, so these moments have a chance to take shape organically. Otherwise, they might not happen.
Deputy also recommends giving your wedding photojournalist a primer about your family dynamics. Share some personal details about your parents and siblings, so the photographer can get an idea of how to capture their strongest attributes, as well as the relationship you share with them. What's their story? Who should be photographed together? What do you love to do together?
To avoid any problems with family members barring the photographer from intimate settings or bugging the photographer for specific, posed group photographs, Chicago wedding photojournalist Anne Ryan stresses the importance of preparing your family beforehand for the type of photography you've chosen for your wedding. She has had good luck with couples who delegate a point person. This person is in charge of communicating with the photographer, identifying the VIPs, so the photographer can capture candid moments involving the near-and-dear cast of family and friends. "Everyone has that one friend or family member with drill sergeant mentality who likes to give orders," Sheehan says. "They become my accomplice." He also recommends putting together a shot list in advance.
Most photographers agree that granting an all-access pass isn't just about physical spaces. "Photojournalism is about documenting great moments with totally unguarded emotions," Deputy explains. That means letting your guard down enough to let your photographer see who you are. Take time to get to know your photographer, and make sure you hire someone you feel a connection with.
You have to completely trust your photographer to handle your emotions responsibly, and to know intuitively when they should or shouldn't photograph. With trust comes comfort. "When people are the most natural and comfortable, that's when they look their best," Ryan says. "The moment you start directing, they start acting differently."
That's another reason Sheehan likes to make an appearance at the rehearsal. If he takes some photos at the rehearsal, he gets a preview of the people who pose. "People are trained-you point a camera at them, and they turn and give you a big smile," he says. "At the rehearsal, I can give them a talk, tell them to act natural when I'm around."
"When they know they're OK just the way they are, they give themselves permission to open up. And all of that is done in an instant," Deputy says. "When people are comfortable with who they are inside, they can look right into the camera-and there's a really powerful connection. That's a picture that tells a story."
— by Meghan McEwen for The Wedding Photojournalist Association