For brides and grooms watching their costs, planning a wedding usually involves making a few well-considered tradeoffs in selecting the venue, the number of guests, the food, the type of entertainment and, of course, the photography. But ultimately, the measurement of that special day is not tied to the luxury of the setting or the culinary achievement of the chef, but to the precious memories that are engendered and preserved.
And for many people, skillful wedding photojournalism is a way to assure that the touching and profound moments of any wedding are duly captured, regardless of where the event is held, or how much money is spent on accoutrements. This is a critical consideration for anyone planning a wedding on a budget.
“Every individual has different priorities. Some brides dream their whole life about a wedding dress, so they’ll put a high priority on that,” notes wedding photographer Annaliese Moyer. “For others it’s photography, because that’s what lasts. It’s your own personal memories, but it’s also sharing with others…even other generations.”
WPJA award winner Christopher Record agrees. “Many of those costly trappings of the day food, flowers, decorations are going to be gone once the date has passed. Certainly, you want to enjoy the experience and have a nice party for people, but the photos are going to be there forever.”
There’s no question that a spectacular setting and great food can add to the special quality of the wedding day. Still, you can avoid some expenses and enhance the lasting memories by focusing on theme and understated elegance, rather than on opulence.
Record worked at a wedding in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina in which the bride had incorporated flowers into the entire event a decision that provided an elegant, unifying theme that ultimately translated to a memorable photo. “The guys wore flip-flops and khakis, and the altar was under the tree, but the whole thing was very nicely done,” he remembers. “It was outside, with real pretty light a beautiful day, and the flowers were a big part of the whole thing.”
Favorable photography conditions will almost always trump sheer luxury or scenic drama when it comes to capturing those memories. Moyer notes that, like most wedding photojournalists, she’s worked a number of weddings where the conditions weren’t ideal. “I’ve also gone to gorgeous locations where the lighting was bad, the crowd was thick, and the time was non-existent, so those factors are just as important as the environment or scenery itself,” she states.
“I have shot weddings in barns, castles and reception halls; on beaches, island fields and boats; and, of course, in churches,” notes WPJA gold medallion winner Carl D. Walsh. “The ideal venue as I see it has several characteristics: open space, accessibility, uncluttered backgrounds, good light in a word, simplicity. Definitely ‘less is more.’”
Make sure that whatever money you do allocate to photography is money well spent. The most experienced wedding photojournalists are the true experts at preserving those poignant moments, even when the setting or venue may not be anything close to ideal.
“Weddings are an ideal photojournalistic event laden with all of the elements of compelling photographs: beauty, love, spontaneity, emotion and action,” says Walsh, whose non-wedding assignments have included those for National Geographic Traveler, Business Week, and Time. Walsh put his training to work in beautifully capturing a traditional Armenian dance at one of his weddings. The photo was shot with a wide lens no more than six feet from the subjects as Walsh rapidly kept stride with them on the dance floor. “Years of newspaper experience gave me this ability,” he states.
Moyers was recently challenged by a shoot in a church with no natural light, followed by a reception at a rather dark meeting hall. Although she reports being “terrified” of the conditions, she dealt with them, powering up her flash and working with the aperture open. The result, thankfully, were prints that she describes as “incredibly beautiful.”
“My client is definitely getting her value, despite my earlier trepidation,” she says. “Earlier in my career I wouldn’t have gotten such good shots, but now my experience has paid off.”
“Often times we’re faced with less than ideal lighting conditions in a wedding,” says Record. “And that’s the advantage of having the photojournalism background. We’ve worked in nearly every kind of situation many far less than ideal from a photography perspective - figuring out how to make it work and take advantage of what was there, and to make the most of it.”
“Sometimes people become so consumed with all of the trappings of the wedding, they sometimes may lose track of the essence of the event, which is their love for this other person,” Record notes. “It’s about the interaction and sharing that time together about the intimacy of the relationship.”
“The location is a background element used only to frame and accentuate the main subjects,” says Walsh. “The simpler it is, the better I can focus the attention on my human subjects and the compelling moments happening within.”
Moyer’s award-winning photo is not one of a spectacular setting in ideal conditions, but rather one that sprung from her own creativity and experienced eye -- a unique angle, literally, on the people who were making the memories that wedding day. “I was experimenting with different angles, and getting away from the crowd,” she recalls, “trying to ‘see the forest through the trees.’ I went up and down the stairs about 20 times that day…and I got the crowd in a heart shape. I wouldn’t have seen that standing on the ground.”
“Every time I go into a room I consider several things,” she says. “Can I get up? Is there a window I can shoot through? Is there any window light? Is there any clean background?” Those are the types of skills that an experienced photojournalist can bring to the table, ensuring that what’s really important on the wedding day can be preserved despite other factors.
When juggling wedding costs, it’s all about considering what’s really important and staying true to your priorities. Says Moyers, “The location of the deck dancing photo was actually a fairly fancy place, but I believe the bride created the decorations, the stationery and the invitations herself and made her own dress. The wedding couple had a buffet rather than a served dinner, and decorated their cake themselves. They decided to spend most of their money on the lodge and the album package. They had their priorities and they followed through.”
And those priorities are ultimately about the value of memories. Walsh relates the story of a bride who spent more than 45% of her wedding budget on photography, and later wrote a letter of reference to one of his prospective clients. In the letter she said: “Looking back, that money was the best and wisest investment we made at our wedding. The flowers are dead, the cake is eaten, the dress is in storage but thanks to those pictures, those moments will last forever.”
— by Michael Roney for The Wedding Photojournalist Association