Amid all the flowers, food, music and festivities, there are two people at the focal point of a wedding: the wedding couple.
With all the attention heaped upon the bride and groom, a portrait session away from the crowds can help capture private moments between them. It gets the couple away from the pressure that comes with their wedding, and a chance to be alone to reflect on the occasion.
So why not consider at least a brief window of time to go off with the photographer to make some creative portraits in a picturesque environment, whether it be a park, old barn or nearby beach?
To be sure, a creative portrait session is not something that will happen at all weddings. Not all couples need or want one, and many prefer to let the moments captured during the ceremony and reception serve as photos of just the two of them.
And while it may seem like a deviation from truly just sitting back and letting the wedding photojournalist document the day as it unfolds, such portraits are no different than what photojournalists may find themselves doing most days while working for a newspaper, magazine or wire service. And it’s hardly the heavily posed photos of traditional wedding photography, but rather a way of putting the bride and groom into an environment and sometimes just letting them be.
Ideally, photographers will want to spend a relaxed period of time with the bride and groom during a portrait session. But with the demands of the wedding planner, caterers and others worked into the schedule, that luxury cannot always be realized. Sometimes a schedule may leave up to an hour for portraits. On other occasions, it may be only five minutes, or perhaps no time at all.
If it is something they choose to do, the couple of honor should make sure there is some window in which they can get away. It’ll pay off, as this quiet time will often produce some of the best portrait opportunities.
If the bride and groom choose to have a portrait session, says Shawna Herring, a WPJA award winner, “I’ll suggest that we plan on spending about 15 to 20 minutes after the ceremony with me, away from everyone else.”
Opinions vary as to the best time for the bride and the groom to get some isolated quality time with the photographer, although most tend to try to capture a few portraits before the reception, when everyone still looks fresh.
WPJA award winner Bradley Hanson says that sometimes a bride and groom will want to do the portrait session before the entire ceremony. In these cases, he likes to start photographing the bride getting ready, and then observes as she meets the groom for the first time on their day.
Others find that taking the bride and groom away between the ceremony and reception leads to a great photo session, since the couple has just exchanged their vows and is experiencing the emotions of being a newly married couple.
“Something palpable happens after the ceremony,” Shane Carpenter says, “whether it’s just sheer elation that everything has passed, or the psychic emotional bond that's happened now that they've entered married life. As the documentarian, it's my job to catch that transition.”
A session after the ceremony also works well logistically, as wedding guests are often shuffling from the ceremony location to the reception hall. The travel time also lets the couple head off somewhere with the photographer for a shoot in an attractive environment.
Though it may be impossible to achieve the ideal alone time due to tradition, family responsibilities or scheduling conflicts, the bride and groom should work together with their photographer to find the best period in the day to have minimal disruption and optimal time.
Unless the wedding involves a runway model marrying a seasoned actor, the odds are there will likely be at least one subject— the bride, groom or both— who is unfamiliar with being the focus of a portrait session. “Most people have a preconceived notion of what it's like to get their picture taken,” Herring says. “They almost expect to feel uncomfortable.”
One of the best ways for couples to loosen up in front of the camera is by forgetting it's even there. “I talk to the bride and groom and keep them focused on things other than being photographed,” says Hanson, who notes that he peppers the couple with questions about how they met, what they do, and where they’re off to afterwards to put them at ease.
Another way to get a few creative shots is to pick a day before the wedding for a photo shoot. Herring tends to do this, taking the couple out for two hours to a location of their choice. This strategy helps to build a relationship and lets the couple get comfortable with being in front of the camera. When the bride and groom begin interacting with each other, the camera stops being the focus and the result is great, un-posed images.
“It helps to calm their fears,” Herring says. “I don’t want them being nervous with me on the big day.”
If on the day of the wedding either the bride or groom has a hard time acting naturally, Hanson sometimes will pull in someone else—either the best man, maid of honor or another sibling—just to make the mood more informal.
With all the great emotions that pour out when the couple are alone together, the last thing the wedding photographer needs is a portrait session ruined by the couple being distracted by numerous flashes and guests vying for their attention. It can also be overwhelming for the couple to have so many “look here” or “do this” demands tossed at them from a crowd of well wishers.
That’s why most suggest keeping the guests away for the private photo session. In fact, Herring stipulates it in the contract that everyone stay away for the private shoot.
If the families don't understand the snub, just be sure that someone explains that the whole point is to get the best creative portraits of the soon-to-be or newly minted husband and wife—images that will season the collection of other, more unplanned moments to be shared forever among family and friends.
— by Paul Ziobro for the Wedding Photojournalist Association