A wedding is a special event for all involved, and children are no exception. With little boys suiting up in tuxedoes and young girls stepping into gowns layered in satin and lace, it’s a milestone for your smallest guests as well. It’s that rare occasion when they receive a glimpse into the adult world in all its ceremonial splendor. But in the thick of wedding planning, many brides and grooms often forget the little ones. Well, you need not be one of the forgetful.
With a bit of forethought, you can help create an environment at your wedding that allows your wedding photographer to capture your smallest guests at their best. It’s well worth the effort. The innocence and spontaneity of children can make for colorful, unique memories and photographs. A bright-eyed ring bearer teasing the flower girl symbolizes the carefree and overly joyous tone of the entire day.
Every wedding photographer has good and bad stories of children at weddings. WPJA member Frederick Ng won first prize in the Ceremony Category for a picture he took of the bride and groom’s first kiss with a little girl in a bright red dress in the foreground. Apparently, she needed to stretch out her legs during the ceremony and made herself comfortable on the sanctuary stairs, only a few feet from the couple. Many parents’ reaction would have been to drag their daughter back to the pews. But in this instance, everyone remained relaxed and Ng was able to capture a moment that was romantic, as well as fun and quirky.
During the reception, Ng will follow the little ones around with a wide-angle lens and gets down low to capture them at their level. To make the kids comfortable in front of the camera, Ng says, “I hang out with them, make friends with them, and then I can hold up the camera and take the pictures.” His low-key nature and friendliness came into play when a young boy who was three or four years old unscrewed Ng’s lens hood. He ran around with it and refused to give it back. In this instance, Ng was able to make a trade with a piece of candy.
WPJA wedding photojournalist Jennifer Stanton captured a wonderfully unpredictable moment-a young ring bearer and his two older twin sisters-that turned into a first place prize. She recalls, “The little boy had the wrong shoe on the wrong foot. I was 25 feet away photographing the groom’s party walking down the aisle and happened to turn and see the two girls pointing at his shoes.”
An award-winning photograph WPJA’s Eric Lagstein took came about through a bit of happenstance. It was during the Horrah, when a boy of about eight or nine was lifted up in the chair. Lagstein stood near the center of the circle, raised his camera above his head and took the picture. The result was a wonderful image that vibrantly captures the excitement and action of moment.
Start off the reception on a good note by handing out goodie bags to the children. At a wedding Lagstein photographed, the half dozen kids there received baskets with an array of treats and toys. With building materials, miniature planes and balloons, they stayed engaged and entertained for the entire reception.
It’s common for parents to expend a great deal of energy trying to keep their little ones “in line” during a wedding. Doing so can make both adults and children high-strung and put everyone on edge. Help to avoid unforeseen disruptions by having a separate area for the kids during the reception. This does not mean have a romp-roaring play center. The idea is to create an enjoyable environment for the children, as well as the adults so that both can relax and enjoy your big day.
Stanton suggests separate tables and “kid food” buffets with treats such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (crust trimmed), chicken nuggets, pizza towers, chopped fruit, and macaroni and cheese. While it’s customary (as well as polite) for the photographer not to take pictures of the adult guests while they’re eating, the same does not hold true at the children’s table. Drawing from her own experience, Stanton notes, “Kid tables guarantee a photographer at least a few fun pictures of kids goofing off at a time when other ‘people eating food’ pictures would be avoided.”
The goal is to accommodate the adults and the children, and the latter should not be left entirely to their own devices. It’s advisable that someone manage the kids’ table and do damage control so the parents aren’t worrying about them. For a smaller group, this may come in the form of an older brother or sister, and for a larger group, you’ll want to hire a babysitter. Whichever way, the goal is to maintain some semblance of civility. It’s been Stanton’s experience that when a kid table is provided, its spirited occupants can be as messy as they want to be, notwithstanding a food fight, and their parents can partake in adult conversation.
If you’re inviting more than eight underage guests, you should consider designating a room at the reception for them. This space would be filled with toys and entertainment, and monitored by a babysitter. At a wedding Stanton recently photographed, the bride and groom filled a special kids’ room with Playdough, games, dolls, puzzles and a giant TV with an arsenal of DVDs and cartoons. In their own space, the little ones, free of parental constraints, stop trying to act grown up and they can be themselves. This is when the photographer moves in and captures that spontaneous and delightful moment.
Your guests will take a cue from you. Relieve them and yourself of unnecessary stress by conveying to them ahead of time that the kids can act like kids at your wedding, barring tantrums and unwieldy behavior. Yet sometimes, a child acting a little rambunctious or out of line can make a really great photograph.
Children are full of creativity. They can be fun and capricious. In front of the camera, they can be honest and alive—a photographer’s ideal subject. Creating an environment at your wedding where they can be themselves will help to create moments that embody the festive spirit of the special day.
—by Lauren Ragland for the Wedding Photojournalist Association