The mother of the groom announces that you’re to only photograph her left side, which she insists is the good one. The maid of honor tells you she does not want to see the camera until the sun sets. The singer demands that because of his celebrity status, no photos can be had of him at all. And the officiant lays down the rules—no photographs will be taken during the ceremony. Of course, you’ve been hired to photograph the entire event from start to finish. Do these photo-phobes present a problem? Not at all.
To be an effective wedding photojournalist is to be a superb negotiator, undaunted by the photo weary. The top pros know how to find a common ground, appease the camera adversaries, and still get that award-winning photograph. We’ve talked to three WPJA award winners whose razor-sharp negotiating skills repeatedly ease tensions during weddings, enabling them to capture brilliant images.
There are times when the photographer butts heads with well-meaning relatives or others who are working at the wedding, such as the make-up artist. And these people may keep the photographers from doing their jobs. For instance, while the bride is getting ready, the relative or make-up artist may ask that no pictures be taken before the bride is “ready”, keeping the photographer at bay in the hotel lobby or out in the hall.
For WPJA award winner Tara Arrowood, this is not as daunting a problem once she has access to the bride. When asked to not take pictures, she says, “I look at the bride and ask, ‘Do you want me to take photos now?’” If the answer is yes, she continues to work.
Things can also become a bit sticky when the bride and groom request ahead of time that you not take pictures of a certain person at the wedding. Fortunately, the savvy photographer knows how to avoid any ugly confrontations or leave anyone feeling awkward. When the bride and groom tell wedding photographer Andre Maier they do not want pictures of the father’s new wife or the sister’s boyfriend, he takes family portraits with and without the individual. This way, the couple can discard the photos of the uninitiated guests.
WPJA contest winner Earl Christie has taken pictures of people who are visibly uncomfortable in front of the camera. They may smirk or simply look away. He notes, “I’ll smile at those people and mouth a ‘thank you’ so they know I’m there to do a job -- something the bride and groom want done right.” Throughout the day, he makes an extra effort to be affable and polite, making it easier for people to lighten up to him and to the camera. As a result, he has no horror stories.
The person officiating the wedding may inform you that absolutely no pictures can be taken during the ceremony. This has happened at least once to every wedding photographer who has been around the block a few times. In essence, this individual is telling you that you can’t do your job. Does it have to be a horrendous hurdle? Not necessarily.
The first step to avoiding this scenario is to be informed—to be perfectly clear on when and where you can and cannot photograph. Our experts agreed that upon the initial meeting with the bride and groom, you should find out about any photo restrictions likely to be imposed at the wedding venue. If there are any, ask if you or the couple can contact the officiant to review and possibly modify them prior to the big day. Christie says, “A week or two before the wedding, we’ll have a logistics meeting and we’ll go over the restrictions again.”
Hired to photograph a wedding in Mexico, Arrowood was told of the restrictions ahead of time but assured by the couple that the rabbi would loosen up on them. He did not. On the day of the wedding, the rabbi made it clear that she could not take any pictures of the ceremony. Not willing to simply accept that edict, she enlisted the help of the bride’s father, and together they confronted the reluctant clergyman with a series of questions such as “What is it that bothers you about the photography?” “What is it that’s important to you?” “Is there a time and a place that I can move around during the ceremony?” They discovered that the rabbi was worried that the camera’s flash would interrupt his line of sight and that Arrowood would be a distraction to the guests during the religious parts of the ceremony.
Identifying exactly what it was that bothered the clergyman, Arrowood was able to work with him to find a compromise that both he and she could live with. In the end, she was granted four photographs during the processional. This was better than nothing but not an ideal situation, and in fact, a rather extreme and rare one for a photographer who has flown all the way to Mexico. Luckily, this sort of thing has only happened once to Arrowood.
Christie takes a similar approach to Arrowood when negotiating with the person conducting the ceremony by isolating what it is that bothers him or her about the photography. “I come from a place of really trying to respect what they’re trying to do,” he says. “I try to be sensitive to where they’re coming from and hopefully that comes across, and a lot of times people who have restrictions will usually modify them for me or drop them completely.”
Maier never accepts an edict that no pictures can be taken during the ceremony. If necessary, he offers “concessions” that actually fit well with his laid-back working style: He prefers to stay in the back of the building or in the outside aisles, and he does not like to be in between the bride and groom or too close to them.
“I explain how I work,” says Maier. “I tell them that I don’t stop anyone for a picture. And I’m not in anyone’s face.” Oftentimes, he says, that is enough for the restrictions to be lifted. But when that doesn’t work, he tells them that he will stay in the back, behind the last row of guests, or offers not to use a flash, making himself as inconspicuous as possible.
The same holds true for Christie. However, there was one wedding in which he did not have a choice but to stand a few feet away from the couple, as there were no sight lines from the aisles or the back of the pews. (Luckily, there were no photo restrictions at that church.) Yet even then, with the help of a large floral arrangement, Christie was able to hide himself. He stuck his lens through the flowers and captured the bride and minister in laughter. That became an award-winning photograph.
Overall, the attitude with which the photographer approaches the person administering the restrictions can indeed speak volumes, since in general, those rules haven’t been issued arbitrarily. Usually, sometime in the past there was a photographer who was disrespectful or disruptive during the ceremony. Simply showing respect and acting polite will get you far in possibly negotiating a compromise.
The officiant isn’t the only person who might try to stop the photographer from doing his job. Maier recalls a wedding when a well-known singer who had been hired to entertain the guests during the reception told him that no pictures could be taken of him. Maier reminded the entertainer that the bride and groom paid a lot of money to have him at the wedding. A compromise was made in which he was able to take two pictures with a flash when the singer stepped onto the stage and a handful of pictures without a flash during the first two songs. Then, Maier had his assistant take pictures during the entire performance from the back of the venue.
Arrowood had a similar scenario in which a celebrity did not want her picture taken at all. As a compromise, she gave the bride the copyrights to the pictures in order to ease the celebrity’s fear of their possible resale by a professional photographer. Arrowood says that she does not like to give over copyrights, but in this instance the celebrity was making her way into too many important photographs to simply allow them to be discarded.
Solid negotiating skills weigh greatly in elevating and furthering a wedding photojournalist’s work, making those unique moments more accessible. Maier sums it up: "I just want to get the photos, to make the people in the pictures look good and in the end, to make my clients happy with the pictures." Good negotiating makes all that possible.
—by Lauren Ragland for the Wedding Photojournalist Association