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PHOTOGRAPHING THE
WEDDING REHEARSAL DINNER

Next to the pomp and fanfare of the wedding day, the rehearsal dinner has historically gone undocumented by the wedding photographer. Without photographs of the evening, it’s been treasured only in the memories of those who attended it. Well, no longer. A number of vanguard wedding photojournalists now document the rehearsal dinner and in so doing are able to capture the entire wedding experience, from the setting of the first plate to the dimming of the dance floor lights at the reception.

In order to gain more insight, we turned to two WPJA award winners whose work has led them to document those once not-so-flashy dinners. Not surprisingly, we found that their experience reflects the overarching aim of every wedding couple who hires a wedding photojournalist: It’s about the moments.

REUNITING WITH LOVED ONES, NEAR OR FAR

In looking for the origin of this relatively newer practice of photographing the rehearsal dinner, we found that most signs point to the beach, the mountains, abroad, and to every other idyllic locale imaginable. When family and friends fly from far and near to a beautiful destination to be with one another and celebrate their host and hostess, it’s common for the bride and groom to want more than a single day’s worth of photography. Especially since the photographer is flying in as well, most likely for a pretty penny.

Yet you don’t need to be hundreds or thousands of miles away from home in order to capture the magic of the rehearsal evening. Wherever those closest to you are gathering, even if it’s just down the street, you can still preserve those one-in-a-lifetime moments.

In either case, for some, it seems a waste to wait until the actual wedding day for the camera to start flashing.

Beyond the initial reunion between the guests, WPJA award winner Meg Baisden finds that she is able to gain greater insight into the relationships between the guests and the bride and groom. She notes, “We can make real honest connections with our clients; and being a destination market, that’s not always the case if you show up the day of. This [photographing the rehearsal dinners] gives us the opportunity to find out who their families are and view them interacting.” By the day of the wedding, she is more adept at spotting those special interactions between the guests who are most significant to the bride and groom.

Alongside getting photographs that pay attention to the relationships and connections amongst your friends and family, photographing the rehearsal dinner creates a more rounded wedding album. It tells the entire “story” of your wedding weekend. The event was not only about the one big day, but it was also about the preliminary events. The images of the guests coming face to face for the first time, the expressions of anticipation, the excitement that fills the eve of the wedding: all of these moments are important and memorable.

THE DIFFERENCE

What happens at rehearsal dinners that doesn’t happen at wedding receptions? A lot, according to Baisden. She says, “It’s where the real toasts are given. Everyone stands up to toast the couple. It’s one of the most emotional events of the whole wedding process.” She speculates that more toasts are given on this evening because the crowd is generally smaller and there is a more relaxed vibe.

Many WPJA photographers point out that photographing the rehearsal dinner also enables the guests to become comfortable with them. By the day of the wedding, they are less camera-shy than they would be if they had only shown up on the wedding day. They may even completely ignore the photographer, which is her goal, Baisden explains. “If they’ve already seen that I work in the background, letting them ‘do their thing,’ they are more likely to fall into a groove right away without worrying about what I’m doing.”

THE CONCEPT

While more and more photographers are capturing rehearsal dinners, many brides and grooms haven’t considered it as an option. Baisden has a blog devoted to the rehearsal dinner so that potential clients know ahead of time that she offers this add-on and they can see the results for themselves.

When you consider that your wedding photojournalist may be available to document the entire wedding experience, it’s not hard to understand the potential memory opportunities in photographing the rehearsal dinner, even if the dinner is expected to be relatively small. Baisden has had clients who had not planned on having a large party but after seeing her work and “the smiles and the tears,” decided to build a big rehearsal so she could photograph it.

How much extra might this cost? It depends largely on your wedding photojournalist. Schumacher charges her clients an hour and a half for the dinner, so, as she puts it, “They know my time is valuable. Otherwise, they would be asking me to stay indefinitely.”

Baisden is also reasonable in assessing her fees or the rehearsal dinner coverage.

HOW REHEARSALS ARE PHOTOGRAPHED

The basic idea behind photographing the rehearsal dinner is the same as that used for the wedding reception. Schumacher says, “I get all the overall shots, because that’s what they’re looking for. I photograph the location, the restaurant signs and so on to get a broader feel for the setting, and then I move in and get the moments that are happening inside.”

Baisden finds that at the rehearsal dinner there are a lot more of what she calls “grip ‘n grin” pictures, where guests request that their pictures be taken, usually with an arm clutched around a couple of people. Though she generally shies away from these types of pictures, always opting for a photojournalistic style, she prefers to get them out of the way at the rehearsal dinner.

It makes sense to plan for the rehearsal dinner to be a part of the memories you want captured. The additional planning and expense involved with having your photographer present is worth it. Photographs of this evening will help tell the story of your wedding experience in its entirety.

— by Lauren Ragland for the Wedding Photojournalist Association