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MALE BONDING:
SHOOTING GUYS ON THE WEDDING DAY

Boys will be boys. Many photographers have found that the best man, the groomsmen and numerous other dudes contributing to the big day often serve as provocateurs and especially interesting subjects for wedding photojournalism. Of course, that’s the stereotype. Yet those same guys who tease one another, engage in colorful hijinks, and liven up the party also offer up plenty of emotion. You just have to look for it a bit more carefully.

AN IMPORTANT PART OF THE WEDDING DAY

Traditionally, the bride and her bridesmaids have tended to draw the lion’s share of attention on the wedding day, in person and in the photographs. Certainly photos from the bridal suite, the ceremony, the walk down the aisle, and the strong displays of emotion throughout the day, all combine to define what most people consider to be the central iconic images of wedding memories. However, wedding photojournalists acknowledge that the male contingent of the wedding day is just as central to the memories for the couple.

“Guys have not been receiving a lot of attention in wedding pictures, so we’re trying to change that,” states Erwin Darmali, a WPJA member working out of southern California, USA. “Naturally, the wedding is all about the combination of two people, so it is very important that we capture what the groom is all about also.”

Darmali says that in the period before the ceremony his business partner Ray Soemarsono, also a WPJA award-winning member, first covers the women while he covers the men, then they’ll switch to assure different perspectives and creative approaches to the story.

Maine, USA-based WPJA member David Murray says that even if he’s shooting alone he’ll make sure to bounce back and forth between the two parties to get a flavor of both. “I want to make sure that the clients have nice pictures of the groom with his mates and brothers,” he says.

WPJA photographer Jacek Wiesnowski, who works out of New York City, USA captured an award-winning shot as the groom’s party was running to the church in heavy rain. “It was literally like a monsoon and the guys were trying to protect the groom from the rain and got wet in the process,” he recalls. “I was shooting film with a manual focus Nikon, and I actually had water in the film chamber afterward. That’s how hard it was raining.” Rain and all, Wiesnowski was able to capture the comradeship of this band of brothers.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GUYS AND GALS

The differences between guys and gals are most apparent prior to the ceremony. WPJA member John Santerre works with Murray, dividing his time between Maine and New York City, USA. The former documentary filmmaker says that there’s a real different set of expectations men and women bring to the period before the ceremony. “You have to recognize those differences and mold yourself as a photographer to those environments,” he notes.

Says Murray, “Both sides are rituals, but the bride’s side is more like a Japanese tea ceremony, whereas on the groom’s side, it’s testosterone-filled most of the time, so you have more of a locker room/Super Bowl atmosphere.”

Santerre scored in the WPJA Getting Ready category with a shot of two guys smoking cigars and drinking beer. “It’s such a great photo and epitomizes what I envision guys are doing when they go into their wedding day mode,” Murray says.

“I got my suit wet,” Santerre adds with a laugh. “I was practically crawling across the top of the hot tub just trying to get the right angle.” He notes that the guys were doing cannonballs and belly flops into the pool, and then would pass their cigars and beers around, and jump in again, going from the pool to the hot tub. “They were also running down the street buying hot dogs by the dozen—covered in chili and cheese. And this was right before the wedding!”

Indeed, the groom and his pals don’t seem to have as many things to deal with prior to the walk down the aisle. Getting dressed and ready for the ceremony takes them a total of 10 to 15 minutes, if that. Then the waiting begins.

“They have a lot more energy pent up inside, yet they’re waiting the same amount of time, and I think that the anxiety level builds up a lot more,” says Murray. “So, they’re fooling around, having a great time with one another.”

Wiesnowski has found that the groom can be as much or more nervous than the bride, with the groomsmen playing a very important role in giving the groom emotional support—in his opinion, even more than the bridesmaids do for the bride.

“Everybody knows that the groomsmen before the wedding are all about having fun and making jokes, and generally monkeying around,” he says, “but all of that really happens just to cheer up the groom. He’s usually sitting in a chair in the corner and he’s nervous, but he doesn’t want to show it because he’s a guy. He’s not supposed to be the crying type. So all of the fun and all of the games are really designed to prepare him for the day.”

“The frivolity is intended to imply that they’re relaxed, but they never actually are,” Santerre says. And that nervous energy almost inevitably leads to memorable photos.

“It’s fun and unexpected,” says North Carolina, USA-based WPJA member Kathleen Perez. “You don’t know what’s going to happen and as a photojournalist you love that kind of stuff.”

“Depending on the type of group, obviously, the guys can be really expressive and doing crazy stuff,” Darmali notes. “What we do is talk to them and listen. If things are really interesting we’ll capture it and go from there. It’s about releasing your inhibitions and being more yourself.”

Take for instance, the guys at the reception scene Darmali captured in his award-winning photo. “As the night progressed the wedding party got really happy,” he recalls. “They were really heavy into dancing, and started dancing around the bride. By the end the [men] were singing to the bride and she was just completely overwhelmed and into it.” He anticipated the action, making effective use of a bounced flash and some additional lighting from a nearby videographer.

Perez captured a wild reception moment among the guys for her award winner. “They sang to the bride and then threw the groom up in the air,” she notes. “It’s apparently something their fraternity had been doing at other weddings they attended. They had all been on the dance floor and it just happened.”

FINDING AND CAPTURING EMOTION IN THE MEN

Our WPJA members agree that in addition to the sometimes-wacky behavior, guys offer up plenty of serious emotion during the wedding day. It’s just not as overt, and capturing it requires experience in recognizing the moments in which they will open up to a loved one, whether that be a best friend or a parent, or be moved by a scene unfolding before them.

Wiesnowski says that there are plenty of opportunities for recording great emotion between the groom and his pals, even if it’s just a handshake or expression on the face. “If you look and really pay attention to the [groomsmen’s] hand gestures, the looks in the faces, you can see that they’re totally behind the groom,” he notes.

“I’m always looking for the emotion, and there are key moments, such as when the groom sees the bride,” Murray says. “When there’s first motion at the other end of the church, instead of taking pictures of her I’m on him.”

“With men you’re looking for moments where they let their guard down, and they usually display emotion in a different way,” Santerre notes, adding that they usually open up when they’re alone, when it’s just the guys by themselves. “It’s easier. They know the rule of how they can react with one another.”

Murray says he often appreciates the juxtaposition of all the fun before the ceremony and watching the same guy break down in tears as his wife-to-be comes down the aisle. “It’s very, very touching,” he notes. “And I think that most of the men up there with him have that same kind of feeling.”

“The groom walking the bride down the aisle is one of those things where you really never know how much emotion you’re going to capture on his face,” Perez states. “I’ve seen everything from just a smile to happy and excited. One time I got a picture of a groom just crying because he was so happy.”

Throughout the day Murray looks closely at interactions between the groom and the other men closest to him. He says that when emotions do happen they often tend to be very quiet: a hug from a father or brother or a close friend—someone in the inner circle—so he’s always prepared for that particular moment when somebody approaches the groom.

Darmali believes in making an effort early in the day to connect with the groom and his groomsmen. “We’ll talk to them, and the more comfortable they feel with us the more they tend to open up and become more animated,” he says. “To be successful in getting their best sides, you need to develop a relationship with them and know what type of people they are. The more we understand them the more they will understand and open up to us, and the better the images are going to come out.”

Capturing those uniquely male moments on the wedding day clearly requires a well-learned understanding of what makes guys tick, combined with the practiced skill of being ready to capture that emotion when it happens. The hijinks make for great photos, but documenting the real emotion often requires a different type of attention to detail, according to Santerre. “We’re often so drawn to the overt photographs of the bride crying or having her last dance with her father, that it’s easy to overlook moments when the male bonding is happening.”

Murray sends out a questionnaire in advance, so he has some idea of who is friends with whom, and where a picture might happen. Otherwise, he relies on listening, observing and recognizing gestures. Like most skilled wedding photojournalists, he looks for the little signs to pick up, including small clues in the groom himself. “Whether he’s focused on his friend or his dad, I’ll wait around anticipating that something is going to happen,” he says. And that is what wedding photojournalism is all about.

—by Michael Roney for the Wedding Photojournalist Association