A wedding is not just the culmination of a couple’s commitment. It’s also the final product of much planning and preparation. Yet despite the best-laid plans, your big day won’t necessarily get a free pass from Murphy’s Law. Some chaos is almost inevitable at some point along the way. Luckily, when you hire a wedding photojournalist, you have someone on hand who is an expert in capturing those moments as memorable visual stories that you’ll enjoy for years to come.
Our WPJA wedding photojournalists weigh in on their experiences with the chaos of the wedding day. They discuss how it affects their shots (for better or for worse), and share their techniques and advice for assuring great pictures despite (or maybe because of) it all!
Nobody knows better than a wedding photojournalist that wedding days can almost seem to breed disorder. At the same time, it’s possible that no one could be better prepared to deal with the unexpected.
For one thing, they’ve been behind the scenes at many other weddings prior to yours. Wedding photojournalists aren’t as intimidated by the hustle and bustle, and know how to blend into the surroundings to document the unique moments of the day. In fact, the chaos may improve their chances of taking that great photo in the first place.
Prior experience in photographing weddings means the wedding photojournalist knows how to keep calm, says Washington, USA-based wedding photographer Michele M. Waite. “Wedding days already can be such a tense time that I want to be the person that’s a calming, supportive presence.” If the wedding party is running late, for example, it works better for everyone to work within a new timeframe than to add to the stress.
Jeff Thompson, a WPJA member based in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, USA, agrees on being a calming presence. "One of my goals is to make it so people don't have to think about photography at all on their wedding day. When I talk to potential clients, I tell them that my approach is to ‘just hang out.’ I'll join in conversations when I feel it is appropriate and I'll drift back and use a longer lens when I sense a more private moment.”
Chicago, IL, USA WPJA photographer Anne Ryan tries to ensure she doesn’t add to the frantic nature of the wedding by maintaining a low profile. “I try to capture everything as well as I can without drawing attention to myself,” Ryan says. “I want to get the best pictures I can without disrupting the ceremony. During the reception, I shoot a lot. I use both wide and long lenses. I don't have to worry about being inconspicuous at the reception so I can work my way through the crowd.”
Wedding photojournalists want to tell the story of your wedding day in a way that you’ll enjoy for years to come. Sometimes, the images they capture will even fill you in on what you missed—you know, while you were busy getting married.
“The bride and groom are often so busy on the wedding day that they miss out on a lot of what's happening around them,” says Thompson. “When couples receive their photos, I often hear, ‘I don't even remember you taking that photo’ or ‘I never knew that happened until I saw the photo.’”
Ryan agrees. She recently took a WPJA-contest winning photo of a bathroom sink, the surface of which seems covered with a mind-boggling array of make-up and beauty products. “I walked into the bathroom, into this aftermath of the bridal party getting ready and putting on all of their make-up, and I thought, I have to get a picture of this! They’re going to want to remember this.”
What seems like a potential disaster on the day, will often turn into the story you tell over and over, and an experienced wedding photojournalist will know how to capture the tell-tale chaotic mood of your day, should it surface. Waite won a WPJA contest for her photo of the groom’s party dressing on a church lawn.
“I was supposed to meet all the guys at the church after photographing the bride. Well, we all arrived and no one is there yet, the church is completely locked. The guys are standing around wondering how they’re going to get ready.”
Suddenly, they realized they had to get ready; this wedding was happening, Waite recalls. “So they decided, ‘Let’s just get ready on the lawn.’ And of course I thought, thank goodness this happened--this is an awesome photo! It went from a boring stock photo of guys adjusting each other’s ties to stripping down on the lawn!”
Again, the unique and varied experiences of wedding photojournalists are often an asset in taking advantage of a sudden, and brief, opportunity to turn chaos into substance.
“Since I am an experienced photojournalist, I’m used to covering both news and sports,” says Ryan. “Covering a wedding is actually more orderly and predictable that what I'm used to covering! My skills as a sports photographer are particularly helpful, because I can capture everything quickly as it happens.”
Sometimes, the chaos of the wedding day comes together in ways that no one can fully anticipate, which is, after all, part of the excitement. Says Thompson of his WPJA contest-winner showing bit of flurry over a necklace in the dwindling seconds before a ceremony, “I knew it was a good scene with all the people working on the necklace. I'd love to say I waited and saw the perfect composition of hands coming together and got it in one frame, but I can't. But I wouldn't call it pure luck either. It was just a case of anticipating what might happen and putting myself in position to capture whatever did happen.”
In the chaos department, that scene might pale when compared to another scenario Thompson documented. “I was at a Friday wedding where the ceremony was being held at one church, and was to be presided over by a pastor from a different church. As the ceremony time neared, the pastor had not yet arrived. There were many phone calls made to his cell phone and his office to no avail.”
Thompson says that he tried to document all that was going on because of this situation, and shortly after the scheduled time of the ceremony, someone was finally able to reach the pastor of the church where the wedding was being held. “He arrived in short order, met the bride and groom and improvised a ceremony,” Thompson remembers. “Though it started more than a half-hour late, the improvised ceremony went off without a hitch. It all made for great photos that will be a unique reminder of their unique wedding.”
—by Heather Bowlan for the Wedding Photojournalist Association