The great divide between the sexes can be witnessed a lot earlier in life than most believe. Girls and boys participating in weddings around the world demonstrate it time and time again. Frequently, little girls relish the opportunity to dress up in their finest, while the boys do so begrudgingly, kicking and screaming all the way to the altar, so to speak.
However, it doesn’t take long before that divide is bridged, and children are children again, with neither girls nor boys particularly preoccupied with their clothing. Shortly after the ceremony, they are all tugging at their outfits, finding the fastest route to the greatest fashion faux pas imaginable. The reception begins. General roughhousing ensues. Add to the mix the children’s openness and lack of inhibitions in front of a camera, and the results can be award-winning photography.
We spoke with three WPJA photographers who know a little something about capturing kids in their finery. They’ve been recognized for their work in which clothes helped to draw out the angel, rascal or prima donna in their prepubescent subjects.
What is it about little ones dressed in dainty white dresses or miniature tuxedoes? Is it that they look like smaller versions of the bride and groom? Is it the personalities that these clothes bring out? Often, the little girls bask in the spotlight, imagining themselves as the one being wed. The boys can cause a stir, fighting the constrictions of their clothing with all they’ve got. Both are a sight to behold.
Washington state, USA, WPJA photographer Brooke Hendricks says, “Kids are easy to photograph. They’re not aware of the camera and so they’re not self conscious.” They can make for wonderful moments. A prime example of this is Hendricks’ award-winning photograph of a little boy, the ring bearer, scrunching up his face while his father adjusts his bow tie. His big personality comes through in this moment, with his displeasure and fussiness immediately evident. The image speaks volumes about what was happening when Hendricks took the photograph. We don’t even need the photographer to verify that the boy was causing a ruckus. That’s clear.
Many brides put significant consideration and energy into determining the outfit scheme for their wedding party. The children who are participating in the ceremony are usually no different. Next to the bride, they often garner the most attention. It therefore makes sense to carefully choose their outfits. Keep in mind that their clothes will have a hard time making it through the entire event unscathed. Wedding photographer Gary Allen, based in North Carolina, USA, puts it bluntly, “The clothes that the kids wear are going to be trashed...and white is not easy for anyone to keep clean.”
Stereotypically, little girls love to dress up in adult clothes. A wedding provides a prime opportunity for them to shine. Unlike little boys, they may want to put on their finery hours before the ceremony has begun. In an effort to guard against any outfit disasters, some parents prefer dressing the kids moments before they’re needed to walk down the aisle.
In Allen’s photograph of two ring bearers wearing white suits, the subjects look nothing less than angelic. The stream of sunlight hits them at just the right angle. Capturing them walking in-step and in matching outfits adds cohesion to the image. He notes, “Visual alliteration often helps. The fact that they’re the same size, wearing the same suit and walking in step, contributes to an interesting photograph.”
Clothes can help to bring out something in the children that wasn’t obvious before. While that ‘something’ can be characterized as difficult, it isn’t always. California, USA-based WPJA photographer Wen Chang finds that little girls see an image of themselves in their tiny gowns of silk and lace that they value. She tries to capture that and says, “I always watch the girls to see how they see themselves in their outfits. It can make for very interesting moments.”
We can see this in her photograph of a flower girl posing for the camera as she stands next to the bride. Chang explains that at the time she and her assistant were taking group pictures of the wedding party. In regard to her beaming subject, she remarks, “She had such attitude. It was so cute.” Clearly the young girl was stealing the show.
Humor plays a big role in capturing those quintessential images of children dressing up. Fitting a mature-looking outfit onto a small body can be a challenge and can provide hysterical moments. Hendricks notes that it’s not uncommon for the boy’s tuxedo to be a tough fit. She’s taken photographs of suits that have been pinned to the boys or that had sleeves which were hemmed with rubber bands so they wouldn’t hang down to the floor.
There’s a balance to be met between dressing children in formal clothes and not covering up their innocence. Chang has noticed how absurd little girls can look when their parents put too much make-up on them. In an attempt to get the young ones more excited in the event at hand, they may cake on the rouge.
It is more conducive to good photography to let children be children. If that means allowing them to change out of their clothing shortly after the ceremony, okay. Hendricks observes, “There’s very little hope of them being happy in their outfits.” Formal clothes can be a real hindrance on good, all-out playtime. Allowing children to be themselves (within reason) also helps create wonderful photographic moments.
Dressing boys and girls up for the special event can help create memorable, classic scenarios. It’s a tradition that does not grow old. And it’s important. Still, kids will be kids. As Hendricks notes, “You’re lucky if the kid can put it on and keep it on for the length of the ceremony. Beyond that, it’s extra.”
—by Lauren Ragland for the Wedding Photojournalist Association