Some wedding photographers may feel the need to include the bride or groom in every picture, but those photos convey only part of the day's record. Most WPJA members will probably tell you that you're not fully documenting the event unless you get out there on the periphery and record the subplots of the wedding day-the unique and intersecting stories of the guests as they enjoy the festivities.
We call these types of pictures “sideline shots,” and they are distinct from the standard reaction shots that you or your second shooter may capture during the walk down the aisle, the vows or the cake cutting. Sideline shots tend to be further away from the primary wedding day rituals, both geographically and thematically.
Sideline shots broaden and deepen the story of the day, and are in fact an essential part of the record. Grab some good sideline shots, and your clients will thank you.
The bride and groom may be the center of attention on the wedding day, but they’re certainly not the entire story. The day is also very much about the friends and family who have been invited to share in the joy, catch up with loved ones, and do a little partying. Or maybe a lot of partying.
What’s important to the bride and groom is indeed the social gathering they’ve created to celebrate their marriage. If it were only about them, and their relationship, then they would elope or perhaps have a small ceremony.
For many people, the wedding is a rare opportunity to get all of those closest to them together in a day and age when people are often spread out around the country and the world. And at the reception, people also tend to spread out, and in part it is the wedding photojournalist’s responsibility to troll the periphery of the event, seeking out those great moments away from the main action.
“Many of our clients hire us because we strive to document the entire day, not just the bride and groom, but all of their friends and family,” notes WPJA wedding photojournalist Mark Adams, based in Georgia, USA. “It’s a big celebration for them, they’ve invited their closest friends, and they want us to make meaningful pictures of those people closest to them. That’s hugely important.”
Given that weddings are the sum total of various smaller parts, it follows that missing what is going on away from the bride and groom would be a lapse in coverage, and that is not something that WPJA members are likely to allow. Adams figures that 30 percent to 40 percent of his shots fall into the sideline category, while Anna Kuperberg, a wedding photographer out of northern California, USA puts her ratio at near 50 percent.
Kuperberg notes that wedding receptions, like most big parties, can be chaotic. “There are ten things going on at once, there are conversations all over the place, kids are running around, there’s food, and really that’s what I like about weddings, especially when there is a lot of action and emotion,” she says. “So sideline shots are very important to telling the entire story. Without them, you really wouldn’t be covering the wedding.”
“A lot of these moments with other people—these sideline shots—are quite often photos of people and events and moments that the bride and groom didn’t get to see and experience throughout the day that they planned and orchestrated,” Adams adds. “So it’s really a great way to share with them all of the excitement and celebration.”
Grace Kim, a wedding photographer based in Washington, USA can attest to that. “The most rewarding thing is when the bride and groom say ‘I’m so glad you got that, because otherwise we would never have known... it was such a great moment.’”
These sideline shots are not just about achieving breadth of coverage--making sure that you’ve hunted down every last guest and taken their picture out on the fringes of the festivities. They’re really about depth, an essential ingredient to a solid photojournalistic recording of the day, as well as to the artistic resonance of the pictures.
“The story can easily become almost too homogenous. The pictures can lack diversity if every one you’re looking at is of the bride,” Adams notes. “But once you start seeing pictures of moments and emotions and other people, you start to see the richness of the wedding day.”
“We’re covering the whole event. We can always get the portraits or the ‘standard’ shots, but those alone aren’t going to tell the story of the day—how it unfolded,” Kim says.
Her eighth-place winner in the Kids category of WPJA contest richly illustrates the emotion of a young girl away from the main focus of the event. One of the judges commented that it seemed to convey jealousy, insecurity, being left out, a feeling of being spurned, or simply tired, commenting that “a mark of a great image is when it asks questions and this one does that as well as makes a very universal, direct emotional point.”
Kim notes that kids are usually highly emotive and reliable subjects for interesting sideline shots, and says that the photo was taken just before the bride and groom were making their entrance near the dance floor. “I just used available light to get the shots, and I didn’t actually have to wait too long for something to happen,” she says.
Assuring great sideline shots is dependent on the usual photojournalistic skills that our members have developed through their years of covering events. Those include knowledge of human nature, a drive to seek out the stories, practiced anticipation, patience and technical skill.
Adams always works with second photographers, his wife, and usually an assistant, assigning specific responsibilities to each person. “The first thing we do is go in and get all of the ‘safe shots’ – those we have to get,” he explains. “One of us will shoot the primary scene and one will shoot reactions. Once we have those, we’ll start looking for some of the more common activities near the main event. Then, we start looking around the periphery, and we start looking for great light.”
Kim, who shoots with her husband Hun, says that she always keeps her eyes open. “I’m looking at the bride and groom, but also walking around constantly so that I’m not just in one space. I’ve actually coordinated some weddings, so having done that I am also able to anticipate some of the things that might happen, so I place myself in a position where I get the shots I need.”
“It’s great because my husband and I work together, so one of us can follow the bride and groom all the time while the other goes on the sidelines and finds out what else is going on,” says Kim.
Kuperberg advises that capturing great sideline shots depends on staying in touch with your own sense of playful wonder and curiosity—the feelings that may have gotten you interested in photography in the first place.
“Go ahead and let that curiosity override your self-conscious perception of what you think you’re supposed to be doing,” she says, “and don’t worry too much about ‘how it’s supposed to be’ or ‘how it’s usually done.’ Follow whatever is interesting to you, whatever grabs your attention. Be in the moment and let yourself be immersed in that.”
Her WPJA award winner in the Kids category shows a boy who had fallen asleep on a pillow and stayed there for the entire ceremony. “The ceremony started and people just walked around him,” she remembers. She notes that the photo didn’t require special timing, but was more of a choice of angles and lenses. “The thing to make the decision about was really picking the right distance and lens in order to still have an identifiable ceremony [in the background] but out of focus,” she notes. “I wanted the focus to be on the kid.”
“These sideline shots are really where you get to spread your wings a little bit and try something more creative,” Adams agrees. “You get to play a little bit. You may be roaming around looking for people sitting down or lurking in the shadows, if you will. Great light, great moments, great faces.”
Adams says that anticipation is a crucial skill for any wedding photojournalist who wants to be successful, and that the best photographers in the world are better at it than anyone else. It’s something to work on.
“When you look at my film, you’ll see that I have a whole series of shots where I’m just refining the composition and exposure while waiting for a great moment,” he adds. “What we look for is good light, great faces, interesting composition, and then we’ll wait for a moment to happen.”
Anticipation played a large role in Adams’ highly atmospheric and beautiful award winner of a WPJA competition, captured in warm, ambient light.
“The bride and groom had actually left to go change out of their wedding clothes, and my wife Erin was with them, so I was just roaming around,” Adams remembers. “They lit the bonfire, and there was great light, so I decided to see what I could find, and I just hung out.”
“There were some kids running around, so I got some pictures of them, and then I saw this couple, friends of the bride and groom, over there being all cute and cuddly, so I just positioned myself and waited and waited. The next thing you know, they kiss, and I’ve already framed it. I had already put myself in that position waiting for something to happen. And when that moment did happen, I was ready for it.”
Adams’ photo captures that desire the bride and groom had for something different. It showcases how different this wedding was, but also the fun and romance that highlighted their wedding celebration. The couple love it, according to Adams, because more than anything it captures that mood that they wanted for their wedding.
And that’s precisely what sideline shots can do. Although they tend to be taken on the edge of the main event, their portrayal of the subplots of the wedding day— the intersection of the scores of personalities, encounters and dreams—make them anything but peripheral.
—by Michael Roney for the Wedding Photojournalist Association