For one day, the two of you are the focus of attention. The concerns of the world slip away as your sweetheart and you take center stage for the moment you’ve long anticipated. Your guests’ thoughts and emotions are given over to your love. In turn, they are participants in your big day, compounding the good feelings of the love-filled event. With ceremonial dances, emotional toasts or simply their blessings, your family and friends have come together on this day to help seal your love with fairytale splendor.
Indeed, your wedding is one of the few days in your life when you can live a dream. As the center of attention, you are celebrities, perhaps a king and queen for that one day, surrounded by a paparazzi of guests with cameras everywhere. Even though this situation is par for the course, it definitely has an impact on how your photographer will cover the wedding. Fortunately, talented wedding photojournalists take it all in stride, using the mix of hubbub and adoration to create lasting visual memories.
Whether through dance, song or gestures, typical wedding customs often help to bring the guests and the newlyweds together, while intensifying that celebrity spotlight.
Swedish WPJA photographer Paulina Westerlind recently photographed a wedding that was held in the most royal of places, a castle. The iconic portrait of the bride thrown up into the air by a bevy of tuxedoed men captivates the imagination with its air of whimsy and enchantment. And while the bride may have felt like a princess, with all of the attention and the royal setting, this photograph is all about her relationship to the guests.
The members of the wedding and the guests can be just as important as their hosts for making the B&G feel like royalty. For without the adoring crowd surrounding them, the couple is not at the center of attention. Through their actions and reactions, the guests greatly magnify the focus placed on the B&G.
Westerlind’s photograph of the bride being buoyed up in the air is an excellent metaphor for the role of the guests. They truly lift up the couple with their support, love and happiness. And while it is the B&G’s day, the guests play an invaluable role in making the day memorable.
In Portland-based Eric Cable’s award-winning photograph of a couple being toasted, you cannot see the faces of the newlyweds, but you can see the looks on the guests’ faces. Their individual expressions placed side by side in a group captures a composite picture of the warm, positive feelings felt for the couple. Moments prior to this image being captured, there was a procession and song, in Russian Orthodox tradition, from the back of the room to the bride and groom. According to Cable, the guests chanted and then the newlyweds “each pounded a rather large shot of vodka.”
Generally, the guests are paying little attention to the photographer, but according to Westerlind, they increasingly do act like paparazzi, which presents additional challenges. They tend to gather around the bride and groom, occasionally creating obstacles to capturing important moments, and even get in the way of their own photos.
However, Westerlind can tell you that although being in the eye of the hurricane can most definitely affect newlyweds and the photographer; it is a situation she knows how to handle. “I once had a bride that was so happy and overwhelmed that she couldn’t stop smiling up to her ears,” she reports. “For the portraits I couldn’t calm her down. She was asking ‘What are we doing now?’ every other minute. She was expecting me to bombard her with ideas, but instead I became all quiet.” Westerlind’s response served to calm down the excited bride while at the same time leading to natural reactions.
She notes that her ability to capture the true feeling of the moment will “mean everything” to the bride and groom later when the frenetic celebrity excitement is just a wonderful memory. Then they will have time to gaze at the images of the day, reflect and remember. “I know myself that the memories from my life that I remember mostly are the moments I can see in a picture. Pictures work as a proof of that something actually did happen.”
In response to what considerations he takes in photographing the couple amidst their guests, Cable says, “The people surrounding the B&G are not a difficult thing at all, as they are a part of the story, and that is what I’m photographing…they add to the atmosphere.”
Frequently, we think of the bride and groom as the focal point of the wedding day activities. They are, but it’s deeper than that. Superb photography reveals that central to that spotlight of attention, that “king and queen for the day” dynamic, is the relationship between the couple and their guests. A good photographer will capture those moments, small and large, in which those myriad relationships are expressed. As Cable noted, they are part of the wedding story, fairytale or not.
—by Lauren Ragland for the Wedding Photojournalist Association