There are a million ways to approach photographing weddings, search on youtube for “how to be a wedding photographer” or “tips on wedding photography” and you’ll find a near infinite amount of slick (and not so slick) videos giving tips and tricks to improve your skills and charge more money.
To be honest, I’ve tried a lot of them over the years, I’ve been sucked in to posing guides, complicated lighting techniques, verbal and visual-cue guide books, workshops, forums, conferences and even one-on-one mentoring. A lot of them have been helpful in small ways and others in really big ways, but none of them have fully lined up a process that fit my natural gifts. And that’s the thing.. every artist, every photographer has a way of seeing the world, a way of connecting with their subjects or medium that can’t really be changed. Sure we can throw a filter on it, change it’s flavor a little or dress it up, but at the end of the day we are who we are. We grow, we evolve, but science tells us that our core personhood is pretty well set at a much earlier stage than most of us start our careers.
So who am I? What’s my natural-born-flavor? I like to tell stories.
If you know me well, you know I also can be known to embellish some stories for affect. Not to change the substance of it, or drastically detour from the outcome but to keep the audience engaged. Think of it as common fish tails.. I don’t change an 8-inch brook trout into a shark, but I might creatively expand the challenges I faced when hiking into that stream or the size and proximity of the moose I encountered in the middle of fighting that mighty fish.
It’s no surprise then that an experience driven, entertainment first story-teller would grow up to be a story-teller of important experiences.
It also, I suppose, shouldn’t be much a surprise that I take this mostly truth, adapted details approach into my work as a wedding photographer. Let me explain…
Here’s a really beautiful image of my bride, Amy, reading her note from the groom just moments before the ceremony.. It’s sort of an ideal image in a lot of ways. It tell a nice story, the geometry and symmetry is pretty spot on and it’s clear what she’s doing here. It’s also, if you know the venue, a really photographically important and sometimes difficult to deal with, architectural element of the space… The image to me is important and I love it.. but It’s not as important to me as Amy’s experience of reading this sweet note from her soon-to-be husband. I don’t want to ruin that moment to fully create or manufacture this image (as cool as it might be).
It’s tough.. I have ideas of cool images in my head but don’t want to make the whole wedding day a staged photoshoot.. so what do I do? I engage in what I call “Guided Documentary Coverage”. It’s the concept of spinning a top and sitting back to see how it spins.. the trick is that I get to choose where I spin it.
This particular moment went like this: Amy had let me know that her and her groom had notes to share and asked when a good time to read it would be. I gave her a couple options (now or once you are fully dressed and ready to go down the aisle) and she chose to wait until she was dressed and ready. When it came time we reminded her that now would be a good time and she asked where she should read it. I said it might be a good idea if most people were not huddled too close and it would be cool if she stood in that light over there under the stairs.. and that’s it. I’m always careful to not give too many instructions, I didn’t tell her how to hold it or where to look, because a long conversation about how to act or what to look like takes her focus and attention off the note and on to the instructions I gave. I wanted her to just concentrate on the sweet card. From there I worked the scene and ended up settling on this compositionally driven overhead image to compliment the more straight forward images I also shot.
Here’s the bottom line… The images I capture shouldn’t be riddled with memories of me giving you instructions.. they should instead be laced with the emotions and thoughts that were running through your mind at the time. My job is to take the opportunity and feelings you are expressing and capture them in a way that turns a little moment into a big beautiful memory.
My guess is that when Amy looks at this picture she doesn’t remember our conversation about where to stand or when to read her card, because it all happened so fast. My guess is that she remembers the sweet words he said to her and how all those months and years of waiting to be joined with the love of her life were about to be over.