The curious craft of the wedding photographer
Although I am not primarily a wedding photographer, I have spent a healthy amount of time behind the camera at various matrimonial festivities. It is difficult to maintain a consistent level of enthusiasm for any subject, but the best wedding photographers are aware that they are privileged to be present at what will be one of the most important events in their clients’ lives.
Photography is, to one extent or another, an act of peering into the lives of others, but a wedding photographer needs to be governed by one of three possible motivations. You need to be either supremely confident in your abilities, cheerfully ignorant of how much is riding on you getting your shots right or perpetually awed by the responsibility people have entrusted you with.
This all may sound a bit overdramatic, but you try explaining to a bride—who has just paid you (and an army of caterers, planners, tailors, florists, etc.) a sizable sum—why you missed capturing the expression of unvarnished, leaping joy on the faces of her friends as they all vaulted for her bouquet.
In wedding photography, you often just get one shot at a scene. It’s high stakes and you are being relied upon to provide one of the few tangible relics of a day that has not just been meticulously planned but also is the public proclamation of two people’s choice to spend their lives together. Getting it right is a big deal.
There is a popular notion of the bridezilla: an indulged tyrant; half princess and half Grand Inquisitor. I have seen very little of this. To be sure, people can be stressed and exhausted by the endless preparation that has led up to this one day, but I have never been treated badly simply because someone felt like picking the wings off the flies around them. My life was however, once threatened by the father of a bride, to be carried out if certain expectations were not met—but I am pretty sure that was the Irish whiskey talking. I’m certain these bridezilla creatures exist, but I have never seen one. To one degree or another all of the wedding parties I have worked with have been kind, agreeable and as interested in getting good photographs as I was. In the vast majority of these stressful days, people show the best aspects of their character, not the worst.
For all the fretting over materialism and people losing sight of what a wedding is supposed to be about, I have seen people doing their best in an unfamiliar and scary environment. As wedding photographers we have to be aware of how alien it has to seem from the bride or groom’s perspective. Unless your day job is being a politician or a pop-star, then you probably are not used to a small legion of people fussing over you, dressing you and generally working themselves into a froth in an effort to accommodate you.
And, if being fawned over weren’t weird enough, there is the matter of committing yourself to a lifetime with another person, officially sanctioning a bond that will be among the most meaningful in your life. Honestly, I don’t know how people hold up during the process, but I suspect that the generous application of mimosas at crucial moments may do something to facilitate the process. However it is accomplished, just putting that first foot across the threshold of the church is a feat just shy of Herculean.
So, what is it like to photograph weddings? It is stressful and highly dependent on planning and the photographer’s skills. It is a long day on your feet, hauling a pack full of expensive and delicate gear around—and the food tends to be pretty good.
The three approaches I mentioned earlier, confidence, fear and thankfulness must all be present at varying degrees for a photographer to really nail a wedding. You need to know how much is riding on you getting it right, but you also need to know how to handle whatever change in lighting or other conditions may occur and you need to be willing to be carried along in the joyful stream of precious moments that are unfolding in front of you.
You have to be an artist, technician, documentarian, occasional lightning rod and do all of this while being as unobtrusive as a person can be when the touch of a button sets off flashes around the room. For as much pressure as the photographer may feel, it pales in comparison to the maelstrom of emotion and responsibility that the bride and groom feel, and you should feel lucky to see so many life defining moments though the barrel of your lens. People are trusting you, honoring you, with an amazing degree of confidence and you had better show up ready to exceed expectations. Photographing someone’s wedding is a momentous event and the minute you stop feeling privileged to be there is the minute you need to consider a career change.
Wedding photographers and everyone in one of the “celebration professions” (think band members, wedding planners… that set) are a funny bunch, and their product is wide ranging. When you are looking for a photographer for your wedding, try to find someone whose vision or aesthetic matches your own, whose abilities equal their enthusiasm and your expectations, and someone you are excited to work with. The photo on the table at your fiftieth wedding anniversary will be a product of their hands—choose carefully. It’s your special day and you have every right to expect things to be done to your satisfaction, just make sure you find someone with the ability, interest and equipment to fulfill those expectations. Then you can get back to enjoying what the day is supposed to be about, which may have something to do with mimosas, but I am pretty confident is about being in love. Leave the fretting over the details to us; we are the professionals after all, even if we might get a little misty at some point during the toasts.
Details. Details. Details.
Visit www.lemonsandbeans.com to see Frank McMains’s photography.