Tips on Shooting Essential Images
Although there is no right way to photograph an event, knowing how various images are set up and composed will help you know what to do to create them.
These are photographs of objects that tell the viewer, “This is the bride getting ready.” Look for items that evoke the day, like the bride's shoes. Find reflections of the personalities in objects, like the groom's cufflinks lying on his golfing magazine.
Once you put yourself in this frame of mind, these pictures are fun and easy to take. Since these pictures are usually of stationary objects, use available light and a tripod if necessary, and fill the frame with the subject.
Photographs of events should tell a story largely conveyed by the mood of the lighting, the postures and gestures of the subjects, and the setting. Find natural settings that frame the subjects. Look for S-shaped paths for the bride and groom to walk along. Avoid having the poses look like the couple is following your direction.
If a professional photographer is taking these shots, you need not duplicate them. In fact, your clicking the shutter while the official photographer is working may distract both the subjects and the photographer, ruining the pictures the family is paying for.
If you're the hired pro (more on this later), plan on taking pictures of every family member at formal events like weddings, confirmations, bar and bat mitzvahs, and so on.
The following list of images for a wedding will give you an idea of the various combinations you should expect to shoot:
Bride alone — close up, three-quarters, and full length
Bride with mom
Bride with dad
Bride with both parents
Just the parents
Bride with grandparents
Bride with siblings
Bride and family (if you include siblings with their spouses, then include the groom)
Bride with each bridesmaid
Bride with flower girls
Bride with bridesmaids and flower girls
Groom — same family and groomsmen shots as above
Bride and groom with each set of parents
Bride and groom with each immediate family and each set of grandparents
Bride and groom with various aunts and uncles as needed to please the family
Bride and groom with minister or rabbi (if the couple wants)
As you work with each pose or grouping, remember that special events like these are about love, tradition, and tenderness. When photographing two people, let them be with each other, not simply posed standing together. Hugging and talking strengthens the sense of connection. Direct your subjects to interact, touch, lean toward each other, or tilt their heads towards each other slightly. Exclude distracting items like purses, watches, and sunglasses.
Make group shots interesting. Have people pose naturally. Turn them toward each other, but usually at no more than a 45° angle.
Subjects can be standing, sitting, kneeling, and holding each other — anything but standing shoulder to shoulder. Avoid having the subjects' arms dangling straight down, which makes for a really boring shot. Direct women whose legs are showing to put their feet in third position (feet in a “T”) so the camera only sees the front leg. Don't seat heavy people, as it emphasizes their width instead of their height. Slim them down by hiding part of their body behind someone else. People who are sitting should sit forward on their seats; don't let them slump.
Why should I pose people at an angle (instead of facing straight at the camera) for group shots?
First, it slims the body. Second, it allows you to squeeze in more people. Third, it gets the heads closer together. Fourth, since pictures are about relationships, it is natural to have your subjects turned toward someone they like.
A bride and groom almost always look best if they're at the center of the picture, front row, standing. Don't let anyone cover the bride's dress by standing or sitting in front of her.
From the priest's blessing at a baptism to the newlyweds driving off in a limousine, there are traditional activities in all special events. Know how the day will flow to catch these moments. There may be an event coordinator, disc jockey, or bandleader in charge of the scheduling. Keep in touch with them instead of bothering the family to find out what's next.
Depending on the event, there might be some traditions that require special setups and equipment. Anything taking place in a small room will require a wide-angle lens. If you're using flash, you'll want to bounce it off the ceiling or a wall. Bouquet and garter toss also require a wide angle. Position yourself so that you can find the angle that shows the entire crowd behind the bride as she throws the bouquet.
The first dance (and father-daughter dance, along with any other special dances) should first be photographed in a way that establishes the scene. Get a full-length shot of the couple. Capture reaction shots as people watch. Get a few closeups of guest's faces, plus detail shots like the groom or dad's hand around the bride's waist. Avoid busy backgrounds like the music speakers. If the moment is magical, don't interrupt to pose the couple.
Look for action and reaction shots. Photograph the parents watching the couple as they're dancing. Capture guests laughing as the cake is cut. Get a picture of the best man's toast, and the groom covering his face in embarrassment. If a speaker gets choked up while making a speech, watch for parents and siblings to be wiping their eyes, too.
Unless you're extremely secure about your abilities as a photographer, and you completely trust your equipment, think twice about accepting an invitation to photograph a wedding. If your skills aren't up to the task, or your equipment fails, it will ruin both the event and the memories for the couple and for you as well. If you do accept, make sure the bridal couple understands your capabilities and limitations. If they want a formal portrait that requires auxiliary lighting and you don't have it, they'll end up being disappointed with your efforts.
Yes, you can plan for these. Just before or after a scheduled activity, such as walking down the aisle or cutting the cake, watch for moments of deep connection between the main people at the event. Capturing these images may necessitate changing how you're thinking and feeling. Rather than anticipating large-scale action, keep your antennae up for the unexpected. Children are great subjects in this area. Watch for the bride to kneel down to talk to the flower girl. Children on the dance floor? Get out the camera and be prepared.
You may have to lie on the floor or hang off a balcony to get an unusual angle. Tilt the camera; take creative risks. Tell yourself the picture might not turn out, but you'll give it a try anyway. Take these images on your own time, after you've shot all the pictures that are important to the event.