Two Approaches to Event Photography
Today's photographers have two operating modes during the special day. One approach is the fly on the wall or photojournalism mode. You are there to capture what happens, but not to change or affect the people or the scenery. The subjects are mostly unaware of your presence. You don't arrange the subjects in your photos; instead, you anticipate events and are in the right place at the right time to capture the moment. If possible, the event organizer should introduce you at the beginning of the event and make it clear that you are photographing with permission.
Subject-aware is the other mode. You help schedule the day, making sure time is set aside for you to take formal pictures. You move furniture, and you are in charge. You direct people where to stand, where to look. You help them appear their best by adjusting the lighting, attending to details, and interacting with them so they enjoy their time with you and look relaxed in the photographs. The subject-aware approach is also called traditional photography.
Event photography is a mix of these two approaches. Develop the judgment to know which mode is called for at the moment. Keep your audience in mind: If there is a professional photographer taking formal pictures and you intend to give your images as a gift to the family, get the moments that the professional is missing, those little glimpses that the family doesn't see. These would be done in the photojournalistic mode. On the other hand, if Aunt Minnie showed up late and missed the formal portraits, you can take a picture of her and the confirmation girl or the groom's father. This might be a traditional or posed picture.
Let's suppose your goal is to get a picture of the groom and his stepfather. You see the two men talking together in a corridor away from the main action at the event. You find an angle that shows both their faces, or maybe shows one man gesturing and the other responding with an interesting expression. Or maybe you sense the impending hug or pat on the back and snap enough frames so you can select a group from them that together tells a story about the moment, and then you move on to other subjects.
If you're taking the traditional approach, you'll wait until the two men finish talking. Then you'll direct them to face the camera and step to where the light and scenery will make a more pleasing image. You might ask them to put an arm around each other. You'll adjust their ties, jackets, and hair. You'll say a few words to them to get them involved in the moment, then snap the shutter when you sense that they are feeling connected and looking their best.
Which approach is best? If you're not comfortable directing people, or if your subjects don't like to pose, your best bet is to be a fly on the wall. If you've been asked to take more formal pictures of various event participants, the traditional approach is the way to go.