As the ones responsible for capturing a wedding day in images, we photographers are under a ton of pressure. To help you next time you’re asked (or even hired) to assume the role, we tapped ten exciting bridal pros—all chosen by our sister magazine, American Photo, as the best of 2012—for their techniques and strategies for bringing a smile to the face of even the scariest bridezilla.
This isn’t about what equipment to buy to shoot weddings. (That’s between you, your spouse, and your accountant.) Nor is it about conventional poses, lighting setups, shot lists, or marketing strategies. (For these, see any of the 200 wedding tutorial books you can find at bookstores and online.)
Instead, we wanted to bring you the thought processes of America’s top wedding shooters as they hit the ground running to cover a typical event. What are they looking for as they go from formal family portraits, to the ceremony, to the dinner and reception? How do they (subtly) coax participants into the poses and pictures that will produce a stunning wedding album? And how do they set up the circumstances that allow them to find, mine, and even create that most important of wedding guests: human emotion.
A set of pictures that capture the deep and true feelings between a couple getting married—and the emotions and hope that friends and family feel for them—is the holy grail of wedding photography. This, ultimately, is what we’re after.
As Dave Getzschman (chrismanstudios.com), a wedding pro based in Los Angeles, puts it thusly: “Emotion is the substance of wedding photography. You can and should build images around light, color, and composition, but without emotion, there’s a vital human element missing.”
Getzschman, who shot the dance-floor spin on the previous spread, looks for real interactions between the couple, the wedding guests, and members of the bridal party. “These emotions reflect our humanity and translate immediately and powerfully to viewers regardless of their culture, race, ethnicity or language,” he says.
How do wedding photographers find or create the conditions in which these emotions are allowed to rise to the surface in images? “I engage with my subjects and it gains their trust. I arrive early, introduce myself, learn people’s names, ask questions, listen,”
Getzschman says. “When intimate moments occur, I want to have ingratiated myself to the point where I can stand a few feet away from my subjects with a wide-angle lens and have no one feel that I’m intruding.”
For Ira Lippke (iralippke.com), whose wedding studio is in Brooklyn, NY, it’s all about depressurizing the situation. For example, during a couple’s formal portrait session, “I emphasize that the photography is secondary. The primary reason for pulling the couple away from their guests is for them to have some meaningful time together, just the two of them on their wedding day,” he says. The couple immediately relaxes and focuses on each other, “and I get emotionally real images that way.”
Angelica Glass, also of New York (photos.angelicaglass.com), offers a similar approach. When subjects are standing and see the camera, they often tense up. Some even stop breathing. “My favorite strategy is to ask them to sit. Once seated, people tend to become more relaxed and breathe normally,” she says. “For shots of the bridal couple, I also ask others to leave the room. That way the couple can relax without too many sets of eyes on them.”
New York-based shooter Ron Antonelli (ronantonelli.com) also takes a physical approach to posing portraits. “I remind the couple to touch one another. Whether it’s holding hands or having an arm around a partner, a spontaneous moment will always seem more emotionally connected if a couple is physically connected,” he advises.