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The Key Shots



















Today's post is an ex
cerpt from the book The Best of Wedding Photography (3rd ed.), by Bill Hurter. It is available from Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

As part of the wedding photography, there are some key images that every bride and groom will expect to see. Including these is important for creating an album that tells the whole story of the couple’s special day. The following are a few tips on what to shoot and some ideas for making the most of each moment as it happens.

ENGAGEMENT PORTRAIT
The engagement portrait is made prior to the hectic wedding day, providing the time to get something spectacular. Many photographers use this session as an opportunity to get to know the couple and to allow the couple to get to know them. Engagement portraits may involve great creativity and intimacy and are often made in the photographer’s studio or at some special location.

The engagement portrait has become an integral part of wedding packages. It gives the photographer a chance to work with the couple before the big day so that the trio may get used to each other. Photograph by Tom Muñoz.

AT THE BRIDE’S HOUSE
Typically, weddings begin with the bride getting ready. Find out what time you may arrive and be there a little early. You may have to wait a bit—there are a million details for the bride to attend to—but you might find ample opportunity for still lifes or family shots. When you get the okay to go up to the bedrooms, realize that it may be tense in there. Try to blend in and observe. Shots will present themselves, particularly with the mother and daughter or the bridesmaids.

BEFORE THE WEDDING
You do, of course, want to photograph the groom before the wedding. Some grooms are nervous, while others are gregarious—like it’s any other day. Regardless, there are ample picture opportunities before anyone else arrives. It’s also a great opportunity to do formal portraits of the groom, the groom and his dad, and the groom and his best man. A three-quarter-length portrait is a good choice—and you can include the architecture of the church or building if you want.

Being a fly on the wall as the bride is getting ready can lead to some great shots. Photograph by Ron Capobianco.

When photographing men, always check that the ties are properly knotted. If they are wearing vests, make sure that they are correctly buttoned and that the bottom button is undone.

Joe Photo tries to get a shot of the bride’s shoes as she’s getting ready. Be sure to make a nice shot like this if at all possible.

THE CEREMONY
Regardless of whether you’re a wedding photojournalist or a traditionalist, you must be discrete during the ceremony. Nobody wants to hear the “ca-chunk” of a camera or see a blinding flash as the couple exchange their vows. It’s better by far to work from a distance with a tripod-mounted 35mm camera with the motor off (or in quiet mode, if the camera has one), and to work by available light. Work quietly and unobserved—in short, be invisible. (Of course, it should be noted that recent SLRs—especially DSLRs—are much quieter than past cameras.)

Some of the events you will need to cover are: the bridesmaids and flower girls entering the church, the bride entering the church, the parents being escorted in, the bride’s dad “giving her away,” the first time the bride and groom meet at the altar, the minister or priest talking with them, the ring exchange, the exchange of vows, the kiss, the bride and groom turning to face the assembly, the bride and groom coming up the aisle, and any number of two dozen variations—plus all the surprises along the way. Note that this scenario applies only to a Christian wedding. Every religion has its own customs and traditions that you need to be familiar with before the wedding.

Some churches don’t allow any photography during the ceremony. You will, of course, know this if you’ve taken the time to visit the church prior to the wedding.

Regardless of your style of coverage, family groups are pictures that will be desired by all. You must find time to make the requisite group shots, but also be aware of shots that the bride may not have requested, but expects to see. The bride with her new parents and the groom with his are great shots, according to Monte Zucker, but are not ones that will necessarily be “on the list.”

FORMALS
Following the ceremony, you should be able to steal the bride and groom for about ten minutes—no more, or you will be taking too much of their time and the others in attendance will get a little edgy. Most photographers will get what they need in less than ten minutes.

In addition to a number of formal portraits of the
couple—their first pictures as man and wife—you should try to make whatever obligatory group shots the bride has asked for. This may include a group portrait of the wedding party, a portrait with the bride’s family and the groom’s family, and so on.

If there are too many “must” shots to do in a short
time, arrange to do some after the ceremony and some at the reception. This can be all thought out beforehand.

THE BRIDE AND GROOM

Generally speaking, this should be a romantic pose, with the couple looking at one another. While a formal pose or two is advisable, most couples will opt for the more romantic and emotional formal portraits. Be sure to highlight the dress, as it is a crucial element to formal portraits. Take pains to show the form as well as the details of the dress and train, if the dress has one. This is certainly true for the bride’s formal portrait, as well.

Make at least two formal portraits, a full-length shot and a three-quarter-length portrait. Details are important, so pose the couple. Make sure the bouquet is visible and have the bride closest to the camera. Have the groom place his arm around his bride but with his hand in the middle of her back. Have them lean in toward each other, with their weight on their back feet and a slight bend to their forward knees. Quick and easy!

THE BRIDE
To display the dress beautifully, the bride must stand well. Although you may only be taking a three-quarter-length or head-and-shoulders portrait, start the pose at the feet. When you arrange the bride’s feet with one foot forward of the other, the shoulders will naturally be at their most flattering, one higher than the other. Have her stand at an angle to the lens, with her weight on her back foot and her front knee slightly bent. The most feminine position for her head is to have it turned and tilted toward the higher shoulder. This places the entire body in an attractive S-curve, a classic bridal pose.

Have the bride hold her bouquet in the hand on the same side of her body as the foot that is extended. If the bouquet is held in the left hand, the right arm should come in to meet the other at wrist level. She should hold her bouquet a bit below waist level to show off the waistline of the dress, which is an important part of the dress design. Take photos showing the dress from all angles.

THE WEDDING PARTY
This is one formal group that does not have to be formal. I have seen group portraits of the wedding party done as a panoramic, with the bride, groom, bridesmaids, and groomsmen doing a conga line down the beach, dresses held high out of the water and the men’s pant legs rolled up. And I have seen elegant, formal pyramid arrangements, where every bouquet and every pose is identical and beautiful. It all depends on your client and your tastes. It should be a portrait that you have fun doing. Most photographers opt for boy–girl arrangements, with the bride and groom somewhere central in the image. As with the bridal portrait, the bridesmaids should be in front of the groomsmen in order to highlight their dresses.

Titled The Pall Bearers, this image by J.B. Sallee is a tongue-in-cheek portrait of what the groom and his groomsmen might term “his last day of freedom.” In postproduction, the groomsmen were darkened to make the groom stand out.

LEAVING THE CHURCH
Predetermine the composition and exposure and be ready and waiting as the couple exits the church. If guests are throwing confetti or rice, don’t be afraid to choreograph the event in advance. You can alert guests to get ready and “release” on your count of three. Using a slow (1/30 second) shutter speed and flash, you will freeze the couple and the rice, but the moving objects will have a slightly blurred edge. If you’d rather just let the event happen, opt for a burst sequence using the camera’s fastest frame rate—up to eight frames per second with high-end DSLRs—and a wide-angle to short-telephoto zoom. Be alert for the unexpected, and consider having a second shooter cover events like this to better your odds of getting the key picture.

ROOM SETUP
Make a photograph of the reception site before the guests arrive. Photograph one table in the foreground and be sure to include the floral and lighting effects. Also, photograph a single place setting and a few other details. The bride will love them, and you’ll find use for them in the album design. The caterers, decorators, and other vendors will also appreciate a print that reflects their efforts. Some photographers try to include the bride and groom in the scene, which can be tricky—but their presence does add to the shot. Before the guests enter the reception area, for instance, Ken Sklute often photographs the bride and groom dancing slowly in the background and it is a nice touch.

THE RECEPTION
This is the time when most of your photojournalistic coverage will be made—and the possibilities are endless. As the reception goes on and guests relax, the opportunities for great pictures will increase. Be aware of the bride and groom all the time, as they are the central players. Fast zooms and fast telephoto lenses paired with fast film or high ISO settings will give you the best chance to work unobserved.

Be prepared for the scheduled events at the reception—the bouquet toss, removing the garter, the toasts, the first dance, and so on. If you have done your homework, you will know where and when each of these events will take place, and you will have prepared to light it and photograph it. Often, the reception is best lit with a number of corner-mounted umbrellas, triggered by your on-camera flash. That way, anything within the perimeter of your lights can be photographed by strobe. Be certain you meter various areas within your lighting perimeter so that you know what your exposure is everywhere on the floor.

The reception calls upon all of your skills and instincts.
Things happen quickly, so don’t get caught with an important event coming up and only two frames left or a CF card that’s almost full. People are having a great time, so be cautious about intruding upon events. Try to observe the flow of the reception and anticipate the individual events before they happen. Coordinate your efforts with the person in charge, usually the wedding planner or banquet manager. He or she can run interference for you, as well as cue you when certain events are about to occur, often not letting the event begin until you are ready.

I have watched Joe Photo work a reception, and it is an
amazing sight. He often uses his Nikon D1X and flash in bounce mode and works quickly and quietly. His Nikon Speedlite is outfitted with a small forward-facing internal reflector that redirects some of the bounce flash directly onto his subject, making the flash both key and fill light at once. If he is observed and noticed, he’ll often walk over and show the principals the image on the LCD, offer some thoughtful compliment about how good they all look, and quickly move on. Other times he just shoots, observes, and shoots some more. His intensity and concentration at the reception are keen and he comes away with priceless images—the rewards of good work habits.

RINGS
The bride and groom usually love their new rings and want a shot that includes them. A close-up of the couple’s hands displaying the rings makes a great detail image in the album. You can use any type of attractive pose, but remember that hands are difficult to pose. If you want a really close-up image of the rings, you will need a macro lens, and you will probably have to light the scene with flash—unless you make the shot outdoors or in good light.

Joe Photo always makes it a point to photograph the rings with the wedding invitation. That makes it imperative to carry a macro lens.

THE CAKE CUTTING
Cakes have gotten incredibly expensive—some cost more than $10,000! For this reason, a stand-alone portrait of the cake is a good idea, both for the cake-maker and for the bride and groom.

THE FIRST DANCE
One trick is to tell the couple beforehand, “Look at me and smile.” That will keep you from having to circle the couple until you get both of them looking at you for the first-dance shot. Or you can tell them, “Just look at each other and don’t worry about me, I’ll get the shot.”

Often, photographers will photograph the first dance
by whatever available light exists (often spotlights) on the dance floor. This is possible with fast lenses and fast ISOs. Just as frequently, the photographer will use bounce flash and a slow shutter speed to record the ambient light in the room and the surrounding faces watching the couple’s first dance. The bounce flash will freeze the couple but there is often some blurring due to the slow shutter speed.

THE BOUQUET TOSS
Whether you’re a photojournalist or traditionalist, this shot looks best when it’s spontaneous. You need plenty of depth of field, which almost dictates a wide-angle lens. You’ll want to show not only the bride but also the faces in the background. Although you can use available light, the shot is usually best done with two flashes—one on the bride and one on the ladies waiting for the bouquet. Your timing has to be excellent, as the bride will often “fake out” the group just for laughs. This might fake you out, as well. Try to get the bouquet as it leaves the bride’s hands and before it is caught—and if your flash recycles fast enough, get a shot of the lucky lady who catches it.

TABLE SHOTS
Table shots don’t usually turn out well, are rarely ordered, and are tedious to make. If your couple absolutely wants table shots, ask them to accompany you from table to table. That way they can greet all of their guests, and it will make the posing quick and painless. Instead of table shots, consider one big group that encompasses nearly everyone at the reception.

LITTLE ONES
A great photo opportunity comes from spending time with the smallest attendees and attendants—the flower girls and ring bearers. They are thrilled with the pageantry of the wedding day and their involvement often offers a multitude of memorable shots.

The little ones are especially fragile on the wedding day and present some wonderful photo opportunities. Photograph by Marcus Bell.




 

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