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Verbal Cues Point to Priceless Moments

Today's post is an ex
cerpt from the book Advanced Wedding Photojournalism: Professional Techniques for Digital Photographers, by Tracy Dorr. It is available from Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

At most weddings, you won’t know anyone other than the bride. That means you won’t know the relationships and drama associated with each guest. This can make it hard to distinguish key players amidst a crowd of hundreds. This is an especially important point to remember: it’s not enough to concentrate on taking great photojournalistic portraits, it is also important to remember who you are eventually selling these portraits to. You could create an absolutely award-winning portrait, but if the subject is the groom’s ex-girlfriend, it won’t make you any money. The bride won’t even want the proof. What couples do want are excellent informal portraits of their closest friends and family—images that they can treasure over time. Listening and observing body language can key you in to who those people are.

Eavesdropping, though socially taboo, is usually a pretty good idea in these situations. People aren’t going to stop their conversation to clue you in, so pay attention. Note the conversations around you—especially those with humorous stories; these are likely to incite great expressions. If you hear key phrases like, “I haven’t seen you in such a long time!” or “I can’t tell you how proud of you I am right now,” highly charged emotions are likely to follow. If you hear the bride’s mother say to the bride, “If your father were here, he would be so proud!” and her voice has a slight falter of emotion, find the bride. She’s likely to follow that meaningful phrase with a hug or a few tears. And if the bride is tearing up, you know that Mom won’t be able to help herself. Basically, as soon as you hear, “Your father would be so proud,” you have an idea of where the conversation is heading and you know what reaction is likely to follow. There’s no downtime when you’re shooting people photojournalistically!

“You Look So Beautiful!”
There are some “traditional” verbal indicators to be on the lookout for—expected behaviors that are controlled by societal constraints. In polite Western society, for instance, when people see the bride, they are rather expected to say something like, “You look so beautiful!” The compliments a bride will receive on her wedding day can be overwhelming and exciting. Be ready to capture how she reacts to that. Whenever you hear a complimentary phrase, get ready.

“I’m So Glad You Made It!”
This phrase has two implications for the bride or groom: the person they’re saying it to is of high importance to them and/or is an out-of-town guest that they have not seen in a long time. Either way, it’s a good indication that this is a key player you should keep your eye on throughout the rest of the day.

“That Means So Much To Me!”

If you hear this phrase, it’s a tip-off that a compliment has just been given. Everyone appreciates a flattering remark, so there will be some kind of positive reaction to this nicety. That means there will also be a great opportunity for a photojournalistic portrait.

Compliments to the bride on any aspect of the wedding will reinforce to her the success of the day. It very important to the bride that the day goes well, so you will see the relief and pleasure on her face following that sort of compliment. It is also a common prompt for the hugging to begin—and where there’s action, there’s the opportunity for further emotional displays.

“Oh My God!”
This phrase is so universal that you know everyone will use it—and use it for a huge variety of reasons. It could refer to a guest or parent’s reaction to how beautiful the bride looks. It could suggest nervousness and excitement. This phrase is less of a sure thing, but it occurs with such frequency that it provides you with a plethora of opportunities to key in on a subject for a portrait.

Often, the phrase precedes the kind of emotional reaction that causes other people to get involved. For example, during the morning preparations, let’s say the bride is opening a gift that her husband-to-be has sent as a surprise. She opens the small, carefully wrapped box and says in a low voice (or a high-pitched squeal), “Oh, my God!” This suggests the bride is shocked and overwhelmed, giving you your first photo opportunity: the bride’s reaction. Additionally, you know that all of the other bridesmaids are immediately going to crowd around to get a look at the gift. The air will be filled with excitement—everyone will be laughing, smiling, and talking, which means more great emotionally charged moments for you to capture.

When you hear “Oh my God,” all you’ll need to do is zoom in on the bride first, then zoom out to include the two people nearest to the bride, and finally pull back to show the rest of the girls and see whose reaction stands out to you. Be aware of the entire group at all times and look for their crucial reactions. Seek out movement and reactions laced with emotion.

The aforementioned phrases are usually good indicators that an emotionally charged moment is about to occur. Learning to predict when these moments are likely to happen is the most significant element in learning to photograph with emotional integrity and lasting impact.

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