Weddings are a time to honor tradition, commitment and family. But as any wedding photojournalist knows, they’re also a great time for people to come together and cut loose. To capture all those spontaneous moments that will be talked about for years to come, a wedding photographer needs a quick eye and a good camera—oh, and a sense of humor doesn’t hurt either. With these tools in hand, your guests are guaranteed a chance to relive the day in all its uninhibited glory.
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
Even the most well-prepared wedding photojournalist might be unaware that a reception is going be a party-hard affair. The stiff tuxedos, the fitted gowns, the regimented rituals of the ceremony – these are all unreliable indicators of what lies just beneath.
To be sure, every photojournalist has experienced some form of cognitive dissonance at a reception: the couple that looks a little wild and edgy will end up with a rather dull party, while the straight-laced wedding guests of another affair are suddenly throwing back shots and swinging from the rafters. When it comes to receptions, you can’t judge a boor by its cummerbund.
So how to prepare for the unknown? As a rule, photojournalists must be ready for literally everything. Clapping and screaming coming from another room is like a Bat Signal to a wedding photographer. And they will often have their camera on them at all times, even when heading to the bathroom (hey, they’re not camels). Wild moments change in a flash and there’s never a do-over.
WPJA members are masters at reading a room. During a reception, they can sense when the atmosphere is getting looser, so their radar becomes more intensified. They can pick up on subtle visual clues as well, like loosening ties, overly-theatrical laughs or toasting glasses suddenly being replaced by Coronas.
Some great photographs may come at those moments when wedding guests’ antics and tradition collide. A bride cutting the cake and feeding her husband is steeped in ritual. But it takes on a whole new level when she stuffs the groom’s mouth like a taxidermist. And a guest who proceeds to write the bride a check during the dollar dance is sure to keep the photographer on his toes. It is these serendipitous moments that make for lasting impressions, and photojournalists are always up for the challenge.
GET INTO THE ACTION
A wedding photojournalist’s focus on the bigger story, rather than one individual photo or set of posed photos, means that he or she has the confidence and the skill to get right into the thick of things without disturbing a great moment or, worse, missing it altogether.
Some actually compare this style of shooting to covering volatile news events, like protests or a championship sports win. The photographer grabs his wide-angled lens and dives head first into the chaos, nailing down a storm of disparate but emotionally connected shots, which will be woven together as a vivid tapestry of unbridled feeling and expression.
And this kind of front line reporting isn’t just contained to the reception hall. At any time, in any place, an unscripted moment can reveal itself, daring the veteran wedding photojournalist to catch that lightning in a bottle. Emotions run high in the bridal room, as well as in the wedding limos. In both of these places, spontaneous singing and dancing has been known to break out, relieving tension and providing a veritable playground for the hungry camera.
We know that wedding guests enjoy reliving these off-the-cuff moments through the photos taken of the action. But how does the photographer feel about injecting themselves into these scenes, hoping to pull off that one-in-a-million shot? The feeling is quite positive, it seems. Many WPJA members admit that these kinds of photos end up being some of their most cherished images.
And don’t dismiss the Yin and Yang of “party shots.” For every extroverted display of glee, there are a dozen faces on the sidelines, looking surprised or confused. Those are the true cherries on the libertine sundae. By framing a few of those reactions into the shot, the memory of the moment will reach an even greater depth of richness and emotion.
The wedding photojournalist can’t hang on the sidelines if she wants to truly document the day. There is no way to avoid the hot spots of action flaring up all around the room, so photographers have no choice but to get in the mix…even if it means risking a few bumps and some scuffed shoes.
In the end, wedding photojournalism is about “capturing the moment”; freezing a slice of time that is infused with raw emotion and unpolished feelings. And when in the hands of a master, there are few better causes for celebration.