Photos Away from the Main Wedding Story: Sideline Shots

July 19, 2019
Sideline story photography at the wedding reception showing ladies drinking gin from tea cups

Photo by: Jonny Barratt, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom

Some wedding photographers may feel the need to include the bride or groom in every picture, but those photos convey only part of the day's record. Most WPJA members will probably tell you that you're not fully documenting the event unless you get out there on the periphery and record the subplots of the wedding day—the unique and intersecting stories of the guests as they enjoy the festivities.

We call these types of pictures “sideline shots,” and they are distinct from the standard reaction shots that you or your second shooter may capture during the walk down the aisle, the vows or the cake cutting. Sideline shots tend to be further away from the primary wedding day rituals, both geographically and thematically.

Sideline shots broaden and deepen the story of the day, and are in fact an essential part of the record. Grab some good sideline shots, and your clients will thank you.

Photo of wedding guests playing and having a good time at the reception.

Photo by: Jordanna Marston, Northamptonshire, United Kingdom


The bride and groom may be the center of attention on the wedding day, but they’re certainly not the entire story. The day is also very much about the friends and family who have been invited to share in the joy, catch up with loved ones, and do a little partying. Or maybe a lot of partying.

What’s important to the couple is indeed the social gathering they’ve created to celebrate their marriage. If it were only about them, and their relationship, then they would elope or perhaps have a small ceremony.

For many people, the wedding is a rare opportunity to get all of those closest to them together in a day and age when loved ones are often spread out around the country and the world. Ironically, at the reception, people also tend to spread out, making it the wedding photojournalist’s responsibility to troll the periphery of the event, seeking out those great moments away from the main action.

Clients overwhelmingly desire a complete wedding day picture; a fully-realized journal of their union as told through the actions and reactions of their invited guests. Talented photographers know this and are quick to showcase their mastery of this brand of visual storytelling.

Wedding photography showing the father and grandmother of the bride looking at a photo together in the dark as wedding guests light it with a cellphone light.

Photo by: Annie Bang, California, United States


Given that weddings are the sum total of various smaller parts, it follows that missing what is going on away from the bride and groom would be a lapse in coverage, and that is not something that WPJA members are likely to allow. When members were asked, they reported that roughly 30-50% of their shots fall into the sideline category.

Some of our members aptly pointed out that wedding receptions can be chaotic with many different things all happening at the same time. There are numerous conversations occurring at once, and the day is full of various distractions such as food, and maybe even children running around. In addition to the action, these events are full of emotion, all of which are important to capture in order to properly document the wedding. Furthermore, in taking these sideline shots, the wedding photojournalist provides a unique service for the couple, allowing them to experience all of the elements and moments of the wedding that they were not necessarily present for. In this way, the bride and groom are able to relive the full experience and see all of the excitement that was taking place around them.

Members are able to attest to the appreciation the brides and grooms have for sideline photos, noting that many of them are thanked for photographs that captured wonderful moments that the couple would not have known about otherwise.

Away from the main wedding action, a photo of a young flowergirl asleep at the table

Photo by: Lyndsey Goddard, London, United Kingdom


These sideline shots are not just about achieving a breadth of coverage—making sure that you’ve hunted down every last guest and taken their picture out on the fringes of the festivities. They’re really about depth, an essential ingredient to a solid photojournalistic recording of the day, as well as to the artistic resonance of the pictures.

Our members have expressed the importance of capturing the whole wedding day and not just moments that include the bride or groom, which can quickly begin looking the same and do not offer many variations. The bride and groom are not the only part of the wedding, and so the reactions, emotions, and special moments that the guests experience are equally important. While portraits are, of course, important as well, they are only one part of the wedding, and it is the “side stories” that will give a fuller, richer experience of the day.

Photo of guests talking at a wedding reception table.

Photo by: Kristian Leven, London, United Kingdom


It is important to listen to yourself and to allow yourself to experience wonder, curiosity, and playfulness—in other words, those feelings that served as inspiration for your career play a key role in capturing the best sideline shots possible. Let those feelings lead you, and don’t get bogged down by being overly self-conscious. Whether or not you follow convention, go after whatever you are most interested in or whatever strikes you at that moment, and trust that to be your guide.

Members agree that the most unique and important element of sideline shots is the fact that you are uninhibited and are allowed the chance to experiment, play, and stretch your creativity.

A guest is far away from the action grabbing some much needed rest. Wedding Photography at the reception.

Photo by: Philippe Swiggers, Vlaams Brabant, Belgium


Anticipation is key to a wedding photojournalist, and our members have agreed, saying that success in photography is directly attributed to this skill. Sometimes you might end up waiting quite a while to get the shot you’re looking for, but if you can point out where the most unique lighting and interesting compositional elements are and have enough patience, eventually the right moment will come.

Sometimes this waiting might be static, or sometimes you might find yourself wandering around seemingly aimlessly in pursuit of just the right elements—where are you, who’s there, what’s the lighting like, and what’s playing out on everyone’s faces—but if you keep yourself on the lookout for these ideal moments, you will be ready for it when it happens.

At the end of the day, if you are able to anticipate the perfect moment, frame it, and then patiently wait, you will have set yourself up to capture the entire mood of the wedding day.

And that’s precisely what sideline shots can do. Although they tend to be taken on the edge of the main event, their portrayal of the subplots of the wedding day—the intersection of the scores of personalities, encounters, and dreams—make them anything but peripheral.