Who wants ordinary snapshots from their wedding, right? Here’s 3 secrets to capturing real moments and their underlying emotions — and they’re not what you think! I’ve been a professional wedding photographer for 30 years and I’ve invested a lot of time over those years with hundreds of brides and grooms, and their moms and dads, on their wedding days and afterwards.
So I’ve experienced what it is people, just like you and me, who wish their photography to embody all their tears, smiles and laughter, capture the relationships they have with their loved ones, and document their life’s most meaningful moments, really desire to get out of their wedding photography when it’s all said and done.
With all this first-hand experience if I were asked today to boil down how to have your wedding photography portray natural emotions and real moments to just its 3 most relevant keys, the most important factors of all, they would have to be these:
Secret #1 – Disconnect from the “Smile For The Camera” Mode Ever since you were a little child, your parents would take your picture telling you to look at the camera, hold still and smile.
That’s how they took pictures, and in so doing, they trained you to “mug” for your pictures and “play to the camera”. Today, you’re all grown up, and you may be out on the town one night with your friends, and someone in your group pulls out their cell phone or camera and aims it at you and your friends, and what do you all do?
You “assume the position”! You all stare at the camera, staying motionless… smiling… waiting for the picture to be taken.
Just as you were trained to do ever since you were a kid.
But those aren’t the kinds of images you wish to have to remember your wedding with – unless you’re an average bride who’s okay with average photos, but we’ve already established that you’re probably not that bride. So you may feel more strongly that the best photos of you have always been those where you’re not aware of the camera.
You’d be right about that.
It’s because those “candid” photos are capturing you being yourself.
When they’re done well, that is, when they catch “definitive moments”, they capture your personality, your essence. Were you aware people act differently when they know they’re being observed?
Just like you may drive more conservatively than you normally would if you knew there’s a police car behind you. This is why television shows like “Big Brother” actually hide their cameras, so they can capture people as they really are, being themselves doing what they do, rather than mugging for – or doing things affected for – the camera. You want to be photographed on your wedding day as the person you are – not be made into someone you’re not. And not get a bunch of “smile for the camera” shots. Your guests will take plenty of those.
Unplug yourself from “playing to the camera” on your wedding day and you’ll get real moments instead. Because you’ll be having real moments of genuine, natural interactions that can be photographed -and those will make for some great memories. And great photos.
Secret #2 – Tell “Stories” With Photos. Not Just “Take Pictures” People become photographers out of a love for taking pictures. And when they get into wedding photography, typically they look around and say, “okay, what pictures should I be taking?” Then they see what other wedding photographers are doing. And they do the same.
(which is why you’re seeing many of the same shots from photographer to photographer).
But the result is simply a compilation of random pictures from the wedding.
Emotional impact however, rises when one photograph builds on the next, and so on, compounding the depth and layers of the story being told.
You see, there’s a difference between taking pictures – and telling stories with photos. Sequences of story-telling photos also fill in the moments between the bigger moments – and tell us more about what happened, how it happened, who the people were, and how they felt. They shows us Action and Reaction. Cause and Effect. And not having any gaps, the series of story-telling sequences reveal more about the story than if there were only one picture to tell us what happened. Your wedding isn’t just one story, it’s a compilation of many stories. They’re stories within stories: There’s the story of you and you new spouse, of course. But there’s also the story of your mother and you. The story of you and your father. The story of you leaving the family home forever, the story of starting a new home, of you and your best friends… On your wedding day, what comes together, in one place, at one time, are all these stories of your life. Carry these  sequences of  story-telling images of  these stories and sub-stories over to your wedding album, depicting them therein in a story-telling format – and they trigger fuller, more complete memories of your wedding every time you look through your album – because they form stories. Whereas other wedding albums are mere scrapbook collections of pictures.
Secret #3 – It Takes A Certain Type Of Photographer To Take A Certain Type Of Photo Your photographer’s empathy goes a long way to getting the type of heart-touching images you desire from your wedding. The camera doesn’t know what photos to take. That task is obviously up to the photographer. Some photographers routinely use “shot lists”. Those are ideas for photos they can get throughout the day. Those ideas might be based on what the studio likes to sell (i.e. “clink champagne glasses and smile at camera”). Or they might be based on what the photographer envisions your wedding to be. Their “artificial” moment, not your “genuine” wedding moment.
Being pre-conceived and contrived, all those shots aren’t based on what actually happens at your wedding. You want photography that comes out of what actually happens at your wedding.
Otherwise, they’re not real moments. And only real moments have real memories – with meaning and feelings – attached to them.
So say you found a photographer who agrees to document your wedding as it unfolds rather than use those pre-conceived shot lists. Terrific! That’s a good start.
But now… what makes a photographer take one photo of “this”, yet not a photo of “that”?
I’ve found that the best, most meaningful, height of emotion wedding photographs, are only captured when the photographer’s “trigger finger” is directly connected to his or her heart. Something in the photographer’s emotional chemistry tells them when a particular moment is significant to document. It’s like second nature. It just happens.
They don’t even have to think twice about it. Here’s an illustration of what I mean:
Assume Photographer #1 is at your wedding. He or she’s unmarried, doesn’t have children, their biggest joy in life is partying.
Now, understand I’m not making any judgments here… other than how a person’s “chemistry” influences what photos they’re prone to take.
That photographer is likely to have a particular zeal for party shots. It’s just them, it’s how they’re wired. To them, that’s what a wedding’s all about.
Now say another photographer has children, maybe lost a parent. They may be more sensitive to child/parent relationships. To them, a wedding’s about family dynamics.
Being different people, the two photographers have different outlooks on life, wouldn’t that be fair to say? Both photographers are at the same party. At some point while people are dancing, your father comes over to you. He has a tear streaming down his cheek.
He knows the time has come to let go. It’s been on his mind and in his heart. His “little girl” is off to start her new life. He’s feeling it. He hugs her closely. No words are exchanged. The second photographer spies that and he just knows he needs to document those endearing moments.
The first photographer sees it too but its significance doesn’t quite register with him in that magnitude. It’s not in his “emotional lexicon” to “get” the significance of it all. He’s involved with taking shots of some people dancing. And so he continues to do that.
The moment was lost on him, you see. And because of that, the moment was lost.
Forever. Because it wasn’t documented by the photographer. Moral of the story: you could have the most meaningful, sentimental, personal moments happen – but if the photographer doesn’t “get” it in his or heart, then he or she won’t get it in the camera either – and then you’ll never have it to remember your moments by.