Planning your wedding day couple's portraits
For lack of a better name, I have called this article 'planning your couples photos' after the American name given to photos which solely contain the bride and groom on their wedding day. You know, this sort of thing:
People talk at length about various other parts of their wedding day, but no one seems to discuss this vitally important part of the wedding day. I'm aware that the previous article that I've written is all about how you get the best wedding photos without posing people or interfering, but this part of the day just simply doesn't happen without some direction.
"I hate having my photo taken." I hear this so many times, that if I have £1 for every time it has been said to me, I wouldn't need to take photos for a living and would be on my yacht right now. I can completely understand this sentiment however, as I hate having my photo taken too. I feel awkward, I struggle to smile and I have no idea how to stand, let alone strike a pose (which is why there's no photo of me on my entire website where my face is showing.) With that in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about the couple's photos part of the wedding day, to put aside any anxiousness and to let you know that, as much as you hate being photographed, or as awkward as you think this part of your wedding will be, you can actually look forward to it, and have some fun at the same time.
"How much time does it take/will we need?"
Each venue is different. Each wedding is different and yes, you guessed it, no two people are alike either. However there is a basic framework that most wedding venues now use when it comes to helping you plan on how much time you need for your wedding photography. One and a half hours seems to be the preferred amount, which sounds like a lot of time - but I can tell you from experience that if you're not careful with that time, it can really disappear.
First of all, an hour and a half for photos isn't an hour and a half at all. It's actually a lot closer to an hour and 10 minutes; the second you walk out of the church, or out of the ceremony room in which you've just tied-the-knot, you'll be swamped by guests, congratulating you and wishing you well. Whilst this is one of my favourite times to get some good documentary wedding photography done, there is so much happening that 20 minutes can often feel like 2.
Next you need to get any 'formal' i.e. group photos out of the way first. Finding and organising people is actually what takes the most amount of time here, especially if you get married at one location, and have your wedding reception at another. Believe it or not, on average it takes between 4 and 6 minutes to find everyone who's needed for a photo, get them in the right position, and get a photo where everyone is smiling. In the 70 minutes you have left for 'photos' you can fit 14 formal/group photos in.
But again, it's not that simple. In those 70 minutes you also need to find time to have photos with your new husband or wife, and to make matters worse, your 70 minutes is likely to be more like 55. When you're discussing your wedding day timetable with the event planner, make sure when they're talking about the wedding breakfast, that the start time on the timeline is when the guests are called to dinner, and not when they're due to start eating. If it's when they're due to be eating, you're going to lose that additional 15 minutes that it takes to get the guests to their seats.
If you then put aside 15 minutes for your 'couples photos' you're only leaving yourself 40 minutes for your formal photos. So, aim to have 8-10 group photos, which will leave you enough time to have some photos with your husband or wife too.
"What can we do if we want more formal photos?"
- Let me venue know as soon as possible, and ask to have more time set aside at this part of the day. Remember that it's your wedding, it should go the way you want and you should be able to do exactly what you'd like. If you don't know how much time you'd need, drop me an email and I'll be more than happy to help.
- Have the 'couple's photos' taken after the wedding breakfast. This only works for weddings at the end of May until about the second week in August, but you can make use of the longer days by taking photos later into the evening. Make sure that there's not rain forecast for the evening though, there would be nothing worse than postponing your couples photos only for the heavens to open later in the day.
Back to the original question - How much time will it take? This again depends on several things, the biggest deciding factor being how big your wedding venue is. If you're having an intimate wedding at a small venue, you're going to have less opportunities to explore photographically than you are at a large and very spread-out venue such as Stanbrook Abbey.
I work very fast, largely due to the sheer amount of time I've spent behind the camera and at weddings. In 15 minutes I can provide a range of different photographs which all vary greatly. However, more time here alloys for a greater number of photos to be taken in a number of different locations.
"Where will we go?"
Some wedding venues have acres of landscaped grounds, natural woodlands, streams, lakes etc. Some wedding venues have nothing at all other than a patch of land no bigger than the average residential garden. Wherever you're getting married, I work extremely hard to make sure that you receive the best possible photos to serve as memories of your day. If the venue is very small, I'll have a look around in the months before the wedding to see if there's anywhere within walking distance that would make for some stunning photos. On the other hand, if you have a massive venue, you might have too much choice and too little time to make use of all of it. Here, I normally schedule a pre-wedding venue visit with my couples so we can walk the grounds and discuss what would work best for their photography. I am then also able to make recommendations for their wedding timetable, based on the amount of photography they'd like.
"Can you make suggestions?"
Absolutely, and I'm always available over the telephone or by email for my clients to discuss their wedding. For Ailsa & Anthony's wedding reception, the couple and I spent two hours the month before their wedding having a bit of a recce of Bodenham Arboretum which is where their wedding reception was going to be held. The venue is massive, and the bride and groom had allowed for 45 minutes for photos of the two of them. This is a lot of time, but the venue was vast. During our final meeting, we found locations that all three of us liked, and drew them on a map. Then they joined up the locations with arrows and added notes so come the big day, we knew where we'd have to walk and what photos I was to take once we got there. We took exactly 45 minutes and the bride and groom received exactly the photos they wanted.
"How do I act?"
This one is really simple - you don't. Your wedding photos should speak to the viewer about who you are. Don't act - just be yourself. When I'm setting up a photo of the bride and groom, I'll know where I want to stand them, and on which side I'd like the bride or groom based on how it works in the composition. I don't really do much other than ask the couple to stand with each other in a way that feels natural to them. The last thing I want in my wedding photos is either one of the people involved looking uncomfortable.
"I hate looking at the camera"
Me too. If you really can't stand looking at the camera, that's absolutely fine - I can still capture some beautiful images without you needing to look at me. Photos where you're looking at the photographer all the time feel too stifled, too contrived. My best advice to you - look at your partner. After all, he/she is the reason you're there in the first place. Look at your parter, and smile.
"But I can't smile on queue..."
That's ok too, and not many people can convincingly. My advice here is simple too. If you're really, really struggling to smile even in the slightest, just look at your bride or groom (who of course at this point is your wife or husband) and remember that fact. Remember you've just married your soul-mate, and you're at your wedding and the months and years of planning have paid off. And if you still can't smile thinking about that, I'm afraid you might have bigger problems than me being there pointing a camera at you!
"I hate having my photo taken"
Then pretend you're not. By the time it comes to the couple's photos I've usually spent 6-7 hours that day with the bride and the bridesmaids, and a couple of hours with the groom. Usually people find it easy to ignore me once they've got used to me being there. And if you can't ignore me, try looking right through me or past me. And if you can't consciously do that, just look at something interesting in the background!
"I'm getting married in winter so after the wedding breakfast it'll be too dark for photography"
I can understand this thought-process, and whilst it's far from ideal taking group photos in the dark (even with sophisticated lighting it still doesn't quite look right) you can get some truly amazing wedding photos once the sun has gone down. There are even some Worcestershire wedding venues that I almost prefer photographing at night. It's a lot easier taking after-dark wedding photos in December when it's dark at 4pm, than it is in June, when the sun sets at 10:30pm and it's never truly dark - but if you want after-dark photos or I think we can really rock something when the sun has set, I'd be more than happy to do so.
As I sit here writing this, I photographed a wedding yesterday where I started at 7:20am and was due to finish around 8pm. I noticed there were some really cool lights about the venue that I wanted to photograph the bride and groom in front of once it was dark. The only thing is, it wouldn't be dark for another two hours. So I stayed, waiting for it to be dark enough to really nail the shot. As I always say to my clients (who are often concerned at me working 15 hour days) - It's not like I'm going to leave early and go to another wedding! If I need to stay two hours late to get a single image, that's exactly what I'll do. I will never get home after a wedding and think to myself 'oh I wish I stayed for that image' - because I'd stay and do it in the first place.
What happens if it rains?
The thought that sends shivers down most bride and groom's spines - what happens if it rains on your wedding day? Firstly let me say that the single most important thing on your wedding day is that, come the end of it, you're married. Of course you still want some incredible wedding photos of your big day, and don't feel like a wet wedding has to be anything less than amazing. You can take all sorts of photos in the wet than you couldn't have taken in the dry, and the photos can be even more dramatic. If you're getting married at a time where rain is more frequent, check with the wedding venue to see if they have a stash of umbrellas that you can use (and most good venues will.) Again, if you think it might rain on your big day, wedding wellies are more and more in-vogue these days and are big business. So, if in your mind the worst happens and it is pouring with rain on your wedding day, put your wellies on, stick your umbrellas up, walk out into the rain and embrace it.
Do I need to bring my bridesmaids or best man with me for the photos?
To be brutally honest, in the last 20 wedding I've photographed I've carried more bride's dresses than all the bridesmaids combined in the 280 weddings I photographed before them. If there is the threat of rain, it's sometimes useful to have a best man or usher come along with us in order that they carry a couple of umbrellas if the heavens open. And if they do - rescue the bride first, the groom second and I'm okay to get wet!
When it comes to making the bride look her best in the wedding photos, I'm a dab-hand at fluffing-out wedding dresses and making sure they're shown off to their fullest.
For some more elaborate photos, it's sometimes nice to have an usher carry a light for me, but it's really not necessary - it's my fault I have so much camera gear!