A Lovers’ Quarrel with Wedding Season

I’m getting revved up here for wedding season. After all my years in this business, I have to admit I approach May and June with mixed feelings. On the one hand, there is that unmistakable feeling of “Didn’t I just do this?” It’s a cliché, I know, but time seems to pass more quickly as you get older, and as the years flow into each other you really start noticing the repetition. After a while, doing wedding photography gives me that same feeling I get when listening to hardcore bluegrass music: no matter how good the band, after the 3rd or 4th numberI start thinking “Um … yeah, this is great and all … but do you know more than that one song?”

I reluctantly confess that I have to be careful at most weddings to make sure I’m not going into auto-pilot. Could I phone it in? After more weddings than I can even count, sure. But I would hate myself, and that isn’t what people pay for. I try my best to do even the most traditional shots with a bit of a flare. The customer is always right, right?

But now and again (and more frequently within the last few years, it seems), I get the couple that wants something different for their wedding album. OK, yeah, sure, some of the ideas I would politely call stupid (“You both want to dress as vampires, you want all the shots in black-and-white, with hand-colored blood? Seriously?”); some were dangerous (you’re not getting me to jump out of airplane at all, let alone with a $4800 camera. Who am I, Robert Spence?); and some were simply offensive (“Look, what the groom’s party does with your bride the whole night before the wedding is your business … but if you want it on film, you’ll need to talk to someone else.”).

With all that being said, there are still people who want to remember their wedding as unique because it’s their wedding … not because they turned it into a sideshow. And when it comes to that, one of the best gifts a bride-to-be can give her photographer is a personal shot list.

Now, when I say that, I am not talking about Googling “wedding shot list” and doing a copy-and-paste into an email. I get a lot of those, and honestly, the only thing that keeps me from taking the job and shooting every shot I can think of EXCEPT the ones on the list is pure professionalism.

Well, that and an unwillingness to admit how petty I can be. But I digress.

The truth is, there really are only so many ways you can shoot a wedding: no matter how creative you want to be, there are still going to be a LOT of traditional shots. Which makes it even more relevant to find those shots that make the wedding personal.

What if the band at the wedding is the bride’s younger brother’s first paying gig? What if the groom personally carved the punch bowl out of a block of ice? What if the bride’s grandmother hand-sewed 600 beads to create her veil? Or what if the location is the exact spot where the groom’s parents met?

I’ve had all of those scenarios show up on different shot lists. The ice bowl was gorgeous, the wedding locale was picture-perfect, even 24 years later, and the band was incredibly … adequate. But I paid special attention to all of those features, because they were personal.

And the veil? The beads weren’t all perfectly aligned, and honestly it was a bit short. But when you saw the arthritic hands that created it, well, it was enough to make you cry. My favorite shot of that entire wedding is one showing those hands cradling the hands of the bride, with just a slight glint haloing off the engagement ring.

Yes, I’m bragging. You would, too.

My point is this: as photographers, I feel most of us are more likely to sense when the Emperor has no clothes. In other words, that perfect shot living in the client’s head doesn’t really exist. But at the same time, we see things the world at large tends to miss. Without sounding egotistical, the best advice I give potential clients is, Tell me what you think you want … then TRUST ME.

I’ve done this before.

The Man

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