A lot of wedding photographers think their work is mostly for the bride, and I can see why. Usually, it’s the bride who spends countless hours looking for the right person to capture the best day of her life, sometimes even years before the actual wedding. I’ve had men contact me more than once, of course, but eight times out of ten, it is the bride’s letter that reaches me. Every little detail has to be perfect, and brides-to-be are more than happy to dive into the planning to make sure it is exactly like that. On the wedding day itself, it is the bride that receives the most attention and most admiration. Not to say the groom is secondary – oh no. His admiration and attention are the most important, he is her knight in shining armour, so to speak. And yet, she is the princess. So if she is happy, he is happy, isn’t that how they say it? Strangely enough, I’ve found that it is not the bride that is hardest to impress with your work. After all, if she’s chosen you, she already knows, more or less, what to expect. And the groom? That is a somewhat different story.
Why Is It Different With The Groom?
If you are a guy, ask yourself this – do you like being photographed? With no disrespect to natural models among you, most men are quite uncomfortable when someone is pointing a camera at them. Suddenly and out of nowhere, all the awkward smiles and poses creep out, all for the photographer to subtly “fix”. And that, I am afraid, is not always an easy task.
Some part of it is also due to me being a man, and thus just as uncomfortable in front of the camera. I don’t like being photographed myself, or at least I don’t know what to do when someone photographs me. I get awkward. And so other reasons flow from here – if I don’t know how to hold myself when I am being photographed, it only makes sense that I am not too good at posing men, too. Because of this, I will admit, I am not quite as comfortable photographing men as I am with women. Have I gotten better over the years and will I continue to improve? I certainly hope so. And what helps most here is the realization of just how different working with men is.
1) Don’t Go In With DSLRs Blazing
If the bride expects her wedding photographer to capture every single important moment happening, the groom is usually hoping to avoid the gentleman or lady with a camera who can potentially make him look very silly in a photograph. Which his friends will then certainly mock, of course. Some will even observe you with suspicion. The only real way to overcome his natural “instinct” to be somewhere you are not is to gain his trust. Real trust, at that. So much of it, in fact, that he ought to feel just as relaxed in front of you as in front of his friends, sometimes more so. So the first advice I could give a beginner wedding photographer about working with the groom is not to shake the man’s hand with a camera stuck to your face. As the first impression you make is so important, this is where your social skills will and must come into play first. Holding your camera to your eye may show your dedication to the task at hand, but it is definitely not very social.
Most of the time when I arrive to meet the husband-to-be, my camera is still resting in the bag. And it tends to stay there for quite a long time. Working with the groom involves a little bit less photography at first, but no less actual effort – it’s just a different sort of effort. So while the camera is still in the bag, talk to him. Get to know each other on the first name basis, talk about things that are even unrelated to the weddings or photography. Don’t be a photographer, be the person that you are with your friends. Basically, hang out for a little while. Then, hangout with your camera out as soon as the most important man of the day is comfortable with you. To make him comfortable, there are tens of questions that you can ask, starting with his family, his education, how he met his wife-to-be, if he’s seen his dress and whether he got any say in any of the planning at all. The lighter the atmosphere, the better!
This is not as easy to do as it may seem, just talking to a person you haven’t even met before as if he was your long time friend. But if you feel awkward, how could you expect him not to? After all, you are the guy that can potentially make him nervous since you carry the camera. Social skills are very important to every people photographer, and as during weddings one is likely to meet dozens of very different people, they are simply crucial in this business.
2) Explain Things
For a bride, the whole wedding photography is often about being in the moment. It’s a very romantic experience – just the two of them being in love and someone there to capture it all. She is the most beautiful woman in the world, and the happiest. He is responsible for it. And then the person with the camera has them hold each other, look at each other, kiss, laugh, and throws very fitting compliments at the best moment (or I should hope so). They are so in love! And at the end of the day (plus a few weeks while you work on the images), they get to see just how much in love they were. How can that not be romantic?
Well, it can be if you are male. See, if the bride is “in the moment”, being admired and admiring herself (she has all the right to do so), with most clients that I worked with, the guys rarely think “oh, he is going to do some great work, I am going to enjoy those images”. Let’s be realistic – most of them tend to think something along the lines of “why is he pointing his camera at me? I’m not doing anything. Am I supposed to be doing something?”, at the very least at first. And the photographer has just one choice – work to make it a romantic, seamless experience for the groom, too.
How? Simple – just talk him through it. I don’t mean explaining what aperture is and how the f-stop affects depth of field, oh no. Just tell him why you are posing them the way you are, why there and what it is that he should be doing and why. Also, starting with the bride alone helps – he will see that the whole process is not only quite simple and undemanding, it’s actually very relaxing. More than that, elegantly posing his wife in beautiful light will draw his thoughts away from you and towards just how gorgeously she looks, which is exactly what should happen. As soon as he is aware of your choices and the reasons for it (even if those are not the main reasons), he will feel more in control and confident of his actions, and thus will stop worrying about how he looks in those smartphone photographs his friends captured at work.
3) Keep It Simple
Did you know that most grooms are ready to stand on their eyelashes during the photo session, if they must? Oh yes. So many of my clients were ready to do just about anything for their wives. I can almost imagine the horrific dreams they must have had about me and the photoshoot! So here is the tip – don’t ever make the groom stand on his eyelashes. Not only would that be an exceptionally weird photograph, it will also not help him relax and feel at easy in front of the camera even the slightest bit.
I am going to give you a different example now. I remember observing this one couple dance. It wasn’t a wedding, it was actually a competition of sorts (believe it or not, I used to take dance classes twelve or so years ago!). What surprised me greatly is that the dance was exceptionally beautiful to observe, yet if I got past the mesmerizing slow and elegant dance moves and just concentrated, I’d notice that the man wasn’t actually doing all that much. His partner was – you could see the tension, the effort it took her. Yet he was merely standing there, hardly moving at all. They looked graceful. It is then that I understood something – a man does not have to do much to look good next to a woman. In other words, keeping it simple with those people who are not models is very important. If they feel better in front of the camera, they will look better, too.
Something I tell the couple at some point during the photoshoot is not to pose. To just be. To relax. To forget I have a camera in my hands and just be themselves. You’d think that would not help, but after all the previous things that I did, saying these simple things really does put my clients at ease, especially the groom. I then tell him that this is going to be one of the easiest things for him that day, and that there is nothing for him to worry about, it’s just so painless. After that, I try to deliver what I promised.
The first rule I always follow is – never turn them into puppets. They are people, and that means they move. Now, placing them into a particular pose is one thing, but they are always allowed to breathe and make themselves more comfortable, even adjust something if they feel like it. Every pose that I lead them into, every gesture is always their own – my input is merely asking them to repeat. You see, I could never make them more beautiful than they. But I can very much see when they are their most beautiful selves, and help them get there again. So my part is not easy at all – I have to be ever observant and concentrated. Their part is quite simple – no standing on eyelashes, just standing as they normally would for that fleeting second as they look at each other and forget all about me.
4) Make It All About Her
This might sound counterintuitive, but giving the bride more of your attention will help the groom feel more at ease, too. Wedding pictures might matter to both, but they matter more to the bride (there are always exceptions!). It is important to take a few portraits of the groom, and it is great if the man himself finds the said portraits to his liking as seemingly few men like how they look in photographs. But in the end, even the portraits of the groom are made for the bride first of all.
5) Watch Those Compliments
It is very important to assure your subjects that they look great, but how you do it is even more so. This is where those social skills come in handy once more. Don’t hold back the compliments, but also never lie. If you speak honestly, they will believe you and feel more relaxed still. Also, once you take a more active part in the photoshoot (I tend to give my couples at least a little bit of time of their own where I just stand back and let them enjoy one another), keep them engaged, talk to them, laugh with them and listen to what they are actually telling you, be it a story of how they got engaged or just a funny happening from last weekend. This, too, helps them relax, take their mind off the scary posing and trust you more as a person first of all.
Oh, and one more thing. If you are a male photographer, don’t overdo it with the compliments for the bride. After all, she is his. I am certain you would never want to overstep that line by accident, but should it happen anyway, it will be hard to recover from. Luckily, there are ways to politely compliment the bride without having the groom frown at you – just tell him his second half looks gorgeous or ask him if he thinks she’s beautiful. That way, the bride gets her compliment, you get her subtle, natural smile and he does not want to punch you for being inappropriate.
Final Words – What is Your Experience?
So, I’ve told you a little bit about how I work with my clients, and the groom in particular. It’s never a case of “one tip for all occasions”, mind you. Some of the men I’ve photographed were very comfortable in front of the camera while others did their best to keep even the simplest of conversations to a minimum. And yet I find that, generally, following these suggestions helps not only to put my couples at ease and even have the groom enjoy that photoshoot he had nightmares of, but also takes some of the stress off me, too.
I am fairly certain that few engage with their clients as I do, just because we are so different and there are so many methods. So I wonder, what is your experience when working with grooms? It would be especially interesting and useful to hear a female photographer’s approach, but everyone is invited to share their story in the comments section below.