Photographing formals during weddings can be very tiresome and stressful to all parties involved. It’s the part of the day both the guests and the photographer often want to get past as quickly as possible. Friends and family want to enjoy the cocktail with others. Bride and Groom are tired from standing far too long and a looking forward to get some rest before the reception. Could anyone blame them?
On some occasions, I have been even asked to skip the formals in hopes of avoiding guests from stress and chaos, which sometimes can happen during the formal session. While not everyone might enjoy this experience, it is also understood that taking formal pictures is an essential part of wedding photography. This is how the memories are preserved. This is a precious way for a bride to remember her family for many, many years to come; in her happy state. So, the challenge remains for the photographer to make sure that the time allocated for the formal portraits is spent efficiently and as quickly as possible. In the eyes of the wedding guests, a photographer is a miracle worker, control freak and a very sweet person who can turn a very difficult session into something magical. So, my dear magician friends, let’s get on to it. You are the expert and what do you do next?
There are steps you can take to achieve your goal and have everyone happy on your watch. Your first step would be to make sure that the watch doesn’t go over 30 minutes for any formal session.
1. Talk to the bride and groom before the wedding. Do your research and get to know your subjects earlier. Let’s admit that there is no way for you to get to know so many people at once. So, start early and talk it up with the bride and groom during the consultation session. Find out what their expectations are towards the formal portraits and how many people might participate in those. Sometimes it is easier to get a list of the family members who ought to be photographed alongside the bride and the groom. Ask the bride to inform her relatives that there will be a point during the wedding (if the exact timing is known, that would be more helpful) when they will be asked to get photographed. Keeping everyone informed will help you gather people around efficiently. Always make sure to ask the couple if there is anything you need to know about their families and have a strategy worked out to take care of any potential problems.
Usually, close family make it obvious for you to notice them. Walk around them, be a regular guest and interact with them before the formals, so that you are “familiar” to them. Let the guests talk and meet and have fun while you steal a few of them to get photographed. This way, everyone can be engaged all the time by either you or by other guests. It will only help you get those sincere emotions naturally, with much ease.
Also, keep in mind that you do not have to fit every single guest into a formal session. Friends and distant family members can be photographed all along the wedding reception and cocktail hour.
2. Help your subjects relax. People are often intimidated by photographers and their big cameras. And then there are bags hanging off our shoulders, with some of us using big D3’s and Mark IV’s with those giant 70-200’s. Intimidating at best… I find that being honest with my subjects helps me relax them very easily. Talk to them and communicate that you might be shooting them, but not with a rifle. You’re not dangerous, you don’t bite or bark at people, and the big bazooka-like tool you have in your hands is only intended to make them look fabulous. That’s right – joke! This will also allow the sincerity of your subjects to shine and will allow you connect with them in a different, emotional level.
3. Make a good use of maid of honor… and/or your second shooter. That’s right! Often these beautiful ladies are family or a very close person to the entire wedding party. With her help you can gather people quickly and use her as a reference point if you need names and information of guests. If there is no maid of honor, an aunt will be an excellent “go to” lady. Second shooters or assistants come in very handy during formal sessions, too. If trained properly, they can help you organize the groups to be photographed (look for grandma and grandpa who decided to go for a walk before the reception, locate an uncle at the bar, etc). They can help you set up and hold your lights, reflectors, etc. Your second shooter should not photograph with you during the formals, as it often distracts everyone.
4. Spot a good location with great light. Usually a quick glance at the area of the wedding ceremony and reception should be sufficient for you to score a little nook to use as a suitable background for the formals. Do so as it gets closer to the actual shoot. The morning light will not be the same in the afternoon and the afternoon light will not be the same during and after the sunset.
You should try to locate a nice spot with natural, soft light to illuminate your subjects. If an outside location does not work for some reason, a covered patio/gazebo or a room with big windows can be good potential candidates for the session.
5. Be at the ready to take a photo-journalistic approach. If you are storyteller, you can photograph your subjects without being noticed or without orchestrating every single thing. Be always ready and shoot away when you see a moment. Capture the emotion and love every second of it.
6. Go from large to small. Start out with a large group of people and then narrow the group down as you shoot along, leaving the closest relatives to photograph at the end – they will typically have more patience than others. It is much easier to gather everyone for a group picture at the beginning of the session. You do not want people to wait too long on the side while you are taking pictures of others.