In this blog series, How to Shoot a Wedding, we’ll be exploring, one by one, all of the “must haves” that need to be captured throughout the wedding day to create a well-rounded shoot. We’ll discuss the reasons each is important, examine some common challenges wedding photographers face in these situations, and provide a few insider tips for how to shoot like a professional. So grab your camera bag and let’s dive in…
After the guys are all suited up and the girls complete the last of the finishing touches, the next order of business is to get the bride and the groom together for their first look.
Why a First Look?
Isn’t it traditional for the groom to see the bride for the first time as she’s walking down the aisle? Of course. But in this day and age, more and more couples are bucking societal norms in favor of doing things their own way. I’d say around half of our couples are opting for the first look and here’s why:
- It allows you to do some couples portraits before the ceremony so that the bride and groom can (hopefully) enjoy some of their cocktail hour.
- It releases some of the butterflies ahead of time, so the couple is more relaxed for the ceremony.
Okay. Down to the nuts and bolts.
The foremost challenge here is simply getting the groom away from the groomsmen and the bride away from the bridesmaids. Attendants and family frequently want to see the reactions as the bride- and groom-to-be see each other for the first time. This is a problem for a couple of reasons. One, the first look is designed create a quiet little moment between the couple away from any outside noise and distractions. Two, curious onlookers can ruin your shots.
So how do you handle this?
Here’s what Moira and I do: We pre-scout the location to find a nice, secluded spot for the first look. Since we’ll be walking there separately, this helps us establish ahead of time exactly where we need to meet, how we need to position the groom, where the bride will be coming from and what our shooting angles will be.
Getting Into Place
Fast forward to the day of the wedding. When the groom is finished suiting up, I gently remind him that we need to head out for the first look. Sometimes, he immediately follows me out the door (for fear of what his new bride will do to him if he’s late), but most times, he’ll shrug it off and crack another beer.
And hey, who can blame him? It’s his wedding day. I’d probably want to do the same thing. But on the flip side of that coin, I have a job to do, so if the gentle approach doesn’t work, I ask a little more forcefully. The key here is to be polite, but assertive. Come to think of it, this is a great rule of thumb for shooting the wedding day in general.
When the groom and I finally make it out to the first look location just in the nick of time, surprise!… I get a text from Moira saying the bride is running 10 minutes late (give or take). So now it’s time for some small talk, maybe a chagrined apology (depending on the quality of the beer I just forced the man to chug), and a few anticipation photos.
The Importance of Being On Time
So right about now, you’re probably asking yourself, “Why does everything have to run on time? Why can’t you just go with the flow and shoot the day as it unfolds naturally?” Believe me, I wish I could. But it’s a lot more complicated than that.
The photographer is perhaps the most frequent scapegoat for just about every timeline-related issue that arises during a wedding. For example, if the first look 15 minutes late, your original 20-minute window in which to do the bride and groom’s portraits before the ceremony has now become a five-minute window. This leaves two options: cut out 75% of the photo ideas you came up with during your scouting session, or be the cause of delaying the ceremony. And if the ceremony is delayed, the family portrait session is delayed and if the family portrait session is delayed, the entrance of the bride and groom into the reception is delayed, which screws up the caterer’s order of operations, and so on and so forth. It’s the butterfly effect on a microcosmic scale. And as the photographer, all of the responsibility falls on your shoulders. Long story short, you do your best to make sure things run on time.
Okay, back to the first look.
Moira shows up with the bride, and possibly a straggler or two in the form of a curious aunt or bridesmaid, whom she turns away as gently as possible. Once they’re out of the picture (pun intended), it’s time to do the deed.
This is almost always going to be shot with natural light, so if you’re shooting in the middle of the afternoon (and you’ll almost certainly be shooting in the middle of the afternoon), you don’t want the sun hitting your bride and groom directly. Make sure to find some shade for softer light. Also, since there will be two cameras trained on the same subject, be sure to position yourselves so that your shooting POVs make a 90 (or so) degree angle. It’s what they do when shooting movie scenes involving two actors facing one another to 1) make sure both faces are captured and 2) avoid having one camera showing up in the frame of the other.
It’s also good to set your camera to continuous shooting mode because this is going to happen very fast and the bride’s and groom’s expressions will be fleeting. Shooting in bursts is the best way to capture this important moment.
Also be sure to shoot close for intimacy and shoot wide for a sense of place. Since you have two cameras, you have the advantage of two lenses, so this shouldn’t be difficult.
Beyond that, just get creative. Much like the rest of the wedding day, be intentional with your compositions (leading lines, depth, background/negative space, symmetry and patterns, etc.). Some of the best advice I ever received for how to push myself beyond taking ordinary photos was this: “Get low, get high, get close, get far.” And in this situation, be sure to do it quickly because the first look is going to last around 10-20 seconds, if you’re lucky.
So now that the first look is in the books and the bride and groom have taken a moment to breathe, it’s time to knock out some portraits.
Next time on How to Shoot a Wedding.