The commercial photographic community has long looked down its collective nose at the wedding photographer without realizing this skill combines just about every other specialty. A much harder job, if practiced to the hilt.
Food photography and architectural? They’re in there. Fast, difficult journalism? Definitely. Memorable moments are fleeting. Portraits and large, staged groups? That’s tradition. Paparazzi grab shots? Everybody wants these. Glitz and glamour? Brides’ desires are driven by Hollywood; they all want to look like they stepped out of fashion pages. Scenic views? The overall picture of the setting is a must. Still lifes of shoes, accessories, the cake? That’s where the money was spent. Special effects, even grunge effects? Very popular. And I forgot boudoir! Often there’s a request for nude and semi nude portraiture.
Through it all, brides demand to look real, natural, casual – as though they were in the movies – floating through the pictures, gorgeous at every turn, never an awkward expression of angle. It goes without saying that lighting must look as though a team of 20 lights and gaffers were dripping sweat behind the scenes.
The real kicker? All of this has to happen on a schedule that looks like combat in speed and intensity.
How could anyone look askance at the wedding photojournalist’s talent? Where does this disparity of perception come from? I’m sorry to report I’ve known many photo schools tout wedding photography as an “easy, entry level” gig that is a newbie’s first step toward the big leagues. Really!?! My experience proves that the preponderance of wedding photography is little better than snap shots. Currently it is valid to blame devaluation of the profession on concerns of economy, tech evolution and the influx of first-timers with inadequate training. But the real crux is that wedding photojournalism is a highly skilled art that takes time, creativity and experience to develop. Business savvy, people skills, flexibility in conditions. Being everywhere all at once. Easily a 10K hour study to be really good.
The “wedding photojournalism” label may be on the tip of everyone’s tongue, but it is both inappropriate and yet strangely accurate when deconstructed. A photojournalist hears about a potential story, ferrets our facts and details over time, then edits images for a cohesive, understandable report. The wedding photographer is the paid personal record keeper for a client at a time-honored, traditional event for which the scenario, rituals and outcome are a given. On the surface it’s hardly National Geographic material.
Out with the bad stuff; dig deeper for the good. Here’s why there is ample room in the wedding industry to make a creative difference. To serve clients well. To make a fair living.
I believe that wedding photography is perhaps the most demanding specialty – other than war correspondent. While you’re not being shot at, you are “under attack” and will suffer all sorts of blind sides: pushy mothers, late florists, minute-counting caterers, restrictive church police, guests who tell you how to do your job. Wedding expectations, timelines, vendor egos and budgets never play well together.
You never get a do-over. The photographer must make memorable images regardless of circumstances over which she has little control. Perhaps we should get combat pay after all…
The unique, photojournalist stories, the details and personalities at weddings are most often unseen whispers, hard to find, harder to capture because of the tightly scripted nature, the clenched adherence to set and screen play. The wedding dress icon says it all: they’re all long and white, with variation only in the small and, to some, the not too prominent details.
Telling the same old story with a new angle and new twists each and every time is where the journalist’s approach is so needed. Wedding photojournalism forces you to become a Jill of all trades. If the result is to be an album, your further concern is to somehow unite all the different styles without looking disjointed or our of sync. (That’s another diploma all by itself.)
Here’s my recipe for the iconoclastic wedding photojournalist:
Tell the story from varied perspectives: closeups, middle distance and overall views
Pose exceptional portraits of individuals and groups: a traditional part of every wedding
Grab candids of fleeting expressions and spontaneous reactions: they equal emotion in memory
Record details and glitz; scene setting details and locale are where the money was spent
Dramatize with special effects, fashion and currently grunge: style is driven by media, music industry, magazines and film
Collect VIP faces, camera-watcher or paparazzi style: the who’s who
Create a “Wedding Picture”: the single image or series as the iconic expression of the day