What Makes a Great Wedding Photographer?

Bride in windowlightAs a Montreal wedding photographer I have had the opportunity to photograph many weddings in and around Montreal in churches, hotels, restaurants and parks. I have photographed both traditional weddings, as well as more personalized, unconventional weddings of couples from many different backgrounds and religious beliefs.

Whether the couple is young and getting married for the first time, or it is a second marriage later in life, whether it is a same sex marriage, or a marriage between a man and woman, certain underlying themes recur.  Real feeling and true emotion happen spontaneously and if you are there when they happen ready to capture the moment your job as a wedding photographer is 90% done. I am often in the most privileged position to see and observe what is happening throughout the entire wedding party, not only in the key moments between the bride and her groom.  I love feeling almost invisible, blending into the crowd and witnessing real moments of human love wherever and however they occur. Being there and being ready when the moments come is one of the most important things I have learned as a Montreal wedding photographer.

When shooting wedding photography, I believe it is my responsibility to do these moments justice and document them as they happen, where they happen, capturing the light and atmosphere in which they transpire. These moments, when the bride’s mother wipes an unexpected tear from her eye as she suddenly realizes her baby girl is getting married, or when the whole rooms bursts into laughter at some witticism the best man reveals in his speech about his lifelong friendship with the groom, are really the basic elements of the memories your client will hold onto. A wedding day is a special day because there is such a density of these moments, textured and coloured with emotion and they can happen right in the heart of the action – the expected yet always satisfying kiss between bride and groom – or off somewhere in another room or in a hallway. As the couple’s wedding photographer, it is up to me to provide them with a true portrait of their wedding day, sewing together all these beautiful moments into images that unfold throughout the course of the day and into the final, late hours when the dancing is in full swing and the relief and relaxation is as abundant as the flowing wine and multi-coloured lights.

Over the past ten years working as a Montreal wedding photographer, I have learned a few things that every wedding photographer, particularly those starting out in the business, should keep in mind which I would like to share here. If you are a  bride reading this, you can use this as a handy guide to query your Montreal wedding photographer about how he or she works. If you are a fellow photographer, consider how these tips could be worked into your own style (and feel free to share your own tips and feedback in the comments section below).

  1. Make sure you get all the key group shots early:  These group shots are tough to get right as they are best taken just after the ceremony but before the reception as everyone in them is in a hurry to be somewhere else and start the party. I’ve found that while these photos can be done quickly if you are well organized and have scoped out your background for the shots first, they should not be so rushed that you miss any of the important ones. One thing I always do is shoot the largest group first, that way if there are any extra people who will not be in any other photos you can send these people away as soon as the big shot is done so that you progressively whittle down the size of the crowd you are working with. The more people there are in a group shot the more likely it will be that one blinks or looks away when you snap the shutter, forever locking themselves into an album of memories with their eyes shut. It is the job of you, the wedding photographer, to get a great group shot with everyone looking at you and nowhere else, and looking good and in focus.
  2. It’s all about the bride, all the time: the bride is your client – if she isn’t happy with her photos it doesn’t matter if everyone else thinks they’re great – you failed. How do you know what makes her happy? You don’t; so take lots of photos of her. While it is a fine balance between being obtrusive and being thorough, your job is to make sure you have a zillion photos of the bride, posed and unposed, and she should look as fantastic as she feels in every single shot. Of course you can’t ignore the rest of the wedding party, but trust me, the bride is the star of the show and as a wedding photographer, you need to make her feel like one.
  3. Be there when it happens: if you learn nothing else from reading this, learn this. Moments happen quickly. And then they are gone. You need to be there when they happen. It sounds difficult – it is – but that’s what you are getting paid for. You literally need to be everywhere at once – this means learning the layout of where you are shooting, wearing really comfortable (while still presentable) clothes and moving around all day and all night long. You are a hunter and your quarry is on the move – you’ve got to move with them. Don’t stay in one place too long or the looks get stale and people stop enjoying themselves. Work the crowd, work through it, hang back on the edges, run up to a balcony and get some overhead shots, then run back down and work the room from another entrance, and on and on. You are paid to be there when the moments happen – don’t miss them.
  4. Be overprepared!: It can happen to anyone and it usually has happened to every wedding photographer at least once. The moment arrives, they are closing in for the kiss – I mean THE KISS, you pop up for the shot and…click. Nothing happens. Battery dead. Card full. Flash doesn’t fire. You name it – it can happen. Don’t let it happen to you. Have triple the battery power (fully charged and ready to go) and card capacity you think you will need. I can remember back in the beginning when I first started shooting weddings having my assistant cabbing it to the nearest pharmacy to buy up extra batteries and cards as I had maxed out on everything I had with hours left in the wedding. Lucky for me the store was open.
  5. Interact with the guests: While being the unobserved observer is great for some shots, for the candid but smiling full frontals of pairs, groups and other guests you will get much better results if you lightly touch their arm, ask for their attention, and tell them to look right at your lens. Take more than one shot.
  6. Don’t forget the wedding photographer “classics”: In nearly every wedding, even the most casual and laissez-faire, there are a few classic photos every couple wants (even if they don’t ask for it explicitly). These include:
  • bride alone (as many as you can – she is the key customer)
  • bride and groom together – position them on alternate sides and make sure the lighting is right on their faces particularly. It is usually far more effort working up lighting effects on the bride’s face in Photoshop then it is just taking the extra minute or two to get it right when you shoot.
  • bride and groom and bride’s parents
  • bride and groom and groom’s parents
  • bride and groom with both sets of parents
  • bride with maid of honour
  • bride with maid of honour and other bridesmaids
  • groom with best man
  • groom with best man and other best men
  • bride and groom and full wedding party

While there are plenty more tricks of the trade that I’ve picked up as a Montreal wedding photographer, I’ll save those for future posts. Thanks for visiting my site and reading about my work as a Montreal wedding photographer.

Please share what you find useful