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“What have I gotten myself into?”
The thought struck my brain as I surveyed the scene before me. Up to this point, I entertained nothing but positive, reassuring self-talk about this situation. It was necessary for my own peace of mind. But as I stood there with my camera on my shoulder, the tiniest whisper of doubt forced its way into my thoughts.
“Can I really do this?!?”
No time to find out otherwise. I shook my head, gave a big smile, and projected my voice to the crowd as I directed with my hands: “Okay! Ladies and gentleman! If I can have everyone’s attention! I need all the ladies over here, and all the guys over here! Thanks everyone! That’s great!” I did my best to encourage them – these individuals who comprised what I referred to as “the most magnanimous wedding party of the year.”
15 girls. 17 guys. 1 bride and 1 groom.
A wedding party of 34 people!
When I was first contracted to shoot this wedding, I knew it would be a challenge. But I am an engaging, personable photographer with experience under my belt. I thought I could do it.
I did my research. I spent more time looking at other photographers’ work than I did for all my other weddings, combined. Seriously, with such a large wedding party, I couldn’t afford anything but success.
“And this. It is my defining moment.”
I turned my mind back to the situation at hand and went through all the tips I could recall on large wedding party shots.
I would have preferred a wide-open field for the shot, but the weather wasn’t on my side. So I arranged to use the train station for bridal party shots. A covered courtyard. Bricks and color. Two pillars to support group arrangements.
It was perfect.
I started with a group of bridesmaids. “All right, you lovely ladies please come here.” I placed them in the very middle, between the pillars. Next I pulled out my benches to create additional levels and placed them just in front of the pillars. “You two ladies, please share this bench – that’s perfect.” I selected another bridesmaid and a flower girl. “And you ladies on this bench.”
I took a breath and counted.
“Okay. 9 down. 28 more to go.”
“Next we’ll have you three gentlemen next to this pillar.” I guided them over, directing two to stand, and two to kneel. “This is perfect! You’re doing fabulous, everyone!” I had to work to keep everyone engaged while I focused on arranging the rest of the party.
“Let’s have you six gentlemen in the back here. You, sir, and your son next to the pillar, here. The other four of you will stand in this far corner. Oh, and you ma’am, and you ma’am,” I motioned for one more bridesmaid and the other flower girl. “Fill in this hole, just like this. Perfect.”
“Twelve more. Then the bride and groom.”
I added the last four bridesmaids. Two in the back, two next to the pillar.
“The five of you gentlemen, let’s place you right behind the ladies in the middle – yes, our fabulous tall gentlemen, there. Wonderful. Now the little boys, let’s place you – one next to the pillar, here, and one next to the flower girl, here.”
I looked them over again. “Fabulous, everyone! Now, can you all see me from where you are? Because if you can’t see me, I can’t see you.” Everyone shifts just a little bit and I nod. “Perfect. Now let’s add the Bride and Groom.” I placed them in the middle, closer to the camera, and made sure they were in focus. “That’s wonderful, everyone!” I took a few test shots and made sure my settings were correct.
Wide aperture (to make sure as many people are in focus as possible.)
Moderate shutter speed (slow enough to let in the beautiful, diffused light, but fast enough to avoid motion blur.)
Mid Range ISO (as sensitive as necessary for the aperture and shutter speed.)
The shot was perfect.
I looked above the viewfinder of my camera and address the wedding party. “People! This is a great day! Two lovely individuals are celebrating the start of a new life together! This is something to be excited about! You all look like you are becoming bored!”
Everyone laughs, just as I hoped. I took a few shots with the genuine smiles and then decide to mix things up a bit. “You all have been absolutely wonderful. Thank you so much for your patience! Now one final thing before we move on. I want each of you to strike your favorite dance pose! Right now! Come on! You’ll dance tonight at the reception, and I just want you to pull out you favorite move right now!”
In a matter of 5 seconds, everyone was laughing and posing and looking perfectly natural, and even like they were having fun.
“Thank God. I did it.”
After a rapid succession of shots (just to be sure no one was blinking), I let everyone go – no worse for the wear, and not too crabby either.
The Bride and Groom smiled at me, and I returned the warmth. “Now, let’s get some shots of you love birds inside…”
As I led them away, I was amazed that went so well. Everything happened so quickly I could hardly believe it.
Bridal portraits with 34 people.