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Wedding days are super hectic, there’s no doubt about it. My couples and I agree on a wedding day photography timeline so we know exactly what is expected at every hour of the wedding day. Yes, we are flexible but having the order of the day written down is a must for things to go smoothly. This timeline is discussed well before the day and all the key people in the bridal party and key suppliers are made aware of the plan so we are all on the same page.
When I sit down with the couple to plan the day, I paint a picture of what a “normal” wedding day looks like and the expected timings allocated to each portion of the day. But I always explain to the couple that it is their wedding day and ultimately, they can do what they want and decide on the duration of each part.
This includes the portrait session of just the bride and groom, nobody else, which usually happens after all the other formals are done. Ideally, the portraits are done somewhere away from the guests so the couple doesn’t get distracted or pulled in different directions which only delays or extends the portrait session. Some couples opt for a “first look” which happens before the ceremony.
From experience, depending on their priorities, the time couples allow for their own portraits vary widely, some allow for an hour and a half, but many slot in only 15-20 minutes. A reason for the latter is usually because they wish to spend time saying hello to friends and family especially those who have come a long way to be at their wedding. This is completely understandable and even expected.
I do, however, encourage my couples to always spare some time for bride and groom portraits no matter how little. That is the only time during the day they can be alone and have photos done of just the two of them without anyone else in the vicinity, or worse, in the background.
This doesn’t have to be done at a grand venue or separate location. This could be anywhere that is private, semi-private, quiet, or at the very least away from the guests. It can even be done at the very same location as everyone else, you just need to separate them from the crowd for a few minutes.
On average, my couples allow 15-20 minutes for this portrait session so over the years, I have learned how to get things done very quickly. In this article, I will share with you my secret – have a formula.
Having a formula is not a bad thing. If you worry that all your weddings might end up looking exactly the same, don’t! Each couple is unique and their wedding is unique to them. Besides, if they have booked you after having looked at your portfolio, that probably means they like your style and your work and they expect their photos to have the same look and feel as your other weddings.
I usually start the portrait session by taking photos of the couple together either holding hands, embracing, posed together for a natural look, or posed for a formal portrait. Being photographed with someone else is less daunting than solo and they have each other to hold on to or lean against in case they feel awkward especially at the start.
This part doesn’t have to be all posed either. It’s better if you can do some laughing and fun shots; just give them clear instructions or make them laugh if you are able.
I then separate them and do portraits of just the bride. Usually, I ask the groom to help throw the veil or stand next to me so he can help make the bride laugh, have a natural smile, or look in his direction instead of straight at the camera.
Make sure you get close-ups of the bride as well as wide-angle shots showing the context or location (and her whole dress!) and a variety of angles if possible.
Use the opportunity of having the bride in front of you to take artistic shots like close-ups of the bouquet or veil, shoes, details, or some creative compositions. I try to minimize moving the couple from place to place too much. Instead, I do the moving myself and walk around them, finding various angles from which to shoot and adjusting to the light that is available.
Now it’s the groom’s turn and this is simply a case of replicating what you have just done with the bride. Grooms are usually so much quicker to photograph and do not require a lot of posing. Just get them to stand naturally, lean on something, look at the bride, look at the camera, laugh, look sideways… done.
I find grooms tend to follow instructions quickly without worrying about how they look as they generally just want to get the portraits over and done with. Don’t forget to give them some indicators of time, letting them know you are nearly finished so they don’t worry about longer than they have allowed. This is important and reduces any worries about the timing of the day.
I end the session with some walking or action photos. Be aware of your background for this as walking photos usually require being slightly further away. Be on the lookout for some nice light in the background and a suitable path they could walk on.
Ask them to walk slowly hand in hand for these photos. Position yourself behind them so you are photographing their backs. Then ask them both to stop in their tracks and look back at you, then again with just the bride looking, and finally just the groom looking.
Ask them to turn around in the same spot so they are now looking at you and walking towards you. Always instruct them to walk slowly. Again ask them to stop in their tracks and hold hands but stand further apart. Then say to take a step closer to each other until they are holding each other close or kissing if they wish. Depending on the background, this is when I try to do a silhouette, especially if there is sky or an open expanse in the background.
Sometimes, I ask them to practice their first dance a bit or pull each other in for a quick kiss for some movement and natural laughter.
On a small patch of ground, you will be able to cover several poses, include a variety of angles, do some formal portraits, some casual looks, and lastly some walking and action shots. And that is it! Wedding day portraits done in 15-20 minutes!
Don’t forget, just get on with it. Don’t stop to check your LCD for long or fuss about too many imperfections. You are under time pressure so have a formula and stick to it while allowing yourself wiggle room for some creative opportunities that may arise – as long as you are within the agreed upon timeframe.
As a side note, I always find that couples who have had an engagement shoot with me beforehand end up having a much easier and breezier portrait session. They know what to expect and what to do that they just do it without the need for a warm-up. They are quick to relax and be at ease in front of the camera and the best bit, they genuinely enjoy it!