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Some people view a wedding shoot a bit like chess. Move a few people here, move some over there, line them all up and it will work out. The only problem is weddings tend to be complex events and if you don’t understand the relationships involved, it can cause you pain all day long (and into the nights of editing the photos).
Getting relationships wrong while shooting a wedding can be both embarrassing and unhelpful. I’ve heard if from a number of photographers and from the comments here on DPS. The time you tell the mother of the bride to stand next to the father by saying, “Please move closer to your husband,” not knowing they are divorced and quite hostile to each other, is a moment you might regret.
While it’s not the end of the world and apologies later, when certain parties are separated, often goes a long way. It’s helpful to try to get a lay of the family and wedding party landscape as soon as you can. This is best done at your initial meeting with the happy couple. If you’re not sure where to start, just ask who is going to be attending, who will be walking the bride down the isle, etc.
There are a number of ways to gather the information you need in order to easily navigate the changing sea of a wedding party. That first meeting is a great time to get to know everyone involved, not just the parental arrangements. Find out who the Maid of Honor is as well as the Best Man. How did the bride and groom come to know each of them? How did they pick their other attendants (assuming there are more)? Who else will be at the wedding that is special to either of them? If you have a second meeting with your clients, you can dive deeper, but for now, try to understand how everyone fits together.
This information will prove helpful on the wedding day, unlike any other you can gather. You will know who knows who and who you can turn to for help in gathering the party for pictures. I’ve also found the group appreciates your efforts more when they know you understand the nuances of family dynamics. It shows you’re more than just another hired hand, you’re someone who actually cares about doing your job well and reflecting the joy of the day.
It also helps to keep in mind who you work for during the wedding: the bride and groom. They are most likely the ones who hired you and the ones who you answer to. Knowing how the family works, even at a surface level, will help you address the pushy or overbearing relative who insists, “You need to be shooting more pictures of the groom’s side of the family.” Having been warned about crazy Aunt Martha and her dislike of the bride will aid you in smoothing over the situation while still getting your job done for your clients.
While it is not a vital step, taking time to understand the relationships of those attending a wedding you are shooting can help make the special day go smoother from a photographic standpoint. You’ll get blindsided less and have a chance to relate better with those attending, often making a stressful situation seem relaxed.