Photographing A Same-Gender Wedding or Ceremony

Photographing A Same-Gender Wedding or Ceremony

Recently there has been several big changes in the way the US handles same-sex marriage.  Now, I don’t write about politics, which I think is lucky for all of us in the same way that I don’t cook is lucky for the people I live with.  I write about photography and people.  I also don’t make predictions about laws and the world, mainly because I’m not sure what I’m going to have for dinner tonight and as I write this, it’s almost 8pm (cereal is always a safe bet at this point though), but I will say this: as same-gender marriage becomes more accepted and recognized, the need for photographers who will happily and professionally photograph these weddings as they would any other, will increase.  And I hope to be one of the first photographers in my area a couple thinks of for these jobs.

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I have been lucky enough to photograph several same-sex weddings and commitment ceremonies.  For this article, I will be referencing the beautiful wedding of Jeremy and Randy, who when I asked, were thrilled to allow me to show their images.  I met these wonderful men because Jeremy’s mother placed a hefty bid on a “photography event” that I had donated to a non-profit for their annual fundraiser auction.  I had no idea what would be the outcome and I couldn’t have been more thrilled that this lovely woman won my random donation that to be honest, I got a little bullied into.  I was certain that I would end up photographing some D list celebrity in the famous mountain town where I donated the “prize” and often worked in.  Or maybe that I would be asked to do something crazy and/or scary and have no way to back out.  Like a scuba diving photo shoot.  (I’m terrified of scuba diving.  I think.  I’ve never actually tried.  But I certainly don’t want to.)

Instead I ended up fourteen thousand feet above sea level on a beautiful September day.  I hauled up the cake and live butterflies awaiting their ceremony release who I talked to the whole 30 minute drive, telling them that all would be well and shhhh, shhhhhh…….your wing flapping is making me nervous!.  But that’s another article I may write someday titled “Hauling Live Previously Frozen Butterflies Is Not For The Weak Of Heart”.  Anyway…..I am a photographer that proudly photographs same sex weddings and unions.  I am not gay myself.  I am not some crazy liberal (well, maybe a little).  I am a person who believes that when any two adults love each other and want to announce that and celebrate it and make promises in front of their friends and families and perhaps feed us all cake in the meantime, that’s a pretty special thing that needs to be documented.  And if you’ll have me, I’m thrilled to be the one to do it.

Here are six tips for photographing a same-gender wedding or ceremony:

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1. It isn’t any Different

It’s two people that love each other.  And if you signed up for this, it’s like any other wedding you’ve ever done or been to.  Simple as that.  Show up, do your job, eat cake.  If there is even a small part of you that doubts you can do this (beyond the normal doubt that many of us photographers have at any given moment), pass on the job and allow a photographer that can to do it.

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2. Find your Groove

Okay, I lied.  It’s a little different.  Only because we have been programmed to think that it’s different.  The truth is, it may take you a bit to figure out the specifics.  But you will.  I’m as open-minded as they come and truly believe we should be allowed to love (and marry) whoever we want.  None of this changes the fact that I only have a few gay friends, most of which aren’t close friends, and all of which I haven’t been around them and their romantic partner or dating life much.

So while it doesn’t bother me a bit, seeing romantic gestures between two people of the same gender is still a somewhat unfamiliar concept to me.  But here is the other truth: I’m not a sappy person by nature and witnessing public displays of affection between any two people makes me a little nervous.  At any wedding I photograph, there is a moment of dread realizing that I will be watching kissing and non-stop declarations of love all day.  In all fairness, this may be because I am a cynical single person.  And my therapist may have mentioned something about intimacy issues.  I assume that’s mainly because I’m perfect in every other way and she had to make something up to prolong the relationship.  At any wedding, at some point I am able to brush off the cynicism and give in to the beauty of two people pledging to each other.

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3. Realize the Gravity of what you’re Doing

You will likely never shoot a ceremony or event where you are more appreciated.  I asked Jeremy what the difference is when hiring a photographer for a same-sex wedding; I fully expected to get back a response about how I needed to realize that it wasn’t any different.  

Instead, he told me this:  “The act of asking a photographer to do my wedding was in itself anxiety-provoking. I wasn’t worried about them being booked already, but rather of them not approving of my wedding at all! A wedding can be even MORE emotional for same-sex couples, because chances are at some point in their lives they were sure this day would never be possible.” Weddings are a great deal of pressure, but at a same-gender ceremony you have the added bonus of being pre-approved. Just by being happy to do it, you have made the couple incredibly happy. The images you take are beyond the wildest dreams of the couple because they likely haven’t thought their wildest dreams are possible.

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4. Find out the Details Beforehand

At most of the weddings I have shot, I have done nothing more than exchange a few emails with the couple and possibly taken engagement photos. There aren’t a lot of odd pieces of a wedding that I haven’t seen after having shot so many; divorced parents, possible drunk relatives, non-traditional requests, a roomful of unclothed bridesmaids, rain, unclothed bridesmaids in the rain.…..I’ve seen it all. Though in this situation, I want to know if there are specific relatives that I maybe need to be aware of.

For example, both of Jeremy’s grandfathers are extremely conservative and yet showed up to the wedding anyway after saying that they wouldn’t. This created a very emotional piece for everyone who was aware. You can’t prepare for every possible situation, but get as many details as you can beforehand. It’s more prep work, but it will serve you well in the long run.

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5. Educate Yourself

Many same-sex weddings don’t adhere to traditional wedding outlines. Know beforehand if there will be anything specific happening in their ceremony that might be important. There many be similarities, but there is often an entire separate set of emotions that happen. Know in advance that this is more than just a wedding day; this is a celebration that most thought never could happen.

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6. You mustn’t Worry about it!

I spend most days worried that at some point, I’m going to make an idiot out of myself. This is because most days, at some point, I make an idiot out of myself. At a same-gender weddings I worry quite a bit that I am going to put my foot in my mouth and say something insulting that I in no way meant insulting. If I ever have, and I seriously wouldn’t put it past me, no one has ever mentioned it. This tells me two things:

  1. that it’s possible people are just used to my flavor of obnoxiousness at this point, and…
  2. there is room for a bit of putting your foot in your mouth. While plain out rudeness is of course unacceptable, if you slip-up don’t stress about it.

My grandmother used to always say “You worry too much! You mustn’t worry about it!”.

She also used to say “All the beautiful clothes in your closet and that is what you decided to wear?”, but I prefer to concentrate on the good things.

Be sensitive to the event, but chances are if you got this far into in, it’s for good reason. At this wedding, I accidentally referred to Jeremy as the bride several times. And each time he teased me that he was likely the worst Bridezilla I’ve ever come across.

He wasn’t. Not even close.

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Lynsey Mattingly

Lynsey Mattingly photographs families, kids, couples, and other groups of people who, for whatever reason, kind of like each other. Her portrait work has been featured in People Magazine, Us Weekly, BBC Magazine, and on national TV including CNN, Oprah, and Ellen, but most importantly, in the personal galleries of clients across the country. Her photography can be viewed at www.lynseymattingly.com or on Facebook.

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