The Sub-Stories You Must Cover on the Wedding Day


The Sub-Stories You Must Cover on the Wedding Day with Jeff & Lori Poole

Every wedding is different. And yet, as photographers, our approach to them is often the same, dictated by our own predispositions. These predispositions cause us to miss important images and important stories that could be costing us in sales and referrals.

We often see two common types of photographers: the Epic Shot Photographer and the Instagram Photographer. Each photographer is driven to shoot the types of images they feel others will admire most, but they often neglect crucial parts of the wedding day.

The Epic Shot Photographer

These photographers come to life when they finally get to photograph the wedding couple alone. They stage amazing wall-portrait-worthy images of the couple (usually during cocktail hour or at sunset). Other names for The Epic Shot include The Hero Shot, The Money Shot, or The Image-Comp Shot.

These photographers are all about the gear: the lights, the modifiers, the camera settings. They want to create images their clients can’t (even with an iPhone 11), and they want to impress their fellow photographers. Their posing is often infused with drama: looking off into the distance, windswept clothing and hair. This style sells well with couples who want to feel like fashion models, edgy and sophisticated.

While the time spent photographing the couple is a relatively short portion of the day, many photographers spend the majority of their creative effort on The Epic Shot. However, once the creative portraits with the couple are over, these photographers morph into Event Photography mode. They photograph the rest of the day as it is presented to them. They may or may not have good photojournalistic instincts to capture fleeting moments, but they don’t actively craft and shape the story throughout the day.

The Instagram Photographer

The Instagram Photographer also captures beautiful images of the wedding couple, but the mood is quite different: Instead of epic and dramatic, the Instagram Photographer goes for a romantic style. Image upon image of the couple holding hands, nuzzling, and smiling into each other’s embrace abounds. This photographer uses softer, natural lighting to have a consistent style and palette. The style speaks very much to couples who want to be seen as madly in love.

Outside of the creative portraits, this photographer excels at magazine-worthy detail shots of rings, shoes, flowers and invitations. When unable to pose the subject(s), this photographer may struggle to capture true, unstaged emotional moments. Reception coverage in dim lighting may pose a challenge.

The Problem With One Type

If our photographic intent and skill stops within one of these styles, we are doing a disservice to our clients. We’re not digging deep enough into the meaning of the wedding day, the importance of nuanced events, and the fleeting moments that deserve to be preserved in photographs.

Further, by going through the motions throughout the day, we’re missing out on several business opportunities: upsales for the client, upsales to family members, client referrals, and vendor referrals.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could get amazing wall-portrait-worthy photos of our clients, capture the minute details they so lovingly chose, and tell a complete wedding story that included fleeting moments and emotions? Let’s take a look at how a little forethought and communication can go a long way to upping our game as wedding photographers.

Become a Storyteller

The first step in improving our wedding game is to stop thinking of ourselves as Epic Photographers or Instagram Photographers, and start thinking of ourselves as Storytellers. When it comes to a couple’s wedding story, we can break down a basic outline of the day and sub-stories we’ll tell.

When we think of the wedding day as a series of sub-stories, we begin to photograph with greater intent. A story commonly has a beginning, middle and end. A story has a setting and a main character. The main character has an emotional experience. A transformation occurs.

If you were to approach each sub-story of the day with these elements in mind, would it change how you approach wedding photography? Would it make you more thoughtful? More observant? Would you begin to put more creative effort into portraying each sub-story?

In order to capture the full story, it would require both careful detail shots and hero shots. But it would also require intentional attunement to the client to provide excellent photojournalism. We are telling our clients’ stories, not our own. This automatically requires that we talk to our clients about what is important to them, and that we listen and deliver.

Common wedding sub-stories usually include:

  • Bride/Groom Preparation
  • Ceremony
  • Family Formals
  • First Dance
  • Cake Cutting and/or Toasts
  • Open Dancing
  • Grand Exit, if applicable

Capture those wedding-day sub-stories, and you have a solid foundation for a storytelling wedding album. Structure your wedding album to tell each sub-story, and your clients will no longer be concerned with page or image counts. They will be willing to invest in having their story told.

Even if you’re already capturing the majority of the sub-stories listed above, are you investing as much creative energy into them as you are into your favorite parts of the day? Are you capturing them with as much skill as you put into your couple shots?

Here are a few parts of the day where you can step up your game even more.

Set The Scene

Detail shots: do you love them or hate them? Many Epic Photographers hate them (or tolerate them at best); many Instagram Photographers love them. For you Epic Photographers reading, we have news for you: it’s time to step up your game. In the age of Pinstagram, wedding couples are more invested than ever in the “look” of their wedding day. As a photographer, you are the one vendor they are hiring to preserve every. little. detail. that they’ve spent the past year curating. And just snapping a photo of each detail isn’t enough. It’s important that you put creative effort into staging and lighting the details in an artful manner. The details need to tell something about your couple.

Pay close attention to photographing each of the couple’s details: rings, shoes, garter, bouquet, ties, cufflinks, etc. Photograph them all together—as in, all the bride’s details in one shot. But also, photograph them individually.

For ceremony and reception details, set the scene first: Get wide shots of the ballroom, and then zoom in to the individual details. Make sure to photograph each centerpiece in the reception. The cake. The favors. Signage. Linens. Place settings. Every detail you can find.

These detail shots are going to serve some additional purposes for you:

  1. Additional spreads in the wedding album. When a couple works this hard on how their wedding looks, they want images to remember it by. You can easily devote at least one spread each to bride’s details, groom’s details, ceremony details, and reception details. That’s already four spreads! If they are particularly detail heavy, go for more.
  2. Vendor networking. Share these images with your fellow wedding vendors. Often times, our images are the only professional images they can use to market their business. Believe it or not, many photographers never share their images with the other vendors. This is an easy way to stand out in their minds and earn referrals. Be sure to deliver vendor images within one week of the wedding so that they can do their own blogging and self promotion in a timely manner.
  3. Marketing images. Weddings that are heavy on details are often more expensive, and are therefore viewed as higher-end. Simply paying careful attention to creating detail images can allow you to be perceived as a higher-end wedding photographer. Be sure to mix these images into your social media and marketing pieces. Additionally, wedding inspiration blogs and magazines are looking to publish detail-heavy weddings. Getting published helps your street cred and reinforces your relationship with the vendors you worked with.

Emotional Moments With Mom or Dad During Preparation

You’re already photographing bride and groom preparation. Parents may be present, may be in-and-out, or may be elsewhere during this time. Some couples don’t want their parents hovering throughout the preparation time, and that’s OK. But it is important to carve out a few moments with Mom and/or Dad prior to the ceremony. In the hustle and bustle of the day, these moments can be easily forgotten if not planned for. Have a discussion with your clients about planning a few minutes dedicated to being present with their parents.

On the day of the wedding, when the bride or groom and their parents are fully ready, ask the wedding party to leave the room for a few quiet minutes alone. Ask your clients to set aside the busy-ness of the day, and to truly think about the momentousness of the occasion. Set the stage for an emotional embrace with Mom; for Dad to see his baby girl as a bride; for some reminiscing and mindfulness.

One father and bride, both self-proclaimed as unemotional, had tears flowing freely during these few planned but unscripted moments. Dad kept shaking his finger at us for the rest of the day, saying “You’re so good!” One mother of the bride lost her battle with cancer shortly after the wedding, but we created a time and space for her to have a few cherished moments with her daughter on such an important day.

What we do is so much more than photography. We not only tell the story, we help it to happen. Do this for your clients, and they will send you heartfelt referrals forever. Talk about this to your prospects, and you will stand out from every other photographer they’ve spoken to.

First Looks, Done Right

If you haven’t seen or done a First Look, it’s a planned moment between the couple allowing them to see each other prior to the ceremony. It serves lots of purposes—it helps the couple get over their jitters. It allows more time for photography. At its most basic level, a First Look is simply the couple seeing each other for the first time. But if we don’t understand the emotional significance of this moment, we can easily screw it up.

At its best, a First Look is a moment alone in which the couple can truly experience every emotion they’re feeling, instead of covering them up or being rushed to the next event. In order for this to happen, we have to carve out the time and space for the couple. A minimum of 30 minutes. No bridal party. No onlookers. And as photographers, no wide angle lenses. To give the couple the feeling of being truly alone, we need to have our telephoto lenses on. As in the example above, talk to your clients for a few minutes about being mindful and present in the moment. Then let the events unfold without interruption.

I photographed a first look during which the videographer stayed five feet away from the couple at all times with a wide angle lens on. Rather than allowing the couple to experience real emotion, she coached them. She actually said, “OK, now is when you’re supposed to cry.” Tell me, what groom is going to exhibit real emotion when being told quite tackily to emote?

At another wedding for which I was a second photographer, the first look was planned five minutes prior to the guests arriving. The groom stood outside the church, in full view of passersby. A minivan rolled up, and the side door opened. Inside was the bride. She waved, leaned out and gave him a quick kiss. And then, fearful of being seen, she closed the door and asked the driver to pull away. What a missed opportunity.

Well-Rounded Storytelling = WIN

As wedding photographers, it’s important for us to step away from capturing only that which we think will impress our peers. We need to talk to our clients about why wedding photography is important to them. We must go beyond great shots of the couple, and truly tell the whole story of their wedding day. We need to artfully capture their details. We need to attentively capture fleeting moments. And we should offer suggestions on how to create moments that may not happen on their own. If we do this, we become better as photographers, we enjoy better album and portrait sales, and we earn the referrals of our clients and our vendors.

Get the full story

To read the full article, launch the digital version of the March 2020 magazine.

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