what is wedding photography?

Everybody wants it for their wedding. It’s like the cake, an expected facet of the day’s mélange. As a matter of fact, I’ve photographed two weddings that didn’t even feature a cake! So it may be even more important than a cake. After all, I’ve never photographed a wedding that didn’t have a photographer at it.brynwood-country-club-wedding-cake-photo-njohnston-photography-0040What exactly is a wedding photographer and how are they different than other photographers? How can they sleep at night charging as much as they do and why does everybody feel the need to include one in their wedding budget? And speaking of cake, should you feed them some?

I’ll address the last question first. The answer is, “No.” Don’t feed the animals. Not unless you want them hanging around, looking at you with sad eyes for more. There are exceptions. It’s always included in my contract that I get a meal because I work long hours on a wedding and need the fuel. But I don’t think I’ve ever eaten the cake unless I was actually a guest at a wedding. That would seem rude and presumptuous.

So why are we so interested in documenting our weddings? The answer to that question is as old as man. Ever since we first began telling stories of important events in our lives, we’ve felt the need to document them. Possibly because we’re one of the few animals who’s aware of his own mortality, we feel compelled to immortalize ourselves. You can see evidence of this if you visit a primitive dwelling and see the petroglyphs inscribed on a cave wall of people dancing, hunting, giving birth and other important events of their time. The only thing that’s changed in the thousands of years we humans have been around is how we document these events. Once paint and canvas came along, the ability to create a more refined document of our important memories became available. Then, in the 1800’s, the camera was invented. Suddenly we could actually capture an event instead of create our interpretation of it. Now, in the 21st century, we have these amazing digital cameras that enable us to capture the eyelashes of a bride from 50 feet away as she says her vows.omphoy resort, palm beach, florida, wedding, portrait, photographer, njohnston photography, www.njohnstonphotography.com So what’s the difference between a wedding photographer and, say, a commercial product photographer, a studio portrait photographer or a newspaper photographer? Simple. A wedding photographer has to be all three of them wrapped up in one.

A commercial photographer must be skilled at arranging, lighting and photographing all manner of products from clothes to plates of food to flowers and jewelry. Likewise, one of the many things a wedding photographer must be skilled at is staging and shooting details (“products” if you like) like wedding rings, the bride’s shoes and wedding gown, invitations and flowers. To name a few. Every bride has a list of details that are important to her. The only difference as I see it is that your lowly wedding photog is on his or her own at every gig to find “products” to stage and photograph. Often there’s little to no pre-production time available, and every location contains a completely different set of variables that make staging a product shoot difficult if not impossible. And you’re always under pressure to get it done and move on because most weddings are run on a strict schedule.

Likewise, a portrait photographer has to be skilled at adapting to unique and unexpected surroundings quickly in order to stage a person or group of people if they’re not in the studio. Where’s the sun, what color is the light that’s reflecting off the building? Flash or no flash? How much? He or she must be able to work with many personalities and be a fantastic and patient communicator. And it goes without saying that you have to be able to pose people, and furniture, well. Your wedding photographer is not only has to have the same skill set, but they have to be able to pull it off flawlessly, often in a very limited amount of time. That’s the main difference. Time, or lack thereof. Honestly, it’s easier directing a group of 5 year old children than a group of adults who haven’t seen each other in a while.

And like a photojournalist, a wedding photographer is the epitome of a candid, fly-on-the-wall photographer. It’s his or her job to catch moments without influencing them. Which means they have to have the eye for a good photo, the instinct to recognize a photo-worthy moment just before it occurs, and the ability to seamlessly blend with their environment in such a way that their subject(s), if they are aware of the photographer, aren’t being distracted by his presence. Obviously we’re all aware of the photographer at a wedding. She’s usually using a flash, and other than the wedding party at the alter, the only other person standing. The skill here is knowing how to work within the constrains of what is supposed to be a sacred ceremony. Get too close and suddenly you’ve shifted the focus from the loving couple to the pushy, tactless photographer who’s blundering around. But they do expect you to get in there, capture the moments and create art in the process. It’s a delicate balance of sensitivity, creativity and skill. The reception isn’t so delicate, but you must be able to capture people without them realizing they’re being photographed or they’ll frequently stiffen up. The moment is lost.

new york, view on hudson, hudson river, wedding, portrait, njohnston photography, www.njohnstonphotography.com

This is all really hard work. And this is why we can justify charging a lot of money for our work. The stress alone is enough to cause an anxiety attack. We have to be able to perform flawlessly, these three photographic disciplines in short order so that the wedding day can progress without a hitch. I’ve shot some commercial stuff. Believe me, there was a lot more time to set and re-light the products until they looked perfect. Once it was done, we had a coffee and then played with it some more. When I do portrait sessions, I usually budget 2 hours or more just so my clients and I don’t feel rushed. Trying not to feel rushed at a wedding is like trying not to go fast on the Autobahn. It doesn’t happen. And then there’s the post production. During a wedding I can take over 2,000 photos. It takes a long time to sort through them all and then edit the ones I want the client to have. So preparing to shoot to shooting to editing and then delivering the photos can take over a week of my time.

Key West, Florida wedding photographs by JHunter Photography

So yes, you can have your cake, and you can photograph it too. But as you can see, it’s not a matter of “just showing up and taking a few pictures”. You can hire someone to do just that, sure. But if you expect art, sensitivity, and someone capable of shouldering the demands of a long and stressful day with grace and professionalism, you might want to hire a good one.

Just remember one thing: please, for the love of God, please don’t feed the animals.

If you found this article informative, you might be interested reading one of these related articles:

Why pay for a photographer?
Picking the right photographer

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