By Larry Brunt and Eric Ashley
The formal portrait session is often the least-enjoyable part of the wedding day. Not only do you have to stand and smile at the camera until your face feels sore, but Uncle Harold is making cheesy jokes, and your brother-in-law keeps stepping out and making everyone wait, and the flower girl is screaming a terrible tantrum. The whole scene is chaotic.
It’s not exactly the way you want to spend your wedding day.
But you want wedding portraits. Your mom wants wedding portraits. Your aunts and uncles want wedding portraits.
The good news is that the portrait session doesn’t have to be miserable, or long, or drawn out. By being selective and by simplifying, you can get all the portraits you want, and do it in a matter of minutes.
Here are some suggestions, but remember they are just that: suggestions. If you select me to photograph your wedding, I will take whatever portraits you want. However, if you are unsure about portraits, here are some ideas on how to simplify the portrait session.
First, there are some basic portrait that, where applicable, everyone should have:
* Bride and groom with bride’s family
* Bride and groom with groom’s family
* Bride and groom with both families
* Bride and groom with all attendants
* Bride and Groom (lots and lots of these)
Two other group portraits are very common:
* Bridesmaids with Bride (and often groom)
* Groomsmen with Groom (and often bride)
That’s four (or six) group portraits, plus the pictures of just the two of you. It’s quick and painless.
Some of the other “traditional” portraits you might want to consider leaving out, especially family pictures that don’t include both the bride and groom. For instance, many people want a picture of the bride’s family (without the groom) and the groom’s family (without the bride). But part of the significance of the wedding is bringing two families together. The groom now is part of the bride’s family, and visa versa.
Creative Wedding Portraits
Generally, the more extended the family in a portrait, the less meaningful the picture will be to the both of you–in some cases, this might be the only time the bride sees the groom’s second cousin, twice removed, on his father’s side, so when she looks at the photograph over the years, she might find herself wondering who that red-headed guy in the back is.
Keep the focus on the two of you, not aunts and uncles and long-lost cousins. Other people will take family snapshots of various family members during the day, and you can always get copies of those later. Keep the formal portrait session for the portraits that are important to you.
I would also encourage you to leave out pictures of the bride with each bridesmaid individually, and the groom with each groomsman individually. Again, part of this is thinking about what’s really important–the bride and groom together. This isn’t a celebration of your three (or five, or seven) best friends. It’s a celebration of you getting married, and your friends are there to show their support. But part of it is aesthetics, too; the individual pictures tend to all look the same anyway (the bride is in the same place, same pose, same smile; it’s just the bridesmaid that changes from picture to picture), and you’ll probably find that those pictures aren’t as interesting, or as meaningful, as the pictures that include the bride and groom together, and, for that matter, pictures you have of your friends that you’ve taken on your own.
Creative Wedding Portraits
Denis Reggie, once called “the hottest wedding photographer” by the New York Times, says he spends 5-15 minutes on portraits by sticking to the basics. Any photographer should be able to get through those main pictures in 20 minutes or so. More time for dancing at the reception!
Second, it means you can easily fit the portraits in after the ceremony. Many couples prefer this for the sake of tradition, but are afraid of two hour portrait sessions that keep guests checking their watches.
By simplifying your portrait list, you can get the pictures you want, and still arrive at the reception fashionably late (as opposed to brutally late). Also, in my experience, portraits after the ceremony are more relaxed and joyful. When the pictures are done before the ceremony, sometimes brides or grooms are still a bit nervous, and that can show up in the pictures.
Finally, by keeping the group portraits to a minimum, you can then go somewhere with the photographer and get a nice set of portraits of just the two of you. Maybe there’s a park nearby, or an elegant window, and a beautiful staircase. If you can find a picturesque setting, you can spend 30 minutes or so with just the two of you, getting some natural, relaxed, creative, playful, romantic pictures.
For these pictures, I always recommend that everyone else leave, with the possible exception of one bridesmaid to help out with the dress and bouquet if that is an issue. The fewer people who are watching, the more natural those portraits of the two of you will be.
Simple doesn’t mean boring. We still strive for unique, artistic portraits, no matter the groups or setting. A lot can be done with the environment and skillful lighting, and some creativity.
Again, these are just suggestions, because above all, it’s your wedding, and you need to get all the portraits you really want. But by simplifying the portrait session, you can streamline the process, avoid the chaos, and still get all the important and meaningful photographs.