To direct, or not direct?
Should you give step by step instructions to your couple when doing their first look? Should you move your subjects closer to the window? Or should you step back & not give any instructions whatsoever?
If you are new to the wedding photography world & are struggling with what to do, I have news for you. Most of those seemingly unscripted moments on a wedding day are usually given some guidance.
It's up to the photographer to make it look natural.
So, we're back to the question: To direct, or not direct?
Well, to that, I say, Yes.
I'm a firm believer in giving guidance when necessary, & stepping back for other moments. Since wedding days have so many "moments" where this could be an issue, I've compiled a list of a few & briefly described how I handle those.
bride getting dressed
Just because all of the bridesmaids may have been in a wedding before, they may know their duties as a bridesmaid, but they're not going to know what looks prettiest on camera (unless they're all knowledgeable photographers). For example, if you let "the zipping of the wedding dress" unfold naturally, chances are that that will happen in the darkest & clutteriest corner of the hotel room & will be over in a matter of seconds.
DIRECT // As the bride is preparing to put on her dress, choose the corner you want to shoot in (if you're inside) & clean it up. Enlist the help of her bridesmaids to start clearing the area. Position the girls where you want them, & ask them to slow down the motion if they're going too fast. Prompt them to smile if they're concentrating too hard (lacing up a corset is hard work!)
DON'T DIRECT // If they're laughing or tearing up, don't interrupt them.
If you're unfamiliar with this term, First Looks mean that the bride & groom see each other before the ceremony. Since this is such a special moment, & as the photographer I'm one of the few witnesses, I want to make sure to make it as special as possible for them.
DIRECT // Have a location picked out. Coordinate with your second shooter on a game plan (who is standing where, who is focusing on whom). Give loose directions to the bride & groom. THEN STEP BACK. I like to be far enough away so the bride & groom forget I'm there, but close enough to see facial expressions.
DON'T DIRECT // Once I release the bride to walk up to her groom, I stop talking. I might be tearing up, but I'm not talking. Actually, now that I think about it, when we're all in our places, I give a thumbs up for the bride to start walking towards her groom. No yelling Ok, go! This is an intimate moment & I don't want to ruin the moment. One photographer I worked with once shouted directions throughout the entire thing. To me, it suddenly felt like the set of a movie (in a bad way). The photos may have turned out just fine, but I knew that the bride & groom's minds were on the instructions being hurled at them.
This is probably one of the more difficult parts of the day, just because it's not the most fun. Don't get me wrong, I value these photos so much for myself & for my couples! These are usually the first photos couples choose for their wedding album or big prints. They are so special!
DIRECT // You are going to have to direct this entire thing! Do yourself & your couple a favor by coming up with a list of photos (& names!) prior to the wedding day. That way, no one is wondering what to do. As you're adding people to the photos, make sure you can always see everybody's entire face.
It's not unusual for the speakers to be a bit nervous, so their first instinct is to stand as far away from the crowd as possible. But, in most cases, this means that they end up right in front of the DJ table.
DIRECT // Before the DJ announces that the toasts will happen, I make sure to pull my speakers closer to the guests & away from the DJ (if they have a cordless mic) to get a cleaner & less distracting background. I also pull the bride & groom closer to the speakers if they're standing too far apart. I love getting all of them in the photo together if possible!
the first dance
Like the speeches, I pull the couple away from the DJ table if they're too close.
DON'T DIRECT! // I wanted to pull my hair out when one DJ GAVE THE BRIDE & GROOM STEP BY STEP INSTRUCTIONS THROUGHOUT THEIR ENTIRE FIRST DANCE LIKE HE WAS DIRECTING THE CUPID SHUFFLE. That really did happen once. In my head I was screaming for him to shut up, but he didn't get the message. I want to say he was even circling them on the dance floor, but I may be misremembering. Not cool, DJ. Not cool.
cutting the cake
It wasn't until I read a review one of my groom's wrote that I even realized I was doing this. He mentioned how grateful he was that I told them how to cut the cake. You're welcome! If you think about it, this is the first time you've ever cut a cake WITH SOMEONE ELSE, so of course you're not going to know what to do.
DIRECT // Position the couple behind/beside the cake. Give the knife to the groom in his dominant hand, place the bride's hand on top of his. Briefly describe how to cut the cake, then tell them to feed each other, either with forks or fingers. (Make sure a plate & napkin are within easy reach.) Then step back.
DON'T DIRECT // Let them actually cut the cake & giggle with everyone else when they struggle. It makes for great photos! It doesn't happen often, but I do get irritated when the coordinator or caterer steps in to cut the cake for them after they've made the first cut. If you're a coordinator reading this, please don't. They'll be laughing at themselves the whole time & the photos are always adorable.
This is one of those things that most coordinators usually handle, so there's not too much left for you to do, other than take photos. However...
DIRECT // ...if you can remember to head outside before the crowds do, take note of how the car is oriented. Find the person with the keys & ask them to move it if necessary. (Maybe it's facing the wrong way, it's too far, it's too close, etc.) When the crowd heads outside, organize them if they're not in the best spot (scoot farther apart in case of sparklers, bring the lines closer to the car or closer to the light). I ask my couples to move swiftly (not too slow, but not too fast) down the line, & I ask them to stop & kiss about halfway. Most couples won't think to do that automatically, so a quick reminder before they leave helps. Don't let them start down the line until you're in your position. Give them a thumbs up or start the hip hip hooraying to send them on their way.
DON'T DIRECT // Again, step back. You've given your general instructions, so let them fly & see what happens. Sometimes the groom decides to swoop his bride up & carry her away. Sometimes the groomsmen rush the groom & dump bird seed down his shirt or pants. Sometimes the horse leading the carriage decides to start bucking. In all of those cases, get out of the way but keep snapping!