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Weddings & Photographers

By Alun Brookfield.

Regular readers will remember Paul Beasley-Murray’s impassioned appeal in the previous edition of this journal that professional photographers should not be allowed to dominate weddings. Quite right too!

Sadly, however, where there is money to be made, there will be people who are willing to exploit the situation for their own benefit - and wedding photography is no more exempt from such ‘cowboys’ than any other trade. But as I hope to show, although poor Paul clearly encountered one of the worst practitioners of the wedding photography trade, such a person is not typical of the breed!

You can spot the ‘cowboys’ easily if you know what to look for. They tend to turn up dressed in jeans and T-shirt - completely unacceptable at an occasion where everyone else has gone to some effort to dress their best.

Look out for their equipment too. Cowboys use either enormous cameras and tripods as a way of giving the impression that they know what they are doing, or alternatively they use 35mm SLR cameras - the former slow down the proceedings and the latter are the devil incarnate for using with fill-in flash (which no self-respecting wedding photographer will consider doing without).

They show no sensitivity to the religious nature of the occasion and will insist on pointing their camera over the minister’s shoulder in order to get the best shots.

Some are just plain rude in their behaviour and try to crack double-entendre jokes all afternoon.

All of this is quite unacceptable and unprofessional and such ‘cowboys’ do not last long in the trade. Word goes around not to use them and clergy who have been mishandled by them discourage couples from using them.

Having said that, I want, as a former wedding photographer, to respond to some of Paul’s comments and then go on to offer some guidelines about choosing a photographer.

First, a full set of formal wedding photographs, taken after the ceremony, should not take more than 30 minutes, counting from the church door to the bridal car door. If it takes longer than that, either the photographer is as inconsiderate as the one Paul encountered or something else has gone wrong. Things that can go wrong, apart from the photographer not knowing what he is doing, include: the groom wandering off to the pub across the road; the bride being more interested in talking to her friends than in getting the photographs done; a bride’s father who has had too much to drink before the wedding and who thinks his foolish behaviour is hilariously entertaining; and the bride being abducted temporarily by guests dressed in gorilla suits! And I’m not making this up - all these have happened at weddings I have photographed!

Second, it always takes longer to do the photographs if the couple insist on having the pictures done somewhere other than outside the church for the simple reason that one tends to temporarily ‘lose’ some of the guests on the way to the other venue. For example, the best man may stay at the church until all the guests have gone or the bride’s parents decide to stop off at a garden centre to do some shopping! It happens, believe me! As a photographer, you are then waiting around for key people to arrive before you can do certain of the photos. It’s not the photographer’s fault, but he gets the blame anyway. On one occasion, I was still at a wedding, waiting to finish my photographs, five hours after the ceremony because the best man’s car had been locked in the church car park by a clergyman impatient to leave for his holiday!

Third, the reason photographers do all the formal group shots is that they know from experience that, whatever may have been said before the wedding, the couple usually want them done. Often, before the wedding, the couple will insist that they only want ‘informal’ shots. What they usually mean is that they have attended a wedding where the photographer took a long time over the photos and they want theirs to be different. Unfortunately, the reality is that informal shots are rarely suitable for enlarging and framing, and woe betide the photographer who fails to include enough pictures suitable for that purpose.

And, much as I sympathise with Paul about the idea of doing photos before the wedding, it’s a high risk strategy in our British weather and with the state of our British parks. Think of the trauma of a bride whose dress is ruined before the wedding by a heavy shower of rain or by trailing through some unnoticed dog poo in the park (both have happened at post-wedding photo-shoots)! It hardly bears thinking about. Furthermore, it’s not usually possible to ask brides to be ready for the wedding more than an hour before and most don’t have homes big (or photogenic!) enough for group photography of any more than half a dozen people.

Finally, Paul’s video suggestion. The main problem is that you can’t frame a video or put it in an album for casual showing at work or down the pub. So it’s useful as an extra, but the still photos remain essential for recording the big day. Interestingly, although there was a trend in the late 1980s and early 1990s for using professional video cameramen, that trend has now given way to ‘Uncle Fred’ and his camcorder. Yet couples still prefer to pay a professional to take their wedding pictures rather than rely on the host of amateur pictures which are also taken at weddings.

So when we are preparing couples for marriage, what are the criteria they should use in looking for a wedding photographer? First, encourage them to only go to those who are recommended by friends, or whom they have seen doing the job at another wedding. It’s important to know that the photographer is going to take the occasion seriously and will dress and behave accordingly, including showing proper respect for the other professionals involved.

Second, encourage them to select a photography firm who have a reputation as wedding specialists. Many so-called wedding photographers are nothing of the sort. Rather they specialise in advertising, industrial or even medical photography and only do weddings as a sideline. The trouble with such photographers is that they are accustomed to taking a long time to set up a shot perfectly before they press the shutter release, and they often lack the people-management skills of posing large groups. But at a wedding, you don’t have that luxury. You have to be able to work fast, both with people and with the camera. It is often actually more of a crowd-control skill than a photographic one.

Third, get them to ask a potential wedding photographer whether he uses a tripod for all pictures. If he answers ‘yes’, don’t employ him - the use of a tripod is both unnecessary and almost doubles the time taken for taking the pictures in comparison to a hand-held camera. And if the photographer protests about ‘camera shake’, tell him to see a doctor or get a different job - if he can’t hold a camera still in daylight without using a tripod, he shouldn’t be in the business!

Fourth, find out whether he will offer to attend the bride’s home an hour before the wedding in order to take shots of the bride, her parents and the bridesmaids. That also allows him to arrive at the church far enough ahead of the bride to take pictures of the groom and best man. Both reduce the time needed for pictures after the ceremony.

The other thing he must be willing to do before the ceremony is to speak to the vicar/minister about what is allowed during the service. This means that he knows how not to annoy the clergyman (he might be back at the same church next week, so it’s important!).

Fifth, ask how long he expects to take over the pictures and employ the one who reckons on about half an hour between church door and car door if all goes without problems.

And finally, and perhaps most important of all, look for a photographer who enjoys being at a wedding even more than he enjoys taking photos - such a photographer will be sensitive to the needs of the occasion and will know how to keep family and guests sweet with a constant smile and a steady stream of well-practised banter.

The Revd Alun Brookfield is, among other things, an Anglican priest, a ‘retired’ wedding photographer and editor of Ministry Today.

Alun Brookfield

Editor of Ministry Today

Ministry Today

You are reading Weddings and Photographers by Alun Brookfield, part of Issue 24 of Ministry Today, published in February 2002.

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