Picture it: you’re at a wedding during the reception, sitting at a table with friends, when up pops the official wedding photographer asking you to stop everything and take a photo. If you’re like me, this always happens immediately after you’ve taken a big bite so you end up looking like the table chipmunk. Always.
Trust me: there is a better way to handle group photos at a wedding.
For most couples, it is customary to visit – albeit briefly – with each table during the reception. While the couple is visiting with guests, the photographer should be a silent shadow capturing the couple saying thank you for coming to our wedding. Guests see the bride and groom coming to the table and in turn want to stop what they are doing and visit with the guests of honor. The result is natural, close up group photos of the bride and groom interacting with each guest.
As a documentary-style photographer, I am strongly opposed to the traditional table shot. My style of photography means that my clients are seeking the most natural photos possible. No stiff poses. Ever. For most of the wedding, this translates to me capturing the action with a long lens from a corner of the room. As the photographer, I don’t step in and make a scene, and I also don’t ask guests to smile for the camera. [The exceptions being if any guest asks me to take their photo – absolutely! – and if I see a group of guests getting together on their own for a photo, in which case I will step in and ask them to remain posed for one more minute for my camera.]
When I approach a guest to ask her/him to smile for the camera, I am breaking down the fourth wall, so to speak, and making my presence known to the guests. Further, I am unintentionally now seen as an annoyance to guests who just want to be left alone to have a good time.
Each time that I ask guests to notice my camera, it becomes that much tougher thereafter for them to ignore me completely and allow me to capture unscripted images. Rather, as I roam the reception, guests begin to assume that they need to stop and smile. And thus, any attempt at true photojournalism flies right out the window.
If you stick with documentary-style table shots, you ensure that you keep the party going in the same documentary-style vein. If you, as bride and groom, gather the table together for a shot, then great! You, the couple, initiated the shot – not me, the photographer. It’s a small distinction, but by initiating the photo yourselves, you are maintaining a photojournalistic boundary between your guests and me. And if you want to get specific groups together for a photo – say, all of your high school friends or your colleagues from work – then have a scheduled time set during the reception for group photos. This way your guests can plan the photo into their fun agenda, and continue on with the party.
For more on the subject, I recommend you also check out this article from the Wedding Photojournalists Association, of which I am a proud member. Traditional photographers take staged photos. You’ve evolved, and now your table shots should as well.
If you would like to see more examples of my recent work, please visit my website.
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