Over my shoulder and out of the picture

November 03, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Let me be clear before I start on this subject. I would never slate social media, I am an avid user of it both personally and from a business perspective- it’s brilliant, chances are you’re reading this via a link posted on Facebook or similar. There is also nothing wrong with people taking photos in order to record occasions and life events, I still do that.  What I’m not doing is rolling the two up collectively, sticking my nose in the air and shouting “Out of my way!”- as I use the same tools and do the same things myself.

Clients, potential clients, friends and family only ever see the end product of a wedding. That’s why I am keen to talk about some of the processes and challenges to give an insight and this one has been bubbling away for a while. I’ve observed this year a change in behaviours at weddings. Perhaps it has been there in previous years but following a wedding in July where something happened it heightened my awareness as to what people were up to.

To go back to early summer a bride said to me that if I wanted to I could ask people not to take photographs in order to allow my day to run that bit smoother. But it wasn’t a problem, when somebody has stepped into my line of sight at a key moment with their camera/phone/iPad(!!) I have gently ushered them out of the way, good manners and politeness solved the issue. I said “Don’t be silly” to the bride.

Spin forward two months to July and I found myself battling a semi-retired pro-photographer family friend as well as immediate family of the B&G in order for me to get the images of the day to the best of my ability. It was strange, it was almost as though at certain times people didn’t know a photographer had been hired. Now, to be clear it wasn’t because I lost control during certain parts of the day, those that know me and have seen me work know  I’m not a shy photographer and am more than capable of taking control and conducting proceedings at a wedding, you have to be, it’s part of the territory. But, there’s something called ‘Happy Co-operation’ (Thanks Matt) and without that taking control isn’t possible without the organised and efficient wedding photographer becoming just a rude & selfish bloke with a camera to get what he needs- so there was only so much I could do. In the end all was well, the photos were good, I was happy, it was just harder for me to get them on the day and if it had been easier those photos might have been even better. 

A lesson had been learned and I was keen to avoid that scenario again, not because I wanted my job not to be made difficult because I can handle that- some people are nurses, soldiers, junior doctors etc for crying out loud….. but because I didn’t want the standard of my output, of the happy couples wedding photos to be jeopardised by others.

I always say to clients, I want their wedding photos to be the best, because they’re not just their photos but they’re mine too, they’re an extension to my portfolio. Now without wanting to sound a diva to clients I have started to add the second bit about ‘my’ camera pointing at them taking precedent over others- because again I want to take the best photos I can because that’s what they’ve paid and hired me for.

So why is it folk take photos at weddings? Well from my observations there are two main reasons. The first is usually family & friends wanting the keepsake photo in the traditional sense, the second reason is for social media. Taking a photo at a wedding is perfectly fine, it always has been and it always will be- those doing it are doing it with the best intentions.  However when you add into this the fact that most people will have a camera on them at wedding it alters the dynamic a little.

What I witnessed at the wedding featuring the retired pro is one example of how the photographer working the wedding can be hampered and in turn so might be the wedding set, but if I am honest going on experience this was an isolated incident.

Following a more recent wedding I have noticed that there is a more commonly occurring problem and that is in part fuelled by the ‘social media exclusive’. The wedding in question was a beautiful one, I was really happy with the photos and so were my clients. But there was one occasion on the day that I felt a little sad about how a photo turned out, but not from a technical or artistic perspective. Outside the church I went about my business organising the confetti shot, there could have been more people throwing confetti if I’m honest and in turn more confetti in the air but I’d witnessed fewer participants in a confetti shot before and you still get the required effect so all was well. The confetti got thrown, I clicked away and when done I turned around and there it was.

To my surprise there was at least twice if not three times as many people taking a photo of the confetti shot (featuring the back of my head) then had been involved in the shot itself. They hadn’t got in my way or averted the couple’s gaze one bit, but rather than participate in what is a fantastic and natural wedding shot and moment they’d opted to take a photo.

The more I thought about it the more I realised that this highlighted just what in general so many people taking photos at a wedding does, it means they cease to become a part of it.

If they are over my shoulder taking a photo then they’re not in my shot, they’re not in the couples photo that they’ve hired and paid me to take. Instead they had a ‘different’ version of the photo that I have just taken and ultimately what is going to happen to that image? I imagine very little. I decided to do some investigating into this and at another wedding I noticed that a bridesmaid was taking pretty much the same photos as me when she could, she’d say “Let me just get one of that”- I knew her well enough luckily to politely ask why she was doing it as I was genuinely bemused. She remarked it was for the couple ultimately, to which I told her I was taking the same photos…. for the same people and a dawn of realisation seemed to hit her that what she was doing actually whilst well meaning and without being nasty was a bit of a waste of time.

Spin forward to today when a good friend and collaborator at weddings dropped me a line to book me for her big day next year and it brought all of the above back to me. As I have a good relationship with her and she’s a keen photographer herself I felt I was able to mention the ‘other people taking photos’ element. In short I said that the fewer folk taking photos there are, the more people enjoying the day there is and the more inclusive the photographers wedding photos will become. I think moving forward this is something I’m going to put to clients on a regular basis.

So once again, there’s nothing wrong with an upload to social media or to get a picture of your friends on their big day for your own memories but there’s a balance. The next time you’re invited to a wedding remember you’re there as their guest, that the happy couple want you there and they quite possibly want you to enjoy yourself and that they’ve taken care of the photographs. Chances are there’s free alcohol, sometimes there’s even a free bar! So participate and be a part of it as much as you can and help complete the happy couple’s memories so that in 20 years times when they flick through their photos you’re in there too.


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