Getting natural wedding photos, despite seeming a little free and easy going when you first think about it, is more difficult than you would think – natural wedding photography does in fact take a little planning and coaxing along the way but is well worth the effort for the end results.
For example imagine yourself in 40 years time looking back at your wedding photographs.
What do you see? How do they make you feel?
Perhaps there’s a picture of your parents holding hands in the front pew of the church, the tears in your eyes as your husband spoke in his speech about his excitement and plans of spending his life with you. Maybe a picture of the last and only time you properly danced with your Dad, the image of your grandfather, whom you lost only months after the wedding, hugging you after the ceremony.
Great natural wedding photography becomes part of your family’s history, shows the love and connections between people, and transports you back to the emotion and tingle of the day in an instant.
Sitting there, 40 years in the future, those looks and touches, expressions and fleeting moments of a bygone time will be literally priceless.
So, what are the secrets to getting great natural wedding photos that show all of this love, emotion and fun?
Broadly speaking there are three main things to get right:
Firstly, the most important one is choosing the right photographer and obviously one that specialises in natural wedding photography (which I will get to later) but you also need to have the right mindset as well as organise a few logistics to allow the emotion of the day a chance to shine through!
Let’s start with logistics:
There a number of things that you can do in terms of planning and logistics to help make your wedding day fun, have a natural and easy emotional flow, and that can help you enjoy it more as well! The photographs will then naturally reflect this!
1. Consider having a receiving line
Receiving lines are often associated with more traditional and formal weddings and not with natural wedding photography at all but they are a great vehicle for allowing everyone to let off a bit of emotional steam and are therefore often very photogenic! Us Brits aren’t known for exactly being emotionally forthcoming – often providing a bit of a structure or a context for displaying this type of behaviour can work wonders. People will feel much more comfortable warmly hugging and congratulating you in a receiving line (where it’s the thing to do!) than they will going out on a limb and doing it unprompted! Receiving lines can be fun, ice breakers and genuinely moving. However, if the thought of lining everyone up and systematically hugging and kissing them fills you with horror then obviously don’t do it!
2. Avoid awkward seating arrangements during the speeches
The speeches often contain moments of great tenderness, humour and interaction between people. This can only really happen if people are in close physical proximity so try to avoid having the speaker at a distance from the audience. A number of venues encourage this as they often provide a microphone which is stationed at the front of the room. It’s really hard to express you undying love for your new partner if s/he’s 10 yards away across a crowded room! It’s even harder to make a meaningful natural wedding photography of that moment as well! Try to have the key speakers and close family members together during the speeches on the same table and for the speaker to simply stand where they are – they can then see each other and there is an emotional connection that it’s impossible to get and to photograph otherwise.
3. Keep the formal group shots to a minimum
In order to photograph in an authentic and empathetic way your photographer will need time! The family group shots are important of course but, the more time your photographer spends doing these, the less he or she has to concentrate on natural wedding photography and recording the real story of the day. The secret is to pre plan the group shots, negotiate exactly who is going to be in them with your family before hand and discuss in detail with your photographer. It’s also a very good idea to get an efficient and on the ball usher or bridesmaid to be the photographer’s official helper at this point as they will be able to round up the people for the photographs quickly.
4.Communicate with the officiant about photography during the ceremony
Obviously the actual ceremony itself and the exchange of vows is a time of peak emotion that you will in all likelihood want to have pictures of. Many officiants have a default stance of only allowing photography from the back of the church or venue which makes it very difficult for the photographer. The ideal position is at the front to the side as it’s then possible to get pictures of the couple’s faces as they are saying their vows and and it often allows access to pictures of the faces of family and friends reactions to the ceremony in the front row as well. Many officiants worry about photographers moving around, getting in the way, using flash, using noisy cameras or creating other distractions! The key to this is often explaining how the photographer works and explaining why he or she wants to be at the front as explained above. Often the officiant is then reassured and will often allow access to the front and the photographer can be in the optimum position to get the images of the real moments!
5. Give the evening party and music some serious thought
What will get you and your friends and family going on the dance floor? What type of music would work well? Will your band or DJ work with you to create a playlist that you know will work well? The evening is a great time for fun celebrations – what can you do to help this time go with a bang?
6. Give your guests something to do during the reception
Standing around chatting is all well and good but having outdoor games (giant jenga for example) or maybe a table magician can really help things along and get people having some fun and enjoying themselves. Background music can help lift the atmosphere as well and try to avoid giving your guests the opportunity to all sit around at the same table without moving for the whole reception. The atmosphere will be much better if people have to walk round, interact and mingle and the resulting pictures will be much more characterful! On a similar note, try to avoid having the drinks reception in an area that’s too big! It’s an absolute atmosphere killer if people are too spread out in small groups – get them close together in a noisy huddle – it’s so much more conducive to having fun and much much easier to photograph!
7.Get some confetti
Lots of it, much more than you could possible imagine you need and get a designated usher or bridesmaid to organise handing it out. Make it clear to your guests when and where they are to throw it so that they aren’t awkwardly hanging on to it not knowing what to do. Spontaneous throwing is much more natural and fun but many couples like the more organised “confetti tunnel” as well. Whilst we are thinking about ushers and bridesmaids helping out make sure you choose them carefully – they can lift the mood, alleviate stress and have a much bigger impact than you would imagine. Not all of your close friends might be the best people for the role on the day. You do have a choice and you need attendants that will be calm, efficient and fun and will not add to the stress!
Secondly, you’ve got to have the right mindset:
8.Allow yourself to be relaxed and happy
This is often easier said than done! The key is to minimise stress on the day which you can do by forward planning. Allow ample time for everything so that you can savour the day. It’s your right to delegate and it’s good to give your attendants jobs and responsibilities to allow you the freedom to be fully emotionally present and to engage with the day at a deep level rather than your emotional energy being taken up worrying about small details. Try not to worry about what other people are thinking or about what you think you are expected to be doing. It’s your wedding day to spend as you choose and the more honest and true to yourself that you are the more you will enjoy it and the more that those pictures expressing that authenticity will be easy to find.
9.Drink expensive bubbly
Now please don’t for one minute assume that I’m saying that you can’t have a good time or be yourself unless you have had a drink or two but, if there was any day for swigging some expensive bubbles, then this is it! It’s surprising how much more relaxed you are after a glass of champagne and, even in the morning during the preparations, a majority of brides will have a little snifter and be all the better for it. If it’s not your cup of tea then have tea instead!
10. Pre envisage the emotions of the day
Talk or think through how you think you might feel on the day. Give yourself permission to ride the emotional roller coaster and to express yourself. Let it out, and give yourself permission to do so – it’s perfectly natural. By living with the potential feelings in the time leading up to the wedding it will be much more manageable on the day, possibly less overwhelming, and you will feel much more confident in your ability to handle things. Giving yourself permission to express yourself can be very difficult but is often the key to going through your wedding day with a sense of emotional authenticity.
11. Don’t smile for the camera
Try to avoid making eye contact with the camera unless your photographer specifically asks you to as you will, in all likely hood, adopt your default “smile for the camera” face that we have all so deeply ingrained into us! Instead look at and smile at your fiancee/husband/wife/guests/family/dog! This sound a bit obvious but you will smile naturally at everyone and your photographer will be able to capture the real genuine smiling and happy you rather than the forced “smile for the camera” version of you. So, make eye contact and smile away!
12. Be aware of the emotional ebb and flow
All weddings have a natural ebb and flow of emotion and generally you and your guests will naturally keep in time with this and all will be well. However, there is one particular time during the day that can potentially be extremely expressive and great for taking pictures that often catches people by surprise and doesn’t always work. Immediately after the ceremony you will naturally feel a sense of elation and joy and your family and guests will want to congratulate you. There should be spontaneous hugs and kisses all round and and a real outpouring of joy! However, what often happens, if you aren’t prepared, is that you come out of the ceremony (usually with your photographer who will walk out in front of you photographing your exit) there is an awkward moment when it’s just the three of you and then everyone else starts to come out of the church behind you. Then, in a frustrating state of emotional charge everything grinds to a halt as the wedding guests think that the photographer wants to just photograph the couple, the couple don’t really know what to do and it’s all a bit awkward. What really needs to happen is that the couple immediately rush into the crowd, there’s spontaneous hugs and congratulations all round, emotionally there is a natural release and the photographer gets the opportunity to photograph some great genuine moments!
Finally, the photographer:
13.Find the right kind of photographer
This can be extremely complicated as most photographers these days will offer some level of natural wedding photography in their coverage. The key is to try to decipher which ones have this approach as their primary style and which ones don’t! As a starting point look for photographers who describe themselves as “documentary”, “photojournalists” or use the bazar “reportage” word! Apparently there is some sort of subtle difference between these descriptions but they are broadly interchangeable and, trust me, life’s just to short to worry about such details! A pure documentary or natural wedding photographer will photograph 98% of the day in a hands off, natural and observational way. They won’t influence the day at all, won’t touch or move anything and will allow you to enjoy the day how you want whilst they document everything and tell a visual story. At the other end of the spectrum are photographers who have a very stylised approach and will create a number of spectacular set piece photographs maybe using fantastic lighting and effects in almost a magazine style. This type of work may well be interspersed with elements of natural documentary images but it won’t be the main emphasis of the pictures. Somewhere in between there is a large number of photographers whose images, on the face of it look to be completely natural and documentary but, when you analyse a bit more closely you will realise that the photographer is in control of the situation all of the time and that you are looking at his or her artistic interpretation of the day. This can be very beautiful and captivating but it lacks the authenticity, integrity and natural rawness of the pure natural wedding photography approach.
14.Choose a photographer that you are incredibly personally comfortable with
Photographing a wedding in a natural and unposed way is an extremely intimate and personal job. Your photographer will be with you for the whole day. Often in close proximity and at a very personal and intimate time. It is vitally important that you feel completely and utterly at ease with this person’s presence as it will show in the photographs if you do not trust them completely. In many ways the personal chemistry is the most important thing – the best technical photographer in the world won’t be able to get emotionally compelling images if there isn’t a genuine spark and sense of trust and openness between them and the client. Take the time to get to know them and chat with them, only go for a photographer who you really like and feel at ease with – it really does make all the difference.
15.Chat with key guests and explain the photographer’s approach
Once you have decided upon a photographer with this type of “hands off” natural wedding photography approach it’s important to mention it to key guests. They need to know that they don’t need to act up or smile for the camera and that the photographer won’t have any expectations of them, they don’t need to set things up, move things round or pose in any way apart from the prep arranged family group photographs.
16.Go through the logistics and personal details with your photographer
In a similar way as you will feel less stressed if you have planned the day in detail so your photographer will be able to photograph in a much more natural and relaxed way if he or she knows exactly and when to expect events to happen. Try to go through timings for the day and venue and location changes and most importantly go through the personal details for the day as well. A good photographer will pick up on these details and they will come out in the pictures – it might be that there is a special person going to be at the wedding who you haven’t seen for a long time, or who has travelled from the other side of the world to be there. There might be an extremely elderly and special relative who will only be there for part of the day and who would easily be missed. There will be lots of little personal touches and stories woven into the fabric of your wedding and the more of these the photographer is familiar with the more easily they will be able to create a set of personal and powerfully engaging pictures.
17.Don’t give your photographer a list
A number of wedding magazines and blog regularly produce “helpful” shot lists of “must have” photographs for the day and, whilst they are well intentioned they are fairly useless for the actual photographer and can produce unnecessary stress and waste time on the wedding day itself. In the worst case scenario the photographer will be so concerned about fulfilling everything on the list that they will not have the time left to take the natural wedding photography style images that you really want. Any experienced photographer will produce a set of photographs that includes all of the main elements of the day and you have to choose your photographer carefully and trust in their creativity for the rest. The sure fire way to stifle their creativity is to give them a shot list including every button hole and table decoration!
So, there we have 17 secrets to getting natural wedding photography filled with emotion, love and fun! Basically it’s about creating opportunity and allowing yourself the time to really experience it in an authentic way. Throw in the right photographer with the right approach and you have the perfect recipe!
If you are looking for a photographer who loves natural wedding photography then
I would love to here more about your ideas and plans for your wedding!