Having photographed hundreds of weddings in the New York City area and around the country, I've invested numerous hours with couples on their wedding days. And even afterwards when I've met up with them again at weddings they referred to me. So I've experienced what it is people desire in their heart of hearts to get out of their wedding photography when it's all said and done.
And with all this experience if I were asked today to boil down what makes the best wedding photography to its most important keys, one the most important factors of all would have to be this:
Disconnect from the "Smile For The Camera" mode.
Ever since you were a little child your parents would take your picture telling you to look at the camera, hold still and smile. Or smile for the camera.
That's how they took pictures. Parents still do that today. And in so doing, they trained you to mug for your pictures and play to the camera.
Today, you're all grown up, and you may be out on the town one night with your friends, and someone in your group pulls out their phone and aims it at you and your friends, and what do you all do?
Exactly! You assume the position! You all stare at the camera, staying motionless... smiling... waiting... smiling... waiting... for the picture to be taken.
Just as you were trained to do ever since you were a little kid.
But those aren't the kinds of images you want to have to remember your wedding with when you consider this:
You may feel strongly that the best photos of you have always been those where you weren't aware of the camera.
You'd probably be right about that.
It's because those unscripted photos captured you being yourself.
When they're done well, that is, when they catch true moments, they capture your personality, your essence. They get a story.
You may have heard that people act differently when they know they're being observed.
Just like you may drive more conservatively than you normally would if you knew there was a police car behind you.
This is why television shows like "Big Brother" hide their cameras, so they can capture people more as they really are, being themselves doing what they do, because if they were aware of the camera, they'd be doing things affected for the camera.
But you want to be photographed on your wedding day as the person you are - not someone you're not. Living your real moments, not pretending to do things for the camera's sake.
And you don't want to end up with a pile of "smile for the camera" shots. Your guests are sure to get plenty of those anyway.
But if you unplug yourself from playing to the camera on your wedding day then you're present and open to real life happening to you.
Because you're not busy involved making manufactured moments and supplanting your real life ones.
So it starts with disconnecting the smile for the camera mode.
And then amazing things are free to happen.
Case in point:
I was photographing a wedding and it came time to leave the bride's home to get to the ceremony.
Now many photographers tend to use that time to assemble some group shots of the bride and her bridesmaids posing in front of the bride's house.
But I crossed the street.
I went across the street because I wanted to get photos of what they'd naturally do and not have them look to pose or mug for the camera.
And look what happened next:
It took all of three seconds. Her mom took the bride's hand, lifted it up to her lips, and gave it a little soft kiss, and put her hand down again.
It was over as quickly as it had begun.
Such a little moment.
A few seconds in time, that's all... but it's a big, beautiful, meaningful memory.
Because it's the story in it that's so beautiful. The story's about what was in that mother's heart. It was in how she said 'I love you' to her daughter in that second.
And now it's a photograph. It's fixed in eternity and so that bride can look at that photograph and connect with her mom through it, anytime throughout the rest of her life. And remember her mother's love for her every time she does.
And I believe that's a gift. I believe that gift genuinely enriches a person's life.
My mom lost her mother some thirty years ago and says not a day goes by that she doesn't miss her.
And when she told me that, her eyes drifted to the side of the room towards a shelf by the wall. And so I looked to see what she was looking at too.
On the shelf was a small, silver framed photograph. It was of her mother.
It's a photograph she's had for as long as I can remember. Maybe fifty years.
And she looked at it in silence for a few seconds.
And I knew she was remembering her mother's love.