The Trials and Tribulations of a Professional Wedding Photographer
I love photographing weddings.
I love placing a beautiful bride wearing a fabulous gown in warm sunlight and showing her best side, or catching the bride and groom walking hand in hand down a sandy beach at sunset. Beautiful decorations, well-dressed people, luscious food — who wouldn’t love that photographic opportunity?
But what do you do when an anticipated garden ceremony gets rained out, and suddenly you’re photographing a large group under glaring fluorescent lights — in a tiny conference room with mustard-colored drapes? How do you help a hysterical bride whose groom just smashed wedding cake into her face? Or gracefully ask an entire family, posed and ready, to wait to be photographed while someone goes to find Uncle Joe?
A January snowstorm causes you to slide into a ditch on the way to the ceremony. An overheated church causes a groomsman to faint. The flower girl is crying. The ring bearer won’t walk up the aisle. The bride is an hour late, and you have 15 minutes during the cocktail “hour” to take pictures of the bride and groom, wedding party, each set of parents, and entire family groups. Guess who will be blamed for holding up the reception?
The bridesmaids drank too many mimosas while getting ready. The groomsmen attacked the open bar, and people are removing articles of clothing — before you’ve gotten a photo of the wedding party. The bride’s divorced parents refuse to stand next to each other. One cousin-thrice-removed tells you to get out of his face or he’ll punch you, and the videographer has decided to place himself directly across from you, shining his light into your camera.
When I began my photographic apprenticeship in 1982, weddings were being photographed on film. A film magazine (attached to the back of a camera) contained 12 or 24 frames. There was no “let’s look at the screen and see what we got.” We would shoot 24 exposures, and change rolls. All day. There were ways to meter light, but basically photographers had to know how to measure the light and calculate settings in their heads. Before every wedding we would go over our equipment and prepare for the unexpected — because something always happened.
I photographed a lot of my early weddings in Athens, Ga., often two a day. One “church wedding” in the morning, where the reception was held in the basement, and one “country club wedding” that would go from 6 p.m. until after midnight. One of my biggest “perfect storms” happened when I photographed the merger of two big Chinese restaurants. The son of one was marrying the daughter of another.
The bride was beautiful. She had two gorgeous outfits besides her wedding dress: a reception gown and a going-away outfit. One was a pink gossamer bell-shaped cloud, the other a close-fitting red dress, both decorated with pearls and diamonds.
The families were very traditional and weren’t impressed by a female photographer (even though they had met me previously). I was instructed to enter through the kitchen of the bride’s family restaurant and found all the dirty dishes from the night before stacked on the floor.
Throughout the night, I was jostled and buffeted. At one point, someone hooked his arm through the wire attaching my camera to the flash and pulled so hard that a connecting piece broke off the lens. That camera became useless indoors, so I switched to my backup.
All proceedings had to be held inside the restaurant because of a torrential thunderstorm — no pretty garden views. Toward the end of the evening I found myself taking a breather in my car, in the rain, calculating what working equipment remained. I had to go to a third camera to finish up the reception. But I got some stunning photos of those dresses.
Editor’s Note: Photographer Deborah Venuti is based in Haverhill. She is a frequent contributor to mvm.