It was a beautiful sunny and warm spring day in New York City. Perfect to wander around and photograph a relaxed engagement session with Sophia & Rolf. As it was not my first trip to New York I know the city quite a bit and have some ideas where I would like to shoot. But when it comes to photograph a couple session I always first ask the couple what they like to do together and where they spend their time. Any hobbies, any favorite places to go? This gives me an idea of who they are and how I can photograph them so the pictures will really have a special meaning to them.
After checking out Battery Park, which was Sophia & Rolf’s first choice, I did some location scouting the day before. Quickly I noticed that this might not be the best place to go as there was heavy construction working going on at the time. Letting them know my thoughts they immediately decided to start the photo session at Times Square and later move on to the Central Park to catch the last rays of sunlight.
If you’re just starting out in the wedding photography business, you might have a thousand questions. Website, blog, social media, picture galleries, wedding albums, proofing, domains, FTP, IMAP etc. etc. What the heck does it all mean and how does it work?? How can I put all this together?? I had the same questions when I started out. The best solution is like always: Ask someone. Ask a wedding photographer friend. You don’t have one? Well then, the first step is to go out and make some friends. Get in touch, connect and build a network. You will need it later.
My first friend in the wedding photography business was Richard Overtoom. Richard was kind enough to explain me where I could get a decent website, how a proofing service works and what album companies I should check out. I’m still thankful for his invaluable help. And we are still dear friends.
On a gray day in Berne, Switzerland. As it stopped raining in the afternoon a lot of people enjoyed this feast day in the city. Kids were playing on the Bundesplatz, adults discussing hot political topics. Don’t worry, these guys were good friends and had an excited discussion for quite some time.
Happy Sunday! And keep in mind, a picture doesn’t always say more than a thousand words.
Usually my clients book me to cover their complete wedding day. As wedding ceremonies in Switzerland tend to be around noon, this means that I will start photographing early in the morning with the bride getting ready and leave after midnight when the party has started and the craziness has conquered the dance floor. So my shooting time can easily extend to around 16 to 18 hours, without any noteworthy break. This is not only exhausting for your body, but also for your mind as you have to stay concentrated and focused for so many hours.
It’s rather rare that a bride doesn’t want me to photograph her getting ready for the wedding day. Emily asked me to refrain from these images as she was too nervous she said. Of course I fully respected her wish and stayed away. Later as she was waiting under the shade of an umbrella for everyone being ready for her entrance, I watched her narrowly. I noticed how it seemed difficult for her to breath. When she was walking down the aisle with her father a couple of minutes later not only the white, soft carpet on the lawn made it difficult for her to walk, but also her weak knees. Her father did a good job in supporting her with his firm arm and it’s great to see the joy in their faces on this wonderful late summer day at the Gstaad Palace.
There are a lot of important lessons I learned while photographing weddings for so many years. Maybe the most important one is that you have to be always ready for the moment. As it can happen anytime and anywhere.
A lot of my international clients ask me at the first meeting if besides German I also speak English, French or Spanish. Yes I do. But it actually doesn’t matter. I won’t attend the wedding as a guest. I’m invited to capture images, not for holding a speach. That’s the part of the father of the bride. As I am not directing my images the only time I actually have to talk to people is for the group shots. But believe me, my hands can speak every language.
That doesn’t mean that I am rude to people and don’t talk to anyone at a wedding. A lot of guests are interested in photography and want to take advantage of meeting a professional photographer for the first time. I’m happy to answer questions, but I am always concentrated and pay attention to what’s going on around me. I will excuse myself and leave immediately if I see the opportunity for an interesting picture arise on the other end of the room.
Being ready for the moment means that my camera goes with me everywhere. Even to the toilet. Not that I would want to take pictures there, but you never know what you will see on the way. And my camera will also never get packed away in the bag before I am in my car or actually arrive at home. Which brings me back to this image.
The wedding of the couple from New York City took place at the famous Gstaad Palace in the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland. Most of the guest were flying in from the United States or from other countries all over the world. A reception and welcome dinner was held the night before the wedding at the Wasserngrat high up above Gstaad. After the dinner the wedding party took the chairlift downwards again and the party went on in the famous GreenGo night club of the Palace. When I was leaving the place after midnight I passed by these two bridesmaids who preferred to sing in the lobby with the pianist of the hotel instead of rocking the dancefloor in the night club. My photo roller in one hand, the charged camera in the other hand, I was able to capture this moment while leaving the house.
At some point when I talk to someone about what I do for a living they will ask me if it’s not getting boring to only photograph weddings. That’s usually asked right after the questions “Oh, you’re a wedding photographer? So what you do Monday to Friday then?” and “Wedding photography? Can you live of that?” (I will answer these questions in future blog posts, stay tuned ;-)
The short answer is: No, it’s not getting boring. Because not every wedding is the same as the asker is assuming. Not at all. Even if you are photographing at the same church or at the same venue, it will never be the same. Because it’s always a different day, because the weather can never be the same and mainly because there are two different families celebrating the wedding of another bride and another groom. It will never be the same again.
The most important thing for me to photograph at a wedding are the people. Not only the bride & groom, but also their guests. The interaction between them is creating the emotions and the moments you want to preserve as a wedding photographer. That are the pictures the bride wants to keep in her wedding album. The album she will pass on to her children one day. From generation to generation. It’s nice to have beautiful detail photographs of the bouquet or the wedding dress. But what is truely invaluable is the photograph of her grandmother that passed away a couple of months after the wedding.
That said it is very important to also get photographs of the scenery. As they always add to your feelings when you remember this day. Like in this picture of Vanessa & Luigi’s wedding that took place at St. Peter und Paul Kirche in Bern, on a hot and sunny day in August. When you entered this beautiful old church (built in 1864) it was very dark and a bit chilly at first. But walking down the aisle it was getting brighter and warmer and in front of the altar right where the bride & groom were sitting bright sunbeams were breaking through the windows into the church. Bringing in all the warmth and joy into this place where two families were celebrating the union of their daughter and their son.
Professional wedding photographers in Switzerland usually don’t work locally. Switzerland is a small country, you can easily get to every spot in the country within 2-3 hours. So why limit yourself to only work in your own city or area? And even more important: Why should the bride & groom limit their choices to only local wedding photographers? Their goal should be to find the best wedding photographer for their needs. The one that fits their personalities, the one that takes the kind of images they love.
Whenever I hear a prospective client say “Sorry, we decided for a local photographer” I’m thinking “Oh, that’s really a pity”. Not because I didn’t get the job, but because it looks like the “local factor” was more important for the bride & groom than anything else. Instead of being in the last place of the priority list it’s in the first place. Couples are still not really accustomed to “think Swiss”. It’s just in the people’s heads that Berne is far from Zurich. Although it’s actually only one hour away. Often the first question I get asked in a client conversation via phone is “Where are you based?” and my answer will be “I’m based in Switzerland”.
Later in the conversation with the couple this will lead to another question. If you will scout the locations of the wedding day. Yes of course I do location scouting. But that doesn’t mean that I have to drive everywhere before the wedding day. Sometimes it doesn’t really make sense as the wedding will take place in a really remote location or even in another country. Sometimes it’s not necessary as you already know the place. Being a professional wedding photographer with a couple of years experience you might have already photographed a wedding there before.
There is no absolute answer to this question, it all depends on the situation. I might photograph another job close to the church sometime before the wedding and go to actually see it on that occasion. Or I scout it in the internet (that’s the first thing I do in any case). If I can’t go to see the location myself I will also ask my friends that are all professional wedding photographers if they have already photographed at this place. That’s another advantage of hiring a professional and not an amateur to photograph your wedding. He has also a professional network and that can not only be helpful in case of an emergency.
What you can also do is to scout the location on the wedding day. As that’s the day that counts. I see the roadworks in front of the church that was not there two months ago. I see what the weather and the light looks like. WYSIWYG – What You See Is What You Get. And that brings me back to the above picture of Melissa & Alexander who married in Montreux on the shore of Lake Geneva in Switzerland.
Although I know Montreux and the area well as I have spent there quite some time enjoying the Montreux Jazz Festival or visiting my relatives I have never been before at the Château du Châtelard where the ceremony took place or seen the park where we wanted to photograph the couple shots. So I just arrived at the place 1-2 hours before they expected me and checked everything out. That’s my preferred way to do location scouting for a wedding. A positive side effect doing it this way is that if everything goes wrong with traffic on the wedding day, you probably have to skip the location scouting but will still be perfectly in time for the ceremony.
Wedding photography is, well, about photographing a wedding of course. So it’s obvious that you are taking lots of pictures of the bridal couple. During the preparations, the ceremony, cake cutting, the first dance and so on. If you go with the flow to capture the wedding day that usually means that you just have to follow the bride and groom as that’s the place where the action is. But it’s not less important to always turn around to see what’s happening behind your back or even leave the room and check what’s going on in the next room or outside. [Before you do so, always check back with the wedding coordinator that nothing important is happening in the meantime and that they know where to find you in case of an "emergency"]
At the wedding of Sarah & Patrice I suddenly noticed that all the children had “disappeared from my radar” because they were taken care of by a nanny in a separate room downstairs. As the guests were having their meal I sneaked out to see what the children were doing. They had already finished eating and were now having fun playing outside in the meadow in front of the house. This little girl cought my attention as she was very silent, standing there with her mask she had put upside down on her face and observing how the other kids were fighting for the toys. She didn’t even care about the balloon sword someone had lost right in front of here feet and that would have immediately given her the power to rule this place.
For me these “non bridal images” are as important to tell the story of the day than the images actually showing the couple. Because I usually work alone and not with a 2nd shooter or assistant, I don’t have time to do slideshows to show the guests my images right on the wedding day. The bridal couple is paying me to capture every important moment of their wedding day and they are right to expect that I pay full attention to that goal from early in the morning until late in the night when I leave.
Portes des Iris in Vullierens near Morges is an awesome place. The farmhouse dating back to the 16th century belongs to the Estate of Château de Vullierens and is located on a little hill between flower and corn fields. It’s one of my very favorite wedding venues in Switzerland. And it only gets better when the bride and groom tell you that they will arrive for the ceremony not by car, but riding on white horses. As Sarah & Patrice did :)