An Insider's Guide to the Perfect Wedding Photo Album

Our insider's guide to formal wedding shots will help keep you (and your wedding photographer) focused.
by Kate Wood

Quick -- you haven't much time to capture all the people, feelings, and hard work that have gone into your wedding. How are you going to do it? The most popular picture style today is photojournalism, which objectively documents each nuance, like the mother of the bride's reaction to seeing the wedding dress or clasped hands. While there's no doubt that we're huge fans of the style (we've been urging couples in this direction for years!), it's critical to bear in mind the basics too. To get a perfectly balanced album, you need to think about formals as well. Read on for the essential info.

Find the Right Mix

Yes, the days of the police-lineup bridal party portrait are gone, but that doesn't mean you won't want formal photos of your closest friends and family decked out in their finest. Though the candid style continues to gain steam and shows no signs of stopping, renowned photographer Denis Reggie, who has shot many society weddings including more than one Kennedy union, reminds to-be-weds that they still need some basic formal shots for "family historical purposes."

The good news is that the shot list has gone way down. Go for a combination of formal and unconventional, with about 30 minutes of formals. According to Reggie, there are five must-take shots for any formal snap session: the bride and groom alone, followed by the couple with their attendants, the couple with their parents, the couple with the bride's immediate family, and the couple with the groom's immediate family. Reggie says he's more likely to get solo shots of the bride and groom while they get ready, and grab most of the other key combos on the fly.

If you want shots of other groupings, by all means add them to your list, though experts point out that the shorter the sessions can be kept, the fresher the photos.

Watch the Clock

Timing is everything. You should allow up to five minutes for each shot on your list, though some will take longer (bigger groups), some less (just the two of you). If the ceremony or reception time is quickly approaching, pick a time for later in the wedding, after the first course perhaps, to reschedule. You don't want to be completely stressing out about the timing- that kind of anxiety will show up in the photos.

Another way to maximize the moments spent taking your formal photos is to hire a second photographer to shoot behind-the-scenes pictures. These photo outtakes will add another dimension to your album. Grandma pinching the little flower girl's cheek or a bridesmaid grabbing the bride's hand to get a closer look at the ring (shot in black-and-white with no flash) are some of Reggie's favorite examples.

Look Picture-Perfect

How do you keep you and your groom looking great? Add an engagement portrait to your package so that the photographer can troubleshoot your lifted brow and too-toothy smile and come up with ways to avoid them in pictures. These are your proactive shots, as Reggie notes-the 5 percent of your photos where you're reacting to the photographer and not simply to each other. If the extras are not in your budget, show him some pictures that you don't like of the two of you so he'll know what to look out for.

Your photographer will undoubtedly have plenty of tricks in his camera bag for painlessly helping everyone get the shots you need-no one wants to be the bridezilla screaming to get everyone to be quiet and smiling nicely.

Another trick of the trade: Getting people laughing. If there's a comedian in the group, point out that person to the photographer. When everyone's laughing and reacting to something humorous, it creates a more natural feeling to the pictures.

Learn the Basics

Your photographer can add dimension, texture, and other variety by shooting on different types of film (both black-and-white and color). For standard formal shots, even if you plan on going unconventional for everything else, stick to a medium format camera. This commonly used camera results in a larger negative, which gives your photographer the freedom to create enlargements without compromising on the quality.

Digital can be another option here-though some couples find the digital revolution a bit scary, think of it this way: It enables your photographer to quickly spot the bridesmaid who had her eyes closed or pick another spot because the light is off. Reggie now actually shoots exclusively with digital (at a very high resolution, mind you-no pro would be caught dead using a standard digital camera).

Go Beyond the Basics

Exciting formats and lenses are making their way to your wedding album. They're great for reception shots. You might not want a shot of your parents through a fish-eye lens, which will make the setting appear as if you're viewing it through a fishbowl, but how about if you want an overhead of your reception space? For intimate portraits of the new couple, we love using an antique pinhole or Diana camera, both of which give photos a soft, almost surreal quality where pictures appear to have a glowing aura. These unconventional cameras are a natural for formal shots-since they require some fumbling and a longer exposure, you'll need to hold still. You can forget about capturing your best man busting a move with this.

Other innovative options include the use of infrared film or even slide film-processing slides as if they were negatives (a technique called cross processing) creates super-saturated colors. You can ask your photographer for examples of these techniques to determine beforehand which ones you'd like. On the day of your wedding, you might suggest that your photographer do most of the traditional shots with traditional film and then go for a different effect. Or many of these techniques can be produced digitally after the event. Take a little communication, add a shot of knowledge, and watch your wonderful album develop.

Other contributors: Terry deRoy Gruber, Gruber Photographers Inc. and Paige Eden, Paige Eden Photography

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