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The art of unposed wedding photography

Chatting with a fellow photographer recently, we were discussing weddings with amazing locations. Our topic got onto one situation which actually happens a little more frequently than people realise – when a couple book an incredible venue, and an incredible photographer… but they are reluctant to be involved in the photography.

Every wedding photographer I can think of will always get a bit excited about an incredible location for a wedding. It can be a rural spot or somewhere more urban, it could be sleek and modern, ramshackled and rustic, old and graceful… stunning vistas or gorgeous murals. We want to give you something that says “this was my day”. We know when you choose a location or a venue for your wedding, there’s something special about it that you fell in love with. You want this to be the setting of your day and your story for your guests.

And then you want a photographer. You (hopefully!) book the best photographer you can afford, who’s work you love. You want them there to document the day as it unfolds, and to create beautiful photographs. And you’d love to have some gorgeous couple portraits as well. For us, it’s perfect. Your special venue, and you’ve hired us to come and take photographs of your day.

I think it’s fair to say every wedding photographer will still receive an enquiry, where the couple will say a few things that really stick out. The word “just”, for example. “We just want natural photos”, “we just want some unposed wedding photographs”. Couples reiterate their desire for natural candid photography, they talk about how they dislike posed photographs. They love specific couple portraits because they look unposed and natural… And that’s what we want to give you.

But there’s something else.

You need to be involved.

If you want gorgeous couple photographs, then it does require a bit of involvement from the couple. We do need to get away from your guests and that means taking you somewhere for a little while. It’s very hard to achieve those intimate photographs, those beautiful, romantic photographs in the vicinity of your guests when your parents are fluffing up your veil or your groomsmen are standing round you drinking beer. Imagine trying to have an intimate kiss with your new spouse, and then an auntie taps you on the shoulder and tells you how lovely your ceremony was and you end up in conversation for the next five minutes.

Occasionally I’ve had couples who have been reluctant to step away from their guests for half an hour for couple portraits. I will never force anyone into having a photograph taken or going away if they really don’t want to, but the problem is once I’ve gone and the day is over, then the opportunity will have passed. Every wedding photographer works for their couple and will respect their decision regarding couple portraits, however we also know there is no sadder expression after the day than to see the word “I wish I had….”. A friend once said to me, that he only ever regretted the things he hadn’t done, and it’s a philosophy I’ve used myself to find the courage I’ve needed at times.

The thing with wedding photography in the UK, is I think it’s undergone a huge transformation over the last seven or eight years. It’s incredible and wonderful. Wedding photography has gone from being formal and stiff and posed, through to something natural, romantic, and exciting. It feels unleashed in a way it’s never felt before, it feels like it’s been released from the confines of being uniform, and it’s become something different. Something organic and wild and incredible.We’ve moved on from kisses under veils. It’s moved on from that awkward “comedy group photo” stage too, where the bride gives a sassy hand on hip pose wagging her finger at the groom while he’s having his chest fondled by the bridesmaids. Those odd group photos that had all the humour of saucy vintage British seaside postcards from the 40’s and 50’s. Everything has changed and it’s constantly evolving. It’s thoroughly exciting to see and watch and work in such a rapidly changing industry.

Wedding photographers expect every couple to request some group photographs, but that really comes down to you, not us. We won’t dictate that you must have specific group photographs you don’t want. We will advise on a maximum number of group photographs, to keep the day flowing and to ensure that it doesn’t feel like the drinks reception is taken over by endless combinations of a family and friend hokey-cokey dance. It’s changed from from feeling like the “March of the Formals ” where all the guests line up like small primary classes, waiting their turn to form a neat row to have their photograph taken with the newlyweds to something slightly more straightforward, more relaxed.

With couple portraits, I’m seeing beautiful photographs that are as much about what happens outside the frame as inside… it’s about what happens then and there in the moment. If a slight breeze catches your hair and pulls it across your cheek, if your spouse strokes your face, it’s those moments of anticipation before you kiss. It’s bad weather, good weather, wind, rain, sunshine, shade, snow, fog, and we work with it. It’s beautiful and unique and it’s there on the day. In the unyielding imperfections there is such an incredible beauty that’s impossible to replicate or recreate. Wedding photography has become an artform of anticipation.

However, it still involves you. If you want those photographs, you need to go away and allow yourself to walk away from your guests for a while. Take us away, take yourselves away. Show us what you love about your wedding location and let us explore with you to create something special for you. Give yourself the space and room to find those moments of intimacy. Allow yourself to feel free to embrace, and not feel embarrassed by some wisecracking wedding party member or being watched by a series of relatives all merrily chatting in the sidelines among themselves and “snapping a quick pic” on the back of their smartphone. The amazing thing is, that just stepping away from your wedding party and going with your new spouse and photographer, it won’t feel awkward. Not really. It won’t have that sensation of being overly self-aware and uncomfortable you might expect at first. Step away from the noise and the eyes and the gaze of everyone, and you can relax and become yourself again, it can feel beautifully liberating to get some space and just have some alone time with your new husband or wife. Your photographer becomes something else, almost part of the scenery, just someone in the background getting on with their job, and trust me when I say that we’re sort of in our own zone of focusing on our creativity and work right in that moment.

couple in the grounds of Springkell Lockerbie on their wedding dayI think sometimes people can become so fearful of “posing” that they are so driven to reject it because of what it represents to them in their mind, from past experiences of years gone by and seeing other people’s photographs (by often very different styles photographers, from older styles of wedding photography), that they don’t want any photographs at all. They don’t want to move away from their guests for a little while, they don’t want to be taken away for even a minute, because they kick back so much against the concept of a “posed photograph”. They think that’s what is going to happen. You may not want “overly posed” or in fact – any posed – photographs, but if you genuinely want a beautiful portrait you still need to be on the other side of the camera and you need to trust the photographer you’ve hired to create those unposed wedding photographs you are after.

Standing in front of a photographer having your portrait taken isn’t the same as having a friend take your photo during a night out. You won’t be stood there, frozen with a stiff smile on your face waiting for them to switch the camera on, work out the settings, followed by a few “hang on…” and then “did the flash go?” and then the ultimate words “say cheese!” before being blinded at close range by a flash straight into your eyes that leaves you seeing pink and cyan blobs floating around for ages afterwards. We work quickly. Our fingers move across the controls simultaneously as we look through the viewfinder, we make adjustments and tweak as we work. And you won’t ever  need to stand frozen with a fixed grin on your face, wondering when it’s over, waiting for us to instruct you to say cheese. We love it when you move slightly. When you ignore us, when you give your attention to your new spouse and and stroke them across the cheek, or hold them tightly, or lean in for a kiss. Ultimately, it’s those moments that are contained inside those natural and unposed wedding photographs.

There’s every chance, when you book your photographer, there’s something about their portfolio you love very much. If you dislike posed photographs you’ve likely found some images in their portfolio that reflect what you’re after, that “unposed, natural look” that you want. You’ve asked them to produce that – and they will, but you do need to give them something in return – trust. You need to trust them to achieve that, and give them what they need to do that.

There’s a lot more to hiring a photographer than just paying them and waiting to see them turn up on the day. We are happy to deliver and get on with our work, we will stay in the background, but occasionally we need a little involvement from you too. That involvement doesn’t need to destroy the concept of the unposed wedding photograph, but it will enhance the photographs you receive afterwards.

The beautiful thing at the end, is having a genuinely warm and romantic photograph, in the setting of your wedding, on your wedding day, because you’ve trusted the photographer. Give them the time and faith to create those unposed photographs you’ve hired them for, to create that thing that drove you to book them in the first place, in that stunning location on that particular day.

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