I hate my wedding photos … not just the photos taken by my photographer, but every candid shot taken by friends and family, and every picture from every disposable camera put on every table.
Now let me add that hating my wedding photos is by no means a slam on the dear friend who generously photographed my special day as his gift to me. Because truth be told, I’ve hated every picture ever taken of me. So it’s no big surprise that when I look at my wedding scrapbook (I couldn’t afford the fancy gold-edged $500 album, so I made my own), I hate the dress that I settled on, due to financial desperation. I hate that I had to do my own stinking makeup with Mary Kay products, instead of having one of those dreamy spa days. I hate the shelf that is my ass, the old lady shoes made for wide feet, and every profile shot where my under-armor makes my boobs look like torpedoes a la the old Playtex 18-hour bra commercials.
Just about the only thing I love in my photos are the pictures of the man I married who, lucky for me, was a dead ringer for Donny Osmond and should be nominated for sainthood, after putting up with my serial killer mood swings for 20 years.
My wedding photographer was a photojournalist, skilled at capturing people and moments the way they actually are. And therein lays the problem. I didn’t want to look like me. I wanted a better version of me … the me shot at angles that would make me look like Claudia Schiffer.
Instead, in every photo, I’m hiking up my control top, telling an animated story with my hands or opening up my mouth to bite into a Swedish meatball. Everyone knows brides don’t eat ― just like supermodels don’t go to the bathroom. Maybe it’s just an illusion, but it was a pretense I wanted upheld in my photos.
I was thinking about this recently, while perusing the website of an extraordinarily talented wedding photographer friend … someone I wish I knew back in the day … a true artist who I hope to fly in to shoot my teenager daughter’s wedding someday.
Genius wedding photographers size up a bride’s best features and capture them, along with their unique personality and sparkle. They find the perfect lighting to capture the light within … and they are skilled at the art of the flattering angle, so every bride they shoot looks and feels like a movie star.
Let’s face it. Anyone can make Sofia Vergara look good. I could photograph her with a camera phone from 1998 and get a flattering shot. Real photographic skill comes into play when the bride is not a model, but wants to look like one. So I analyzed my disappointing wedding photos and put together some rules of the kingdom:
Rule #1 Never, ever, EVER photograph a bride eating. Don’t snap a picture of her tossing back a lobster spring roll. Don’t click away right after she’s used a fancy toothpick to spear a bacon-wrapped shrimp. Don’t shoot her as she walks away from the buffet table with a plate heaped high with stuffed mushrooms, baked brie bites and roasted lamb on crostini. Don’t even photograph her when she’s thinking about eating. If you want to take a dreamy picture of the bride, she should be looking off into the distance ― at the ocean, a sunset, or the man she’s about to love until his ear hairs sprout. She should look like she’s dreaming about her happily ever after … not the amaretto encrusted espresso cheesecake dripping with the chocolate ganache. For all intents and purposes, until long after the honeymoon, the groom must never know the bride eats. If she’s overweight, and he ever wonders why, he should think it’s a glandular problem.
Don’t assume every bride loves her dress. Not everyone has $5,000 to $10,000 to drop on a Vera Wang. Some brides have a budget of $350 and have to buy a giant cocktail-length doily that accentuates their fat calves. If the bride hates what she’s wearing, capture her close up, gently leaning in to smell her delicate bouquet. This way, she’ll remember the tenderness of the moment, without being forever reminded that she was the Kmart bride who couldn’t afford a sequin, better yet the other half of her dress.
Never EVER photograph the bride next to one of her size 2 supermodel friends, unless that friend has a giant Aaron Neville mole or has sprouted a volcanic zit that you don’t intend to Photoshop. The bride should never be preserved in a shot that will remind her of her inadequacies until the day she dies. Should the bride wish to be photographed with special people in her life who are unusually beautiful and will squash her own alluring presence, make sure she is seated at a table, and everyone thinner than her is standing behind her, preferably at an unflattering angle. For extra brownie points, capture them with their eyes closed or in the middle of a sneeze.
By all means, do photoshop the bride to have an ever so slight halo of light around her and an extra twinkle in her eyes.
Ethnic hand gestures, such as those favored by Italians and Jewish New Yorkers when telling a story should never be captured on film, since the expressions that punctuate those gestures usually go hand-in-hand with multiple chins. No bride wants to be photographed telling a story with her hands. She is not paying you big bucks for action shots, with the exception of a champagne toast, a romantic kiss, being lifted to dance in a chair, slow dancing with her husband or father, and cutting the cake. All other action shots are unflattering and should be excluded from the bride’s memory bank.
Make sure to capture the bride slow dancing and leaning in to kiss her groom. This is the position in which the bride looks most slender, because her belly is either pressing into her man or, even better, off to the side not facing the camera. You may get action shots of the bride rocking down, but only if they are taken during the magic minute … that first minute of the first fast dance, before the bride has developed so much as a lone bead of sweat. After that, the photographer’s job is to capture all other guests dancing in as many unflattering poses as possible … like when they all go “down, down, down” in Rock Lobster, belly up, with their fingers and feet waving like dying bugs.
Rule #7 If you’re going to capture the bride and groom walking down the aisle or out of the chapel, for crying out loud, shoot it from above. This creates flattering depth, elongating the body and accentuating the bosom, while casting a shadow on anything unsavory from extra chins to facial hair. While many photographers want to kneel at the end of the aisle and shoot upward, this distorts the body, making the stars of the hour look like a Pygmy couple.
Rule #8 If the scenery allows, it’s always good to capture the bride next to a statue … especially a larger-than-life statue that makes the bride seem waif-like in comparison. This may require a special on location shoot at a Chinese restaurant, where the bride can be photographed next to a golden Buddha.
Rule #9 NO CANDID PROFILE SHOTS! … not under any circumstances, and especially if the bride is a woman of size. For God’s sake man, warn a lady. Because holding in your stomach for hours is exhausting, and no one wants to be captured taking a breather with a muffin top dangling over her Spanks!
Rule #10 Before photographing the back side of a bride, find out if she’s squeamish about closeups of her derriere. If she feels her rear end is large enough to serve as an end table, she may not be ready for her closeup, Mr. DeMille.
Remember, the photographer’s job is to keep the dream alive for all eternity … to capture the bride at her most beautiful, even if that beauty is a cinematic illusion. Should the groom someday be aboard a ship or plane that is going down, he should be able to pull out a picture of his other half and fondly recall her loveliness, even if it’s a mirage. Such a picture should make him remember the tenderness of her kiss, not the way she nagged him to use a plate when he made a sandwich, because he kept leaving crumbs on the counter.
The dreamy wedding photography featured in this post (every photo that is NOT me) was taken by the extraordinarily talented Michael Schuhmann, who will fly anywhere in the world to capture the extraordinary moments of your life. See more of Michael’s work, including his portraits of children and moms to be, at www.photographybymichael.com. Thank you, Michael, for letting me borrow some of your amazing photos for this blog!