We hear this all the time, “I don’t want posed photos. I just want things to be natural and candid moments.”. I can totally understand it too. All those wedding photos from the 70’s…. I cringe just thinking about it!
Not to completely trash your Mother’s Wedding photos, because that was the style back then. Highly posed, well composed studio style imagery. It’s just what was done.
Styles change. And as photographers, it’s our job to understand the changes and make them relatable to our clients. The family photo on the top is obviously posed, though it’s more of a relaxed style too.
The hug on the right… is that candid? Or… is it set up to look candid? Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. That’s sort of the point. A great candid can be… created. Which, to me, on the surface seems like fakery, but… it’s not, well not really anyway. Sometimes a nudge or a bit of staging can make for an amazing, truly emotional moment, but done in a situation conducive to making a great photograph! The emotions are real. The actions are real. Does it matter if the photographer might have put the people in a spot with good light and maybe instigated a response in some way? Nah, the memory is real either way. At the end of the day, and twenty years later, having that moment captured and looking amazing will far outweigh any slight “adjustments” the photographer made to the scene.
The above image for example. It’s candid. I had them sit on the bench, and within a second, this happened. I didn’t tell them to do it. But… is this what people think of when they think “candid”?
Here’s another candid. I didn’t tell anyone where to be, or what to do. Look closely, though I think it’s a great moment, seeing the Groom sit near his Mom and his Aunts, enjoying a cool beverage at this very relaxed beach wedding… there is no focus, it’s a frozen moment in time, for sure, but there’s no main subject, no distinct story being told. It’s a great image to have, but would anyone frame this? To me, it’s a supporting player type of image. More on that later.
But then…. what about this? This is posed, right? Can’t be candid. Why? Well, the odds of people setting themselves in just the right spot, in just the right light, doing just the right thing at just the right time are infinitesimally small. As in… cannot possibly be counted on for even one image per wedding. That’s just a risk I’m not willing to take with Wedding Photos! I don’t want to have to say, “Sorry, you guys just never did that thing that makes photos look great. Your fault.”. Oh heck no, it’s not the couple’s fault!
If the client says, “No posed photos, at all.”, and the Photographer doesn’t question it and clarify it… it’s the Photographer’s fault. I have heard of a few instances where the couple said no posing and actually knew what that meant and the risks associated with it. But… that’s rare.
Let me explain how we do things, that might help!
For the first part of the day, the “getting ready”, there’s really no posing going on, but I’ll be going around getting moments as they happen, like… this:
This image wasn’t planned at all. I didn’t direct anything, the bride was simply getting her lips done. Makes for a GREAT candid moment, and it tells the story. She knew I was there, and so did the Makeup Artist, so maybe I influenced the image, but I didn’t “create” it, I captured it.
Now, going to the opposite…. here is an image that I completely posed, every aspect of it. A “crafted” image, you might say:
Do they both have meaning? Do they both say something? I think so, and both are valid and necessary parts of Wedding Photography.
The crafted images, in many cases are strong enough to stand alone… I call them “Main Actors”.
Once we get to zipping up the dress, I’ll have everyone gather ’round and “grab a piece of the bride”… meant in the nicest way possible! Mom or someone of the client’s choosing will do the zipping. These are… staged candid, meaning I heavily influenced what is happening, but I’m not saying, “Put your right pinky here, and shift your left big toe twelve degrees clockwise.”. It’s natural, it’s how it happened, I just gave a little nudge to get it to look good for the camera.
Then, portraits. Whenever we say portraits, it’s a posed image. Don’t scroll past, don’t click away and don’t get disgruntled that I said the “P” word. Again… what are the odds a bride or groom is going to stand in the most flattering pose, in the most flattering scenario, in the most flattering light? I mean, isn’t that why you hired a photographer? To make your photos… flattering? If I had to do non-posed portraits of a bride, where I had absolutely no say in where it would be, how she should act, or what she’s doing? Erm… can’t say I would produce the same work I’m known for. Could I produce good images? Sure, but I can’t say with certainty they would show that bride in the best light… LITERALLY!
Ceremony. This is completely unstaged by me. I might say hold the first kiss longer, or look up as you come down the aisle, or… have the officiant move during the first kiss… all laid out beforehand, but that’s it. I truly want to capture the moments as they unfold, naturally. To me, it’s really disrespectful of a photographer to say anything or give any direction during a ceremony. This is the whole reason we’re all gathered, it’s about the couple, not the photographer. Any Professional Photographer worth their salt (does anyone still say that?) will know to keep quiet, observe, and tell the story, rather than instruct, interrupt, or otherwise be… noticed. I never want to impact a ceremony.
Now… the photos of family and bridal party after the ceremony? Yes. We set those up. Remember earlier when I asked about the odds of two people in the right place, etc? How about ten? Yeah, not gonna happen. So we take charge and make these images look their best, while still keeping things flowing and efficient. I make a lot of bad Dad jokes and generally keep everyone interested or at least not completely hating having their photos taken!
Then we play a bit with the bridal party. Sure, it’s somewhat staged, but, their reactions aren’t. I don’t want to give too much away as it ruins the surprise, but, suffice to say we get natural emotions, and fun photos for our clients.
On to the “Romantics” as some call them, to me they are “Couple’s Photos”, as in the newly wed photographed together. These are sometimes posed, sometimes staged, and sometimes I just say, “Play”, or “walk toward me” or, “throw your arms around his neck”, or “laugh!”. It really depends on the couple. Some are so comfortable and easy to photograph that I hardly need to do anything but watch and be ready, and others are very self conscious and unsure what to do. That’s what being a Professional Wedding Photographer is about. Knowing when to step in, and when to step back… to keep the story going and keep people happy and comfortable.
During the reception… we don’t control a thing, okay, I lied. We do help with the cake cutting, but only a few posed shots, then… have at it! We want it to be natural, but I do have you in a controlled setting, to a point, so I can all but guarantee getting “the shot”.
Dancing? Yeah, have fun with it. I don’t tell you what to do, I don’t really want anyone paying attention to me, to be honest! Enjoy your party, enjoy your time with guests, forget the camera. This is possibly the most candid portion of the day, and I like it that way!
Getting moments of people being themselves, or dancing with their partners is amazing to me. These are those tiny moments that mean a lot to the people photographed and to those in attendance at the wedding. I mean, who doesn’t want a photo of Grandma and Grandpa being all sweet dancing together at their wedding? Right?
Beyond that, we might take you out for “closing shots” or you’re doing a Grand Sendoff of some kind maybe… Either way, we set up the shots, but more or less want natural reactions, we just stack the deck in our favor so we know we get awesome results.
So… where do we stand on Posed vs Candid? YES! We do both. Both are kinda necessary at most every wedding. That said, we like a more candid storytelling approach whenever possible, and try not to be too posey. Most of our clients tell us they didn’t feel like they were posed, and I take that as a compliment. Even people who were VERY sensitive to the posing idea at the end of the day… didn’t feel posed. That’s the trick to being a Professional Wedding Photographer: We do what needs to be done to create great photographs for you. We also do it in such a way that it’s transparent to you, you just enjoy, and have fun. Sounds so simple, right?
If you’re still reading, thank you, and I hope this helped explain a little bit about posing, staging, positioning and storytelling and why they all have a place at every wedding. A true professional will explain this to their clients and learn what people really want from their wedding. There are times when maybe posing is never good, and times when maybe everything needs a pose or control… but most likely a healthy combination is the way to go!