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september 01 2010

Q & A: How To Get Great Wedding Portraits

written by: Christian Oth


A couple of weeks ago I wrote about portraits in wedding photography and I got some great questions about how to create posed photographs that look relaxed and capture real energy and emotion.  Today I want to continue that discussion and hopefully provide some useful tips for getting great, natural-looking wedding portraits.


To get started, here is a comment from my previous post:

“One of the funny things I always hear photo-journalistic photographers tell the bridal party for the big group shot is ‘Don't look posed. Don't look staged. Be natural.’ And then the photographer will pose and stage them exactly where they want them.  So for your second picture, with the Rocky Mountains in the background, I immediately think, ‘Wow, what a relaxed non-posed shot’, but the truth is, you had to pose them right? Even though it looks amazingly candid.”

The answer is, yes, for group portraits I do place the subjects strategically to get this kind of a photograph.  But, there are several things you can do as a photographer to make your subjects look and act relaxed without coming out and saying it.  First of all, before the wedding if possible I always scout the location to make sure I know the environment inside and out.  I plan great spots for the portraits beforehand and try to map out where I am going to place everyone, so that on the day of the wedding I feel comfortable with the location and my plan.  

An incredibly important aspect of great portraits is that the subjects will almost always mirror the energy of the photographer, so if I am confident and relaxed that will be reflected back to the camera.

Along the same lines, there are basic things you can do--like making sure there are snacks and drinks available for your subjects--that make the experience enjoyable for everyone.  Anticipating the wedding party’s needs in advance is one way to guarantee that everyone will feel great and be more at ease.  I have a conversation with the planner or the bride beforehand in order to facilitate that.

When I photograph group portraits, some groups come together dynamically and with some I tell each person where to stand. Of course there are some obvious choices like putting the bride and groom next to each other, or the maid of honor as close as possible to the bride.  Then I decide if I’m going to put the shortest person or the tallest person at the end, and I go with what looks right.  That’s the starting point, and from there I move people around to create a dynamic composition, which lends energy to the photograph.  During this time, I just try to have fun with my subjects, because talking and laughing together changes everyone’s posture and makes them look and feel more natural.

Anyone can take a static portrait, but the professional photographer’s talent lies in what they are able to get out of their subjects.  So how do you get that sense of capturing a moment in time from a still portrait?  The biggest tip here is to establish a rapport with your subjects.  Spend some time getting to know them before the wedding.  This applies to both photographers and couples -- make sure to schedule an engagement shoot.  That way you will be able to get to know one another and have a practice run before the big day.  Ultimately, if you are comfortable with one another and just have fun, you will be able to get great photographs that capture real, candid moments, even if some of them started out posed.



Christian Oth about 4 years ago

Martin - a good question. The more people in one group photo, the higher the chance for "blinkers". The solution is easy: just shoot a lot. I always shoot multiple frames when I do groups.

Colorado Wedding Photographers, JasonG about 4 years ago

Great post... I think the last paragraph says it all... getting to know your clients gives you the advantage of knowing who they are - what they're about - and what images they'll cherish for a lifetime.

Martin about 4 years ago

Thank you very much for this post, and I finally got a chance to read your reply to my comment a few weeks ago. I think that it is very interesting to be able to place people around strategically, and then have them feel and act natural, but I guess it helps to have them talk with one another, as eventually they will get comfortable with the position they have been placed in.

But after reading this post, I have another follow up question... How does a photographer go about having everyone's eyes stay open in the same picture? I know this might sound like a boring question, but it is something that is often hard for me to capture, especially with big groups. Hopefully you can shed some light on this?

Thank you!

Daniela Garza almost 4 years ago

Thank you so much for sharing your vision with the rest of us. Very inspiring!

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