If you’ve shot a wedding you’ve likely had that moment where some obscure family tradition threw you off balance, you struggled to attach the right lens in time, and missed that once-in-a-lifetime shot. You can shoot a thousand weddings, but without knowing what to look for, you just might miss the biggest moments of the couple’s wedding day.
But, if you’re lucky enough to experience other cultures around the world, you just might be able to prepare yourself for the unexpected.
Finding yourself in another country or landscape means you’ll likely see countless things you’ve never imagined. Whether it’s the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace or the Breaking of the Glass at a Jewish wedding ceremony, knowing what’s about to happen, where, and how close you’ll be to the action are just the first things to consider before picking up the camera and snapping away.
1. Follow the crowd
If you’ve ever been to a national monument, you wouldn’t need to follow the gazes of the crowd to see which way to look. But you can be sure everyone is looking at the same thing. Watch out for curious kids, quickly-turning heads, crowds of friends gathering, and keep an on eye on the important players of the day. Always be on the lookout for signs of movement. The bride and groom may be smiling and laughing with everyone they see at the reception, but when the crowd starts cheering, it may be the moment they’re going to put in the album.
If you see everyone looking or cheering at the same thing, there’s a good chance you should be capturing it! Listen, look, and follow the sounds to know which way the party is going.
2. Ask for directions
Even though you may be as much a stranger at a cultural wedding as you are in a desert marketplace in India, those involved in planning the event or close family members might know something you don’t. Be sure to ask around, and make sure to take note of any VIPs (aunts, uncles, grandparents, and lifelong friends).
And you can always count on the bride and groom to tell you who’s important to them, you just have to be sure to ask. Just like you would if you were lost in Pushkar!
3. Expect the unexpected
No matter how far you travel, how hard you look, or how ready you think you are, there’s always a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment right around the corner. Whether it’s just the right lighting, the perfect expression, or a once-in-a-lifetime angle, you better be sure you have the right lens on before you miss it. When in doubt, get the wide-angle lens on. A bolt of lightning only takes a split second to shoot miles across the night’s sky, and just as fast, the groom might throw some cake in a friend’s face!
One surefire way to be prepared is to have a wide-angle lens always at the ready. If there’s one thing you can be sure of at a wedding, it’s that there will always be some unexpected moments throughout the day. If you’ve got your wide lens on, you can be sure that you’ll at the very least capture it. And with a little preparation and a lot of luck, you may just catch the shot of a lifetime!
4. Get in close
Now you may be afraid to have that prime lens on, because you may miss something (or someone) important, but it’s just as important to focus in close on the details and faces involved in the event. In Burma, beautiful buildings and landscapes may be important, breathtaking, and memorable, but it’s the people that matter the most. The faces will show the most character of this other world. And the only way to really see a face is with a close-up. Isolate your subject (or subjects) from the background with a portrait lens, get really close, and make sure you have a few moments to get the shot right.
Try to make just one detail speak volumes about the emotions of what’s going on outside the frame. Show the characters and emotions by isolating them from the rest of the world.
5. Get out of the way
One of the hardest things to admit to yourself when you’re in another country is also one of the most difficult things to realize when you’re at someone else’s wedding: you aren’t the star of the show here. This isn’t your story. Once you can admit that, you can really unleash the photojournalist within. Of course, you’ll have to pose the bride and groom for their portraits. It’s not quite like surveying the market in Pushkar. And you certainly aren’t going to be invisible at the ceremony. But if you hang out on the sides and wait for that candid moment, you’ll see honest and raw emotions. That’s when you’ll see perfect expressions.
Treat the bride and groom like the wildlife at a safari. Wait for them to move. Wait for them to pose themselves. Wait for something beautiful to happen. Once you remove yourself from the equation, you’ll begin to see your subjects acting relaxed, in their element, and at ease in their natural habitat.
It’s a great big world out there. Endless wonders and sights surround us in all directions. And a wedding is a world of its own. It’s when dozens (and sometimes hundreds) of close friends, relatives, and special guests get together to celebrate something magical. You can never know just what is in store at any given wedding. But if you follow these five steps and treat a wedding like you would your travels abroad, you may just be prepared to capture something unforgettable.
Andre Reichmann is an award-winning wedding and travel photographer. He has been featured in PDN Magazine, and his art is displayed in several galleries throughout the United States and the world. You can see his work at andrereichmann.com and follow Andre on Instagram.