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Documentary Wedding Photography by Ben Eden, London, UK

Tips and suggestions to consider when planning your wedding


Let there be light

I often get comments about the "different look" or "special light" in my photographs. Indeed, I prefer to work with available light - natural or artificial - to preserve the authentic atmosphere of the event. While I take pride in my low-light photography technique, there are technical limits that ultimately force me to look for the flash unit in my camera bag. No, the photographs won't be bad at all - yet, quite necessarily, they will forfeit some of the candid, natural atmosphere of the scene as you remember it.

Fortunately, not all that much is enough for my purposes when it comes to light. Usually it suffices to keep the venue lights on (dimmed instead of off) to keep me happy. And, low-light or not, consider candles: They don't just provide light, they also create great light quality. Often one candle can improve the atmosphere considerably. A hundred candles can change a dim barn into a fairy tale ballroom - well, not quite, but it works. So place no limit on candles - they are an affordable luxury.

Put tabs on photo- and videography by guests

It is becoming worse and worse. Everybody has a digital camera these days, not to speak of camera phones. And everybody seems to need to bring them along to your wedding. I like to integrate whatever guests do into my photo coverage - I aim to capture the atmosphere after all - but lately I have seen too many great moments wasted - at least in esthetic sense - by guests at loose with their cameras.

Imagine a romantic moment - the first kiss perhaps.. the couple are surrounded by family and friends.. all of them engaged in various gymnastics to grab the best / any shot of the scene. (On the side, one or two will be seen checking the batteries or accessing that advanced function from the camera menu.)

I think the atmosphere of the wedding suffers greatly from this - and my photographs certainly do. I find many potentially great scenes marred by digital toys with their pouches hanging from everybody's hand. Apart from giving a definite time stamp to the photograph, I find any equipment just plain unesthetic and distracting.

What is the couple to do? I recommend reserving guest photography to the wedding reception / party, where it will be much less disruptive. A brief note in your invitations should suffice - and I guarantee you a positive effect on the atmosphere and class of your wedding day.

Plan posed portraits in advance

You don't want many. But you would like to have some. Bride and groom together. Bride with mother of the bride. Groom with mother of the groom. Bride's family with bride. Ditto with groom added. Then the other way around.. How much is enough? That is up to you. As far as I'm concerned, though, less is definitely more in this case: With fewer permutations to accomplish, I will have the time it takes for creating natural, enjoyable photographs.

Regardless of how many group photographs you commission, it is adviseable to plan them all in advance and put a list down in writing: You don't want to be thinking about this at the last moment. Feel free to discuss your choices with me.

Should you decide you need an extensive series of traditional photographs - perhaps a part of the family (the grandmothers) expect just that for their mantelpiece - it might be advisable to hire a specialized portrait photographer to provide these. (It will free me to capture the life of the wedding - which doesn't stop during the portrait sessions.)

For a funny (yet still right on the money) take on the impact photography can have on your wedding experience, I recommend a hilarious column by Miami Herald's Dave Barry: "Here come the men, dressed in white coats." It was published September 6, 2003. Unfortunately, this article is not available online anymore.

(BTW, if you decide to purchase or are lucky to archive your IHTs, by all means also check out Dave's "Art is in more than eye of the beholder." This one explores the current modern art scene and is my personal favorite. Published October 6, 2002.

Consider hiring a professional wedding planner

They can be worth their weight in gold.. well, in any case the fee they charge. A good one will feel like a friend when you first meet them - an have all the experience to help you plan an optimum schedule for your wedding day. He or she will liaison with all the vendors, make sure all you need arrives on time.. And always be there, unnoticed but ready to help with anything that might occur.

Alternatively, assign a trusted and motivated person (one of the bridesmaids?) to assume this honorable and important duty. That way, you, the couple, won't be required to direct the flow of the wedding day - an arduous task if you're a perfectionist - and will be left to simply enjoy the ride all along.

Keep the extras on the set

Again, if possible, it's great to have your hairdresser and make-up stylist around throughout the wedding day. They can be very handy in case of esthetic emergency - and not just to you, to the entire wedding party. If not available, this should be one more reason for my assistant to be present. (I make it a point for my assistant to be proficient in hair-styling and make up.)

Be generous when planning your wedding day

Just take it easy on your wedding day. There's enough stress in the rest of your life. Allow for some extra time in-between the individual "stations" of your day. I yet have to experience a wedding where everything happens on time - and why should it, in fact. So don't count in five minute terms, make it fifteen minutes for good measure - especially if your wedding is a large one with many guests and transitions.

Book your wedding photographer early

If "having" a specific artist cover your event is important to you, it makes complete sense to make a firm booking at least a year in advance. In fact, the optimum time is just after you've set your wedding date. (If you plan your wedding less than a year in advance, I strongly suggest consulting your date(s) with your photographer of choice first.)

A personal friend (an afficionado of my documentary work who had previously told me she wanted "no one else" for her own wedding) had recently emailed me, merrily announcing her upcoming betrothal in New York, and asking me, matter-of-fact, to be their photographer. The wedding was to take place three months from then.

In horror, I double-checked my diary: I was booked for a wedding in Cognac, France on the day before - small wonder at three-month notice - and nothing (short of a private jet, perhaps) could have saved the day. (Yes, my friend had booked everything through to their honeymoon by the time they contacted me.)

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