Light Reading: To Brides & Shooters

by Jim Cornfield

April 17, 2014

In the microcosm of a modern, pull-out-all-the-stops wedding, the photographer unquestionably sits in the hot seat. Everyone else involved in the matrimonial process can commit some blunder or other: parking attendants might show up at the wrong address; the florist’s wares can wilt prematurely in the heat; a cook can ruin the Chateaubriand; the best man can stagger into the ceremony half in the bag; a bridesmaid can trip over her hemline and take a header in full view of a packed church, and so on. Virtually any little calamity from others can ambush a wedding, but eventually, it will find its way into the benign, fondly remembered cocktail party lore of that day’s “goofs.” Bad photography, on the other hand, is unpardonable. This phenomenon is one of the realities of the pivotal role our craft plays in contemporary nuptials. It’s also one that veteran wedding shooter Peter Kleinschmidt has chosen to explore in a new and refreshing book, My Brides: A Photographer’s Story.

Imagery with a life of its own
The audience for My Brides is, ostensibly, the eager, if uninformed bride-to-be. “Congratulations!” the author gushes on page one, “You are about to begin one of the busiest and most exciting chapters in your life.” What follows is touted on the photographer’s website as a “must-read guide for every bride” to help her orchestrate this crucial event in her life. In this iteration alone, Kleinschmidt’s book, with its modest $19.99 softcover price tag, would probably make a great gift for new wedding clients or prospective ones. But the book also has intrinsic tutorial value for wedding photographers.

Though many wedding shooters don’t realize it at first, their images are not just records of this venerated ritual; they are in some ways its reality. To paraphrase Susan Sontag, photographs are not mere representations of life; they are life. Long after the cake, the luminous fluffs of lace and flowers, the thrown handfuls of rice, the honeymoon and then the whole decades-long bittersweet arc of a marriage and family, the laboriously crafted imagery of that single day survives with a life of its own.

Timing is everything
Kleinschmidt is acutely sensitive to the emotional gravity of the wedding picture, and in this book he deftly partners brides and photographers in the act of sharing his appreciation of the whole marriage process—with the photograph as its nucleus. A veteran of hundreds of wedding shoots, Kleinschmidt understands the rhythms of the big day—something that the photographer can help the wedding party control—in order to get the most out of the photographs and to give the newlyweds the most time to enjoy their precious hours in the limelight. In a private survey over the years, Kleinschmidt discovered that the most common complaint of brides and grooms is that “the day goes by too fast…after months of planning, [it’s all] over in a matter of hours.”

All photos © Peter Kleinschmidt

Kleinschmidt optimizes everyone’s time with techniques like scheduling the traditional group and pair shots for before, rather than after, the ceremony. Both the family and the photographer have a say in this, and by getting the formal setups out of the way first, these all-important images are much easier to control and stylize than when the bride and groom and other party members are still giddy and probably “want (and need) a drink,” he adds.

Kleinschmidt clearly gives no credence to the tradition of keeping the bridal gown beneath the groom’s horizon until the ceremony begins. “It is little more than superstition,” he explains to clients, guaranteeing that once they separate, then rejoin for the walk down the aisle, “it will be like you never saw one another. Knees will shake and tears will flow.”

Timing, says Kleinschmidt, is also an important issue when it comes to candid coverage of the day. Again, speaking both to newlyweds and photographers, Kleinschmidt broaches the need for giving and responding to quick posing directions as the couple makes their way among cheerful friends and family. Part of the job is photography, he writes, and the other is diplomacy, shooting on the move “to tactfully usher events along.”

The downside of digital
A core issue in My Brides: A Photographer’s Story is one that, since the dawn of the digital age, doubtlessly pops up in every wedding image scenario around the globe: the proliferation of all-too-accessible imaging technology, from smartphones to iPads to increasingly small point-and-shoots. Digital technology has turned every third wedding guest into an often annoyingly busy shooter, trying to duplicate (and sometimes obstructing), the work of the person who’s being paid to create professional-quality, high-res imagery of a wedding.

Kleinschmidt comes down particularly hard on the “most obnoxious culprit,” the iPad, whose large silhouette—particularly when hoisted aloft or held out into the aisle for a clear shot of the newlyweds—not only blocks a good image from a professional’s DSLR, but hinders the view of every guest directly behind it. Ever the diplomat, Kleinschmidt includes a sample request card to be included with wedding invitations. “We want you to be able to really enjoy our wedding day,” it reads, “feeling truly present and in the moment with us. We’ve hired an amazing wedding photographer, so please leave all cameras and cell phones off during the ceremony and the ceremonial parts of the reception.”

It’s a good solution to one problem, but there’s another liability that’s accompanied the digital revolution: the ease with which a totally talentless photographer with no experience can pass him or herself off as a seasoned professional. Kleinschmidt recounts a couple of scams whereby legitimate wedding images were illegally downloaded from websites and passed off as someone else’s work. He cautions both shooters and brides to be mindful of portfolio quality, both as seller and buyer, but he also stresses the importance of the personal interview that precedes every wedding shoot.

Choosing a photographer for this all-important day is more than a matter of images and albums and print packages. Those are major considerations, but Kleinschmidt reminds couples that there’s a profound but less tangible dimension to the relationship: “The photographer will be with you all day,” he tells them, “sometimes closer to you than your best friends and family.” This phase of a transaction that will preserve your wedding moments for many generations is a matter of interpersonal chemistry.

See this story in the Digital Edition.

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