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Wedding Portraits: How to Make the Portrait Session Smooth, Easy, and Pain-Free

May 18, 2008
The portrait session is easily the least-enjoyable part of the wedding day. Not only do you have to stand and smile at the camera until your face feels sore, but you have all your relatives around, bickering or telling cheesy jokes or simply not following instructions. The photographer might be barking out orders. Little kids won't cooperate, and the whole scene can be chaotic.

It's not exactly the way you want to spend your wedding day.

Even so, you want wedding portraits. Your mom wants wedding portraits. Your aunts and uncles want wedding portraits. They are a necessary evil.

The good news is that the portraits don't have to be miserable, or long and drawn out. By being selective and simplifying, you can get all the portraits you want, and do it in a matter of minutes.

As a wedding photographer, here are the portraits I suggest:

Bride and groom with bride's family
Bride and groom with groom's family
Bride and groom with both families
Bride and groom with all attendants
Bride with bridesmaids
Groom with groomsmen
Bride and Groom

That's six group portraits, plus the pictures of just the two of you. It's quick and painless.

Here's what I would leave out: family pictures that don't include both the bride and groom. For instance, many people want a picture of the bride's family (without the groom) and the groom's family (without the bride). But this is really contrary to the meaning of the day, which is the bringing together of two families. The groom now IS part of the bride's family, and visa versa.

You can also leave out the pictures of extended family, unless there is a sentimental photograph that you want taken (of a special grandmother, for instance). This isn't a family reunion, and the more extended the family gets, the less meaningful the pictures will be to the both of you as a couple. The wedding day is not about the uncles and cousins and nieces. Keep the focus on the two of you. Other people will take family snapshots of various family members during the day. That speeds things up, which is important when you are paying your photographer by the hour.

You can also leave out pictures of the bride with each bridesmaid individually, and each groomsman individually. Again, part of this is thinking about what's really important. This isn't a celebration of your three (or five, or seven) best friends. It's a celebration of you getting married--they are there to show their support. The individual pictures tend to all look the same anyway (the bride is in the same place; it's just the bridesmaid that changes from picture to picture), and you'll probably find that those pictures aren't as interesting, or as meaningful, as the pictures that include the bride and groom together, and, for that matter, pictures you have of your friends that you've taken on your own.

The advantage of eliminating these less meaningful, but time-consuming pictures, is that you can get the whole portrait session over and done with in a matter of minutes. World famous wedding photographer Denis Reggie (once called "the hottest wedding photographer" by the New York Times) says he spends 5-15 minutes on portraits. Any photographer should be able to get through those 6 main pictures in 20 minutes or so.

That has a lot of advantages in and of itself. First, the tedious part of the portrait session is minimized--more time for dancing at the reception!

Second, it means you can easily fit the portraits in after the ceremony. Many couples prefer this for the sake of tradition, but are afraid of 90 minute portrait sessions that keep guests waiting. By simplifying your portrait list, you can get the pictures you want, and still arrive at the reception fashionably late (as opposed to brutally late). Also, in my experience, portraits after the ceremony are more relaxed and joyful. When the pictures are done before the ceremony, sometimes brides or grooms are still a bit nervous, and that can show up in the pictures.

Finally, by keeping the group portraits to a minimum, you can then go somewhere with the photographer and get a nice set of portraits of just the two of you. Maybe there's a park nearby, or an elegant window, and a beautiful staircase. If you can find a picturesque setting, you can spend 10-20 minutes or so with just the two of you (and the photographer), getting some natural, relaxed, playful, romantic pictures.

For these pictures, I always recommend that everyone else leave, with the possible exception of one bridesmaid to help out with the dress and bouquet if that is an issue. The fewer people who are watching, the more naturally those portraits of the two of you will be.

If you decide on this method, be sure to talk to your photographer first, so he/she is in on the plan, and have that special location for the couple's portraits in mind so that everything goes smoothly.

By simplifying the portrait session, you can streamline the process, avoid the chaos, and still get all the pictures that you really want.
About the Author
Larry Brunt is a wedding photojournalist. His company, Essential Moments Photography, is located in Spokane, WA, and Larry photographs weddings throughout the United States. Visit his website at www.EssentialMomentsPhotos.com or drop by his blog
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