There’s a story I remember hearing in my first few years of photographing weddings.I can’t recall who told me the story, nor can I remember the photographer it referred to, but it has always stuck with me.

The story went like this: the lead photographer at a wedding had a very systemized way of evoking emotion from their clients during key moments of the day. One such moment would be the first time the bride saw her father (if he was attending).

Even if the client hadn’t mentioned doing a “first look” with her father, the photographer would orchestrate it to happen. The bride would be in one room, her father on the other side of the door. They would then prepare the father for how significant this moment would be, telling him, “You’re seeing your little girl in her wedding dress for the very first time,” and he should react accordingly – “the bride wants to see some emotion!”

The photographer would then bring the father into the space and see the bride – and 9 times out of 10 – tears would flow and bam… “magical” images abound.

This story has always stuck with me because of how conflicted it made me feel. To this day, I’m very torn about this approach to wedding photography. “Forcing” deep emotional moments to happen using prompts.

Because I rarely second shoot for other photographers, my approach to a wedding day is almost entirely developed from scratch and experience. I hardly know what most photographers typically do. The closest thing I have to a reference is observing videographers working alongside me. Quite often, I will hear videographers exclaim, “Yo, I just made them cry during their sunset portraits!”

To me, it’s always seemed that clients and their family/guests are going to react the way they react, and I’m simply there to provide the comfort and space to allow them to do so, while documenting those reactions, however they choose to.

What if I attempted to coach a father into crying when he see’s his daughter in her wedding dress… and he doesn’t cry? What if he feel’s so preoccupied about the pressure of reacting in a certain way that the pressure is all he remembers from the moment?

What if I get so skilled at coaching a father into crying when he sees his daughter in her wedding dress… that I know he will cry every time as if on cue? Would I become jaded, and feel a sense of dishonesty in the moment I captured?

These are questions I wrestle with allllll the time as my skills become so second nature that I have a ton of headroom and self awareness to consider directing things many layers deeper than most of my clients have the time or energy to consider during the chaos of a wedding day.

The photos peppered (so far) in this post are from a recent wedding I photographed, which re-surfaced the story I heard so many years ago. The bride had talked about how stoic her father was, and that he probably wouldn’t cry or react in any significant way.Of course, that obviously didn’t happen. I’d say it’s usually the case that the person everyone thinks will cry doesn’t, and the person everyone thinks won’t cry… does. He reacted so strongly that neither of them could look at each other for longer than a few seconds. They kept trying to get close and hug for a literal 5 minutes before they gave up and looked to me for guidance with how to proceed.I decided to make a few portraits of her in the doorway as she was waiting for her limo, and her dad put him self at a safe crying distance – but never once looking away.

I’m a very empathetic and reactive photographer. I can (usually) anticipate when someone is feeling awkward and when it’s appropriate for me to move things along. It’s in my nature to be quick to want to help, or when someone is stressed I can distract them with something less stressful.

But, when it comes to directing a scene that is supposed to be organic and “real” (first looks, kissing, wedding party reveals, opening gifts, reading vows, throwing bouquets, etc etc) I’ve always struggled to find the line between intervening for the better moment, and letting the moment play out.

I’m even conflicted about the cake cutting. I 100% know how to cut every variation of wedding cake imaginable, and it’s pretty common for a couple to walk up to the cake and knife with a blank stare. They’ll look at me and ask for help, to which I’ll always reply “If you really want, then I can tell you, but the fun photos will be you figuring it out for yourselves.” Or, something like that. However, I do give a lot of direction for my couple’s creative portraits so they’re in the right light, appear natural, and have a flattering pose. Believe it or not – people don’t just magically move themselves perfectly into triangles.

But I’ve never directed clients into an emotional response.

It’s my belief that the most sustainable way to approach these ideas is to create the conditions for emotions to flow, and then lean into the truth – no matter what.

Some people will feel joy and express it with a smile,

or some might express it with tears.By being mindful of your client’s emotional state, and carefully creating the conditions for them to express themselves naturally, and truthfully, seems to me the most sustainable way for a photographer to operate throughout a wedding day.

It allows for the natural, and unexpected, to unfold in front of our lens…For our clients, who might feel a deeper sense of honest connection to themselves through our work…

and ourselves, who might feel a never ending sense of curiosity and anticipation about when that next magical moment will happen.

Photographers… you can find deconstructions of images like these and more over on my patreon feed.
Everything edited w/ my profile.