When people ask me what it takes to make it as a wedding photographer, they’re often thinking about the technical side of photography. However, a wedding photographer needs far more than technical expertise, artistic knowledge, and good quality reliable equipment; they also need fantastic people skills and an understanding of human psychology. When a couple choose their wedding photographer they aren’t just hiring their photography skills, they’re also hiring their personality and people skills.
One of the unique things about being a wedding photographer is getting to play an intimate role in the wedding of people that you hardly know. When you think about it, the wedding photographer is probably the only person that will spend time with both the bride and groom before the ceremony. We get to see the pre-wedding jitters, the last minute emergencies, and the overflow of emotions, and we need to be there as a shoulder of support and a constant source of reassurance, whilst at the same time remaining professional and getting our job done.
A wedding is an emotionally charged occasion. Of course you expect tears of joy, but there may also be other feelings coming to the fore as many months of wedding planning finally come to fruition. Disappointment over supplier failures, worries about family feuds, or sadness over loved ones that can’t be at the wedding, are all possible emotions that will be heightened on the day. An experienced wedding photographer will have the patience, understanding, and skills needed to calm and sooth these feelings. There are very few situations we haven’t come across at one wedding or another, so we can offer guidance based on real experience.
The people skills a wedding photographer needs don’t just apply to the couple and the immediate wedding party, but also to the guests and everyone involved in the wedding. As a wedding photographer it’s crucial to realise that we’re photographing real people with real emotions, rather than inanimate objects. If people feel comfortable around us they will be able to relax and be themselves, which will shine through in the images that we produce. This is particularly important in reportage photography. Being able to build a rapport with the people I am photographing allows them to see me as a real person, rather than just a camera.
I’ve always had an interest in people and to a certain extent this has guided the direction of my work. With reportage photography I’m able to observe and record human behaviour, which has given me a valuable insight into personality traits and characteristics, and has helped me to understand how I should interact with different people to get the best possible images.
Learning to read people’s body language and facial expressions, so that we can alter our behaviour to put them at ease, can take years. The ability to do this is one of the key advantages an experienced wedding photographer will have over a novice. Based purely on behavioural observations I’ve learned when I should be sociable and interact with the guests and the wedding party, chatting and making them laugh, and when it is better to simply disappear into the background.
Not all people skills can be learned. As a foundation there should always be a natural empathy; the ability to understand how other people are feeling and to react accordingly. However, by far the best way to extend and develop this empathy into practical people skills that can be used in wedding photography is through experience. Through years of wedding photography I’ve developed a real understanding of human behaviour and psychology that allows me to produce exceptional images, whilst also providing a reassuring shoulder of support for the couple that are getting married.
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