Make Every Wedding A Dream Wedding; It’s A Special Day For The Couple…And The Photographer
Monte Zucker
• Posted Feb 1, 2007

There's no such thing as a small wedding. Every wedding is special and needs to be captured as such. I got that feeling when I photographed the wedding of Phillip and Krystle. I don't photograph many weddings anymore, but these people were special. The groom was the brother of my assistant, Jeff.

Even though there were going to be less than 10 people at the wedding, timing was still an issue. I arrived on time with a minimum of equipment, because it was to be a beach wedding, that is, very casual and totally informal. In spite of how special the day was to me, the couple was still two hours late for pictures. Sound familiar?

Having been in the business for a long time I set up a time schedule that would allow for their being late, but I still never thought that they would be that late. As I watched the sun's position changing in the sky, I changed my backgrounds with the changing light. When we finally got started with the bride and groom, they appeared casually great spirits and shoeless. My kind of people!

All of my photographs almost always go through a sort of cleaning-up process before I'm content with them. Under normal situations I always use an ExpoDisc to white balance simply and quickly. This helps me keep my skin tones consistent. But when I'm working in a situation where the setting sun keeps changing color temperatures, I rarely change the custom setting I first establish. I like to see the change in color as the sun gets closer to the horizon. It gives me a sense of beauty that I love to have in my photographs. I do, however, shoot raw and large JPEG simultaneously, so that I have the option of making adjustments when I see fit.

My postproduction Photoshop work has a general flow. Each time I open a photograph in Photoshop I make a duplicate layer and do Image>Adjust>Auto Levels. Sometimes I love what it does and sometimes I feel that it overdoes what I'm looking for, so I lessen the Opacity of that duplicate layer. On another layer I always do Image>Adjust>Shadow/Highlight. I have the Shadows set for 13 and the Highlights set for 0. This usually brings just a touch more detail into the darker areas of my photographs. When I want a little more detail in the highlights I simply slide over the Highlights adjustment slowly until I like what I see. These two steps have become such a habit with me they're almost second nature.

I never would have believed that I'd get so many fun shots at a small beach wedding. It was just another way of using all my past experience at posing and lighting together with the challenge of coming up with some fresh and interesting photographs. No, I don't call myself a photojournalist. I simply think of myself as a portrait photographer who enjoys making dreams come true in his photographs.

Direct Light Source
We began shooting so late in the afternoon that day I used the direct sunlight as my main light. I began with a casual portrait of the bride. No formal posing was called for, yet there were certain "formalities" that were still in order. To retain detail in her gown I turned her body away from the light and turned her face back to the light--the same as I always do. Instead of having her stand in a more traditional pose, however, I had her spread her feet apart and place her weight equally on both feet. A low camera position placed her head up in the sky. I framed her between two palm trees, creating the feeling of a wedding on Miami Beach.

Couples Pose
I wanted the photographs to be as casual as the wedding, so I rejected all of my formal posing, but still retained the essence of what my photographs are all about. When I posed the bride and groom together I started with a picture of them looking at each other and laughing. For their profiles I had him put his arm around her, bring his back arm around the bride and opened their bodies to a 45Þ angle. That way, their body positions supported their faces. Again, a low camera position put their faces up into a beautiful sky, creating the romantic feeling that I wanted to create. Since their faces were facing in opposite directions, I turned them so that there would be flat lighting on both of their faces, giving equal attention to them both.
Camera Angle
For close-ups I still try to keep their eyes 1/3 of the distance from the top of the picture. I am also keenly aware that camera positions are determined by selecting facial angles. For this next portrait I left them as they were, had him turn his face toward his bride and photographed the two of them still laughing and loving with their faces up against the sky. I wanted the pictures to look totally spontaneous, yet to retain my style of simplicity.
Posing Props
I brought a minimum of tools, a Canon EOS 5D and a Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS lens--my workhorses. Of course, I carry an assortment of lenses for special instances, but I would say that for the most part this lens does just about everything that I normally need. For these wedding pictures it was the only lens that I used.

Almost as important as my camera and lenses are a pair of posing stools. Because I shoot so many close-up portraits and I know that I need my lens to be higher than the faces of my subjects, posing stools are essential.

For this next picture of the bride and groom I seated them both, bringing his profile directly over the 2/3 view of his bride. For a change of pace I diffused the light by having someone hold a translucent panel to soften the direct light on their faces. A reflector placed low and to my right brought light up into their eyes.
Family Portraits
The next series of photographs are some of the most important for every wedding. It's an entire series of portraits of the parents, grandparents, sisters and brothers, and various combinations of those people. Although I spend a lot of time on these pictures, I'm showing only one of them, because if you aren't part of the family, you probably aren't interested in looking at them. If you're part of the immediate family, however, these become some of the most saleable pictures of the day.

When I photograph the bride and groom with each of their parents hugging, I usually sit the bride or groom and bring their parents over one at a time to stand over them. A good posing stool will keep the seated people high enough, so that the standing person doesn't have to lean over to reach them. Most stools, however, are too short, so the standing person might have to strike an awkward, bending pose.

In this picture of the groom with his father, the father's arm around his son is the most important part of the picture. Then, with my telling him to "squeeeeze" the picture is completed. Again, even though I'm showing only one of these pictures with this article, realize that the true emphasis of my photographs is all in this series.
Spontaneous Shots
As I was completing my series of close-up portraits I noticed the bride starting to walk down the pathway to the beach. I absolutely flipped when I saw the possibilities here and shouted "freeze" to the bride. I made a series of vertical pictures here, but opted for the last shot that I made--horizontally. I got down on my stomach to place her head up in the sky area.

The final picture here was greatly enhanced. I first selected the sky area and made a duplicate layer of just the sky. I set the mode for that layer to "multiply." This intensified the sky to the colors that you see here. I then selected just the bride and did some adjustments in Levels to add contrast and brilliance to her dress. I did one final adjustment in Image>Adjust>Shadow/Highlight. The picture was cropped in the camera exactly as you see it here.

The bride and groom were so much into having fun on the beach I had him roll up his pants a little and asked them to run through the water's edge a few times. I had them looking at each other sometimes and then looking out to sea. I selected this picture because of the eye contact between the two of them. I was standing on my tiptoes to keep his head beneath the horizon line. I just hate to see a horizon line cutting through the heads of my subjects, so as you can see I'm either down low (keeping their heads in the sky area) or up high to keep their heads below the waterline.
A Golden Glow... Added Later
To finish off the picture session I posed them both in a back profile, being sure to show her bust line. I positioned the camera to place the sun directly behind her body. I exposed for bright sunshine, creating almost a total silhouette.

There was no color in the original picture, however. To create the warm glow I created a blank layer over the picture in Photoshop, set the mode for Overlay and filled the layer with a warm, golden color. Then, I reduced the Opacity of the Overlay to about 10 percent to achieve this result.