What Does A Wedding Photographer Do On A European Vacation? Take Wedding Photos Of Course!
Monte Zucker
• Posted Dec 1, 2005

When I began photographing weddings professionally in 1947 I never would have believed that I would have a studio in Switzerland in the '70s. I also never would have believed that I would have the opportunity to photograph a wedding in Paris, of all places, in the 21st century! Well, not exactly in Paris, but a few miles beyond the Paris borders in the small town of Marie.

I was the guest of Serge Laurent, one of Paris' top portrait and wedding photographers and color lab owners. He's actually located in Vitry, a small suburb of Paris. We had met many years earlier in London at a convention and have been friends ever since. A few months ago I was his guest in France after being on tour teaching in England and Ireland. That Saturday he invited me to go along to a wedding with him. What a fun opportunity, I thought. No one would know who I am and I could just have fun.

So, without saying a word I became just another one of the guests taking pictures from the side (...and you can believe me, there were many!) as Laurent, the professional, did his job.

Getting The Wide View
We arrived a few minutes before 9am, just as the bride and groom were pulling up to the front of the church in a hired convertible limousine. The tiny town was exquisitely beautiful. I felt as if I were in a movie set. With my 17-35mm wide angle lens I backed away from the church to show the detail of the street in the foreground.

I corrected the distortion of the church later in Photoshop by doing Edit/Free Transform. I darkened the sky by selecting the church with the magnetic lasso, inverting the selection and working in Levels.

Using The Small Built-In Flash
I had no idea of what to expect, so I stayed in the background and watched as the panorama progressed in front of me. The bride and groom remained in the car while everyone greeted them and then went to be seated inside the church. I entered, too, and got a chance to photograph the couple as they waited outside the church door to proceed together down the aisle.

I had no flash with me, other than the built-in flash on the camera. I set everything on Automatic and let the camera figure out the exposure. As you can see, the flash worked wonders. It was enough to give me great detail in the heavily backlit situation and retain detail in the bright background. I looked at the back of the camera and wanted to give my camera a kiss. It was right-on!
Light Balance
As is everywhere, there were countless cameras snapping away as the bride and groom walked arm-in-arm down the aisle. The classic, processional music was just as it is in America. I photographed the services from many angles, having had no objection from the person conducting the services. I had the time to do custom white balances with my ExpoDisc in the church.
The view from the back of the church had an extreme lighting ratio from bright, direct sunlight coming through windows at the top of the church to very dark areas deep within the church. I balanced the lighting in Photoshop by creating an adjustment layer in Photoshop's Levels and adjusting the various light and dark areas, so that they would all print in detail.

The view of the guests seated was cropped to show how I would do this as a panorama for an album, stretching the photograph across two pages. I made it with my wide angle 17-35mm lens using all available light.
The Family Grouping
After the ceremony it's typical in Europe to pose all the family group photos in front of the church. Laurent arranged all the groups nicely so that he (and all of us) could copy what he was doing.
Here he is with his Canon digital camera in front of the other photographers. Guess it's the same all over the world. I would have loved to posed them in the middle of the open area with the whole church showing behind them, but everything was pretty rushed, as it was getting hotter and hotter and everyone was anxious to get out of the bright sun.
Couple And Group Portraits
From the church everyone drove a short distance to the home of one of the relatives where refreshments were served in the back yard. That gave me my first opportunity to practice a little of my French, which I hadn't spoken in years. I found that the groom spoke fluent English. That certainly made communication much easier for me.

Once there, I decided to see what I could accomplish in the way of creating portraits similar to the way I do it back home. Having just toured England and Ireland the two weeks before the wedding I heard from a number of the photographers why it was impossible to create my type of portraits at a European wedding. I was determined to at least give it a try. What I found out, of course, was that there was no problem at all.
I remembered that many of the photographers had told me about the huge hats that the brides were wearing, making it impossible to bring heads together. I also found that to be no problem at all. For this close-up of the bride and groom I simply sat the groom on the arm of a lawn chair and brought the bride over to him, her hat going behind him.

Once I saw that the bride and groom were happily cooperating with me, I started creating portraits with their parents, too. I posed the bride's parents looking at her, as I always did at home. After this first picture (when I found that I could easily communicate with everyone) I corrected the picture by turning the bride's body more toward the camera. I wanted to avoid photographing directly into her bare shoulder. Unfortunately, she closed her eyes for that picture, so I'm using the first exposure of this setup.
I then went ahead to photograph the bride with each of her parents, as well as portraits of them individually and together. Everyone was posed in the shade with open light to my left being the main light.
Infrared, Too
To add a little variety to the photographs I made a few infrared pictures of the bride and the bride and groom together. They, of course, flipped out when viewing the images on the back of my camera. I remembered back in the '70s when I first introduced color photography to the European wedding industry. Now, here we were 30 years later reintroducing black and white in the form of my Canon EOS 60D converted to do infrared pictures (www.irdigital.net).
And Adieu!
When I began walking back to our car I looked at the front of the building where the civil ceremony had taken place. What a great place for a final group picture, I thought. Could it be arranged? Why not? No harm in trying.

Everyone loved posing for us and loved waving "goodbye" to us. Ordinarily, I would have cropped this picture, too, to a long, horizontal panoramic spread, but the building, itself, was just too good to leave out!
It was a fantastic day for all of us. In particular, I loved the experience because it gave me a chance to practice my French. It was kinda difficult to narrow down all my images to just these few, but our editors just won't allow me to publish an entire wedding album in the magazine. At least, I had the fun of sharing some of them with you here.