Sunday, 29 November 2009

Herding Cats

Getting everyone together and arranging them into groups for portraits at weddings can be rather like herding cats. No sooner have you got the last straggler to come and join in, one of the first arrivals wanders off.

Still, it is amazing how even big groups can be pulled together with a bit of leaping around, a sense of humour and some shouting. Where possible, I like to jump up on a bench or table. I’m sure that it must look quite funny, as that’s the sort of thing you do when you are eight, not in your thirties, in a suit. But it gets people’s attention, when there is a big crowd. Most wedding guests are willing to pose for group pictures but need to know clearly what is required of them. Whispering whilst the church bells ring, simply won’t do. It is of course, shouting with a smile. Personality and presence are essential attributes of a good wedding photographer, during this session. Later, documentary pictures may be required and then it is about subtlety of approach.

Group dynamics are always fascinating to me and I try not to make too many assumptions about what any particular group will be like until I am actually on-board, at the wedding. Meeting the couple gives me clues but doesn’t tell me precisely how I should be interacting with any one set of families and friends. Needs vary, depending upon many factors and so does my volume level and method. Weddings are unique times and gatherings and at these events, some families are quiet, some rowdy and heckling, some are very disciplined in themselves and just need little coaxing, whilst others look to me for order. Many are a mixture of these with a few organisers and a few comedians and a few shy-hiders, who need to be brought from the back to the side or front.

As a photographer I often find myself wanting to push the boundaries a little with making the groups creative and fun but one has to temper such desires to some extent, as the time I take impacts on others, such as caterers and the guests themselves. I am always conscious that it is the people who are most important, so getting a clear picture of everyone in a group is the primary aim; preferably smiling.

I try and keep the post-service group portrait session down to 30 minutes or less. Once it goes over that it can become quite tedious for all involved, so a list of half a dozen is ideal. It is usually a kind of semi-controlled chaos. After all, one unarmed person cannot force 100 free people to do what they do not want to do. The chaos can be humorous, as long as it does not go on too long and become frustration. Then chaos becomes order and we have satisfaction. Bliss. We did it. Well done everyone!

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