The array of incredible wedding photographic styles and wedding photographers to choose from today is staggering. Whether it’s highly conceptual composite images you love or simple, natural film pictures that’s your thing, the time is just right for wedding photography as a true expressive art. Most of today’s couples have sophisticated tastes, are aesthetically driven and will quickly know what it is they do and don’t want, which makes them great fun to work with and create for.
But what if you want to build your portfolio around a different kind of wedding (or non-wedding) photography? What if modern weddings, even those that are rich in meaning and style, just aren’t the thing that light you up?
Look, bigger is not always better. Sometimes the right way to go is to simplify things.
For some of us, we shine when capturing the quiet moments found in between in the environment a tiny wedding creates, or in the afterglow of the first days of marriage, or the intimate moments shared between a couple that has weathered (or is weathering) a storm, or even the familial beauty seen in the day-to-day life of a seasoned partnership.
Maybe it’s the idea of photographing the smallest weddings that thrills you or maybe you want to capture a couple outside of the wedding day itself? And what about the many couples who are lifelong partners, but choose not to marry, maybe they’re your perfect subjects.
What type of wedding (or non-wedding) feels right for you?
How would you like to be photographed—or, what kinds of photos would you most love to take? What types of photos would you feel excited to add to your portfolio? What type of work would you like to be known for? Here are some ideas that might inspire you. Instead of a traditional wedding (and traditional wedding photos), why not consider them.
As a photographer, you can propose the idea of an intimate wedding to your clients—just in case they haven’t considered it yet. Small can be very beautiful, for so many reasons.
AN INTIMATE WEDDING
A few years ago, I worked with a couple that didn’t want a big, traditional wedding. That type of event didn’t speak to them. Instead, they planned an intimate gathering at Hotel Vitale in San Francisco, where the two brides and their family (children and a tiny handful of friends) spent time together and got ready. Afterwards, we all walked and rode the trolley to City Hall for a brief, lovely ceremony and ended the day at a great little “hole in the wall” restaurant in Oakland. One of the brides is an interior designer, the other, a restaurateur and chef—their sensibilities were expressed beautifully in their wedding by way of their choices of clothing, venues and food. Proof that you don’t have to give up your personal style or expression just because you choose an out-of-the-box wedding experience.
Then there was Elena and Jon, self-proclaimed digital nomads, she a food writer and he a WordPress guru. After 11 years of being together as boyfriend and girlfriend, they decided to become wife and husband, and while they spend the majority of their time “on the road” and are true global citizens, they’re also deeply rooted in their community of family and friends, and knew that they wanted their “people” with them to witness and celebrate their transition into marriage. So they created the perfect wedding for themselves at a restaurant in the woods to which they had a personal connection. The whole experience felt like a luxurious, yet rustic dinner party; everything was rich and meaningful, yet simple and elegant.
Because these weddings were so intimate, with very few guests in attendance, we were able to capture many beautiful little moments that otherwise might have gotten lost in the shuffle—like one of the brides giving her stepdaughter a gift before the ceremony and a tearful pre-ceremony gift exchange from the bride’s “best man.”
As their photographer, it was a truly moving experience to join these couples for their intimate weddings. There was no unnecessary stress or friction—it truly felt like joining a beautiful family having a meaningful, romantic ceremony that was followed by a relaxed dinner party. These couples didn’t do anything because it was a have to or a should, and in their cases, that meant forgoing the flower girl, the traditional venues and even the dancing. They did what they wanted—not what was expected—and the ease and delight in the air was palpable.
I would urge any couple to consider “going small” with your wedding, especially if the idea of planning a huge 100-plus-person experience sounds groan-inducing and stressful.
As a photographer, you can propose the idea of an intimate wedding to your clients—just in case they haven’t considered it yet.
Small can be very beautiful, for so many reasons.
A FIRST DAYS SESSION
Recently, I photographed a couple based in Vancouver, Washington. They were embroiled in family drama and going through a really difficult time. Like many couples experience from time to time, they were in the midst of dealing with very real struggles, and the stress and heartache of it all had taken a toll on them—at one point, they had even questioned if staying together was the best thing. After much deep work, they decided they were indeed ready to be married, but that they wanted to elope and get married without their families present. It was a tough decision, but it was what they needed to do.
When they reached out to me and asked if I’d be willing to witness these “first days” with them, I was thrilled. They explained to me that even though things weren’t “perfect,” they still wanted to capture this chapter of their love story. They weren’t as interested in photographing the official ceremony as they were in documenting the raw truth of this difficult time. They felt the value of stepping fully into the beauty of the hard chapter they were in, had faith that this rough patch would pass, and had the foresight to know that it would feel pretty great down the road to look back and say, “Look where we were and what we got through,” and to one day even share these images and stories with their children, as if to say, “Hey, we made it. Our love is strong. Things aren’t always easy, and that’s okay.”
Even if your couple isn’t going through a rocky time, I love “first days” sessions. The newness and tenderness of it makes for a beautiful alternative to—or addition to—a set of traditional wedding photos.
It can be so beautiful to capture those ordinary, everyday moments at home, in the midst of our regular lives. That’s where the love story is unfolding, after all: at home. Why not point our love lenses there?
A MARRIAGE SESSION
I met a beautiful couple that married in the early ’80s; 32 years later, they have been through so much: career changes, raising three kids, death, grief, sickness and health, and reinvention. Their love is still burning strong.
A few weeks before their 32nd anniversary, they invited me to photograph them at their home in Los Angeles. I brought along a hair and makeup artist, but aside from that, it was just an ordinary afternoon. The photos turned out beautifully. You can really feel the way these two people cherish one another and the way their love has only deepened through the years.
Then there was a wise and brave couple that knew, after 17 years of marriage and with three little girls still filling their days with fun and needs, that they needed to hit the pause button, create a little mini-retreat and capture some of the very profound love and simmering connection that’s still very much alive between them. So that’s exactly what we did. I designed a session that took them out of their everyday environments and gave them some space and time to unwind, unravel and undo in the most beautiful of ways.
I’ve done several “marriage sessions” through the years with all kinds of couples, each in different chapters of their relationships. I love these types of sessions. Because there’s no “audience” (friends, family, caterers, musicians, etc.) gathered around, as with a typical wedding scenario, couples tend to look and feel more at ease and more comfortable in their own skin. This often can lead to stunning, intimate photographs that really capture the couple’s essence.
Far too often, we rush to capture the “big moments and milestones” in life (like weddings, birthdays or graduations), but we forget to stop and celebrate the “small moments” of beauty and connection that unfold every single day.
That’s why I love the idea of a marriage session—capturing a “day in the life” of a married couple, whether it’s their first year of marriage, or second, or 32nd.
A LIFELONG LOVE SESSION
Two friends of mine have been dating for a few years and describe themselves as a “forever-couple.” They’re committed for life, but they don’t feel any particular need to get married. Maybe they will someday, maybe they won’t. As far as they’re concerned, what matters is how they feel about each other, not what a legal document says. They requested that I photograph their coupledom for no particular reason (which is often the very best reason). They weren’t celebrating an anniversary or any other special date. They just know that there’s value and meaning in documenting the important people and relationships in our lives, and they took great joy in seeing their love reflected back to them through photographs.
Maybe you have clients who are dating, but unmarried. Maybe they’re “on the fence” about the whole institution of marriage. Maybe they never want to get married. Who says they have to in order to have beautiful photographs of their love?
If you know a couple in love, most likely they want their love story documented and celebrated, as it should be. Just because. All love and all love stories are important, whether married or not.
YOUR LOVE, YOUR WAY
Here’s one thing I know for sure: Every couple has a love story to tell, and every love story is deliciously beautiful and deserves to be documented.
As a professional photographer, if you sense that your clients aren’t feeling too excited about conventional wedding photos, don’t be afraid to propose an alternative. Many clients will be grateful that you took the initiative to say, “Or, we could try this instead…”
Whether you’re in front of the camera or behind it, remember that you don’t need a tiered cake or a chapel as part of the scenery, necessarily. With or without a wedding, married or unmarried, four weeks into your relationship or 40 years down the road, there are so many ways to honor and commemorate your love story through photography.
When it comes to love, there are no “musts,” no “shoulds” and no rigid rules—only possibilities.
Danielle Cohen is a photographer based in Southern California and the former co-creator of AMULET magazine. She gets excited about geographic romances, magical tea blends, big, genuine smiles where your eyes crinkle up at the corners and the messy magic of the everyday. She believes that every love story is amazing and deserves to be captured and documented. You can check out her work and book a photo session at danielle-cohen.com.