Tips for Capturing a Wedding Discreetly without being a Distraction

I was asked recently by another photographer to write a post about one of the distinguishing features of my own particular shooting style. That is, how to capture a wedding discreetly, without being a distraction to the proceedings. I think we need to examine why this is important, as well as the factors which enable you to be discreet. I have been shooting weddings for nearly 25 years, and so I have managed to think this through a fair bit. Also with my corporate work I shoot on set while television shows are being shot and this also requires extreme discretion, where the slightest noise, or even your reflection in something shiny on the set can mean a reshoot.

Briefly the reasons why you want to be discreet and not a distraction are as follows.

  1. You capture people naturally thus getting better photos
  2. You enable the couple and guests to enjoy the wedding so they remember the wedding was fun, not the obnoxious photographer
  3. You don’t anger the pastors/priests which bites back the next time you are in the same venue.

In putting together this post I thought it best I contrast good and bad practices as many photographers learn by watching other photographers. I have encountered churches which had been burned by insensitive photographers in the past, and due to this now impose draconian policies restricting photographers. I can only hope these tips help budding photographers to help change the perception of our trade.

Now the secret to becoming a discreet photographer. The key is mind set. Mind set. Mind set!

Ask yourself, ” Why am I here?” “Who’s event is this?” “What are the requirements” These are basic and simple questions. At a wedding you are either the hired professional or the enthusiast.I will address these below.

If you are the enthusiast, the infamous Uncle Bob, ask yourself…why are you lugging your camera to the event? When I am a guest I LEAVE MY CAMERA AT HOME. And here is why. I am there to have fun, to eat drink, laugh and enjoy the moment and talk to my +1 or the people at my table. If I want to do a selphy I have my phone just like everyone else. I learned this lesson many years ago when I was first starting out. I wanted to “practice” at a wedding I was invited to. While shooting I was conscious of the hired photographer being cramped out by the other relatives who were all busy shooting. I realised I was adding nothing to this circus, so sat down and watched. I learned a lot. One of the key features that distinguish between a good photographer and a great one is if you are observant of what is going on around you.

annoying photographer uncle

And here we have the family friend, the “Uncle Bob”, blocking everyone’s view of the cake cutting. The video guy is also guilty here.

The other issue with Uncle Bobs is that they can get in the way of,  distract or slow down the professional. The above photo illustrates this. I wanted to trade my camera for a rocket launcher at this particular moment. I had been lined up anticipating the cake cutting when this fellow did an “Austin Powers” and jumped on stage.

If you are the Hired Professional: The key thing to remember is that it is the COUPLES and their families day first. You are of secondary importance. As painful as this is going to be, may I illustrate this?

Discreet wedding photographer

Beautiful. Wedding vows being made. Everyone can see.

annoying wedding photographer

Oops..there is a ring exchange in there somewhere.

annoying wedding photographer

And I think we have a kiss.

How would you feel if you had come to this wedding? I was not amused. I had known the boy since he was a young teen. Unfortunately this style is very common. Friends and family may have flown in from half way across the world, they came to see their friends or family get married. Not the backs and bums of photography and videography teams.

Another illustration below of why we need to think. We need to be discreet.  With the following photo set, TWO photography companies were hired. Believe it or not, this is common place with Malay weddings. The brides side hires a team, and the grooms side hires a team. Yes, it is much cheaper and better coordinated for one team to cover both sides however I don’t make the rules. In this wedding there were 3 in my team and 4-6 in the other. My guy is outside the window. We have been shooting together for nearly 15 years… so shoot very similarly. The team crowding around was censured to move back, as guests couldn’t see what was happening.  The problem with this team crowding  meant that both my other photographer, stationed in a mezzanine floor to the right, and myself, couldn’t get a clear shot due to the crowd. Not to worry as we act like a football team, playing using the whole room so to speak. This is another reason we can be discreet as we can hold back in various positions knowing one of us will get the required angle. The following close up shot of the bride was shot from the window photographers position. You don’t need to be in someone’s face to get great shots.annoying wedding photographer

The “mob” was asked to move out of the way. Note the photographer outside. He is part of my team.

Discreet wedding photographer

And the discreet “outside the window” photographer gets the money shot

So how do I shoot? My personal philosophy dictates this: “I shoot every wedding as though it is my own”.

This means I take the photos as though I was paying for the best photographer I could hire, but also that I shoot in a style I would want my photographer to shoot i.e. discreetly so my relatives could view the wedding. This dictates many things. It dictates my thought process, dictates my shooting style, dictates how I speak to people. It dictates my equipment and it dictates my editing. In the following two photos you can see how I shoot. I use a 70-200 F2.8. I can zoom in tight without blocking anyone. Todays cameras have a monstrous number of mega pixels so I can easily crop in even further later in post. If I need to get in close I come in, crouch, then stand up and shoot, then crouch down again. So my first gear plug is get the right lens. A 70-200 F2.8 is ESSENTIAL gear for me.

Discreet wedding photographer

3 Photographers. Can’t see all of us can you? Discreet and all the guests can see the ceremony. That’s me in the back with a long telephoto lens.

Discreet wedding photographer

The right way for a photographer to be discreet. Standing well back, long telephoto. EVERYONE can see the wedding easily.

With regards to flash photography, fortunately in Malaysia it is allowed in churches. This is good because most have really badly thought out lighting schemes, mixing big sodium lamps with fluorescents and incandescents. Our eyes filter out the foul colours but digital captures every ugly colour cast. I use a multi-flash system for 2 reasons. Firstly I can control the light a lot better and that means give better quality images to my couples, and secondly, because my MAIN lighting is off camera I can turn my on camera flash way down in power as it is merely a fill flash. This makes it a lot more discreet than using one on camera flash to illuminate a big hall.

Last of all… shooting on a TV set. This is where mirrorless shines. I use a Fuji XT1 and XT2 to shoot in absolute silence. None of my Canon or Nikon DSLRs come close in their “silent” modes. Sometimes you need the right equipment.

So there it is. Have the right attitude. Consider why you are there. Try your best not to detract or distract from the main event. have the right gear and have fun.

Last of all an endorsement. I received this email yesterday from an American University I shot recently:

“Thank you for the photos. You are the best photographer I’ve ever known!
You captured the joy and inner strength of everyone!
Thanks again,
Jackie”
I definitely don’t claim to be the best photographer…but it certainly was a nice email to receive, and I owe it all to being discreet. Many of those I photographed didn’t even realize I had shot them.
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