Weddings are one of the most challenging and rewarding genres of photography. You need to arrive at the wedding location ready to capture once-in-a-lifetime moments as they happen in front of you. This means meeting unexpected challenges, like tough lighting conditions, cluttered spaces and family dynamics, with expertise. But it also means knowing the big emotional wedding photos that every couple wants, and anticipating those moments.
As the wedding photographer, it’s your job to document the connections and relationships of the bride and groom and their guests as part of the couple’s memories of their wedding day. Many times, the guests at a wedding are being reunited for the first time in years and it’s so important to capture the joy and emotion of all the people and connections involved. Some of this comes from observing the scene, but I find that, in every wedding, there are specific moments where emotions run high.
Here are the top 10 most emotional moments of every wedding, and how to photograph them.
Before the ceremony:
1. The mom’s and bridesmaid’s reactions to the bride.
The moment the mother of the bride and bridesmaids first see the bride fully prepared to go to the ceremony is one of the most emotional moments of a wedding. As the photographer, you need to be ready.
Depending on the situation, you’ll either be with the bride waiting for her mother and bridesmaids to enter the room, or you’ll be with the bridesmaids and mom waiting for the bride to enter. Read the scene to decide on the perfect place to position yourself in order to capture the expressions of mom and the bridesmaids as they see the bride at her best.
2. The father-daughter first look.
Usually, the family tries to keep the bride’s father away from her until the moment he can see his daughter ready for the wedding. When it’s time for him to see his daughter before the ceremony, it can be one of the most emotional moments of the entire day. You’ll need to either plan this moment ahead of time or be ready to capture it on the fly.
If this is something the bride and family wants to plan in advance, I prefer to choose a neutral room in the house (like a lounge), or a private spot in the garden next to the house. Place the father in position and capture his reaction as the bride walks towards him. If this moment is left to happen naturally, you’ll need to be ready for that unexpected moment when the father enters the room and sees the bride. Focus extra attention on his face, as this is always one of the most emotional wedding photos you’ll take.
Make sure you shoot wisely to tell the full story of the father waiting, the bride ready to go and the moment they see each other. Catch the moment when she touches his shoulder to get him to turn around, his face and initial reaction, their hug, and all the moments between. Walk around the scene and shoot from different angles to capture both of their reactions, along with the reactions of others in the room.
Pro Tip: Ask the bride if she wants to make this moment private or include other family members. Make sure to place them away from the main action and plan an additional 10 to 15 minutes for this event.
3. Bride and groom first look.
Some couples choose to have a private first meeting before the ceremony, replacing the traditional moment when the groom sees the bride for the first time walking down the aisle. The most convenient locations for the first look are either at the wedding venue where the bride is getting ready for the ceremony, or at the location to be used for the couple’s photos.
Some couples choose to involve the bridal party and family members, while others make it a private moment. Either way, be ready to capture their reactions, tears, connection and love. Get close enough to be in the moment.
Pros & cons of a bride and groom first look.
While it’s tradition for the bride and groom to see each other for the first time at the wedding ceremony, many couples are now choosing to have a private “first look” before the wedding.
- A first look is a special moment for the couple, away from their families and guests. It can be an intimate and quiet moment alone for them to see each other before the wedding ceremony. This also allows the photographer to get the couple’s photos done before the ceremony.
- Since the bride and groom will have seen each other, the photographer can also go ahead and photograph them with the bridal party, which saves time after the ceremony to allow them more mingling time with guests.
- Having a first look can take away from the traditional moment when the bride and groom see each other for the first time at the ceremony. And, at times, the first look is a bit less emotional than that traditional reveal on the aisle.
- If a first look happens before the wedding ceremony, it will most likely be in the middle of the day when the sun is high and light is harsh, creating bright spots and deep shadows.
When photographing a first look, find open shade without dappled light outdoors, or have the couple meet inside the venue.
During the wedding ceremony:
4. The bride walking down the aisle.
The moment when father is giving away the bride and the groom sees her walking down the aisle is one of the most special and emotional moments of the wedding. It’s important to document the father and daughter connection, and the groom’s reaction.
If you have a second photographer, one photographer can stand at the front of the aisle (crouching down to stay out of view) and another photographer can stand at the back or middle of the aisle. This allows you to document the father and daughter walking, and the groom’s reaction. If you have only one photographer, choose a spot where you can document the full story. I like to frame the groom with the father and bride, using layers for storytelling.
5. The bride and groom exchanging vows.
The bride and groom exchanging their vows is the most beautiful and romantic moment during the ceremony. They put their love and soul into their words and are speaking from the heart. Of course, this is one of the most emotional wedding photos every couple wants for their album.
When documenting this moment, make sure to keep an eye on the person receiving the vows, as their reaction is very valuable. Keep en eye on the person who is reading the vows to capture their emotions as well. It helps to have two photographers at the ceremony to capture different points of view.
6. Family and friends’ reactions during the ceremony.
The wedding ceremony is full of beautiful, emotional moments as a life-changing event is taking place. You’ll see crying, laughing and the full spectrum of positive feelings. Make sure to walk around and observe the scene to capture multiple points of view. I always love to capture the connections of couples in the audience during the ceremony, as this event brings out their own emotions. Watch for people touching, hugging and looking at each other with love.
7. The announcement of husband and wife.
This moment is pure joy and celebration. You need to make sure you are ready for it! Anticipate the moment when the ceremony is just about to finish and change your position. Place yourself in the middle or at the end of the aisle and be ready to capture the newly married couple happily walking towards you.
Quite often guests throw rose petals, rice, confetti or other items to cheer and celebrate the moment. You need to make sure you are in the right place to capture the best composition. Shoot through the moment from beginning to end and get as many frames as needed while shooting in continuous mode.
Don’t forget to keep shooting when family and friends come to congratulate the couple. My favorite moments are parents and grandparents hugging the couple, as well as little flower girls. There is something special about this connection of generations.
After the ceremony:
8. The couple’s photo session.
You’ll capture some of the most beautiful, emotional wedding photos of the bride and groom alone after the wedding ceremony and family photos are finished. In this moment, everything is done, they are finally husband and wife, and they can just relax and enjoy the moment. During this emotional photo session, there is so much love in the new couple’s eyes, and so much excitement.
Use this time as the perfect opportunity to capture real emotions, incorporating the surroundings that the couple has chosen for their bride and groom session. Since the couple has already done an engagement session and is relaxed and comfortable, you won’t need much additional time.
I like to place the couple close to each other and photograph their gaze, physical touch (hands, shoulders, bodies) and connection using both posed and unposed moments, allowing them to enjoy being together. I like to ask the couple questions, like where they first met or why they love each other, to bring up emotions and memories. You can also ask about their future to build excitement and emotion.
One great option for extra photos is to sneak in a sunset shoot for beautiful golden hour photos. In the summer, sunset falls right in the middle of the receptions, so the couple may be able to sneak away right after the dinner speeches. In winter, sunset is perfectly timed right before the reception.
During the reception:
Capture speeches made by the parents, best man, maid of honor, bridal party, family, friends and bride and groom. These often bring up emotional and funny stories, making everyone feel connected. Watch for those emotional responses! And always keep an eye on the main heroes of your story, the bride and groom (along with parents and the bridal party).
Watch for expressive guests. There are always those who are extremely open with their facial expressions when they cry or laugh. Walk around to see more of the room and be open to different photo opportunities that come in the moment.
This is the time when all formalities are done and it’s time to celebrate! The bride and groom’s first dance is one of the most beautiful and emotional moments of the day. They are truly connected, happy and are moving in unison together. Make sure to move around, get close and capture the contact and connection. Watch their body language and their lines as they move. Try to catch an exact moment when lines are strong and the couple looks their best.
You can use on or off-camera flash to freeze the moment and illuminate the scene, even in a dark space. Magmod has great tools (for example, Magmod Sphere and gels), that are easy to use and allow you to create soft and beautiful light.
Don’t forget to capture the father/daughter, mother/son and other special wedding dance moments.
There are so many emotional moments at a wedding. You need to keep your eyes open, have your equipment ready, move around and be ready to capture the emotions and connections from the best possible angles. Find something at the wedding that speaks to you and makes you feel connected to your couple. Find yourself in these moments. This will help you give your clients the perfect emotional wedding photos they’ll cherish for generations.
I hope you’ll add these 10 most emotional wedding moments to your wedding shot list!
Photos by Olga Levien
In her upcoming photography workshop, Love, Light & Laughter, Olga shares how to create emotive imagery that speaks from your heart. Class begins on October 28, 2019. Register now at Click Photo School.
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