If your house was on fire, which pictures would you save? I'm betting that you'd save photos of family and loved ones - especially if they were your only prints of those photos.
So why on earth do we, as wedding photographers, focus so much on mason jars, boutonnieres, shoes, dresses, plates of food, flower arrangements, napkin rings, cakes, and custom fortune cookies?
We focus on those details because we are taught that those images are beautiful and essential. It's how you get published. It's how you get Instagram hearts and Facebook likes from fellow photographers.
As photographers, we're not entirely to blame for this trend. The bride and groom are also indoctrinated into thinking detail photos are crucial by the wedding blogs and magazines they read. Our clients then demand that we capture these photos as well. It's an endless circle that must be broken.
I'm not saying details should be ignored entirely, but that we are sitting on a treasure trove of far more critical photos both for us as business people and for our clients.
The best wedding detail is not a table arrangement. It's the guests. And you've probably been ignoring wedding guests to some extent so that you have time to photograph rings, flowers, and cakes.
I did the same thing until I had a realization: the guests ARE the essential wedding detail. It's half the reason we even have weddings: to gather friends and family around us for our big day. Guests also provide an opportunity to make more money per wedding and to stand out among our peers.
Your Couple WANTS Guest Portraits. Even if They Don't Know it Yet.
Your couple is going to treasure photos of loved ones today and 50 years from now. Time passes, people die, and people move away. A beautiful photo capturing the soul and happiness of a friend is a lifelong treasure.
No One Else Is Doing It
Guest portraits can set you apart! I built my reputation around guest portraits. The human face is very very interesting and seeing well-done portraits of people in beautiful light is eye-catching to the reader and very memorable.
After 20 years of shooting weddings, I would have random people approach me at weddings and say 'Hey! You're the guy that does those beautiful guest portraits! I love those! Can you take mine?'
They Allow You to Meet Every Guest
Guest portraits make the rest of the day easier. Why? Because taking portraits of guests gives you a chance to get to know them. And once you've cracked a few jokes, made them feel beautiful, and they get to see you as a person rather than a walking camera, you will feel welcomed like family. This makes the whole day so much more enjoyable!
Guest Portraits Increase Your Profits
I used the cocktail hour as an opportunity to shoot as many guest portraits as possible. Think about it: these people are dressed up the best they can be, they are smiling and happy to be there, and you can capture this in a beautiful portrait that you can later SELL TO THEM when you post your photos online for online ordering through sites such as Instaproofs.
Not only did I sell on average $1000-$2000 in guest portraits per wedding, but I also booked new clients who were impressed with the photo I took of them. You are capturing people at their best, while they are happy, and proving that you can be trusted with other jobs. It's a no-brainer!
- Work with the wedding planner and couple ahead of time to make sure you have enough time at cocktail hour to get guest portraits. I recommend an hour at minimum.
- Scout a small spot with a clean background and beautiful light somewhere very close to the cocktail hour area. I recommend no place farther than 50 ft from the cocktail hour location.
- Find a simple dark background in nature, with some backlight from the sun. This is the ideal spot for guest portraits. If that is not available, look for evenly lit open-shade, like under an eave of the roof, or in a doorway.
- Get really close! I used to set my Contax 645 with 80mm lens to minimum focusing distance and then rock back and forth on my feet until my subjects eyes were in focus. I usually shoot at f2 or f2.8 for super shallow depth of field. Whatever you do, do NOT take guest portraits with a wide angle lens!
- Vary the portraits to include couples and families. Start with a large family and break it down into couples and individual portraits. Who knows, you might sell all the possible combinations of photos to one family who wants everything you shot!
- Get the guest to help you get more guests! After you shoot a guest portrait ask that person if they know anyone else that would like one. They will always start working their way through the crowd bringing people to YOU. It's like cloning a ton of photo assistants!
I hope this is helpful! If you have any questions, please leave a comment! I'll try to respond to as many as I can!