The importance of candid portraits

Header image by Jackson & Co

Today I want to talk about the photographs that wedding photographers tend not to outwardly prioritise.  I say outwardly - we all take them - but some photographers don't include a whole lot of them in their portfolios or on their Instagram feeds, preferring to focus instead on couple shots, clever documentary shots or shots with an editorial feel.  

There's nothing wrong with any of those things of course but the fact is we are service providers as well as artists and creatives and the simple act of creating lovely, candid portraits of your client's loved ones is an important part of the legacy we provide as wedding photographers.

Since I got married in 2010 several of the people who attended my wedding have passed away.  My wedding photographer, Camera Hannah, took candid portraits of all of them and we now have those images printed in a wedding album.  When choosing pictures for my album, I picked tonnes of the creative portraits Hannah created, I picked a really good selection of editorial style detail and location shots, I picked lots of images of Hannah's wonderful story telling but the images I picked the most of?  The simple candid shots of my loved ones.  

 My wedding album, photographed on iphone.....

My wedding album, photographed on iphone.....

Today's post is dedicated to the candid portrait and I'm handing over to Michael and Hannah of Jackson & Co and Emma Case, as I know providing these portraits for their clients is a huge priority.  We also have some work and thoughts from around the SNAP community if you keep scrolling.

 Image

Image by Jackson & Co

Over to Michael:

It’s not hard to explain why candid portraits of brides, grooms and guests are so important, but that’s not to say they’re easy to capture. They’re the perfect freeze frame of that precise moment of happiness and when you get it right it takes you instantly back to that second in time, and you can remember everything about that persons character with perfect clarity and a fuzzy warm feeling inside.

For Hannah and I they’ve got to be so much more than just a “flat faced” picture of someone standing, sipping champagne. You’ve got to feel it. We're magnetically drawn towards the people who are practically giving themselves lock jaw from laughing so hard but even then there’s got to be a little more to it than just laughter alone. 

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Image by Jackson & Co

Once upon a time a wise photographer said to me “There’s a whole spectrum of emotion just within Happy itself” and he was absolutely right. Both of us try hard to capture moments across the full spectrum from a shy grin, a proud glance to the full blown snot bubble, spit flinging belly laugh.

Right now, as photographers we seem to be in a time where we’re shooting from ever more challenging angles, layers on layers, with a focus on hands and feet and ever more complex compositions. All of that is great and admirable, but we just prefer to keep things unapologetically simple. Partly, because we’re not that bendy and can’t get those angles, but mainly because it’s not what we would want for ourselves, to hang on our walls and to remember our mates by. 

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Image by Jackson & Co

Because of that we’re very happy to get close, on a 35mm typically, and be on the very edge of the moment. We’re daftly competitive, it becomes a silly game to us to get the most people in a small cluster with a smile on their faces or to get that photo of a grandparent letting their hair down that’ll tug at the heartstrings years from now. More than anything else we shoot for longevity so that it’s as good a frame now as it will be 25 years from now.

If we get it right, we know you can feel that photo and feel that connection to the person in the frame and that’s simply all it needs to be.

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Image by Jackson & Co

Here's what Emma Case has to say:

The longer we do this job the more we realise that all we want to do is shoot the wedding for the couple and their friends and family.. and what they LOVE is lovely (flattering) photos of themselves and the people they love.  These photos might not mean anything really to anyone else and won't necessarily have other photographers swooning over your work.. but they are SO important.

candid wedding portraits

Image by Emma Case

There is soooo much joy in knowing that you have given them something that they might not have ever had, something that their family will cherish for a long, long time.. and something that is going to be literally priceless if one day they do lose someone. This photo is a Groom and his Mother-in-law and I just love how it celebrates their relationship.. you can see how well they get on.. and if I was the Bride I would literally love seeing this photo.

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Image by Emma Case

Also I always prioritise shooting outside of the immediate family.. (and this is probably a bit more of a staged portrait).  This is one of my absolute favourite photos from last year. I just love knowing that we can give a lovely family portrait (when you know they probably haven't got a professional photo of them like this). They got in touch after the wedding wanting this photo printed.. and actually that's always a really good indicator of what's really important.. which photos do you end up selling after the wedding?

black and white candid wedding picture

Image by Emma Case

And finally, it goes without saying but ALWAYS get the Nan.. 

Thank you, Emma and Michael.  I love your honesty and approaches.  I wish more photographers, especially those who are influencers within our industry, would show more of this type of work.  Newer photographers coming into the industry look up to the people that post nothing but waterfall shots and they aspire to be like them.  That's all fine and wonderful - I wouldn't mind shooting in front of more waterfalls myself - but I know epic portraits are not the most important thing to a vast number of couples in the long term.

I see so many posts in groups where clients have got back in touch with photographers down the line to ask if they have any more pictures of a relative who passed away.   Candid portraits of the people our clients love become exponentially more important as time passes.

Here are some thoughts from the SNAP community about the candid portraits they've created and why they're important. 

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Hannah Hall
This photograph is a constant reminder to me of the importance of looking out for the elderly guests at weddings. They're often the quiet ones who aren't in the thick of the action and it's all too easy to get distracted by the louder guests.  I make a point of asking for grandparents to be pointed out now so that I don't miss these moments, after all, it's sad to say but it might be the last big family event they make. This little moment between Hannah and an elderly relative warms my heart every time - you can see the happiness in his eyes and I just know that it'll be one of the most treasured images from her day. 

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Philippa James 
For me, candid photography is the best kind of photography, it's where the heart is, it reveals character and story of a particular person in their unposed natural state.

documentary wedding photography

Danni Maibaum
This is the daughter of the bride and a friend of the family. The bride, Lucy said she loves this image because Olive loves Damien! He pulls faces constantly and makes her laugh

elderly relatives at weddings

Tara Tomlinson
This bride's father was very elderly and in failing health, and she was very emotional about it. My own father passed away just a couple of weeks prior to this wedding at the age of 57, so this was a really tough wedding for me to shoot. But I'm so glad I was the one there since i definitely "got it", and he did pass away after the wedding. I have several images that show the joy on his face, and that is totally priceless.

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Emma and Rich
This is the groom’s step dad. Before the wedding we were told to treat Dad and step dad equally as they were both lovely and important. We did, it was a wonderful day and I was super happy when I backed everything up, a perfect wedding day. On the Monday afternoon (after the Saturday wedding) we got an email from the groom, apologising for asking so soon, but if there was any way he could get a couple of photos of his step Dad for his Mum. He’d passed away suddenly on the Monday morning. I dropped everything and sent half a dozen over including this.

After that moment - struggling to get an EPIC shot or something clever just fades away. They’re nice to haves. This is the shit that matters, this is why we’re there and this is most important to the people who trust you to capture their day.

emotional candid portrait

Casey Avenue
This is still one of my favourite photos 2.5 years later. I recently reposted it on my page and Meg (the bride) responded "What a treat finding this in my FB feed! This photo means the world to me. ❤️"

It was a really emotional moment even capturing it. We had gone to the cottage to get a photo of the bride with her Nan who had already retired to her room for the day. Nan isn't very well and the only way to get a smile is singing. All the aunts were behind me singing and clapping as the bride & groom, Nan & Grandad stood for the photo and Nan smiled! We got that photo but it was this one afterwards, the candid moment, undirected, spontaneous affection. The love that got me right in the feels.

candle lit candid

And finally I'm sharing one of my own images.  This picture will never stop being remarkable to me for reasons I'll explain below.  Claire married Charles and this is Claire's mother, who passed away recently.  I know this image is important to Claire as she shared it when her mother died, saying how precious the picture had become.  

Claire wrote to me, not long after the wedding, to tell me that her mother had collapsed on Christmas Eve and was in a coma. It looked very bleak for the first week or so, and the Doctors believed her to be brain dead. Eventually, however, she surprised everyone by coming round and starting to recover.  She was very confused, believing that she was being looked after Coastguards rather than Doctors, insisting also that she was in The Met Office rather than hospital. Consultants told them that it was highly likely that she had severe brain damaged and that she'd need specialist/ residential care for the rest of her days. 

Claire wasn't convinced, as she had noticed that her mother would sometimes refer to past events with lucidity.  She didn't know how to prove this to the medial team until she remembered that her wedding photos had been sent through just before Christmas and that her Mother hadn't seen them. Claire asked the medial staff to arrange internet access and all of the medics on ICU joined Claire and her family, to sit down and look at the pictures.  

As Claire's Mother looked at the photos, she was able to name every guest, even those she had met for the first time at the wedding.  She remembered me (“oh, lovely Laura!”) very clearly, she could name the ushers in the photo of the kilted men outside Church, even to the point of knowing where one of them went to School 40 years previously. 

By showing her mother a comprehensive record of the day Claire was able to show that her mother was very much there, her treatment was altered, she made a full recovery and lived for several years afterwards.  

The candid portraits you take of people's loved ones are, perhaps, some of the most important pictures you will ever create.