few years ago, my Aunty Meenal gathered the clan for a family viewing of her daughter’s wedding pictures. I couldn’t wait to relive the extravaganza, where my relatives and I hoi-hoi-hoi’d into the early hours with endless parties, dances and ceremonies. So imagine my face freezing into a horrified smile as I was handed one disastrous photo after another. Here, the groom was reluctantly pulling on his bride’s sari a la Bollywood blockbuster; there, the obligatory cupped-hands mehndi picture, surrounded by gaudy saris and votive candles. What happened to the beautiful day I remembered? How did it turn into this clichéd pastiche of bad Bollywood movies?
Unfortunately, many desi wedding photographers enter the trade with no real training or passion for the business, using it as a way to make a little extra money on the side. This means that they share the same old-school philosophy—develop a variety of stock poses and then use them at every wedding from here until eternity. But that doesn’t mean that you should be one of their unlucky victims.
When embarking on the quest for a wedding photographer, ask yourself these five questions:
1. Does the photographer balance his artistic sensibility with your needs?
This may be the biggest hurdle to overcome when deciding on a photographer for your wedding—finding someone who has his own unique style but doesn’t put his vision of the wedding ahead of your own. When my husband and I were searching for the right photographer, most of the ones we met seemed to lean toward one extreme or the other. Either they had a stock of tired poses that they pulled out for every wedding, or they had an overblown sense of their own artistic vision that seemed to trump any ideas we had.
View not only the best of your photographer’s portfolio, but also a few weddings from start to finish.
When you interview potential photographers, specify your needs exactly. Are countless family pics obligatory? Make sure he is comfortable with that requirement and is not focusing on artistic photos of the cake when he should be lining up Aunty Seema’s tribe for Family Photo #485. (And tell him the cast of characters ahead of time, so no VIPs are missed.) Do you want him to take numerous candid shots throughout the day? Make that clear so he can take advantage of good lighting conditions and beautiful backdrops, instead of waiting for your directions.
Finally, if your photographer is not familiar with desi weddings, be sure to give him a primer ahead of time. An unseasoned photographer could miss important moments if he doesn’t know what to expect.
2. Does he take a good balance of candid and posed pictures?
While your photographer should be comfortable with taking innumerable family photos to make the guests happy, the candids he takes will really capture your memories. I can look back at my photos now and see the exact expression on my father’s face when he first saw me in my wedding sari, or my husband’s eyes light up when he hit the dance floor, or a private conversation caught between my best friend and me in my old bedroom. Make sure you view not only the best of your photographer’s portfolio, but also a few weddings from start to finish. This way you can see his mix of posed versus candid shots to get a good idea of whether he has what you are looking for. Also, if you’re going with a company that offers multiple photographers, study the portfolio of the specific photographer who will do your wedding so there are no surprises.
The Top 5 Pose Perps
Year after year, these tried-and-not-so-true poses keep popping up at desi weddings—not unlike bad gulab jamuns. In an effort to eradicate them from the face of the South Asian wedding industry, we have listed the worst offenses here:
1. The hands – cupped – together – to – show – off – the – mehndi pose Inevitably surrounded by brightly colored saris and votive candles (a fire hazard in itself), this “romantic” close-up of the bride’s hands seems to be the only way some photographers know to capture the intricate mehndi pattern. Such beautiful mehndi—and such a waste to capture it in this undeniably cheesy way.
2. The couple – lying – on – either – side – of – the – hotel – room – bed pose Sheesh, people. Some things should be kept private—the bride and groom’s hotel room being one of them. There is no need for your relatives to see you sprawled on your hotel bed with the forest-green floral coverlet and hotel-art swan portraits in the background. While this pose is not overtly crass, there is a wedding-night suggestion to it that is better left un-suggested.
3. The groom – pulling – on – the – bride’s – palloo pose While Bollywood movies are fun to watch, they shouldn’t necessarily be acted out. This pose, which is often shot in a park or botanical garden, features a reluctant groom (who knows he looks like an idiot) and a bored bride (because this is the 16th time they’ve done this pose). Unless you are Abhishek and Ash, this pose is better left to the professionals.
4. The bride’s – jewelry – laid – out – on – the – dresser pose There are some inevitabilities to a South Asian wedding. For example, all the money the groom’s family spent on the bride’s jewelry must be properly exhibited. But must the jewelry be laid out naked on the cheesy Princess Jasmine dresser that the bride has had since age 5? Why not actually get a shot of the jewelry on the bride? Much more flattering.
5. The couple – in – front – of – the – wedding – hall pose Let’s face it: Most Indian wedding halls leave something to be desired from the outside. Either they are located in a strip mall or beside a strip club. Why memorialize that for all posterity, with the lavishly-dressed couple looking awkward as they stand at the doorway, inevitably framed by a sign for Munir’s Halal Meat? Bring them inside, where they will look much more regal amongst the burgundy velvet and the golden elephant statues.
3. Will he let your personality shine through?
It is important that your photographs reflect your personality as a couple, not just the creative sensibility of your photographer. View a wide variety of your photographer’s work, and look at the locations and poses of his different wedding shots. Do they all look the same, or do they each have different moods? Do you get a sense of each couple by looking through their photographs? Are they playful or glamorous? Formal or casual?
I was referred to Stephen Sager (who took the images of my wedding featured here) by a friend who is very glamorous and striking, something that was reflected in her photos. While I loved her photos, I wanted our wedding pictures to be much more laid back and fun to reflect our attitude as a couple. We made that clear to Stephen ahead of time, and he chose locations and poses that were more natural and playful so that we looked good, not just the pictures. As he puts it, “My artistic philosophy is that truth is beautiful. If the image doesn’t seem true to the couple’s personalities, then it usually does not look quite right.”
4. Is he someone you get along with?
It seems so obvious, but it’s something a lot of couples miss when comparing photographers. This is the person who is going to be with you every minute for up to seven days—even when the rest of the guests are not around. Prem Mukherjee of Michigan-based Arising Images (who shot Renu’s wedding, shown below), agrees that relationship is a critical factor, advising that “Personality is almost as important as skill.” It is critical that your photographer is someone you feel comfortable with, not just so that your photos will look natural, but also so your wedding will be enjoyable.
Our wedding day schedule was completely packed—we went from photos in a picturesque town square to the wedding ceremony at the mosque to another round of photos to the reception. Whew! The moments we spent with the photographer were some of the best moments of the day—he worked hard to blend into the background, giving my husband and me some much-needed private time and taking some beautiful candids in the process.
Another thing to consider is whether the photographer has worked with your videographer before. Your wedding will require a partnership between the two; the videographer has to have his bright lights in order to get a good video, and the photographer has to take advantage of moments when the spotlights are off to get some stunning pictures. If the two have worked together before, they have probably already established a good give-and-take pattern. If not, ask your photographer if he has worked with other videographers and if he has a strategy for “sharing” you as a couple. His answer will help you determine how flexible and adaptable he is to different situations—and how he deals with the snags that inevitably come up along the way.
5. How flexible is he when it comes to working out the budget?
One of the main barriers South Asian brides face with Western photographers is their pricing schemes. As their price points were usually set up with one-day Western weddings in mind, employing a photographer at that rate for a multi-day South Asian one can send the price tag soaring. However, many photographers are becoming savvy to the South Asian wedding market and are more than willing to adapt their pricing to fit your needs. When I met with photographers, I tried to create my own package by stripping out the “frills” (album, engagement portrait, etc.) and asking for a price for a set number of hours and photos. I then asked for the digitals, only getting printed those that I liked. This method brought the costs down considerably and ensured that the photographer was at my disposal to take as many pictures as we wanted for the duration of the wedding.
Also ask your photographer what his policy is on staying late and taking extra photos. As desi weddings invariably start late, you want to make sure that your photographer isn’t a stickler for time and doesn’t plan to charge you by the minute.
However, do create a schedule ahead of time to avoid headaches. “Just remember that everything takes longer on a wedding day than it normally would,” says Sager, who is based in Toronto but will travel for weddings. “Try to create realistic time frames for events and discuss them with your photographer before your wedding day. Of course the day always changes and that is actually part of the fun—a good plan just lets you have a reference point.”
Good wedding photography is a gift you give your future self—a gift that will have more power and bring you more joy over time.
Above all, remember that wedding photos are an investment. “Your wedding images are not just for you, they are a family heirloom that will eventually be given to your children,” says Mukherjee. “When my wife and I got married, it was before we knew anything about the wedding industry. We saved a lot of money by having a family friend do the photography, but we now realize that we made a huge mistake. We wish we had spent the time to find a photographer who could give us something really special.”
Sager agrees. “Good wedding photography is a gift you give your future self—a gift that will have more power and bring more joy to you over time. When they look at it in those terms, I believe couples can make a better decision as to the type of photographer they want.”
Good luck on your search—and be sure to send Nirali the pictures!