New York photographer Andy Marcus is at the forefront of wedding photography and has helped usher in this era of stylish new choices. The president of Fred Marcus Studio, Andy is a friend with whom I've worked numerous times over the years. To get a behind-the-scenes look at all that goes into the making of a wonderful wedding album, I followed Andy as he photographed a particularly elaborate wedding (all the better to show you the range of possibilities). My field trip started, as this couple's had, with photography's end results, as we took in the seemingly countless choices for both photo styles and album finishes at the Marcus Studio offices.
I was wowed by black-and-white shots that had been toned to sepia, copper, selenium, or blue. Panoramics with progressive action (six consecutive frames of a mother tying her son's tie, for example) spread out before me over two pages. I saw photos bordered with either straight black edges (from the negatives) matted on white or "sloppy" borders where the edges are ragged. And I couldn't help but be drawn to a fabulous and enormous framed Polaroid hanging on Andy's wall.
Do your homework first by looking at friends' albums and seeing what appeals to you. Later, when you interview a potential photographer, ask to see entire wedding albums—not just a compilation of the photographer's best picks. (It's not so hard to get one or two great photos from each wedding.) Of course, look for crispness of the images and the quality of the lighting (no shadows, everyone looks beautiful, etc.), but also pay attention to how the story of the day is told.
With so many options out there, what's a couple to do? The couple we're following went for it all: the bride's mother requested full coverage in both black-and-white and color. The day of the wedding, Andy and I head to the Pierre Hotel at 4 p.m., three-and-a-half hours before the 7:30 p.m. ceremony. His assistants are unloading what appears to be enough equipment for a major magazine spread: lights, generators, reflectors, cables, screens, bags of film, backdrops, and, oh yes, cameras. Judy Schwartz, the party planner in charge of this wedding (for more than 400 guests), goes over the particulars with Andy, as his second photographer begins taking decor shots in the empty ballroom and the five assistants head off in different directions.
When we hit the hotel suite where the bride and her seven attendants are dressing, Andy is greeted as if he were an old family friend. The bride and her family are obviously both delighted to see him and relaxed around him. This is the all-important rapport I am constantly sermonizing to my clients about. It gives Andy the freedom to unobtrusively and discreetly pick up the "behind the scenes" moments that would otherwise be lost. A good rapport also allows the couple to look natural and at ease while they are being posed.
It is fascinating to watch Andy as he goes to work, looking for the details to photograph. I am a sort of voyeur watching a voyeur. He explains that a trained photographer always sees things out of the corner of his eye, and with the photojournalistic style being so popular today, he can now capture these fleeting moments.
Andy is very specific about what he considers a true photojournalistic approach. It is not simply a matter of black-and-white versus color. It requires watching, waiting, and then capturing a moment in time; the photographer is aware of the action unfolding before him but he never causes it to happen. Andy snaps a shot of the bride's veil sitting in the sun near the window moments before she pins it on, the reaction of the mother as she first sees her daughter in her dress, and a private father-and-son moment. These are the tiny bits of wonder that, woven together, flesh out the narrative of a wedding day.
Be realistic. No photographer can be in two places at once, nor can he handle two cameras at once. If, for example, you want to have your walk down the aisle portrayed in color, but the reaction of your guests to this taken simultaneously in black-and-white, you must consider hiring a second photographer—and most likely an assistant as well. But a photographer can often offer both sorts of coverage, as long as you decide in advance how you want each aspect to be covered. Formals, for example, can easily be shot in black-and-white as well as color, requiring only a change of film.
If you are going to take family portraits before your ceremony, it's recommended that you begin dressing two-and-a-half hours before, and be ready to take these shots an hour before the ceremony.
Ready to Roll
The bridesmaids and female family members arrive before the ushers are ready (definitely a first in my experience), so Andy moves into high gear. He perches the bride on a central stepladder with her attendants around her. Lighting umbrellas (which are used for the soft, flattering look you can see in the finished shots) are positioned by assistants, and Andy sets his camera on a stabilizing tripod and surveys the group while focusing.
Make sure the area used for formals has a plain, generic background. No wild patterns or strange sconces on the wall. Even something as seemingly innocuous as a tree can appear to be growing out of your head in a photo. One couple I know had to have their portraits corrected when a damask wallpaper pattern appeared as Giant Mickey Mouse ears on the couple!
After a private moment for the bride and groom, the gentlemen appear for their group shots—time is getting tight, and a renegade usher is corralled by one of the assistants and prodded to the photo session. Andy goes to work on these shots—"C'mon guys—there's not much time. Let's go, let's go!"—while another of his photographers, a tall willowy blonde, works almost invisibly as she completes the photojournalistic recording of small details. Andy is close to fanatical about proper lighting, asking assistants to adjust here, move a light there, and he emphasizes that the ultimate success or failure of a shoot is based on it.
It is unfortunately a bitterly cold day in New York, but the couple heads outside anyway; one of Andy's trademarks is taking the wedding party outside. His playfulness is infectious and often results in truly unique shots. He has stopped double decker buses in mid-tour to get the bride and groom waving from the top, and has posed a couple under the starting sign for the New York City Marathon, as if they were about to begin sprinting. Somehow these shots never look contrived, but are instead playful and romantic—a couple's love poems to each other as well as to the city.
Here's the Proof
Three weeks after the wedding, I meet with Andy to go through the proofs. There are over 300 color 4 x 5 prints, numbered and boxed. He has the same number of photos in black-and-white as well as 150 black-and-white shots on contact sheets. These are the raw materials from which the final prints will be made. His final photos are both custom-cropped and custom-printed, which ensures that colors are correct, and that unnecessary objects and action are edited out of each shot. Marcus Studios also retouches their photos. That's right—wrinkles and blemishes are magically removed from the pictures you choose for your album.