How to tell a wedding story
The thing that sets apart good wedding photographers from the great wedding photographers is not excellent images but an understanding of how to tell a story.
Wedding photography should be a combination of well executed images and the story that those images tell of the couple getting married.
All stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s how they are woven together that makes for good storytelling. Since the time people first started telling stories they have followed a fairly uncomplicated structure, known as the hero’s journey. We follow the same structure when curating our wedding images for couples.
We thought it might be interesting to show this journey, illustrated with some of our images, to highlight something that photographers rarely talk about in their workflow.
Stages of the Hero’s Journey
There are twelve steps to the hero’s journey. All of them can be adapted to a wedding story.
1. Ordinary World: This is life before the ceremony. Preparing for the wedding is about to start.
2. Call to Adventure: This, along with 3. Refusal of the Call is when people start to get ready. The call to adventure is often clear with women preparing for the wedding. When hair and make-up start that’s when they start their journey and they are eager when it starts. For men it’s much harder to see this part, which is often overshadowed by the refusal of the call where they delay getting ready to play computer games, or drink more beer. This is what I really like about the hero’s journey. Each step is followed but not necessarily by both people. This journey’s hero is the couple, not just one person.
4. Meeting with the Mentor: There is a moment at the end of the preparations where parents and close friends step in. They offer support and advice just before the couple leave for the ceremony. This is often seen when the Mother of the Groom adjusts his boutonnière or when the bride stands before her father once she is in her dress. There is a calm that occurs at this part of the day as the couple contemplate being married in that space between the busyness of preparation and leaving for the ceremony.
5. Crossing the First Threshold: Setting off to the ceremony
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies and 7. The Approach are clear for those ceremonies where couples arrive separately. In fairness, there are almost never any enemies at a wedding but the test is overcoming the nerves while trying to greet all those people invited to witness the marriage. The approach is the first part of the journey the couple experiences together. That moment when the first partner senses the approach of the other is filled with tension that is released as they finally stand side by side.
8. Ordeal: The ceremony. It sounds cruel to call it an ordeal but it is a trial that the couple have to navigate to become married.
9. Reward: Well, marriage is the reward, obviously, but there are lots of ways this can be illustrated in photographs. The first kiss, the reception, where the couple greet everyone together as well as the portrait session.
10. The Road Back: Speeches are a good scene for this step. Stories about their past and talking about their future together is the beginning of their return to normal life as a married couple.
11. Resurrection Hero – There’s always a twist in a story. They survived the ceremony, and started their journey back to normal life but there’s one last test. The official welcome as husband and wife through dance!
12. Return with Elixir: The evening celebration is where our heroes show that their journey was successful, and rewarding. Finally able to be themselves again the dancing in the evening is the one part of the day when everyone’s guard is let down and they show the ‘real’ version of themselves
Understanding the path a story takes means that we’re ready on the day to capture the images that really matter.