The Wedding Photographer's Notebook: Duets

Don’t create one photograph when two is what you need

A tall tale once told of how Paul Bunyan’s logging camp cooks could make pancakes so thin they only had one side!

Just like every pancake must have two sides, so does every page of a book. Because of this fact, other than the first and last page of any book, every other page is really half of a two-page spread. This is also true about wedding albums.

One hallmark of a great wedding album is that somehow the two (or more) facing photos relate to each other. Examples of single photos relating well might be a photo of the bride paired with a photo of the groom, the bride with her dad paired with a photo of the bride with her mom, or a photo of the groom and his parents facing a photo of the bride with hers.

The list of paired photos that relate well is almost endless and, in fact, is only limited by the size of the couple’s families (parents, siblings, grand parents, and extended families) and the number of guests at the wedding.

But there are also other types of photos that also pair up well together. These kinds of photos aren’t always of different subjects but instead are more of a series of photos that follows the action through a period of time. Because they follow one another in a logical sequence it is easier for a bridal couple to imagine how they will relate to each other in the album and they are often included.

To a pro interested in making beautiful albums and selling lots of prints, they are a boon. By shooting photo ops with an eye towards them being displayed facing each other in the bridal album a crafty pro can sell photos in pairs as opposed to singly which obviously can double the profits involved. Whether for profit, uniqueness or just plain fun, here are three types of duets worth a pro or amateur wedding shooter’s consideration.

The wait-for-the-punch-line duet…

I’ve seen this hundreds of times but each time I still find it amazing. A pro, stalking stealthily, waits unobtrusively for the perfect moment to push the shutter button. Finally, after an agonizing wait, the photographer is rewarded with a great candid. He turns and walks away satisfied, but if he had eyes in the back of his head he’d see that right after he has turned from the scene a second related moment happens that is either greater than the first captured instant or a punch line to it.

Look at the photos below to see what I mean. In the photo at left, a loving, doting grandfather teaches his little grandson about the fun one can have at a wedding by tapping a fork on a water glass. Guests do this as a request for the bridal couple to kiss and, obviously, with a large number of guests, water glasses, and forks around the bridal couple end up with sore lips.

But, the little grandson doesn’t know about the resulting kiss; he’s just happy that he can bang a fork on a glass without anyone scolding him. Either photo by itself is certainly worthy of taking but string the two together and you’ve told a story. The mercenary side of you can easily understand that this will result in a two photo sale instead of a single one so the next time you freeze a perfect moment in time wait a little while longer to see if the next perfect moment is better still!


This grandfather and grandson interaction was such a visual magnet that no one at the table (least of all them) realized I was there waiting with camera at the ready. While my first photo caught them totally unaware, the flash interrupted their moment. Happily, even though the grandfather couldn’t recapture the moment, the little guy picked up the ball and ran it in for a touchdown!

The set-up-the-punch-line duet…
Today, in an effort to maximize their wedding time, some couples will actually see each other before the ceremony to get their formal photo session out of the way--but they lose the grand entrance a bride makes as she walks down the aisle to her groom who is seeing her for the first time in her wedding gown.

Having photographed bridal couple portraits before the ceremony hundreds of times, I can tell you that the first time the groom sees his bedecked bride on their wedding day it is special!

Sometimes, if the bride and groom want to do formal portraits before the wedding I use a special technique that recreates that “first look moment” as a photo op. In preparation for that “first look moment” I find a solid door and, leaving it open, I position the groom on one side of it and tell him to wait there. Next I go get the bride and position her on the opposite side of the door.

In this contrived placement, that they find excruciatingly frustrating, I get a shot of the two of them leaning against opposite sides of the same door! See photo at left. Finally, on my cue, I have them look around the door and see each other. You might think that because this situation is so contrived and controlled, the emotions they are feeling get totally sullied but, oddly, the emotions are so strong they totally override the contrivance of the situation! See photo below.

Equally strange, as I’m pumping out pictures as fast as my melting flash units can recycle, the bride and groom don’t even know I’m there (as they most obviously do in the first photo).

It takes a photographer with good verbal skills to pull this off because he (or she) has to both explain and sell the idea that the goal of the hokey set up is a series of photos, and it will be very frustrating, but the resulting outrageous photos are well worth the effort.

In honesty, I too find the set up terribly over bearing and pushy, but, sucker that I am, I almost always like the first hokey shot and I LOVE the next 8, 10, or 12 pictures even more! Further, for the pro, I have produced numerous albums in which the couple chose to use this very sequence as the opening spread (or spreads) with either single, multiple or a mix of different sized images. While you won’t be faced with this possibility at every wedding or (as importantly) it may not fit every bride and groom, if you ever find yourself in this situation it’s a worthwhile idea to keep under your hat!

From The Bride’s Guide to Wedding Photography, a book by yours truly, these two photos are the first and next to last of 11 photos in the series. As an aside, if you see a single flower lying around give it to the groom when you place him on his side of the door so he has a gift to present to his bride. It’s not an imperative addition, and is even out of character with certain grooms, but because he’s so nervous on his wedding day and the set up is so artificial, frustrating, and just plain weird, he’ll never think of it on his own!


Here is a mystery for you to solve….
The find the other half duet…
Unlike the other two examples I’ve used in this column this half of a duet is not a series based on time but instead it’s photographed with a two-page spread in mind.

When I’m shooting a wedding I keep mental track of the more relaxed images I’ve taken and look for their partner photographs as the day progresses. Sometimes one follows the other immediately such as right after the best man makes a toast the maid (or matron) of honor follows suit. Even if she doesn’t though, a good toast by the best man might result in a second, teary-eyed or laughter filled audience reaction shot that completes the duet.

Other times the casual shot of the groom and his friends before the ceremony doesn’t find its mate until hours later when the girls finally let their hair down. Whatever the case, it’s a photographer’s job to keep track of the photos he (or she) has taken. As an added incentive it’s a worthwhile ability to cultivate when you realize every time you’ve created a duet you’ve filled not one but two pages of a unique wedding album!

It’s relatively easy to keep a mental record of which duet photos you’ve taken during a formal portrait session but harder to do if the pictures are taken in a looser atmosphere and happen hours apart. One trick I use is to break it down by the sexes. This being the case, I’ll let you think about what the other half of this duet might be!