Covering weddings of different cultures can be tricky if you don't know what to expect or what's expected of you.
For instance, at a Jewish Orthodox wedding, it's important to remember that modesty is the key. The bride's dress will cover her neck and her arms past her elbows. Posing the women in the wedding party is done with hand signals without touching them. Positioning couples with space between them is very common. The man and woman will be separated to different degrees for the entire evening.
The Jewish wedding is divided into five parts: portrait sessions before the reception, the reception, the chuppah, after the chuppah, and dinner/dancing.
Portrait Sessions Before the Reception
I start two to three hours before the reception. First I photograph the bride and her immediate family for about 90 minutes. Then I photograph the groom and his family. This session is usually done in the hall, though sometimes the photographs are taken at the home of the bride or at a park nearby. "Getting dressed" pictures are not taken.
The actual wedding begins with the bride being escorted to her "throne" by her mother and mother-in-law. The groom is escorted to a different location surrounded by his male family members and friends. Must-have shots include the bride walking into the reception with the mothers, family and friends around the bride's chair, the men signing the marriage documents, the reading of one of these documents, and breaking the plate. After the signing of the final marriage document, the groom and the fathers will go to the bride, and the groom will put a veil over the bride's face. The fathers will then bless her. The procession is also a must to be photographed.
The groom goes to a private room and puts on a "kittle" (a white garment). The fathers then bless him. All are must-have shots. The groom is escorted to the chuppah by his parents or just by the fathers. The bride is also escorted. If there is a procession, it is usually the siblings and grandparents. Rarely are there bridesmaids or groomsmen.
About 15 people are given honors during the service, all of whom must be photographed. The photographer stands under the chuppah with everybody. The wedding ceremony is not a pageant were everything is choreographed for people to see. It is a legal service that the bride and groom want photographed.
After the Chuppah
During this photo session, which is usually in the hall, the bride and groom will be photographed together. They will also be photographed with their intermediate and extended families. One hour is the usual allotted time. The photography is fast, with a lot of groupings and people. I have photographed groups of more than 100 people, and sometimes several groups of more than 50.
I always ask the bride and groom if they are going to touch each other for the portraits. Sometimes the portraits look like the painting American Gothic. Sometimes they let me create a portrait with the impression of touching. And then there are times when the bride and groom will touch. Modest touching pictures sell. Some people in the wedding party may want to buy a nontouching image, so I will always take some of those poses. Kissing pictures are not usually purchased.
Dinner and Dancing
During the dancing, the men are on one side of the divided hall and the women are on the other. I place a ladder at the divider. From this vantage point, I can see both dancing circles. The bride and groom will dance in the middle of their respective circles. Must photos are of the bride and groom dancing with their parents, siblings, and close friends.
After the first dance, the bride and groom wash their hands and make a blessing over the challah (bread). These are must-have shots. As a rule, I do not photograph tables; this is a job for a second photographer. The break between the first and second dance is also my break (you can also usually expect a meal from the caterer). The second dance is a photojournalistic activity. At the end of the dancing, there is the blessing after the meal, with seven honored people saying special blessings.
These and the goodbye picture are musts. Most weddings last eight to nine hours.
Knowing what to expect will make the photo sessions run smoother and ensure your clients' satisfaction.
Yaakov Rosenthal has run his own studio since 1997. He specializes in a wide range of Jewish Orthodox weddings. He is based in Brooklyn, New York, and has photographed weddings in more than 30 cities nationwide. His style is natural, classic, and emotional.