A wedding is not a crime scene.

It was the summer and my friend Eleni asked me if I wanted to join her as a second shooter for a wedding at the end of the month. It was not a paid gig, just something she was doing for a friend. The photography was her gift to the couple who were getting married on a slim budget. That is why, I guess, she felt okay bringing a true novice into this project. I immediately said yes, then went on Udemy and enrolled in a wedding photography course and started learning.

Wedding Decorations_2296-2
The room was decorated lovingly by family and friends. It was beautiful.

What I figured out was there are specific areas, times and events that need to be documented, a part of the photography journal of the wedding. One needs the bride and groom getting ready, their family members and wedding party, and some artistic photos of the bridal dress and shoes. But I learned the most important photos, two of them, are the kiss after the ceremony and then the couple turning to their guests to walk back down the aisle together, married. It is then that they are most at ease and relaxed and these create the best photos, so I learned. They mean the most to the bride and groom usually. I also went on wedding photographers websites and looked at their photos, getting ideas and such, especially for the creative shots because I was not very creative initially. When the day came, I will tell you I almost forgot everything. I couldn’t conjure up any of those photos or images in my mind. I did remember about the two special memory shots directly after the ceremony, and that was about that.

The ceremony was to happen at high noon on a roof top patio. They say it’s the worst time for photos. But I had done my research and knew I needed to use a flash for most of the shots. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any good lens with a f/1.4 or f/2.8, which are ideal for shooting indoors and so I found I also had to use a flash inside the party room as well. Otherwise, I’d have to jack up the ISO so much that I would produce a lot of noise (unsightly grain) in the photos. But I followed Eleni around, asking her about the settings she was using and taking photos from a different angle or over her shoulder as she staged the people, props and such. I learned so much and I had so much fun. Up until that point, I had no interest in photographing people, so I was really surprised how much I was enjoying it. The neatest thing though, about this wedding was that very few people were able to communicate verbally with each other. The bride was from South America and her family spoke only Spanish. The groom was from France and his family only spoke French. It was really neat how throughout their time together in the week preceeding the wedding, they had all learned how to communicate with each other, mostly through body language, a charades really. As Eleni and I joined them, we now threw English in the mix, as we joined the universal body signs to communicate our wishes and ideas for the photos. It actually didn’t seem challenging at all as they were all so welcoming and warm to us. They knew it meant a lot to their children to have the wedding photographed and they were grateful and gracious that we were doing this. They wanted to look after us. I actually think the lack of a common language broke down those barriers between subject and photographer that is often talked about, in order to get genuine and comfortable photos. The language barrier instantly bonded us all in a strange sort of way.

Eleni suggested we give the family some alone time together and we would go and take photos of the party room. She would just finish up what she was doing and would meet me there. The brides family had been up all night decorating it for the wedding. In fact, her mother had fallen off a ladder and badly sprained her ankle. She, unfortunately, attended the ceremony on a crutch as she couldn’t put any weight on her foot. When I entered the room, I was amazed. The party room had a kitchenette at one end with a few stairs at the other that lead out to the roof top patio. There were balloons, and streamers, white table cloths, and beautiful yet simple table decorations. There was a piano in the room, which was not over looked, and an old, antique baby carriage in the corner. The bride had wanted a vintage wedding and the carriage was the stroller for their young baby. The patio had a beautiful garden arbour, decorated with flowers and the words “Love.” I immediately fell in love with the setting and could see and feel the love and warmth that had been put into crafting this room with decorations for the bride and groom by family and friends. But where to start??!!

I am a SOCO at work. That stands for ‘Scenes of Crime Officer’ and that means that on certain crime scenes, I will take photos, dust for finger prints and sometimes do swabs for DNA. The camera we use at work is a Ricoh, made originally for Firemen. I call it my Tonka Toy Camera, as it looks like a toy. It is grey with a hard polymer-like casing so it can be dropped in water and will float, or smashed on the ground and will survive. It has big buttons for the men’s big fingers on the back to turn it on and focus, and they are bright yellow and green, so they can be easily seen. There’s really no buttons on the top, and a short in-camera menu navigation, which we are always told to keep on automatic anyway. If it weren’t so heavy, you’d think it a toy the way it looks.

As an officer, when I attend a scene to photograph it, I am capturing exactly what is there and how it is there at the time I am taking the photos. Once on scene, nothing gets touched or moved, except usually a scout car or two. I am there to record digitally what other officers have recorded in notes. I am documenting through photos, evidence. This evidence is gathered along with all other evidence to recreate the events of a crime and solve it. It is a record. After I record where things are with the camera, I will then remove what is necessary for preservation of evidence, or for more processing for evidence. So, there I stood in that party room all by myself, camera in hand, as I went about recording for the bride and groom, the setting, a gift in and of itself, which the bride and groom had yet to see.

As I went about my business, starting with a photo from each of the four corners of the room before coming in closer for smaller details, I was joined by Eleni. I added my own creativity to photos, using a wide angle lens and shooting the objects on the table from different angles. I stood on a chair and shot directly up under the ceiling balloons. I got down on one knee and shot up the stairs towards the baby carriage. All these were my artistic additions through angle, perspective and distortion of what was already there. I was pleased with my work, never being able to take these type of photos at work. In the kitchenette were the bottles of champagne and glasses and I wanted a photo of them.  However, they were not lined up nicely, but rather were scattered. I had difficulties fitting everything into the scene, looking through my viewfinder to find just the right composition. I grabbed a chair, perching one foot on the counter, then used one arm to hang onto the flash while contorting my body to change the angle I was shooting at. There, got it! I was so pleased with myself overall and felt I had done both a good job at capturing details while adding a component of creativity. I joined Eleni who was at the end of a table taking a shot, and my mouth dropped open.

She was there, her hands all over the table decorations, grabbing them and placing them here and there. She was moving the decorations! She set up a ‘table top’ photo exactly the way she wanted and it looked fabulous! It had never dawned on me to move anything, It had never dawned on me that we could!  I had automatically gone into SOCO mode in the quiet of a familiar setting for me; a camera in hand, an empty room, and photograph what’s there. Just like a crime scene! It had not even occurred to me to do it differently. Nothing can be changed, moved or touched. I recorded it just as it was found, nothing more, nothing less. It was too late for me to redo the photos as the ceremony was soon to begin.

I told Eleni later about how I had recorded the room and we both had a big laugh. She turned to me and said “A wedding isn’t a crime scene Karen.” Hence the name and idea for this post. And since then, I have learned to touch, move and create the photo I want to capture and not the ones for recording. And in this instance, this wedding was not a crime scene. However, in my world, sometimes they have been!

4 Replies to “A wedding is not a crime scene.”

  1. Great post, Karen. Although, in retrospect, you could classify either or both of my weddings as crime scenes!

    Hope you have some time to breathe these days ;~))



  2. Nice post. I shoot commercials and routinely come up against clients that refuse to change their routine in favor of staged shots. I try to tell them that tv isn’t real life, it’s the illusion of real life. I may have to steal your “isn’t a crime scene” line.


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