It’s Not Just ‘The Kiss’
August 25th, 2017 by David LaBelle

Riccardo and his girlfriend, Federica, who have been together only a few months, prepare to kiss before a full moon on the romantic Michelangelo Plaza above Florence, Italy. They awkwardly worked up to a moonlight kiss.
Photos by David LaBelle

One of the things I have learned about wedding photography is you can miss many moments during the ceremony —the cutting of the cake, the tossing of the garter, even walking down the aisle—but you better not miss “the kiss.”

For me, “the kiss” picture is predictable. It is the apex of the ball being tossed in the air, and barring somebody jumping in front and blocking your view—which has happened to me more than once—it is usually difficult to capture.

It isn’t that “the kiss” picture is not important. It is a sort of public consummation of the marriage vows. But if one is so focused on one time or one act, they will likely miss many other wonderful, spontaneous, revealing, storytelling moments often occurring seconds before or after the awaited moment.

Sometimes the anticipation of the kiss or the awkward satisfaction following produces the most surprising and memorable pictures. And often rehearsals produce better pictures than the actual wedding because people are relaxed.

Going early, staying late and watching for these storytelling gems before or after “the kiss” allows you to record small, subtle, unplanned happenings missed by all of the other cameras at the wedding.

Before I leave the subject of wedding photography, indulge me this rant: Why, if people care so much about wedding pictures, are so many weddings held in the worst possible lighting conditions? How is it wedding planners are allowed to schedule ceremonies at high noon, under harsh, deep-shadowy sunlight?

Unless there is the forethought to assemble large white sheets or diffusion panels to soften sharp and intense sunlight and keep the wedding party from sweating and squinting, I think wedding planners should be required to take a basic photography course before getting a license or permit. At the least, they ought to consult with the photographer at the outset of planning the wedding.

Whether big or small, most events consist of numerous small, subtle moments that reveal the richness of the happening. By staying alert with a hunter’s mentality, you will see rich, funny, revealing moments most miss.

Too often I watch people put the camera down before or after an event, photographing only the predictable or staged moments.

Lately, my wife and I have been working with a student who shoots a plethora of “near misses.” We are challenging him to identify storytelling moments from events he covers instead of just making “record” pictures that do little more than say, “I was there”—to be thoughtful and deliberate before pressing the shutter.

He is a hard worker, up early, working late, always eager to cover any event. Looking over his work, I asked, “What was happening before you shot this picture? What happened afterwards? And how did the people in the pictures feel? How did the participants and spectators react?”

If you want to capture those wonderful moments others miss, challenge yourself to go early, stay late and look in the shadows of life—beyond the lighted stages for those story-telling treasures that say so much about us as humans.

David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He applies many of the lessons he learned during his magical boyhood years in rural California to photography. For more information, visit