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Candid and Informal wedding photography: How photographers catch such portraits on camera

This is probably the collection of photos I am the prouder of, and the most important to take in consideration when you what to find a talented professional wedding photographer in the Twin Cities. Indeed, these portraits show real emotions, your true personality (and your photographer’s identity). Informal images can be pure feelings, or funny situations which I really like. They are definitely the most difficult type of photographs to catch.
So let’s dive into the different kinds of candid photos and how they are captured.

The Myth and Its Origins

First of all, before explaining why they are so complicated to take and how we capture them, let me play the devil’s advocate and give you the limit of what is “informal” or “candid shots.”
There is a real myth and fascination around informal pictures and the photographer’s skills to capture them. Of course, only the best-talented shooters can catch those precious moments. But I am using the word “myth” because it becomes a stereotype to believe that photography is totally honest and impartial, simply capturing things that just happen in front of you. Indeed, since its creation, photography work has always been manipulated. That can take place during the photo session itself, or after, in post-production. Let’s think of a number of famous but fake candid shoots that are actually staged images. For instance, “Le Baiser” (Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville) from Robert Doisneau is a staged one.

That said, most people tend to forget that and focus on a romantic vision of the photographer capturing moments of pure truth through his viewfinder.
You may not care about all these details regarding wedding photography, so forget the last part. That said, understanding the photographer’s intention is already understanding how such images are taken.

If you are interested in historical explanation, please continue to read, and I will explain how all that myth started.

Candid shoot and photojournalism

It was between the First and the Second World Wars that being a photojournalist became very famous. Thanks to the development of photography technology, and especially thanks to the black and white Kodak films (with high ISO), the photographer became able to shoot a snapshot. The newspaper industry was developing very fast, and photography quickly became omnipresent in newspapers and magazines. For the very first time, readers were able to see the entire world through photographer’s images instead of sketches. It was a blessing time for being a photographer (and one of the reasons why photography is attractive to me).
During this period, there is one famous photojournalist named Henri Cartier-Bresson who fought to develop the photographer’s work’s recognition. After working for Life, he created his own photography agency: Magnum. He traveled the world and covered many subjects from Delhi, Chicago, New York, London, and Hawaii, just to name a few of them.
In the meanwhile, he also developed the concept he would call the “decisive moment.”

Simplification of what a decisive moment is

It’s a conception of photography where the photographer is considered a hunter, taking esthetically, strong, impacting, and well-composed images of ephemeral moments (or spontaneous things) happening in front of him. He is a witness, motivated by intuition. The photographic device, through the photographer’s eye, become the prolongation of his heart. He is taking pictures with his heart, with his soul, with his guts.
In other words, there is a part of instinct in that process. The photographer just knows when a good shot will happen and manage to anticipate it to take the right picture at the “decisive moment,” when all the objects are perfectly aligned. Then he creates a piece of art.

Why It’s a Romantic Vision

It’s a romantic vision because in real life, things do not work like that. As a photographer, you don’t have a sudden inspiration that allows you to anticipate the fugitive instant and be ready to press the shutter just when this moment starts. In real life, when it starts, it’s already too late!
Actually, even Henri Cartier-Bresson confessed it. The subtly is that the photographer first composes his frame, knowing that something may happen. Then he waits for the magic to appear, hoping that something will take place in the image where he expects it. For instance, he will compose his frame, including a view of the street, hoping that someone will act as a precise place. And when it happens, then he can press the shutter.
In other words, it’s a concept that is balanced between anticipation and luck.
That being said, those moments are still pretty complicated to take. Luck, magic, can appear or not. And when it takes place, the photographer should not miss the opportunity and shoot the perfect image in a fraction of a second.
Great informal wedding photography requires patience and experience. It’s the result of hard work and not of pure inspiration.

Difference Between Informal Photography and Documentary Wedding Photography

Documentary photography is a style favoring neutrality. Thus, images can be understood as a proof of the reality. The photograph is supposed to document the entire event without selecting any specific aspect, without lying.
On the other hand, informal or candid photography considers what the photographer is experiencing and his intention. He is the one deciding what to shoot (or not), and thus, he is absolutely not neutral.

Different Styles of Informal Pictures Taken on the Wedding Day

So, I believe there are three kinds of candid pictures taken on a wedding day. They all represent great memories but for different reasons.

True Stolen Moments

True emotions are when photographers capture portraits of the bride in tears. For instance, her mother is holding her tight when she discovers her during the bride’s getting ready. She is not realizing she is ruining her makeup! Indeed, a strong emotion makes you forget all the rest. She has her real personality captured by the camera.
Another example is the parents’ faces when their daughter is standing in front of the officiant and turning into a man’s spouse.
For wedding photographers to properly capture your feelings, one necessity is to stand close (several feet) to you all day long in empathy. Let me confess and share with you that I got emotional more than once during beautiful ceremonies.
Those are the stronger candid images, and the one that you, a bride and a groom, would be proud to print on your album, and to share with your friends.

Funny candid pictures

Funny images are the ones the entire family loves to watch, again and again, during hours. Depending on whether people are aware (or not) of the photographer’s presence, we can divide them into three distinct groups.

  1. The first group is when people are not aware they are taken in pictures. They are excited and tend to express strong facial expression. This behavior, being unusual, creates a funny moment.
    It could also be a situation that is dramatically comic. For instance, the flower girl drops all her flower baskets on the ground while her father tries to escort her, in vain.
  2. The second kind is when people forget the photographer’s presence. It could be the father of the bride being goofy because he is stressed. It’s the couple making a funny face during the toast, or reacting to the priest speech.
  3. The third kind is people totally aware that the photographer will record the moment, and making a funny action on purpose. For instance, it could be the groomsmen catching the groom, holding him, and giving him such a bad time while he tries desperately to escape.

The Beauty in Delightful Moment of Release

Another aspect of candid shots is the beautiful instant when you start to forget the camera and reveal your natural beauty. It could be the bride fixing her hair, smelling her bouquet, or staring at her fiancé. Such moments can be staged during the engagement session, but usually reality is stronger than staged shots.

When are most of these informal shots captured during the wedding day?

As a story teller, I am continuously trying to catch shots of every single thing happening, but there are two moments that are more appropriate than the others: the preparation and the cocktail hours.


Indeed, if I love so much taking photos during the getting ready it’s not for the details shots, but because I have the opportunity to catch laughters. Indeed, the preparation is usually a time of high excitement where the couples are surrounded by their close family members. Being with a small group of people who love them actually helps the bride and the groom to relax and to express what they really feel. At this point the photographer can work properly.

Ceremony and City Hall

As you may see in my wedding albums, union rituals are very intense moments and thus an opportunity to catch powerful shots.

No Such Opportunity as the Cocktail Hour

For a wedding photographer cocktail hour is a blessing. You, the newly married couple are mingling with your guests. You are full of energy and ready to party. You are over excited to see so many people and you completely forget the lens. It’s for sure the best time for me to capture many candid images of you and your family. It’s the kind of photo that reflects your real nature.
Of course the result depends on the things happening: laughters, smiles, tears, or long boring events.
If you really want a lot of candid images of your guests and you have more than 200 guests, then that’s a good reason to hire a second shooter.

Why these shots are the most difficult for a photographer

If candid and informal shots are the more precious ones and the ones that couples want, they are also the most difficult images to capture. Here is why:

  • The photographer has no control on what happens. He must rely only on his experience and sense of anticipation, and never know when something will start.
  • A smile, laughs and surprises last the time of an eye blink. So one must always be ready and extremely reactive.
  •  The photographer can’t control the light, nor the background, as he would be during group shots for instance.

Understand how your photographer captures such images

So here I will share with you a few tips I have learned during many weddings that help me capture such informal shots.

  • I keep a low profile, being quiet, so the married couple and the guests forget me. It’s only when they are at ease enough to express what they really feel that I can catch raw moments.
  • I pay attention to my fashion style, making sure to wear low-key clothes and avoid fluorescent orange shirts. If I were a woman, I would avoid sexy or sparkling dresses.
  • I make sure my shoes don’t make any noise. If I were a woman, I would avoid high heels and hardsole shoes. That helps me, especially during the ceremony!
  • I keep a distance to take my shots. I don’t stand just in front of the couple if I want an informal shot. That helps them to forget me.
  • I avoid using flashes if the light is good enough. And if I am using a digital mirrorless equipement, I would deactivate the shutter sound (of course!)
  • I take advantage of digital photography. I shoot a lot. Whatever setting I am using, I set my DSLR in continuous shooting mode. Indeed if my equipment had a latency time before recording the picture, it would be like shooting yourself in the foot!
  • I pay extremely attention to the light. If there is a direction I know my shots receive a good light, I try to favor those axes.
  • I keep an eye on the viewfinder and the other eye open, scouting for anything thing better to catch.
  • I focus on laughter. If I hear one, I know there will be another one soon. And when they start, I can capture my perfect shot.
  • I try not to include other wedding vendors, or unwanted elements in your image background.

Black and White Portrait of Alexandre Mayeur, photographer at French-Touch-Photography

Born and raised in Paris, I am now a proud Wedding Photographer in Rochester, MN, serving MPLS.

I don’t only capture emotions in candid pictures, I also create timeless images and artful photographs.
Recognized as one of the best photographers in the Twin Cities.

I serve Duluth and also far beyond the 10,000 Lakes State (Wisconsin, Iowa, and destination). I am more than happy to discover beautiful landscapes and new horizons.

Have a look at my previous publications to learn more. As an experienced professional photographer, I don’t limit my field to lifestyle, family, or event photography! I invite you to visit my portfolio and discover my photography and work out of the studio.