Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Finding the Perfect Wedding Photographer: A Brief Guide for Same Sex Couples.

Couples commonly choose wedding photographers who are members of their community and share in their culture because that photographer would have a better understanding of the rituals and relationships. Does that concept extend to gay and lesbian couples searching for a wedding photographer?

In an effort to answer that question, let me share a story with you.

A Not Terribly Challenging Challenge
Not long ago I was at a seminar for wedding photographers. One speaker billed himself as an expert in posing, and he challenged the audience to come up with their most difficult posing predicament. He said he couldn't be stumped.

So, of course, I wanted to stump him.

I noticed that all his sample poses were with straight couples. This happens all the time at wedding seminars and, as a gay man, it drives me crazy. You'd think same sex couples didn't exist. While I have experience working with same sex couples, I was curious how he would handle that challenge, so I raised my hand and asked "how would you pose two men?"

His response "Are they brothers?"


"Are they father and son?"


"Then why are they posing?"

"Because they're getting married. (long pause) To each other. (long pause). You know … a gay couple.”

Much to his credit, he did not shy away from the challenge, although it was clear he had never even considered the possibility before. At this point he brought me on stage and paired me up with another man to do his posing demonstration.

And then he says …….

"OK, so which one of you is the passive one?"

After about 10 seconds of stunned silence, I managed to pick my jaw up off the floor and tried to explain that unlike a straight couple where the bride is traditionally the center of attention, when you have two grooms or two brides, there is a more equal focus on both people. Hence the challenge for someone who only works with straight couples.

The Pose
So he posed us. One of us on a chair leaning forward and one of us standing behind. Both of us with shoulders parallel to the camera so we would look "more masculine" (his words, not mine).

We looked like cousins. Distant cousins. Distant feuding cousins.

Later in the seminar he brought on a straight couple and did a posing session where he had them kissing and hugging and nuzzling each other's necks.

The difference was startling.

Shooting What You Know
I tell this story not to disparage any other wedding photographers. There are many wonderful and talented photographers of every orientation who have worked with same sex couples and will do a great job. But at the same time, there are many photographers who are squeamish or just confused about how to portray affection between same sex couples, and really don't understand the dynamic between two men or two women.

Much like a good writer writes what they know, a good photographer shoots what they know. Our entire lives, we have been exposed via popular culture to straight images of love, romance and passion. Even with the strides the LGBT community has made recently, the gay and lesbian couples we see in popular culture are comparatively sexless. This is why gay photographers have no problem with portraying straight couples. Straight photographers, however, can sometimes encounter problems shooting gay couples because they just haven't been exposed to it.

Five Tips for Choosing a Wedding Photographer for same sex couples.
  • 1. Look for LGBT images.  Be sure that the photographer has images of gay and lesbian couples in their portfolio. No matter how gorgeous their pictures might be, if there are no images of same sex couples, then you have no idea of their comfort or competence level. You don't want to be asked on your wedding day, "Which one of you is the passive one?" Especially in front of your parents.
  • 2. Verify their commitment. There are a lot of terrific photographers out there who haven't had the chance to shoot a same sex ceremony, so if the photographer you're looking at doesn't have any same sex wedding images, and you really like their work, ask if they have any gay or lesbian couples portraits. If they're really committed to reaching out to the LGBT community then they will have gone to the trouble of setting up some same- sex couples shoots to expand their portfolio.
  • 3. See if they “walk the walk” of marriage equality.  If a photographer has shots of gay and lesbian couples, but doesn't put them on their website, or has a separate website for those images, you might want to take that into account. Separate is never equal in my opinion.
  • 4. Avoid suprises. Avoid any situation where you meet your photographer on your wedding day, such as wedding photography companies with multiple shooters, or a venue that requires you to use their staff photographer. If you have a situation where you can't meet or communicate with your photographer until the day of the wedding, then you're playing with fire.
  • 5. Consider community culture.  If you've narrowed your choices down to a straight and a gay photographer and they're equal on quality and price, then I would suggest you lean towards the gay photographer. As I mentioned, couples commonly hire photographers who are members of their community and share their culture. A gay photographer will probably be better able to record not only your relationship with each other, but also with your family and friends, because they've experienced those kinds of connections in their own lives. As an example, I was a guest at a wedding where I was separated from my husband in group photos because the photographer didn't even consider the possibility that we could be a couple. I had to stop the shot and point out that we were together. A gay photographer is simply going to be more sensitive to that sort of thing.

Soon to be a Non-Issue? 
I firmly believe that Marriage Equality will become more and more common. I met my husband ten years ago. If someone had told me then that we'd be able to legally marry in ten years I would have laughed in their face. Things are changing fast. One day, every wedding photographer will have experience shooting same sex couples and this will become a complete non-issue. But that day is not yet here. 

Your images are the one thing that you will still have after your wedding day has passed, and the only thing you can pass on to later generations. Your relationship with your photographer will probably be more intimate than with any other person you hire for your wedding. The more they understand how you connect with your intended, both physically and emotionally, and your relationship with your friends and family, the better job they will do in capturing those relationships, and that is the primary job of a wedding photographer, to capture those moments of connection. When you're hiring someone to capture those moments, it's important to get it right.

A Shameless Plug
Of course I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I have the skill, the experience, and the passion, to do a great job for you, and I certainly hope you will consider me for your big day. Visit www.stevenrosenphotography.com to view my work. 

But whoever you choose, it is my sincere hope that you will end up with amazing images, because the more images out there of same sex couples expressing love and commitment, the sooner we will all share in Marriage Equality.

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