man comforts groom who cries as he sees his bride for the first time

Are photographers responsible for creating false wedding expectations?

Planning a wedding in 2022 is very different to how our parents, grandparents or perhaps even our older siblings planned their own weddings. When we first started photographing them professionally in 2011 the vast majority of wedding planning seemed to be done by taking inspiration from magazines or wedding fairs. If you saw anything you liked, you'd cut it out and scrapbook it (A la Monica from Friends) take a photo or just make a mental note. Back then generally our collective access to real weddings was fairly limited.

The wedding blog boom

Then came the boom of websites such as pinterest and online wedding blogs. Suddenly we had access to thousands upon thousands of real weddings from all over the world. We were no longer exposed to just 10 carefully chosen images that spanned a double page magazine feature, but a hundred or more images from a single wedding. We were suddenly able to fawn over every detail from the cake to the flowers, shoes, veil and table settings. We could see menus and favours, invitations and cufflinks. Things which typically never quite made the cut in traditional print features. This opened up a whole new world of inspiration and possibilities for those planning weddings. You didn't have to be creative or crafty any more, or trapse from wedding fair to wedding fair. You could just "pin" something you'd seen online from a wedding that took place 3000 miles away and show it to you own suppliers to recreate.

funfair themed wedding carousel with bride and groom

Wedding voyeurism

But details aside, something else to come from the rise of the wedding blog (and now social media too) is the increased exposure we all have to some of the most intimate and personal moments in peoples lives. Over time, the detail heavy posts of the past have been feathered with something a little more human. Now it's not just the details we're looking at, but the stories behind the details too. The moments of joy and pride that erupt from parents faces as they see their little girl as a bride for the very first time. The heart wrenching reminders of loved ones who aren't there in body but in spirit. Sharing these snapshots into peoples lives has become very much the norm on both blogs and social media. In fact, it's what most modern couples actively seek out. We look at those poignant pictures in the hope, perhaps subconsciously, that some day soon we too may be the groom who has moved their partner to tears or given a speech so epic the entire room is in fits of laughter. We all want those emotive images because there's nothing more human than to feel.

Provoking a response

As a photographer, when it comes to sharing content, nothing sparks a greater response than an image bursting with emotion. Unlike details photos, emotional images are less subjective. Not everyone will be a fan of extravagant white ceremonial arches for example, but almost everyone can identify with, or appreciate a sobbing nana or a toddler having a tantrum. It'll therefore come as no surprise to hear that when selecting images to share, those likely to evoke the greatest response become the "go to". Nine times out of ten, that will be something that'll encourage a smile or be generally relatable.

wedding guests laugh enthusiastically

What happens as a result of this selective showcasing of images however is that reality can become very easily skewed. When you share photo after photo of belly laughs during drinks receptions you're, somewhat unintentionally, creating a false "norm" that suggests every wedding you shoot is like that. That guests are going to be doubled over in fits of giggles thanks to nothing more than the cracking company. As every wedding photographer will know, the reality is often significantly different.

Creating new "norms"

Two of the most notable examples of this particular phenomenon are the much loved photographs of grooms and dads reacting to seeing their daughter or wife to be for the first time. We see these photos everywhere. Husbands and dads moved to tears, hardly able to contain their love and pride. We see entire articles and blogs dedicated to it. It's become so very much the norm to expect these kind of reactions that it's not uncommon to hear the phrase "If he doesn't cry, i'm walking out and not coming back in again until he does." Whilst largely said in a tongue in cheek way, there is still seemingly the hope at least that (as a bride especially) you'll provoke such a reaction from your partner, parents or guests. The pressure to "perform" in order to give brides the over-the-top reactions they may be expecting is most often seen amongst friendship groups such as bridesmaids. I expect that in the majority of cases, such reactions are not even expected by the bride herself but maybe it's the pressure of feeling like that's the typical response to seeing your friend in a posh frock? It's what's always shown online after all.

joyful father of the bride sees daughter for the first time

Engagement over authenticity?

If you follow our work you'll know that we too share these kind of photos. In fact, we shared one this morning over on our instagram page. They are always well received and engagement with our posts increases when we post that kind of content. It was posting that image and a subsequent comment about such reactions being rare from our colleagues S2 images that promoted this blog post, because it's true. That kind of reaction is rare.

In reality, of all the weddings we shoot perhaps one or two a year will have a very emotional groom response. Likewise, only a few will have a teary dad. What's far more commonplace is for dads to watch their daughters enter the room through their camera screen, or to crack a joke because they feel nervous. Grooms will largely stand blank faced as their bride to be approaches. It is unusual for there to be an uninhibited outwardly emotional response during such moments. But you wouldn't think it because we never see those kind of responses shared. No one posts the picture of the dad with a phone covering his face. Even when that blank face is secretly hiding a whirlwind of emotions.

Newlyweds laugh with their Midlands wedding photographers

Have we created a monster?

In truth, I think many of us would also struggle with the idea of our images being posted and shared if they didn't exhibit what is thought of as a "normal" response. Even if I myself know my partner's solemn face is his way of holding it all together, I wouldn't necessarily want others seeing that and thinking he looks like he wasn't bothered.

It does raise the question though as to whether photographers, wedding blogs and the wedding media as a whole are responsible for creating false expectations when it comes to weddings. If we only ever share the over the top stuff and the one in a hundred weddings stuff, (to the point where to outsiders looking in, it appears as if it is the norm) are we creating a false narrative?

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