The term wedding photographer is misleading. It leads most to think of a person hired to operate a camera with a degree of technical proficiency, snapping anything and everything that happens on the big day. To make matters worse, some people claiming to be wedding photographers feel this way too (although these are usually bargain-basement shooters).
No, this line of thinking couldn’t be more incorrect. Wedding photography – that is good wedding photography – is about storytelling. Not everyone with a computer and keyboard can write a good story. Not everyone with a good camera can tell a wedding story.
If I were to teach a class specifically for aspiring wedding photographers (and I’ve been seriously contemplating it) I would concentrate almost entirely on knowing what to photograph and what not to photograph. Some details are important, others are superfluous, it’s important to know which is which. I’d put emphasis on capturing emotion and learning to really see the couple’s personalities. And I’d stress avoiding cliché.
Basically, good wedding photographers are storytellers, and must build the story in much the same way a novelist or short story writer must. Establish the setting, develop the characters, deepen their motivation, and finally lead the reader through the action. The writer must carefully select what details to include and what details drag the story down and should be excluded.
Notice what I didn’t talk about? Operating the camera. Yes, it is important to have good equipment and use it proficiently, just as a writer must spell correctly and have a good grasp of grammar. But, again, these are just tools. True story telling is an art.