Table Card – Announcement of the wedding of Elke & Stefan Erne.
Once your friends and family realize you know how to use a camera, they often give you an “opportunity” to document their special moments. The opportunity may not be one you desire, but even when it isn’t, it lends you–as a photographer–a chance to use your skills to share something important. Recently, we had just such a special moment in my family–one that was an unusual experience for Americans.
My mother came from a very small village in Southern Germany. Many of our cousins still live in the area. We don’t see them as often as we would like, so when the first of my younger cousins announced his upcoming marriage, my sister and I were delighted and decided to attend. Imagine my excitement at having a chance to photograph a Bavarian country wedding! Understanding different cultures and ceremonies and capturing your experience through photography is thrilling and enriching.
In Germany, as in many other places, there are actually two wedding ceremonies. The church service we were to attend was to be the second wedding ceremony for the happy couple. About a week earlier, they had been officially married in a civil service.
The day of the church wedding started about ten o’clock in the morning for the guests. For the bride, groom, and the immediate families, it began much earlier with formal wedding photographs. When my sister and I arrived at the home of the bride’s parents, the wedding soup was being served. The wedding soup is a clear, delicious broth with small, white, sausage meatballs. Pretzels (the big bread ones) are also served with more white sausages and Champagne. (Traditionally in this section of Germany, white sausage is served only before noon.) This was a time for all of the guests and family to gather together to share the joy and anticipation of the day.
After about an hour, the group–including the bride and groom–assembled in the street to follow a brass band to the church. (A band isn’t a normal part of the ceremony, but since the groom had been a member of the band for a number of years, playing was their way of honoring him.) As we entered the church, we were amazed at the beauty and artwork within. Members of the family had created decorations especially for the wedding celebration. Almost six hundred roses had been used in the various arrangements.
At the end of the religious ceremony, the newlyweds left the church to be greeted by children who were former students of the bride. The children sang a song and then formed an arch with more roses that were eventually presented to the bride and groom. While guests greeted the couple and their families in the official receiving line, the brass band played again. At last, the entire wedding party of over two hundred people adjourned to a wedding hall that had been hired for the evening.
The happy couple greeted their guests, thanked their families, and invited everyone to share cake and coffee. The cakes in this part of Germany are magnificent–beautiful, tasty, and offered in amazing variety. Once everyone had enjoyed sampling the wedding cake or one of the other confections, the guests went for a walk in the park. It appeared that everyone had a camera, and all the cameras were in continuous use.
Following dinner in the same hall, the band began to play waltzes and polkas–as well as more modern dance pieces. The party lasted until almost two o’clock in the morning when the band played a march and the guests formed an arch to frame the couple as they left.
As one of the guests, I wasn’t responsible for the official wedding photography. However, as a part of the groom’s family and a professional photographer, I was encouraged to shoot all I wished. One professional still photographer and one videographer labored diligently on the official photography from the earliest part of the day to the very end–without assistants! I’ve always admired wedding photographers, because they work so hard. They assume responsibility for recording of some of the most precious moments a couple have. Theirs is a big burden, and they have to dispatch it with great energy and creativity.
Preparing to Preserve the Special Moments
The Wedding Soup is an opportunity for families and guests to gather together at the home of the bride’s parents.
When we, as photographers, have special moments presented for us to preserve, there are preparations we can make to ensure that we’ll be able meet the challenge. I discussed my preferences openly with the family beforehand. They understood that I would do candid shots primarily and not official photographs. Having a clear understanding of what you will or will not do is the first step toward maintaining a happy relationship with your family and friends .
Also, you need to discuss the cost or fee situation openly. Will you be paying for the film and processing (as part of your wedding gift), or will the family? If they will, estimate how much film you plan to shoot and how much it will cost, so the family is aware of what’s coming. Keep to your estimate. Surprises aren’t good for either side when it comes to expenses.
Keep your equipment at a minimum and don’t leave it sitting around. (In my case, I carried only what I could keep on my person. My sister kept my extra film–an indulgence for which I was very thankful.) Be sure that your camera and lenses are in good working order and are preset for exposure and depth of field (anticipating as much as you possibly can). There’s nothing as devastating as having a camera malfunction at a time that can’t be repeated. I always remove my film from its wrappings and plastic containers beforehand. This step saves time and commotion when I’m under pressure to shoot. In addition, the distracting noise of film containers being popped open or the unintentional litter of bits and pieces of wrappings is always inappropriate.
If professional photographers are working at the event, please remember that they’re responsible for the pictures. They’ve been hired to document the day, and everyone is depending on their skills to make the shots look wonderful. Later, the photographers will rely on the sales of their images/prints/albums to the families to supplement their pay. Since you’re a “secondary photographer,” it’s not critical for you to get each shot … but it is for them. Be courteous and helpful by moving aside, staying out of their way, and letting them do their job!
Whenever you have an opportunity to use your photographic skills to make a special moment even more important, take it. You never know when a good deed will bring another opportunity. Your rewards will be nestled in the thank-you and the smiles.
Wedding Soup: Here our cousin Herman (father of the groom) is sharing a joyous moment with my sister, Sunny while cousin Volker looks on.
The Wedding Soup is a traditional part of formal weddings in this area of Southern Germany. It is a light, tasty broth with small white sausage meatballs and a small handmade noodle (spatzle). Also available at the Wedding Soup was white sausages, bread pretzels, champagne and juice. Traditionally, white sausages are only served before noon.
The procession from the brides home to the church begins. It is lead by the Unterschwartzach Brass Band. The entire wedding party follows the band through the small village to the church
Walking in the procession brings a sense of anticipation of what the day will bring.
Stefan and Elke lead the guests to the church.
The parents of the bride and the groom follow the attendants to the church.
Arriving at the church, the band finishes playing.
It takes only a few minutes for everyone to find their way into the church and await the entrance of the bride.
The ceremony is held in a beautiful Catholic church that has been elegantly decorated by the families. (Photo Credit: Dieter Kible)
The vows are exchanged by Elke and Stefan
Elke and Stefan are greeted outside of the church by school children holding an arch of roses and singing special songs. (Photo Credit: Dieter Kible)
Stefan and Elke thank the children and begin to greet their guests in the reception line.
The wedding cake is a confection crowned by marzipan (almond paste) flowers and leaves.
Herman and Crystal, parents of the groom with their sons, Stefan with Elke, Manfred and Frank with special friend, Sandra. (Photo Credit: Manfred Erne)
When the last dance was called (about 1:30 a.m.) all of the guests formed a circle around the Bride and Groom while they danced. (Photo Credit: Dieter Kible)
A march was then played and the guests formed an arch that Elke and Stefan passed through as they left the party.
A wedding still life.