Pictures help keep memories of smachot alive long after the actual simcha is over. Today, photographers are trying their hardest to create beautiful wedding portraits that only hint at the coronavirus pandemic. Like all other elements of making a backyard simcha, photography has its own challenges.
“It’s harder than you think,” said Teaneck-based photographer Sam Ulrich, of Ulrich Studios. “It requires more planning and thinking. You have to be very hands on and involved in posing. Now, you have to take a step back. It’s a new way to interact.” This is without mentioning how shooting with a mask on can fog up the photographer’s glasses and vision.
Lighting for photography is always a combination of art and science. With backyard weddings, the capricious mood of mother nature is an additional complicating factor. “There’s less control outside,” Ulrich said. “You need more technique and planning.”
Photographer David Zimand of Englewood noted the challenges of having no formal backdrops, as well as minimal control over the placing of the different elements of the event, which are often not conducive to the best angles for photos. The bedekin is often in direct sunlight, where the lighting is harsh, the shadows are unflattering and the heat is uncomfortable for everyone. “People think direct sun is good but that’s the harshest light and it’s painful,” he explained. “You get racoon eyes in direct sunlight—shadows under the eyes—and it’s impossible to edit reasonably.”
Finding the best location for portraits takes detective work. You can find a lovely spot but the gardening equipment in the background is an eyesore.
“Sometimes the sun changes and I have to change immediately and make decisions on the fly,” said Zimand. At a recent wedding, he used the wall of a house as a backdrop, and found another great spot under the porch. “You have to take a mundane setting and separate the beauty, lighting, composition, camera work and lens choices.”
Zush Heinrich, an Essex County-based photographer, said that the smaller weddings he has done this summer have all been beautiful and memorable despite the challenges, and have given him a chance to be more creative. For photos taken after the chuppah, he is always cognizant of waiting guests. With smaller weddings, the families have been more relaxed.
“They say, ‘We have food, we have family, take them to a park—we can wait.’ We can do something more interesting with the couple.”
For group portraits, he asks the family to tell him who can be close to each other. Immediate family members usually pose together, but grandparents can be a little more cautious. He has been spreading the groups out a little in what he calls the ‘Vanity Fair’ pose, after a look popular in that magazine. Classic photos of the couple getting ready have become a pandemic casualty, but he still gets some shots of retouching hair or make-up outside.
It’s a little harder to keep the bride and groom separated when they are at a home instead of a hall, explained Neil Sombrowsky of the Visual Image. In a wedding hall, there are more areas to spread out. He still uses two sets of photographers to get all the portraits done unless there is a very small family, which has been the case this summer when numbers were very limited. One big change for him has been bringing in someone to livestream the simcha. Almost every job he has through August includes livestream capability.
The pandemic has led to new options for making smaller weddings. Springfield, New Jersey based photographer Chaim Schvarcz was all set to photograph a wedding at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, for Rebecca Rubin from Maryland and Yosef Grosser from Teaneck, when the pandemic hit. The families switched gears, scouting out a big property where they could stay over a weekend. With New Jersey restrictions tightened, they broadened their search to Connecticut where they found the perfect house, and were able to change the wedding date. Only the families, Schvarcz and the rabbis attended live; all other guests were streamed live via the groom’s phone.
Schvarcz arrived early to plan his photographic strategy. “I like trying new places so this wasn’t something I did differently,” he said. “On every job, even places I’ve been to before, I try to find a new spot. In fact, it’s harder when you go to the same places; you have to really search. I always follow the light and look for unique places.”
He advises couples who had been looking forward to the classic large simcha to find ways to adjust happily and not let their disappointment detract from the simcha. “Most brides have an idea of their dream wedding, which isn’t possible now,” Schvarcz said. “But you can make the most of the situation. Give it your personal touch; add as much personality and sentiment as you can to make it your own. Go with it and enjoy. It’s your wedding.”
Ulrich Studios used Livestream to add excitement and virtual interaction for a bride from Teaneck and a groom from New Rochelle who moved their planned wedding to the bride’s Teaneck backyard.
“They really wanted to safely involve as many of their guests as possible, both for those sitting spread out at the event, and for those watching from home, and asked us to help them do this,” said Ulrich. “We built two large screens surrounding the chuppah so guests standing far away could see clearly, and one screen on the front lawn for neighbors and friends to watch the wedding from a distance; guests via Livestream could also watch the wedding. They even had some guests virtually give brachot under the chuppah and everyone could see them on screens. They were right there ‘next to’ the couple, who also posed under the chuppah with life size cardboard cutouts of their grandparents who couldn’t be there in person. After the ceremony, the screens continued to be interactive for dancing so the couple could come up to the screens and dance ‘next to’ their guests dancing at home. After dancing with close family and friends in their backyard, they took to the streets of their Teaneck neighborhood to dance with socially distant guests via a drive by car parade, long ropes and parachutes.”
Photographers are getting calls now from couples who want to have their wedding before Rosh Hashana, as they are wary of predictions for a second wave of the novel (not so novel any more) coronavirus, and those planning fall weddings.
“People are getting creative about places to make weddings,” Simbowsky said. People are looking for places that can handle all options including outdoors with a tent.
Photographers are trying to be flexible in accommodating last minutes changes for their clients and taking new ones at the last minute. Heinrich did a wedding where the couple saw rain forecast for their Thursday wedding and called all their vendors to see if they could have it earlier. He was available on Tuesday, two days earlier, as were the others, so the wedding was switched. He has gotten calls for jobs when a couple changed the date and the photographer they had booked couldn’t make it.
“We have to go with the flow,” said Ulrich, who has also stepped in to photograph a simcha with short notice.
Zimand said it’s nice to pre-plan and meet the families first but it’s not necessary.
“If someone calls me now and says, ‘please come, the photographer I had is sick,’ I’d say, ‘Fine.’ There’s no difference; I can work quickly on the spot.”
And the bottom line is that the simcha happens.
“Jews need to get married and (photographers) need to work,” he said. “It’s not always easy and perfect. But the goal is to create something that elevates and lasts generations.”
By Bracha Schwartz