I never tell my clients to do anything on the wedding day. I prefer to document what actually happens rather than what I think should happen. I also believe that once you give a couple some direction, they spend the rest of the day looking for more direction.
In terms of picture aesthetic, that is down to my skills as a photographer and the way I see the world. I honestly don’t believe a picture can be improved by interfering, because then the picture isn’t a moment—it is a photographer’s idea of what that moment should be.
Having this approach forces you to look for images. Controlling the situation would take all of my concentration, and would prevent me from seeing other, possibly better images that could be happening around me.
In terms of posed photographs, I usually cover six groups and a couple of bride and groom pictures. These are done right at the end of the drinks reception (cocktail hour) so the clients have the greatest amount of time with their guests, and I have the most time possible for taking my documentary images. The formal images take no longer than ten minutes to complete. I don’t worry about missing images when taking the groups, because if I don’t take them, they never happened.
I also don’t deal with the parents when it comes to the coverage, even if they are paying the bill. If they do complain, they do it to the bride and groom, and I rarely get to hear about it.
My main focus is on the couple and the closest people to them – bridal party, parents etc.
It is impossible to shoot everyone at the wedding without the coverage resorting to nothing more than snaps of guests, which the guests themselves are more than capable of doing. I’m not offering a complete, shoot everything that moves coverage; I’m offering more than that, and in order for me to get the images which my clients book me for, I can’t be concerned with shooting hundreds of pictures of guests. I don’t show lots of guests pictures, not in my sample albums or on my website. I don’t know the relationship with the guests that the client has, and it would be impossible for me to ascertain that relationship.
If a client wants a flavor for the quantity and types of guest at the wedding, then I will often incorporate a lot of scene setting images with lots of guests in those shots. If a client wants to see everyone at the wedding, then we suggest a big group of everyone. Obviously there will be times when the guests interact with the bride and groom and then they will be in the pictures, but I will never take a wedding on where the client expects me to go and shoot everyone at the wedding, because that client is after nothing more than a record of who was there on the day, and I believe my skills are worth more than that.
Overhead lighting isn’t an issue normally but if it is very direct, then like you say I will often wait for a moment when the lighting works with the subject. If it is a group of people, then I will often look for the bodies creating fill light if they have light clothes on, or subtractive light to create shape if they have dark clothes on. In any lighting situation there are always points where the light is soft and usually shaded, and I try to work in those areas. Even harsh downlighters will have an area right next to the main beam of light where the light is even and soft.