How We Capture Authentic Emotion on the Wedding Day

POSTED IN : Shooting & Workflow

A while back, I wrote a post about how to bring out authentic emotion in your couples.

In that post, I introduced the concept of Emotional Grounding, the idea of slowing down your couples to help them remember the moment.

It’s something Jeff and I have done with our couples for YEARS.

While it’s not a revolutionary idea – we’re not the only photographers who engage with subjects emotionally – putting an actual name to this concept has helped us teach others how to do it, too, and do it well.

Part One of my series on Emotional Grounding introduced how we do this at the engagement session.

Now, I’m going to show you how we Emotionally Ground our couples during weddings.

Spoiler Alert: It’s really stinkin’ awesome.

The Power We Possess

Since photographers spend so much time with the bride and groom during the wedding, we have a BIG influence on the pace and the atmosphere of the day.

With our demeanor – our words, our actions, our stress level – we can make the wedding day totally awesome and care-free, or we can cause our couples to feel completely stressed-out.

That’s quite a bit of power.

And it can be beneficial power… cue evil laugh

So what if we viewed photographs not just as a way of capturing and preserving moments, but as a way of jogging our clients’ emotional memories?


In other words, what if photos didn’t just help our couples remember what a moment looked like? What if our photos helped them remember what a moment FELT like?


You might be thinking that’s pretty obvious. If photographs jog our client’s memories of their wedding, then of course they’re remembering what the moment FELT like!

(Yes, I’m being Captain Obvious right now.)

Emotions are a big part of memories, after all.


But I’m actually talking about our attitude while we’re shooting.


If WE treat photographs as emotional reminders instead of just pretty moments, then we can help our clients stop and feel MORE during those moments.

And the more our couples FEEL when they see our photos, the more valuable our images become.


[clickToTweet tweet=”The more our couples FEEL when they see our photos, the more valuable our images become.” quote=”The more our couples FEEL when they see our photos, the more valuable our images become.”]


Slowing Down the Day

So if emotions are so important, how can we help our couples feel their emotions while we’re shooting?


The best thing we can do is SLOW DOWN.


In other words, RELAX.

When we help our couples and their families slow down and take a deep breath throughout the day, we can pause the craziness around them for just a moment, and give them the space and permission they need to actually feel what’s going on.

Now, we don’t have to take more time doing things – we don’t have to spend three minutes composing a shot instead of one. We just have to give the impression that we’re slow and steady while remaining efficient with time.

This makes a lot of sense in practice, so the best example of this is during “The First Look”.

(If you don’t have many couples who do a First Look, then I’ll explain how this can be done at other points in the day. AND you should read this.)

Grounding the First Look

The First Look is one of the points during the wedding day that can totally throw me into a fit of stress.

There’s a whole grab bag of factors thrown into my mental state at this point in the day.

  • Hair and makeup may have run late, so we’re suddenly crunched for time.
  • It’s usually during the harshest sunlight of the day, so finding a location with good backgrounds and lighting in two opposite directions (for the bride AND the groom) can be a total headache.
  • And to top it off, we need to find a spot for the First Look that’s quiet and private – sometimes crazy difficult when all of the wedding activity is in full blow go-mode.


So it’s tempting sometimes to treat the First Look as just a formality – a hoop we have to jump through so we can get to more exciting stuff with the couple.


But what if we stepped back, slowed down and looked at it from an emotional point of view instead of just logistical?

Not only can we make the experience more meaningful for everyone involved, but we can also get great photographs in less time.

A win/win!

So how do we do that?

Here’s what Jeff and I do during the First Look:

Jeff sets up the groom in our predetermined location…. and then he tells him that he BETTER start getting emotional ‘cuz his bride is gonna be piiiiiiiissed if he doesn’t!!!!!


You really shouldn’t believe a word that I say….


Ok, for realsies.


Jeff is with the groom in our First Look spot, and I’m with the bride just out of sight.

We’ll separately tell them versions of this same thing…

First, we talk them through what’s logistically going to happen during the First Look so they’re aware of the actual setup – that the bride will walk up behind the groom who’s back is turned toward her, and we’ll stop her five or six feet away and get her set up to look perfect.

Then whenever the groom ready, he’ll be able to  turn and see his bride for the first time.

(Note that WE don’t tell the groom when to turn around.)

first look, san diego wedding photography, why we love first look, love, sweet, romantic, wedding photography
first look, san diego wedding photography, why we love first look, love, sweet, romantic, wedding photography
first look, san diego wedding photography, why we love first look, love, sweet, romantic, wedding photography

Once we explain the logistics, we let them know that this moment is not for us; it’s not for photographs or the schedule or anything like that.

It’s for THEM, and it’s important to slow down such a significant moment.


And this is when we ground them into the moment by walking them through their senses.


  • We ask them to FEEL what’s on their skin – the dry air, the warm sun, the cool breeze, or even their feet in their shoes.
  • We tell them to SMELL the flowers in their bouquet, the scent of the fall leaves, the fresh cut grass, or the salty ocean.
  • We have them LISTEN to the waves of the ocean, to the cars on the street, or to the trees around them.

In that moment, their hearts may be pounding with adrenaline or their minds may be racing with emotions, but they will remember what that moment smelled, sounded, and felt like.


By activating their senses, they ground themselves in that place and time.


And we all know how crazy powerful our senses are! They instantly bring us back to our most favorite memories, but also to the emotions we felt during those memories (the smell of Mom baking, the sound of Christmas presents being opened, the scratch of Grandpa’s beard).

Once we’ve grounded them in their senses, then we tell them that once the groom turns around and they’ve seen each other, that moment is for them.

We let them know that we’ll be taking photos the whole time, but we’re going to step back and use longer lenses, so they can feel free to do whatever is natural in that moment.

Whether it’s hug, laugh, kiss, cry, dance – anything goes (we actually had a couple ‘meow’ once).

The important thing is that we won’t interrupt – when they’re ready to start portraits, they’ll turn to us and we’ll start.

But not until then.

We won’t even interject if they turn the wrong way or step into bad lighting. That’s a risk we’re willing to take in order to preserve the atmosphere we’ve created.

first look, san diego wedding photography, why we love first look, love, sweet, romantic, wedding photography
first look, san diego wedding photography, why we love first look, love, sweet, romantic, wedding photography
first look, san diego wedding photography, why we love first look, love, sweet, romantic, wedding photography
first look, san diego wedding photography, why we love first look, love, sweet, romantic, wedding photography

The remarkable thing about emotional grounding is that the photos actually become MORE efficient when we slow things down.


Because our couple is in an authentic place of connection with themselves and with each other, and it’s instantly easier to capture natural, emotional and authentic imagery.

Authentic Emotion vs. Manipulation

One thing I have to note here is that Jeff and I are not master charmers manipulating our couples into crying during every First Look.

In fact, we don’t CARE if our couples cry or not.

We’re simply asking them to engage with the emotions that already authentically exist, whether that’s excitement, joy, comfort, thrill, anxiety, nervousness, love etc.


We would do an enormous disservice if we manipulated couples into feeling something they’re not, so be careful when approaching someone’s emotions.


It’s a matter of TRUST, and depending on the person, it can be an intimate request to ask someone to feel their emotions, so be respectful whether they let you in or not.

Without the First Look

So what if your couple chooses not to do a First Look?

You can still use these techniques throughout the day whenever it feels appropriate.

We have stopped and grounded anxious brides just before slipping the dress on, helping them engage with the significance of the moment.

Or with the groom while he’s putting on his tux.

Or with the bride when she’s with her father.


There are countless moments throughout the day to help your couples pause, if you’re open to seeing them.



Here’s a few super easy things you can do at any time of the day:

Savoring Tip #1: Ask your bride to SMELL her bouquet.

I tell my brides that anytime they want to remember something from the day, they should stop and smell their bouquet. Not only will it make them pause and take a deep breath, but the smells will be locked into their memory. This is such a simple thing way to help your brides feel grounded!

Savoring Tip #2: Tell your couples to FEEL their feet in their shoes.

Typically, the shoes your couple are wearing for the wedding are new or totally unique from any other pair of shoes they own. My couples will usually smile and laugh a little because it’s such a weird request, but then I tell them that those pairs of shoes are unique to today, and they instantly get it. Many times they’ll stop and take a big deep breath, which is exactly what I want them to do.

Savoring Tip #3: Ask them to HEAR something unique to their wedding.

When the ceremony is about to start, I love walking up to our brides or grooms and saying, “Do you hear the ceremony music playing?”

They’ll instantly pause and take it all in.

Throughout the day, just quickly ask your couple to hear the church bells ringing, or listen to the waves of the ocean, or hear the cars driving by. Just before they enter the cocktail hour or reception, ask them to listen to the sound of their guests celebrating. These are super easy ways to help them slow down and savor. And some of our best photos have come from these moments when our couples are taking it all in!

Savoring Tip #4: Talk about their favorite moment of the ceremony.

If our couple has to drive from the ceremony to the reception location, then before they drive away in the car, I stick my head in the window and tell them that if they spend the drive time talking about their favorite moments during the ceremony that JUST happened, they’ll remember it so much more clearly later on.

This is a super easy way to keep them present in the current moment so that their minds don’t automatically go to the craziness of wedding planning details like, “What time is it?” “Did Aunt Sue make it ok?” “Is everything set up at the reception?”… and so on.

Because when they arrive at the venue and we have five minutes to take photos of them, I don’t want to have to pull them back into savoring. I want them to already be engaged in the present!


All of this is a matter of reading the day and reading your couple, identifying moments where it’s appropriate to step in, slow down, and ground your subjects.

Just remember that we as photographers can make a huge impact on how the wedding day is remembered, not just photographically but emotionally as well.

[clickToTweet tweet=”As photographers, we make a big impact on how a wedding is remembered. Not just visually but emotionally, too.” quote=”As photographers, we make a big impact on how a wedding is remembered. Not just visually but emotionally, too.”]

So, if we shoot with emotional grounding in mind, we can make our photos even more meaningful.

How have you learned to help your couples savor their wedding day? Hop into our FREE photographer-only Facebook group and join the conversation there!




We teach photographers to build life-giving businesses that they absolutely love.

About Us

We're Jeff & Erin

We’re Jeff and Erin Youngren – and it’s our mission to help you thrive not just as a wedding photographer, but as a business owner. It’s time to set aside the stress and comparison of a hustle mindset, and build a life-giving business instead.

We met in college, got married, and started corporate jobs before we discovered (and fell in love with) wedding photography. But like many creative entrepreneurs, we were booking anything we could, strapped to our laptops and living dangerously close to burnout.

So we dug in and learned how to build a thriving business that supports our dream life – instead of a joyless business that runs a stressed-out life.

Today, we photograph only 10 Dreamie weddings per year, but we also run two other wedding brands plus a commercial studio in San Diego, CA. And we do it by only working the hours that fit into our life. The other hours? We spend those living a joyful life raising our two beautiful sons, James and Samuel.


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