Dr. Ellen K. Rudolph Blog The Impact of Wedding Photos over Time – Dr. Ellen's Blog

The Impact of Wedding Photos over Time

Posted on February 5, 2012 By

COMMENT: Dr. Rudolph, I have enjoyed your articles about photography and psychology and I’m wondering if you could answer a question for me? I am doing a speech in my public speaking class about why we should hire a professional photographer for weddings and special events. I’m a professional photographer myself and want to convey to the audience the impact a photograph can have on us mentally as we look back on it over time. Is it healthy to look back at photographs, and what type of psychological effects occur as we gaze at old memories found in a photo? ~ Billy ~.


Well, for starters, Billy, even professional photographers don’t always ‘get it right’.

Some staid, lifeless, and utterly boring photographs can pop out of a PRO’s camera if the PRO comes to the event with a staid, lifeless and utterly boring attitude.

Attitude is everything in life. And it is in wedding photography, too.

It behooves the bride and groom, then, to select their photographer carefully; meaning, they need to select not just a person with a professional camera system, but a person who comes highly recommended for the humanism that they also bring to their wedding images.

Of course, this is not so easy to find.

I have known wedding photographers whose exposures were perfect, where the bride’s dress was white white white just like it was supposed to be; and whose technical expertise with the camera was rock solid. The results, never-the-less, were b-o-r-i-n-g because the photographer was boring and lacked a sense of spontaneity as person. Consequently they couldn’t inject spontaneity into their images if their life depended on it.

That said, you are absolutely right to be concerned about the impact a photograph can have on us over time. But don’t forget – that impact can go both ways.

When a bride and groom enter into marriage they are typically loving and other-focused, and it shows in well-executed photographs of them at that moment in their life. Should one of the spouses die prematurely, a soulful wedding photograph, taken at such a special time, will comfort and enrich the surviving spouse forever.

However, should a once-loving couple later divorce, that same soulful photograph will instead serve as a painful reminder of the rocky road that their twosome increasingly traveled over time. The better the photograph, sometimes the more painful the reminder of things gone awry.

A good photograph tells a story.  It also evokes powerful memories and emotions.

And even though the marital relationship eventually turned sour, at least it tells the twosome some things about how they were back then, and about how they viewed the world at that particular juncture in their lives. Those are important memories that are often very therapeutic to consider.

A poor choice in a spouse reflects immaturity among other things.

A good choice in a spouse reflects a larger sense of self and a certain degree of maturity concerning one’s relationship expectations in life. A relationship between spouses endures primarily because of the maturity that each person brings with them to the marriage.

So what makes for a good wedding photograph?

Good wedding photographs don’t focus exclusively on the bridal pair; they will include as many of the couple’s significant others as possible. Indeed, when those others are not present at a wedding ceremony it casts a pall on that couple’s future. Why?

Because a wedding is necessarily a family affair.

It is an important rite of passage that occurs when a person leaves behind the dependency of their childhood years for adulthood and the autonomy of  a nuclear family of their own.

A wedding is an affirmation of family. When three or four generations of family embrace and celebrate each other as each new generation moves into the world, it signals continuity and community in a way that nothing else in life can. Weddings celebrate such things.

Therefore it goes without saying that when multi-generations of family are included in a wedding ceremony, and especially in wedding images, those images will be treasured for years to come.

However,  this is hardly a ‘catch as you can’ kind of photo.

It must be deliberately captured by a professional with all the right sensibilities, who sees their job as one of freezing precious relationship moments in time. This is in contrast to the wedding photographer who sees their job as a four-hour revenue producer.

The best wedding photographer, in my opinion, brings the following important sensibilities to the table with them:

  • they are comfortable in the company of strangers;
  • they have an innate ability to make friends easily;
  • they have a keen sense of humor and emotional flexibility;
  • they appreciate relationship spontaneity and strive to capture it;
  • they seek relationship depth in their images; and
  • they capture interactions without being controlling in the process

They also know how to function innocuously in a wedding environment instead of being a dominant part of it.

These qualities in combination with extensive professional experience will make all the difference when the mission is to capture enduring and powerful wedding memories.

Since the photographer plays such an integral part in making these memories happen, it is important for the bridal couple to spend time thinking this process through and selecting the best person for the job.

Photographs serve as a powerful link to the past.

It  is also important to remember how wedding photographs will be used in the future.

A vast majority of wedding images are all-too-soon relegated to a box in the attic, mainly because they captured the day well enough but probably not precious moments.

Captured precious moments endure. Two-dimensional snaps do not endure.

When we look at a wedding photo years later and all we can see is a dated hairdo and dress, and people we can barely remember, then you know that the person behind the camera didn’t know how to capture the the humanistic side of a wedding.

But if we can still see in a photo the fervor in the bridal pair’s eyes and feel the pride in that beaming grandmother, then something else entirely is going on. And THAT is what I call a successful wedding photograph.

For example, there are all kinds of hugs but some hugs are emotionally more important than others. Having the right person behind the camera will capture that precious moment for posterity.


*It goes both ways, doesn’t it

Think about these things.

A formal lineup of the bridal party at the altar after the bride and groom have officially kissed is one thing. It is quite another to capture a group’s personality, their tell-tale histories and the relationships they obviously have had with each other over time.

That is the kind of photo that will be treasured.

In fact, the more we try to control any group for picture-taking purposes the more vacant the look that will be captured. It is far better to let groups organize themselves and simply be ready to capture the emotional flow as it happens. Why not?!

  • Why do wedding photographers have to be so controlling?
  • Why do some brides demand the same ‘ole playlist of 8×10’s?
  • Why do we always have to take the “cake” shot?
  • Or the ‘garter’ shot?
  • Have you ever seen an altar shot that you treasure?

Take a look at these departing guests and imagine which photo will be treasured in the future: one where everyone is uniformly facing the camera and trying hard to smile, or one like this one that shows much more spontaneous affect?

If nothing else, this photograph illustrates the difference between a humanistic approach to wedding photography and a more traditional one.

familyPhoto by L. Collins



Not all guests, of course, are amenable to having their photo taken, even by a photographer with the solid humanistic sensibilities. You’ll just have to chalk that up to experience and hope that they won’t be at the next wedding party that you are hired to photograph.