Trend Alert: The Morning-After Photos

by Sarah Kinbar

PHOTO © Michelle Jonné

October 15, 2012

As wedding photographers were quietly going about their business, shooting engagement portraits, stag nights, rehearsal dinners, ceremonies and receptions—some even adding on trash-the-dress and day-after sessions—the New York Daily News was gathering evidence of a racy new trend on the rise: a sub-genre of bridal boudoir now known as “Morning After” photography. The paper published a piece in August warning viewers of the steamy post-nuptial pics, shot early in the morning as couples engaged in marital lovemaking or at least making out, which might presumably grace the walls (whether concrete or Facebook) of our newlywed neighbors and give us a jolt when we stop by for a cocktail or barbeque.

Looking closely at the few “morning after” photos that actually seem to exist, we see a range of genres expressed, and very rarely are they boudoir at all. A Google search of “morning-after wedding photography” calls up a rash of irritated bloggers and journalists who quickly assumed the worst, which is that “the smuggest of newlyweds are assaulting our eyes…” by hiring photographers to “…document the posed/pseudo-sexy times that occur on the morning following the wedding,” as Madeline Davies writes on Jezebel.com.

But photographers have been shooting couples the day after the wedding for years, so as to capture them in a less-frenetic scenario than the hyper-stylized, carefully-timed pageantry of the wedding. This can mean that they re-wear their formal finery and go horseback-riding through a meadow, or that they wake up early, brush their teeth, and say hello to the photographer who is joining them for bagels and a smooch on the sofa. 

“Guys seem to prefer the images because their wife looks a little more natural, more like herself,” says Amelia Strauss, a Los-Angeles-based photographer. “On the wedding day, women have a whole team to do their hair and makeup, and it’s the most fabulous they’ll ever be. Morning-after shoots, on the other hand, show the…natural girl they fell in love with.” 

It’s the natural, unencumbered feeling that have some couples leaning toward the in-home shoots, which can begin as early as 5:30 a.m. Detroit photographer Melissa Squires says these sessions aren’t stylized at all. 

“I think the most props I’ve used in a morning-after shoot was a pile of the cards the guests had left the night before. They were right there on the dresser in the hotel room and a couple picked them up, cuddled under the blankets and read a few of them to each other. It was really sweet, but totally spontaneous,” says Squires. “I am not interested in faking who they are or what they are doing. This is something they can look back on and really connect spiritually with the way they felt at that moment.”

The sweetness and intimacy she speaks of is pervasive throughout the images we’ve seen. And then, yes, there are the sexier ones.

New York photographer Michelle Jonné liked the Armani campaigns that picture David and Victoria Beckham, both of whom are much-hyped for their hotness. The photographer thought, why not test out this kind of shoot with couples and see if it works as an ad-on? Jonné asked her friend Inna Shamis if she and her husband would do a test shoot with her, and they agreed. “I thought her idea was brilliant,” Shamis says. “I wanted to support the idea, so my husband and I agreed to do it immediately.” She has no regrets. “My husband and I were blown away when we received the proofs from our shoot.”

“Inna and her husband Daniel not only look amazing, but have the personality and the fire between them, so they ultimately allowed me to deliver an unforgettably sultry session,” Jonné says. “The shoot went very well, so I have decided to make it an add-on in all my wedding packages. I already offer engagements as a standard, and trash the dress, so it is nice to have another avenue to service my clients.”

While their styles may differ, the photographers we interviewed have something in common: Clients to whom excellent professional photography is of the utmost importance. These are not people who would consider having a friend with an SLR practice his or her “photojournalism” in lieu of hiring a professional to document the big day. Because they already place a premium on pictures, they are more open to exploring more creative avenues of expression than your average Joe.  

“The experience we create and sell is completely driven by the client,” explains Strauss, who sees a plethora of stylistic opportunities when shooting the morning after the wedding. “I’d encourage photographers to use day-after sessions to really exploit that part of the couple’s story. If we’re only shooting boudoir the morning after, we’re not realizing the full potential of the story we can tell...”

Getting Your Feet Wet

While Jonné did a morning-after test shoot, other photographers jump in with real clients. Strauss booked Blake Burton (an Atlanta photographer) as her client, and it would be fair to say that his passion for images drove him as he and his fiancé, Tessa, talked through their wedding photography plans with Strauss. 

The day after the wedding, “I met Blake and Tessa at 5:30 a.m. and we jumped in a car, drove to the middle of Nowhere, Alabama, and shot for about 30 minutes. Because we had already done an engagement and wedding session together, they were very comfortable on camera; but they were also able to better focus on each other now that the wedding day stress had ended,” says Strauss.

The Fundamentals

All the photographers we spoke with agreed that while technique and inspiration are key, it is rapport with the clients that makes or breaks these shoots. 

“It’s one hundred percent about connecting with the clients. If they are comfortable being who they are with me, that’s what makes everything work. My whole attitude to the morning-after session is to not do anything crazy, to not drag in props or signs or lights, to just let the morning light in the windows and allow them to enjoy the realization of the fact that they are married,” says Squires.

Once a rapport has been established in the months leading up to the shoot, experienced morning-after shooters recommend the following:

Get inspired: Dig into your bookmarks and tear sheets, and show your clients some ideas. Encourage them to do the same and to form opinions on the outcome they want. 

Pick a time: They refer to it as the “morning after,” but who’s to say what came the night before? You don’t necessarily have to shoot the very next day after the wedding. If the couple needs some zzzs, schedule the shoot for after their honeymoon.

Walk-through: Know the space in which you’ll be working. Whether it’s the couple’s home, a hotel or some other place, ideally you will spend some amount of time there with your clients and talk about your ideas and theirs.

Style it, but don’t: “(My shoots) are stylized in the sense that I have a lot of ideas, but what’s most important is that you have clients go with the idea and be themselves in that moment,” says Jonné. “If you try to literally pose them, it can [appear] forced. So present the idea or position, but then you want them to make it their own.” 

Strauss is even more hands-off in her approach. “We storyboard the morning-after in terms of feel, and pick out our locations and times beforehand. With that said, once we are in a location or en route to another, spontaneity is rampant.”

Show your range: “I think it’s important to mix different photography styles to get a complete session that reflects the couple,” says Jonné. “I use both a ‘fly on the wall’ and fashion-based approach to make sure I get just as many natural moments as I do posed ones.”

And for those photographers who would prefer to skip the whole thing, and the extra revenue it implies, Orlando-based wedding photographer Anna Powers of Sunbright Sparrow Studio has a suggestion: “Find a local photographer who does take on these shoots and refer your couple on; your clients would hopefully appreciate your honesty, and you might be able to recapture their business in the future.”

Powers, who does not do morning-after photos, has found that the sub-genre doesn’t fit her brand. “To be honest,” she says, “my clients and I are both trying to get some extra rest the morning after the wedding (in our own beds, of course!).”    

But that doesn’t mean she’s opposed. “Are your clients asking you for morning-after shoots? Have they seen photographers or friends sharing images from such shoots on Facebook? If so, great; the path is clear to use morning-after shoots as a marketing tool and added revenue source,” she says.

As reactions to morning-after photography level off, mainstream media sources that specialize in weddings are taking the “no judgment” approach. 

“It’s up to the couples and how they choose to express themselves,” says weddings photo director Rebecca Crumley of The Knot Inc. “We just did a blog post ourselves last week about this as a new trend, but we’re not planning any magazine spreads around it. Plus a lot of couples that might choose to do a racy shoot would prefer to keep it to themselves.”

Sarah Kinbar, a writer based in Orlando, Florida, is the former editor of American Photo and the current editor-in-chief of Garden Design. Her own pictures can be seen on BigBlendedFamily.com, where she blogs a few times a week.

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