Photographing same-sex weddings presents unique challenges

Editor’s Note: The question of same-sex marriage goes before the U.S. Supreme Court this week. Below is one in a series of pieces about same-sex marriage and weddings from CNN Living.

Story highlights

Traditional wedding photo poses don't always work for same-sex couples, photographer says

New photo book aims to help photographers, same-sex couples tweak old standards

Like with hetero couples, the best images tells a story beyond the frame, authors say

CNN  — 

Anyone who’s ever scanned a wedding album or set of engagement photos knows the standard poses: The dip. The kiss. Back to chest, prom-style. Forehead to forehead, anyone?

Most of those poses have been around for a long time and are based on the idea that there’s a man and a woman involved, wedding photographer Thea Dodd said. The placement of a hand or positioning of the groom contains assumptions about physicality and gender roles that often don’t apply to same-sex couples or even nontraditional straight couples.

Just as the traditional canon of wedding poses does not fit all heterosexual couples, there’s a lot of variety in same-sex weddings that photographers need to plan for, Dodd said.

“There are more similarities than differences between gay and straight weddings, but the subtle differences can be very impactful on how the photography is going to look,” she said. “I see this as an opportunity and challenge for wedding photographers to do better.”

But, as a straight person, she didn’t feel like she had the authority to rewrite the rules on her own. She approached Kathryn Hamm, president of, the first site to cater to same-sex couples, for advice. Together, they came up with “Capturing Love: The Art of Lesbian & Gay Photography,” a book to help photographers and couples understand the art and mechanics of shooting same-sex couples.

The pair scoured thousands of images before whittling the book down to a selection of 65 images taken by 38 photographers of 46 couples from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Italy.

“We began looking for examples of couples that struck as very authentic and believable in a moment that captured some bit of intimacy,” Hamm said.

Same-sex couples find their stride on wedding day

The best images capture a moment that tells a story beyond the frame, she said, like a shot of the feet of two grooms in their dress shoes, one standing on his tiptoes. Having spent time with the couple, photographer Jeremy Fraser knew that one was shorter than the other and had to stand on his toes to kiss his husband.

“We thought it would be a really cute way to capture something that occurs on a regular basis in an artistic fashion,” Fraser says in the book.

As with any couple, the goal is to make them comfortable with the photographer so the poses come organically, Dodd said. The devil is in the details, but most issues can be addressed in a pre-shoot planning session.

Attire is the most common wild card in same-sex weddings, so it’s important to find out what they’re wearing, she said. Creating contrast between two white dresses can be difficult, so consider a sash or belt to break up the washed-out palette. The same goes for distinguishing two tuxedos or suits: Use accessories to make the look less matchy-matchy.

Be mindful of boutonnieres traditionally worn on the left lapel, she cautioned, especially in shoulder-to-shoulder shots of two grooms. One is likely to be squashed or hidden.

When it comes to gender expression, don’t assume that the person wearing the pants at the wedding plays a dominant role in the relationship, she said. Get to know the couple, and see how they naturally position themselves.

Same-sex couples take long road to the altar

When it comes to layering couples, however, the longstanding technique of placing the taller of the two in the back tends to hold true for basic principles of composition.

With same-sex weddings becoming more commonplace, the timing was right, said Hamm, whose company has been providing information and vendor services to same-sex couples for more than a decade. “Capturing Love” is primarily designed to help wedding photographers think about what to ask couples in the planning phase, but couples can also draw inspiration from the poses regardless of their sexual orientation, she said.

“By taking a look at these questions and asking how you can better serve same-sex couples, you open up a better skill set to serve all couples,” she said.