Tuesday, October 26, 2010




Digital Camera Adventures’ fan and fellow photographer Omar Ponceleon is our first Visiting Friend to share his experience to our growing audience. He brings us a very especial adventure which is: How o photograph weddings from different religions. Omar has been a pro for many years and his line of work has covered: Commercial, fashion, religious ceremonies and teaching. Omar, like many of us, started with film cameras and he recognizes the versatility of the digital world as a new challange to our imagination.

As one may think, anyone who has devoted so many years to a job will have plenty of anecdotes and stories to tell. Some of us may feel that a wedding is a wedding, and once you get the hang of it, you are in good shape. Well, you may be in for a surprise, for instance, what would happen, if your would be client was from another culture and religion? Our story begins with a chat on a job Omar had just finished, where I worked as a second camera, paying my dues to learn wedding photography. The last job Omar worked on was the wedding of Venezuela’s ambassador to Japan (a Japanese-venezuelan and his beautiful Japanese wife).

As weddings have a especial requiremenst, the workflow most be done with care, as in other events with dated deadlines. Time is so important, that planning should be very detailed and each wedding has its own requirements, that may need to add or take off your check list.

As we are habituated to our own culture’s religions and ceremonies, we may think that our skills are enough to do any job we are used to do in a frequent way. However, a wedding photographer, as any other kind of photographer, will be challenged when he/she faces a job in a culture or religion other than his own.


In accordance with Sastra Hindu culture, life is made up by four stages, where the Ashram Grahastha of life in matrimony is its second stage and as other stages in life, it has its own charm and duties. In India, as in other eastern cultures, arranged marriages are a common practice, where the parents of the wife and groom consider it as the union of the souls of their children and of their families.


Without a doubt, no one, in western culture terms, could do the follow up of a religious ceremony that starts, when groom and bride’s parents choose the future couple. In fact, once the decision is made, the parents will meet with a priest who will choose the date of the future ceremony, which I presume, it will be a time, when the holy man thinks, it will be the most favorable day for the future spouses to get married. This ceremony is named Misri or the exchange of rings. How is that for a surprise?

As Hindu wedding traditions are so detailed, I will write about outstanding events in order to make a long story short.


The most important ceremony in the wedding is the Saptapardi where a small fire is started which symbolizes Agniveda the God of Fire. This god sees that the couple commits to their vows and blesses them. The couple most go around the fire seven times which signifies the seven vows that will keep them together as a couple, and as a family ,for the rest of their life. Thereafter, the groom places the Bindi, a redspot in the middle of the eyebrows and gives her a Mangalsutra necklace. Married women wear the Bindi as a symbol of status and currently, Bindis are fashionable and can take different shapes and are made from different materials.


As demanding as this ceremony is to a layman, getting one's information in advance can be of extreme importance, however, Omar was called the day before the civil ceremony. One would say, this could be expected and that it was the typical fate of someone trying to do a VENE-HINDU wedding.

The story goes as follow: Omar reached the place where the ceremony was going to take place. As he arrived, he found everyone dressed in traditional Hindu garments, including the Venezuelan groom. Omar was prepared for a typical Venezuelan civil wedding (Carried on by a civil judge). These weddings tend to be smaller than the religious ceremonies and lo and behold! It turned out to be both a civil and a Hindu wedding! Pure culture shock, thus, Omar had to talk to the bride as she was getting her makeup and accessories placed on. She told him the good news…you cannot take any pictures during the Hindu ceremony, as it is a solemn event that requires utmost respect. Therefore, the shoot was staged for after the ceremony. Fortunately, this enabled Omar to see what he was going to shoot later (an advantage of knowing your stuff).


He fell in love with their lavish garments, sumptuous ornaments and wonderful colors. The result is part of what we can see in the article. After the shoot, there was a typical Venezuelan party, and the cross- cultural event was as much fun to photograph as the wedding. The crowd danced Salsa, calypso and limbo letting loose the Venezuelan Caribbean culture among everyone at the wedding.


At the moment when the bride was to give part of the dowry, as is customary in the Hindu culture, Omar and his staff got theirs as the other guest. So at the end, Mr. Murphy (And his Law) did not make it to the ceremony or the party and all turned out well.


Omar and I worked out a checklist for photographing religions other than your own hoping they can help you.

At the first meeting:

1. If you notice that you client comes from a different culture do no presume that they have crossed cultures and assumed your own.

2. Ask as much information about them and their culture as you can. Then, do your homework. One most do research on your would be subject, so both the photographer and his clients, can be comfortable with each other during the shoot. It pays to talk the talk and it shows that one really cares about your client and your work and then, you can walk the walk.

3. Talk to the bride and the groom separately. This will help you get vital information on how each person feels about the ceremony, their guest and their future spouse’s needs. If it is possible, try to talk to relatives and friends that live in the same city. This will enable you to get the inside story about your client’s personalities. Then talk to the couple so you get to know how they act when they are together.

4. Once you learn your customer’s religion you need to research as much as you can about it. We advise the photographer to meet with the person o persons conducting the religious ceremony. It is not the same to photograph a Catholic wedding than a Greek Orthodox one, even tough they are both Christian. In fact, priest, rabbi, monks may have their own feelings about photographers taking pictures of a holy ceremony. They will teach you the ceremonial etiquette that you should follow to the finest detail.

5. Visit the place of the ceremony to find out what logistics you will need to make the shoot. Study the LIGHT, the angles, where can you and you assistants place yourselves to be less intrusive. If there is going to be a rehearsal, BE THERE! As it will give you a great planning advantage.

During the Ceremony

1. Become invisible during the ceremony, nothing is more annoying, that a photographer getting in the way and blocking the ceremony from guest and friends.

2. Be fast and precise to make the shots.

3. Make sure that you know the symbols, moments and scenes that you can photograph.

4. Make sure you ID each important person in the ceremony. No one is spendable and you most make sure that everyone gets into the shoot. A picture with the best friend, a very old and dear relative will be memorable and get you very important PPRR pointers from your clients ;-)

5. Remember you are telling a story. Make sure you cover the pre-ceremony, the ceremony and the party. If there is a rehearsal, make a storyboard in your mind, so you can get the best out of your shoot.

At the Party

1. Adornments, table setups, buffets, church, temples, surroundings are important spaces to fill in. Make time for them. We usually visit the place after the set up and do the shooting of sitting arrangements, the religious icons, the adornments and so on. Doing this the day before the wedding works very well for your shooting plans.

2. Plan a moment alone with the bride and the groom. Make sure you tell them before the wedding to avoid misunderstandings and tell let the other people that they required this private moment.

3. Be a mentor, if you need a second camera or more, make a mentor program, as trainees are often very enthusiastic and will help you concentrate on the important issues, while they do fill in shoots for scrapbooks and videos. I work as second Camera for Omar's social and events photography and he enjoys my outdoors out of the beaten path photo-shoots. At the end, we are learning right from the source.

Thank you for visiting and let us have your input. We like to encourage you to share your digital camera adventures with us.

See you on the screen.
Best regards

Leopoldo García

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