I can vividly remember the first wedding I assisted on as a photographer, because I started working during the reception while a hora was in full swing. It was almost like weaving through a mosh pit of happy people with a camera. The experience was just mind blowing. I loved the energy, but I was scared, because you’re in a dark room trying to get “the shot.” After that, I admired anyone who could do that work. I found it so challenging and wonderful.
I grew up with a father who is very artistic, and I loved painting and drawing. But as soon as I had a camera in my hand it felt like magic. I always dreamed about being a photographer, but after college, I ended up working in advertising in New York City. I missed the camera so much and in 2010, a friend had gotten engaged, so I offered to do some portraits of her and her fiancé. Her wedding photographer then saw those photographs and hired me to assist her on that first wedding. My schedule for two years after that was working my day job in advertising and then working as many weekends as possible as an assistant on wedding shoots. But I wasn’t tired, it brought me so much joy.
Shooting weddings has been the greatest education I could ever have had as a photographer, because you have to be good at so many different things. Everything from still life, to portrait to documentary. And you only get one attempt, there’s no do-over.
By 2011, I had reached a point where I felt that advertising wasn’t for me any more and I started my own wedding photography business. My minimum offering is eight hours of coverage. That might be getting ready, couples’ portraits, family portraits, wedding party portraits, cocktail hour, reception details and everything else that happens in the eight hour day. Of course, sometimes weddings go on longer or for multiple days. I’ve probably shot around 250 weddings in the past 11 years, but I’ve honestly lost count!
If couples are looking for someone to capture the candid, spontaneous moments of joy— the moments that unfold before your eyes—that’s when I know we’re a really good fit. I remember meeting with a client who was getting married at a beautiful venue I hadn’t shot at. Eventually she showed me her friend’s photographs from that venue and what she didn’t like about them. I thought they were really quite beautiful. I was honest and told her there would be somebody else who was a better fit.
I actually see “strange” in a positive way. I recently had a bride who was fashionable, fun and interesting. The venue she was getting married in had a really gorgeous bathroom, and she had envisioned pictures of her in the bathtub with a champagne glass toasting her husband. So we did a mini editorial fashion shoot on the day of the wedding; we brought out the champagne and my assistant was holding a strobe. If I had brought up that idea for someone else it may not have worked, but they were a really cool couple and so it felt organic.
It’s rare to get this, but I still sometimes get requests to take photos of every single table at a 300 person wedding. I have to explain the challenges involved. There’s always an “Uncle Bob” that’s missing—they’re either drinking champagne in a corner or in the bathroom. I do my best but I do advise that if you want to get a picture of everyone at your wedding, hire a photo booth.
In many ways, every wedding is an adventure, because every couple is different and the cast of characters and decor changes. But I shot a really beautiful wedding in Iceland pretty early on in my career. The couple were planning on getting married on a little island and then a storm hit at the last minute. Within 36 hours they had to find an entirely new venue on the mainland. That was a scramble, and the bride was changing between sweatpants and her wedding dress so we could get the shots, but looking back on the wedding, they’re some of my favorite photographs.
Weather has always been an issue. I’ve photographed weddings in blizzards and downpours, it’s just part of being a wedding photographer in New York. I stay calm and cool on the outside, but inside my brain is rattling, thinking about how to get the picture when there’s a blizzard outside. I explain to my couple that I’m going to find the places with the best light and we’re going to make it happen.
I have shot a few beautiful high profile weddings including Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s wedding to Hilarie Burton at The Bowery Hotel in 2019 and Aidy Bryant’s wedding to Conner O’Malley in Brooklyn in 2018.
In general, the celebrity weddings I’ve photographed have come about through word of mouth and a lot of requests for these weddings are similar. There are going to be a lot of high profile people on the guest list, you can’t share any personal details and none of the images can ever be published outside of what is agreed.
These people are in the public eye all the time, and I’m being invited to one of their most personal days. They’re on camera in a different way on their wedding day and I’m there to photograph their guests and the special moments. In my experience celebrities don’t want a lot of posed pictures. It was a good lesson learned because normally there is pressure to make beautiful portraits. There are also certain things you can’t do with a celebrity wedding. You can’t go out on the streets of New York City and start snapping the couple, because then they lose out on their privacy.
When I asked one high profile couple if they had any requests, they mentioned that there would be some guests I would recognize, but they wanted me to make sure I photographed everybody equally. This celebrity compared it to another high profile wedding she had seen where she noticed that the photographer was only taking pictures of the “famous” people. I don’t think that’s what weddings are about, they’re about the most precious people in your life coming together to celebrate you.
I’m a grandma when it comes to pop culture anyway. At one wedding in 2017, I was taking pictures of a couple in an adorable, charming street in New York’s West Village. All of a sudden my couple started getting excited, they were saying, “Oh my god, it’s so-and-so!”
I’m so oblivious I just went along with it. It happened so fast, we took a picture with this person and afterwards, I asked them if he was part of their wedding band. I had no idea who he was! The couple were so nice, but they had to explain to me it had been The Weeknd. Apparently Selena Gomez was nearby but I didn’t see her.
I’m searching for those spontaneous moments in every single wedding, and I do tell couples that the magical shots—where an entire story can be read in one image—are like unicorns. But one of my favorite shots is always the couple just after they are married when they’re walking down the aisle together. It’s almost like a release of energy and then everybody is ready to party.
For every single wedding I take three digital cameras and two film cameras that I use here and there. For larger weddings of more than 100 guests, I typically have a second photographer to help me capture multiple vantage points, because sometimes I really do need to be in two places at once!
But even if I’m only shooting for eight hours on the day, there’s a lot more work involved that I think people realize. There are calls and location scouts that sometimes require travelling to a wedding a day in advance. And there’s editing time. After I photograph a wedding I look through everything I shoot and then I cull and look for the best out of thousands, and then color correct each and every image.
Since the pandemic hit, I’ve seen couples show such grace and gratefulness, they are just happy that they and their families are healthy and safe. I heard that from so many speeches in the 15 COVID weddings I shot. That was really beautiful. It moved me to the core, because when you take away everything else you might see on Pinterest about weddings, the most important aspect is the deepest connections between loved ones.
I’m so humbled that I get to do what I love and that people trust me to share their most intimate and special moments. I know what it’s like to be in a job where I felt like a square peg in a round hole and I feel like this is what I’m meant to do. I feel so lucky. It’s work, and it’s hard, but it drives me—I think it’s my purpose.
Sasithon Pooviriyakul is the owner and creative director of Sasithon Photography, based in New York City. You can follow her on Instagram @sasithonphoto and find out more about her work at sasithonphotography.com.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
As told to Jenny Haward.