As Photographers, at some point a friend or relative will probably ask you to shoot their wedding. While this is very flattering, it is also fraut with problems, not the least of which being that if you screw it up – you are really going to dissappoint a close friend or family member.
Many years ago, I was asked by a friend to shoot her wedding, and I approached the event with fear and trepidation. I eventually registered a business and started doing weddings on a part-time basis. I felt this would be a great way to learn, and to gain experience. Along the way I learnt a lot of things that you can usually only get with experience.
That’s the funny thing about experience – you usually only get it after you need it.
So, to help prepare you for the daunting task of Wedding Photography, I have compiled all the stuff I have learnt, in the hopes that it will help you make their big day even better.
Weddings are hard work. You will be exhausted, physically, mentally, and emotionally at the end of the day. If you’re not – then you haven’t worked hard enough.
You are best starting with family and friends who understand that you are not a professional. Shooting for proper clients is not always a lot of fun. They can be very demanding, and less appreciative.
Preparation is the key to Wedding Photography. Do NOT turn up and expect to “wing-it” through the day. This is the most important day in the couple’s life, and you had better make damned sure you don’t dissappoint them.
Trust me on this one – there is nothing as unpleasant as dealing with an angry Bride because you ruined their day.
Preparation really is the key. Preparation takes the decision-process out of the moment, freeing you to be artistic and allowing your assistant to do their job without hesitation.
- The night before check all your equipment is working.
- Use only new batteries, and have plenty of spares.
- Take plenty of memory cards.
- USE AN ASSISTANT. I use my sister, and she uses a little pocket digital to get all the “extra shots”. Assistants are also really handy for arranging people in the group shots. This leaves you to concentrate on your work. Find a friend or relative who you can trust to work hard and act professionally (they should also have a good quality pocket digital camera and know how to use it.) Discuss with your assistant what you expect from them, and exactly what you want them to do. You have to work as a quiet seamless team.
- Flash is handy, but not essential. If you do use one, don’t use it with a wide angle lens or you will get a semi-circle shadow on your images. Mostly you should use flash for outdoor shots (as a “fill”) … indoors, it can cast shadows.
- Probably use AUTO MODE if you are unsure about shooting manual. Its ok to use auto. If you are shooting indoors, make sure your Colour Balance is set correctly (Incandescent, Fluorescent, …) Use Centre Weighted Metering.
- USE AN ASSISTANT.
- Have a second camera [body], HAVE A SECOND CAMERA, HAVE A SECOND CAMERA. This is in case your camera fails for some reason.
- Remember to breath.
- Use a good sturdy camera bag to keep your equipment safe during the day.
- USE AN ASSISTANT.
- Dress like you are in the bridal party. You will be seen by everyone, you want to look like a professional, and you certainly should act like one.
- Make sure you have something light to eat before you start, and drink some water during the day.
- Take a small hand-towel.
- If you can, go to the location where wedding is being held, preferably the day before, and at the same time as the wedding, so you can become familiar with the features of the environment and learn where the light comes from and where the shadows fall. You can also plan where you want to do certain shots, and find a nice quiet place to do the formal shots.
- It is their day, be as unobtrusive as you can while getting the shots they want.
- Have I mentioned: ?
Without fail, whenever I asked the couple about what sort of shots they wanted, they all said " we just want some nice photos of the day". Well… duh! Of course they do.
What I realised early on is that most people have no idea what they want. So, have some examples from bridal magazines etc on hand to show them. Discuss ideas, and pretty quickly they start telling you just what they really want.
I always told my clients “If money was no option, what sort of photos would you like?” and we worked our way from there.
One thing that you need to have is a “Shot Llist” it tells your clients that you know what you are doing, it gives them confidence in your abilities.
This list is a great place to start:
- The Bride getting out of the car upon arrival.
- The Bride walking down the aisle [use a long lens]
- The Groom waiting at the altar.
- The couple holding hands / exchanging vows.
- The couple exhanging rings.
- The couple kissing.
- The couple walking down the aisle being congratulated as they leave.
The Group / Formal shots
These should take you about an hour. Its best if you can do the larger group/formal shots first so you don’t have people waiting around [75 year old grandparents don’t want to stand around for very long!]
As you work through the group/formal shots you can let people leave to join the festivities, and you should finish-up with just the Bride & Groom, so they can have a few moments to themselves to relax a bit.
It’s a great idea to get your assistant to organise for a couple of glasses of champagne and some finger food to arrive for the couple at this point, which will also give you some great props for the formal shots!
- The Couple and both sets of Parents and grandparents.
- The Bride and her Parents.
- The Groom and his Parents.
- The Bridal Party [as a group]
- The Bride [and the Bridesmaids]
- The Groom [and the Groomsmen]
- The Couple.
- The couple giving speeches.
- Cake cutting.
- The couple dancing.
- Other speeches by guests.
- Table shots [use a wide-angle lens]
- Finally, anyone else who wants a photo with the couple.
Your assistant is effectively your Second Photographer. They can use a pocket digital camera, so long as they know how to use it. It should be a high-resolution 6MP++ camera, of course.
Your Assistant should spend their time taking candid shots. Shots from the distance, and all the other little happenings of the day that complete the “story” of the event. They can get shots of the children playing, of friends chatting, and people just having fun.
And don’t forget – at the end of the day: get shots of the couple saying goodbye to everyone and driving away!
- Shoot from different angles and heights. I take a step-ladder with me which gives me a nice bit of extra height for group shots and makes for a good seat for the bride in the formal shots. [This is one reason why you need a small hand towel – to place on the step ladder so the Bride doesn’t get dirt on her dress. I learnt that one the hard way!]
- When kneeling for low-angle shots – ALTERNATE THE KNEE YOU USE (trust me on this one) Otherwise you will be sooo exhausted from bending the one leg all day, you will feel like you are walking in circles!
- Go thru bridal magazines to get ideas for posing the formal shots, but remember to keep it simple.
- The Bride should not be positioned closest to the sun. If the sun is on the right side of your frame, place the bride on the left [on the RHS of the Groom]… basically: Always keep the Groom between the Bride and the Sun.
- Do not be “arty” and cut off the top of people’s heads. “Over-frame” your subjects to allow for plenty of cropping later in post-production.
- The same goes for cutting off people’s legs… just don’t do it.
- No part of the bride’s dress should ever touch the edge of your frame. It just looks awefull. I don’t know why, it just does.
- Don’t stand your subjects against a wall, it casts nasty shadows, always move them about 4 feet from the wall.
- Sometimes, get your subjects to look past you (to your left or right) instead of directly at the lens, then have one of them look directly at the lens. This makes for some nice shots.
My Assistant and I spent many an hour going thru wedding mags, working out how to stage the formal shots, then picking 6 to 8 styles, and analysing them and working out how to stage them for the particular wedding that was coming up.
By the time we got to the wedding, we could churn through the formal / standard group stuff in 60-70minutes, and each shot was perfect.
Preparation was the key. The decision process was taken out of the moment, freeing me to be artistic and allowing my Assistant to do their job without hesitation.
The reason I have this attitude is that between us we had been to more than 60 weddings in two years, and one of the things that we noticed from these weddings was that both the bride&groom and the guests hated the Bride&Groom being taken away from the event for so long just for the formal shots.
I have seen the wedding party taken away from the event by the photographer for upto 3 hours! You have to be joking! This annoys both the Bride & Groom, as well as the guests.
Other people trying to take pictures over your shoulder while you are working is very distracting, time consuming, and it will effect the quality of your images.
I learnt this one the hard way. I hate hate hate other people shooting over my shoulder and saying “look this way!, move over there!” etc…
I got sooo narky at one wedding during the formal shots that I turned to these particularly persistant people and said, “look, your friends are paying me more than $300 per hour to photograph their wedding. You are getting in my way and costing your friends a lot of money. If you want to take their picture, please go away and wait until I am finished!”
It worked a treat, but I didn’t need the agro when I was trying to be creative. I kinda lost the zone I was in.
Now my Assistant and I “whisk” the bridal party away for 40mins or so to avoid interruptions. (and my Assistant will run interference for anyone who follows!)
When I was doing weddings [my own business] even tho it was a part-time thing, and I didn’t charge very much, I paid for allll sorts of insurances [which cost me quite a lot] because there is nothing worse than ruining someone’s wedding day, whether its your fault or not, and I was not gonna have the reputation of being a dodgy photog.
I always did heaps more than was expected of me. The whole point of doing wedding photography is to make your client crazy-happy, there is no other purpose for what you do.
- If your client wants 100 pix, you give them 200.
- If your client only wants colour pix, also give them B&W.
- If your client wants you to just shoot the ceremony, then shoot the reception as well.
And you don’t charge them extra.
Because your job as the Photographer is to make your client happy and give them awesome memories of the most important day of their lives. You have no other purpose – and never ever forget it!
Besides, if you do all the extra stuff for free, what do you think they are gonna say about you to all their friends and family, huh?