How to Photograph a Wedding

So your friend has asked you to do the wedding photos. You are a pretty good photographer, but the responsibility is niggling you and quite frankly, you don’t quite know where to start.

Look no further friend, you can start right here and by the time you have read and practiced what I am going to tell you, you will be looking forward to the job!
Amongst my archives, I have an article called How Not To Photograph A Wedding, and you should start by reading that first because it contains some important stuff that I will refer to.

The first wedding that I ever photographed was my sisters in 1967. I had flown back from Italy where I was now working in Milan, especially for the event. An album of exquisite photographs was to be my wedding present, it also suited my very limited gift budget! In those days we were still talking black and white of course. Colour negative film was unheard of and when colour was required, one had to use transparency film then get prints made from slides. It was very expensive. So black and white it was. Several rolls of trusty Tri-X and an even trustier Nikon F were my tools of the trade. I had no exposure meter on the Nikon, preferring to use a separate Weston V light meter.

The big talk in my London days apart from fashion and advertising was the style of reportage photography. Wide depth of field, wide angles, making interesting compositions with a feeling of being there. This was the new refreshing style and I was going to use it for my sisters wedding. Positively No Posed Groups! This is the style favoured by wedding photographers worth their salt today. I don’t know why it took them nearly 40 years to get round to it.


Try to shoot formal groups informally. Note that fill in flash is used here.

Ever since that wedding I have always shot weddings in an informal style with no stiffly posed groups. Groups yes, but casually arranged or photographed as they develop. It is still important to shoot all the guests, because the bride and groom want a record of who was there, but I have always covered this by shooting people arriving at the church, standing in natural conversation or sitting at tables listening to the speeches, etc. Best to cover all three if you can as it gives more variety.

The big secret of being able to photograph a wedding confidently is being organised.
You need to know exactly how the day is supposed to go and quite a few things in addition to that, so top priority is Get Organised. What time is the bride starting preparations? Where is the venue and how long does it take to get there? Is there adequate lighting for some church interior shots without using flash? Do you indeed have permission to do church interior shots? Do you have a lens that is wide enough to photograph signing the registry? Some rooms where this takes place can be cramped. How long does the reception go on for? What is the schedule at the reception? You need to know when the speeches are and that sort of thing, so that you are not somewhere in the garden photographing the brides nieces at a crucial time. This preparation starts at least a couple of weeks before the wedding. You should have discussed the sort of shots that you are going to do, explain your style and discovered if there was anything in particular happening that the couple do not want you to miss. You should find out what is happening, whether any picturesque props are being used like horses and carriage, or antique limousines. Why? Because you must start visualising your images at this stage. It is all part of being prepared and if you are prepared, you will feel confident in what you are doing. You should know the full schedule of the day from the time that the bride will start preparing which will be the cue for your first pictures of the day, to the time of the ‘going away’ or the highlights of the evening dance. Start by making notes.


The bride’s brother is a key relative! Get them together.

About pricing. Never fall for the trap of “How much would you charge to do a wedding?” You don’t know what is involved; they don’t know what is involved so if you just blurt out a price, there is no perceived value. Apart from that, you might find that there are 500 guests when you imagined only 100, or that you are expected to fly out to Las Vegas! Ask questions first, how many guests, is there a party after the reception? Is there a band? Where is the church? What time will they start getting ready? Where is the reception? Is it a sit down or buffet affair? By then you have an idea of the size of the wedding, the amount of work involved, how long it’s going to take, and where you will get the opportunities for essential pictures. Once they have explained the plans to you, you can explain your own so that when you finally quote they know what they will be getting and hopefully the price will be perceived as a value for money service. Remember their wedding day is their story and it is your job to tell this story in pictures. The quality should be no less than you would hope for your daughter’s wedding or your own for that matter, and then some!

I don’t think I have ever charged the same for one wedding. They were all different and some involved more work and longer hours than others. At the extreme, you could be photographing the bride at 10:00 in the morning and be still at the party at midnight! During your meetings with the bride and often her Mum (who is sometimes paying), prior to the wedding, you should first find out how long the day is likely to be and offer to cover it all. You should explain exactly what you are going to do, how many pictures you are likely to take and suggest that you hope that the book or album will be made up of about 40 to 60 of the best pictures out of approximately 600-1000 shots. So before you even mention money, you should have got this far, why? Because it is pointless talking about money until the Bride, her Mum, and the Groom know exactly what they are going to get, for what you are going to ask them to pay.


Bridesmaid dress details are not always on the front!

I would pitch it by summarising “I’ll be at the bride’s house at 9:30am. We will have shots of all the preparations then I will go to the church to start photographing guests arriving.” I would go on to summarise the whole day and where the pictures come in, naming all the important ones. I would explain how all the pictures would be uploaded onto their own web space hosted on my website, where they would be able to view the pictures. Finally I would state that I would include a book of the best 50/60 photos, and for all this inclusive of the website, my fee would be X pounds/dollars all in.

Prices in London can vary from about £250 to £3000 and I was talking to an Irish lady recently who said that the photographs in Ireland for her daughter’s wedding cost £2,500 and all they got was a CD full of mediocre pictures. Personally I have always thought that I have given good value and by that I mean that firstly I cover the day completely. Secondly I give them a large amount of pictures to choose from and thirdly I always include one album in the price complete with their choice of about 40 pictures. That is all included in my price for the job. Extra prints, extra albums are precisely that – extras. I don’t consider them part of the job and I certainly don’t consider them as an added incentive for doing the job, as in “you can probably sell some prints to the guests!”.

If you are photographing a wedding for the first time and it is for a friend, I would suggest somewhere between £600 and £1000 would be very reasonable. Let’s assume you are using the minimum equipment which could comprise something like a DX body. 18mm to 200mm all-purpose lens and a separate flash. Don’t imagine that you can use the built in flash that may be part of the camera, it is not up to the job and the last thing you want is a load of pictures with ‘redeye’. If you don’t have a dedicated flash unit, get one before you start shooting weddings, the best your budget allows. While we are on the subject of flash, use ‘bounce’ flash indoors and just a little fill in flash for the outdoor shots, particularly in bright sunlight. Make sure you have got plenty of batteries so that you can maintain fast charge rates.

Pricing can depend a bit on what gear you have. If you have a Nikon D3 or Canon with a 24-70mm stuck on the front, you already have about £5000 worth of gear in your mitts. A 14-24mm for tight interiors will add another £1300 and a 70-200mm adds another £1600. Add a couple of Speedlights, spare body (D700), a decent tripod, bags, clamps, filters and other bits and pieces and the cost of such a pro kit is well over £10,000. That is partly why some pros seemingly charge a lot, but high prices might be well worth the money if the photographer knows his job inside out, uses an assistant for second camera, and the shots are nothing short of fabulous.

OK. So now the shots. What are we going to do and how do we do it. At this point, I should mention that if it is a big wedding and you are charging a lot of money, you should have a second camera man/woman so you are covering all angles. Some of the best wedding pictures can arise from the unexpected, and two pairs of eyes are better that one in big scenarios.
The list: If you have not already done so, it would do to read my previous article – How Not To Photograph A Wedding, because apart from the title, it contains a list of basic scenarios for shots that are still valid today. Start compiling your own list now or use the one below as a guide.


A shot including the carriage is a must.

Getting ready
  • Bride having make-up applied
  • Bridesmaids applying their make-up
  • Pictures of bride in mirror
  • Close-up of bride’s shoes (if you must)
  • Close-up of bride’s bouquet
  • Mum and/or bridesmaids helping the bride arrange her dress, bustle the train, etc.
  • Bride with mum
  • Bridesmaids with bouquets
  • Mum or bridesmaids putting finishing touches on bride, adding the veil, etc.
  • Picture of bride ready to go
  • Bride together with bridesmaids almost ready to go
  • Bride leaving

Depending on whether you are working alone or not, at this stage, you need to be about 15 minutes ahead of the bride because you must head off to the church or ceremony venue to take some shots of the groom and his best man and a few guests arriving. If you are alone, ask for some grace to get to the ceremony site.


Sometimes it’s hard to get the guys not to look ‘cheesy’!

Ceremony

  • Groom looking out the window, waiting for the bride to arrive
  • Car arriving with bride
  • Bride stepping out of the car
  • Wide shot of ceremony space from the back
  • Guests arriving
  • Ushers helping grandparents and special guests to their seats
  • Front and back shots of flower girl/ring bearer walking down the aisle
  • Close up of details (guest book, pew decorations, etc)
  • Groom and Best Man waiting nervously for bride to walk down aisle
  • Guests sitting down, waiting for ceremony to start
  • Bridesmaids walking down the aisle
  • Wedding party standing at the altar
  • Bride just before walking down the aisle
  • Back shot of bride beginning to walk down the aisle
  • Full-frontal shot of bride walking down the aisle
  • Close-up of groom’s face when he sees bride for the first time (this can be done earlier, if photos are done before the ceremony)
  • Back shot of bride and groom together at the altar with official between them
  • Shot focusing on bridesmaids’ bouquets, lined up as they hold them at the altar
  • Close-up of each hand as the rings are exchanged
  • Close-up of bride’s face, as seen over the groom’s shoulder
  • Close-up of groom’s face, as seen over the bride’s shoulder
  • Shot of both sets of parents’ faces as they witness ceremony
  • The first kiss
  • Happy couple walking back down the aisle together, as married couple
  • Guests getting ready to shower the couple with well wishes (and rice, confetti, etc) as they leave
  • Bride and groom walking out of ceremony space, hand-in-hand

Before the Reception

  • Full shot of bride and groom together, smiling
  • Full shot of bride and groom hugging
  • Full shot of bride and groom kissing
  • Bride being lifted or carried by groom or sitting on groom’s lap
  • Close-up of couples’ faces as bride is lifted, carried or sitting on groom’s lap
  • Bride with her parents
  • Groom with his parents
  • Bride with groom’s parents
  • Groom with bride’s parents
  • Bride with bridesmaids
  • Groom with Best Man
  • Bride with Best Man
  • Group shot of bride, groom, family and wedding party
  • Groom leaning up against a wall with bride in front of him, kissing
  • Bride and groom walking toward the camera, holding hands
  • Bride and groom walking away from camera, holding hands
  • Bride and groom looking off in the same direction together


Candid shots are often the best.

Reception

  • Close-up of details (place settings, name cards, etc)
  • Close-up of centerpieces
  • Wide shot of entire room before everyone arrives, even better if taken from above
  • Any special moments during the receiving line process
  • Bride and groom’s first dance
  • Groom dipping bride
  • Bride dancing with her dad – close-up of her face as seen over his shoulder
  • Groom dancing with his mum
  • Close-up of cake
  • Bride showing her new ring to the guests
  • Bride and groom hugging guests, close-ups of faces
  • Best Man (or other guests) making a toast to the couple
  • Bride and groom’s faces as they listen to the toast(s)
  • Guests smiling and clapping
  • Guests dancing and cutting loose on the dance floor
  • Wide shot of entire room after guests arrive, even better if taken from above
  • Close-ups of guests’ faces, laughing and having a great time
  • Groups of friends sitting together at their table or dancing
  • Bride and groom whispering to each other
  • Parents (or even better, grandparents) dancing
  • Kids dancing or playing around
  • Close-up of band or DJ
  • Bride and groom cutting the cake
  • Bride and groom feeding each other
  • Bride and groom in back seat of getaway car
  • Back of car as it drives away

The key points are organisation, a list, and schedule of event times.

For those of you seeking further knowledge, check out the Wedding Photography Blueprint It is a course made by a professional photographer friend of mine, Nick Stubbs, and covers everything from finding work to producing the finished products. If you envisage yourself taking wedding photographs on a regular basis, or setting yourself up as a pro, and want some expert guidance, I thoroughly recommend that you take a look. It goes without saying that the quality of your photography should be top notch to attract clients. Perfect colour, no out of focus or blurred pictures – this 4 DVD set will help you achieve all. It also includes many tips and instruction on ‘finishing’ your photos in Lightroom or Photoshop, so that when you present them, they will be top quality, just like the wedding pros or better! There is in depth advice on equipment, the business side, setting up a website for clients and many other aspects that there is just not room to cover here. There are over 5 hours of expert tuition. It is literally a Blueprint to take great wedding photos and get paid for it.

OK. So there it all is. There is now absolutely nothing stopping you from going out and taking professional quality wedding photographs that you, your friends and your clients will be really thrilled with. Go to it and take some great pictures!

Comments

  • George Lenz
    George Lenzover 3 years ago

    I have a wedding to do next week, my first, and I’m more nervous than the bride it seems…lol…The small ceremony is going to be outside in the church garden area. So I plan to use an ND4 filter with a speedlight flash. I tested this technique last week for a photoshoot I did and The lighting was good in full sun and shade. You can see one of the shots I took Here The reception is planned in a restaurant that is rather dark inside so of course I’ll have to use the flash there too. They said there would be about 40 guests. Where did you have the books made up? I’ve used Blurb before. Thanks for posting this information. It’s going to be very useful to me.

  • You should be alright George, that’s a nice shot you linked me to. The ND should work to mix light without worrying about the 200 sec maximum shutter sync speed and still shoot open enough to blur the backgrounds. Use bounce flash in the restaurant if the ceiling is light enough. 40 guests are easily manageable. Blurb is fine. Batteries charged and good luck!

    – John Hooton

  • George Lenz
    George Lenzover 3 years ago

    thx for the advice

  • Tony4562
    Tony4562over 3 years ago

    That’s a really nice article you have written with some great advice.

  • Thanks Bro, is Emma’s (2012) the next family one? May need you as first or second camera.

    – John Hooton

  • Hans Kawitzki
    Hans Kawitzkiover 3 years ago

    Great advice and tips here John,thanks for sharing your experience

  • Thank you Hans. It’s a pleasure to share, especially if someone gets some benefit from these hints.

    – John Hooton

  • JanT
    JanTover 3 years ago

    Well done! Hope it’s okay if I add a link from the RedBubble Tutorials Library to your journal here? Very clear.

  • Thanks Jan, be my guest. Hopefully this article makes the prospect of photographing a wedding a little less daunting!

    – John Hooton