If you take a lot of photos, eventually someone is going to ask you to photograph their wedding. It is easy to say ‘yes’, but unless you have a clear idea of what you are doing, as the wedding day approaches you may start to wish you hadn’t!
Weddings are not like other assignments. The bride and groom are entrusting you with recording the most momentous day in their lives. They have seen a million professional wedding photographs: but the high expectations these have given them are coupled to a complete lack of understanding of the time and skill that goes into producing those memories.
Why have they asked you to be their Wedding Photographer? Perhaps it is because they have seen other wedding photographs which you have taken and are impressed; probably the cost of a professional photographer has figured in their decision; maybe you are a family friend and they thought you would understand (and represent) their day in a more personal way than a stranger; or maybe they just think that someone who can take those really great landscapes or macros they saw in you house will have no trouble shooting something as easy as a couple of people getting married!
Well, whatever the reason they asked you, and whatever the reason you accepted the assignment, now is the time to get started - or maybe you should actually have started a week ago!
Here is a general tip for the day, and for the days leading up to the Big Day, because some of your most important photos will be taken well before the marriage celebration: it is called a “celebration” and so it should be. Keep it light and have fun. If you do that and stay relaxed then the people you are photographing will too. The best way to loosen people up is to smile.
Working out the Details - Now let’s look at what you are going to do as a Wedding Photographer. Start out by talking with the bridal couple about their expectations. Set aside a time to do it and allow plenty of time. Go armed with some sample pictures (they don’t have to be yours) but don’t bring them out until you have explored their ideas. This is the time to start building your shot list and establishing a theme for the shoot. By theme I am referring to things like the overall mood they want to convey: is this a solemn occasion with a touch of levity? A Holy Rite? A joyous family celebration?
If you haven’t already sorted out how much you will be paid and what you will provide for your fee, you shouldn’t leave this meeting without having done so. Will you provide a CD of the images? It undercuts your sales to relatives and friends, so cost it appropriately. What about a traditional Wedding Album? Very professional set-up and printing can be done on-line, but make sure you cost it in advance and that the styles available meet the client’s needs. Framed prints? How large, how many and for whom? There are the bride’s maids and groomsmen, the flower girls, the parents, and others. Will these be included in your price or will the other parties be expected to pay for them? Who gets the negatives or digital files?
Find out what they are wanting to achieve, how many shots they want, what key things they want to be recorded, how the shots will be used (print etc). As the couple’s requirements become clearer you should be able to resolve these and other issues and agree a price; if you did so before, you may want to renegotiate based on today’s discussion: you can bet that they will not have really thought through this part of the wedding!
The Shot List - Get the couple to think ahead about the shots that they’d like you to capture on the day and compile a list so that you can check them off. This is particularly helpful in the family shots. There’s nothing worse than getting the photos back and realising you didn’t photograph the happy couple with grandma!
Be sure you capture the essential details they worked so hard on. Try to build a list of "must-take" shots. The hint list at the end of this Intel will help, but make sure you use the couples creative ideas. Don’t limit yourself to this list though: leave room for creative license and spontaneity on the day..
Locations - Visit the different places that you’ll be shooting before the big day. It is really useful to have an idea of a few positions for shots and to know how the light might come into play. If you don’t have access to a studio, arrange a suitable venue for the formal shots. Most reception halls have a suitable area, but some may charge you to use it and you may need to hire lighting. Be sure you are familiar with it before the shoot!
Outdoor formals are always popular. Make sure that there are no restrictions on the park or garden you may want to use. Many times a private garden will be suitable and people are often quite pleased to be asked. Have a backup: I remember one garden wedding with an outdoor reception. The weather was glorious the day before the wedding, but on the day we were struck by a cyclone!
Be Prapared - Apart from a backup plan for bad weather), make sure you have plenty of fully charged batteries, more memory cards/film than you think you could possibly need and at least on backup camera, preferably one that uses the same lenses, flash guns etc.
Consider routes and time to get to places. There will be an itinerary for the entire day - you should have a copy so you know what’s happening next. Try to attend the wedding rehearsal to sort out where you can shoot from, lighting, the order of the ceremony. Take photos and you will have a good start to your wedding candids. Lots of nice things happen at rehearsals, and people are often more relaxed than at the ceremony itself.
Check with the celebrant, minister or priest. An increasing number of churches are placing significant restrictions on photography and you may need to plan work-arounds.
How to Shoot - This is not about technique; it’s about attitude. You are the photographer but you are not the only photographer. When you set up shots after the ceremony, for instance, others will “crib” your groups. Don’t make a fuss about it. They wouldn’t be going to buy prints from you and they are not going to undercut your sales from those who will. You have the tripod (You do have a tripod, don’t you!) to control the best position for the shot. You direct the position, and you put together the portfolio. You have access to the wedding party, family and guests afterwards.
Maintain a friendly, professional approach and have fun. Professionalism includes respect. Turn off the sound on your camera and practice using it without those auditory prompts for focus and exposure lock-on; it is not as easy as you might expect, but beeps during speeches, the kiss and vows are better left out!
If a video is being shot as part of the record, have a chat with the video person, and make sure you come to an agreement about any potential areas of conflict - moving about the church or reception to get your pre-planned pictures is a good way to be a featured player in the film; it’s a lot easier to avoid that if you know what the other person’s shooting script is.
The Ninja Photographer - Being present but unnoticed is a skill to be cultivated. Timing is everything. Plan ahead to be in the right position for key moments. This will let you avoid disrupting the flow of the event. Try to time moves around the ceremony to coincide with songs, sermons or longer readings. During the formal shots be bold, know what you want and direct the couple and their party with confidence. You are the Director. You have been engaged for this very purpose and it is up to you to keep things moving. People expect you to have the skill and the knowledge and they will accept your direction.
Details are Precious - Photograph rings, details of lace, veils and dresses; the shoes, flowers, table settings are important, and the menus and place cards etc are very useful fillers for the Wedding Album and a Slide Show (a very popular extra especially if you have it ready to run during the reception...impressive and not too hard with minimal help). All of these elements give depth to you Album.
The Second Camera - As mentioned already, you should have a reliable back-up. It is more than that, however. - set each up with a different lens - a wide angle for candid shots and the tight spaces like the bedroom where you just can’t get back far enough ; and a longer lens that includes the “ideal portrait” range (90mm to 120mm) and preferably streches to 200mm or longer. If you are using film, consider loading each camera with a different emulsion, perhaps reserving one for monochrome film.
Teaming Up -Even better than a second camera is a second photographer. A backup photographer is a great asset. It means less moving around during ceremony and speeches, allows for one to capture the formal shots and the other to get candid shots. It also takes a little pressure off you being ‘the one’ to have to get every shot and it means that someone can be free to take the shots from before and during the ceremony and assemble a Wedding Slide Show to be displayed during the reception.
Soften the Light - You will almost certainly need a flash gun, but direct flash is far too harsh. Bounce flash, a diffuser or a combination is the key. If you’re allowed to use a flash (and some churches don’t allow it) think about whether bouncing the flash will work (remember if you bounce off a coloured surface it will add a cast to the picture which you will have to correct). You might be better off with a flash diffuser to soften the light.
If you can’t use a flash you’ll need to either use a fast lens at wide apertures and/or use a higher ISO film or setting. A lens with image stabilisation might also help. Outside after a ceremony or during the posed shots, keep your flash attached to give a little fill in flash. Dial it back a stop or two so that shots are not blown out - but in back lit or midday shooting conditions with high contrast or shadow, fill in flash is essential.
Whatever other choices you make, if you are a digital photographer, you will have more control if you shoot in RAW mode. A wedding is one time that it can be particularly useful as it gives so much more flexibility to manipulate shots after taking them. Weddings can present photographers with tricky lighting which result in the need to manipulate exposure and white balance after the fact - RAW will help with this considerably.
Display Your Shots at the Reception - Digital photography has an immediacy that no other medium can match. Taking a computer and data projector to the reception, uploading shots taken earlier in the day and letting them rotate as a slideshow during the evening adds an element of professionalism and fun to the proceedings. Taking a portable printer with you can also allow you to let people take home a souvenir...one with your contact details on the back.
Discard Nothing - The temptation with digital is to check images as you go and to delete those that don’t work immediately. Images that can be cropped or manipulated later are a potential source of arty/abstract looking backgrounds and other shots that can add real interest to the end album.
Point of View - Make sure you mix things up a little by taking shots from down low, up high, at wide angles etc Most of the images in the Wedding Album will be fairly straightforward, ‘normal’ or formal poses - but get a little creative with some of your shots and you will please both your clients and yourself.
For the group photos, try to ensure you can see everyone's face unobstructed, I would usually recommend placing the bride and groom in the centre, then work with tallest people standing to the side or behind the bride and groom, if this does not look right, try them seated, or kneeling on one knee at the front, then as the height decreases place more people in, then bring in any children at the front either standing or sitting on the ground. Ideally, you are looking to create an imaginary line that smoothly connects and flows through all the heads.
The Big Picture - It is tricky, but with the aid of a ladder and a bit of organisation, you can do it: get everyone who is in attendance in the one shot.
Organise an area with a high vantage point before hand. Immediately after the ceremony, before the congregation starts to move off to the reception or whatever get everybody into that space - have it before the ceremony or print it on a piece of paper and put it in the order of service. Have it announced if possible, so people understand what is to happen.
Use a balcony, a ladder or a first floor window (or a roof if you are athletic enough) to get up high so that everyone’s face is visible and you can fit all the people into one shot. The trick is to get everyone to the place you want them to stand quickly and to be ready to get the shot without having everyone stand around for too long. If you can get the bride and groom into place then you can get a couple of helpers to shepherd everyone else over to them.
Burst Mode - Continuous shooting can be handy on a wedding day. Sometimes it’s the shot when everyone is relaxing that really captures the moment. These moments often seem to come just after you take the posed shot.
Hint List for “Essential” Photos - You don’t have to take every shot on this list, but if you do, there won’t be many complaints from the wedding party, family or guests.
Before the Ceremony
* The Wedding dress - over a chair, being adjusted, with the garter...
* Zipping or buttoning the dress
* Mother of the bride fussing with the hairdo or fastening the bride's necklace
* The bride's garter, veil
* A close up of the bride's shoes peeking out from under the dress
* Bride looking into a mirror or out of window
* Bride and bridesmaids getting made up
* Tearful or joyful Mother and father of the bride,
* Bride hugging parents
* Bride with brothers/sister
* Wedding cars/ carraiges
* Leaving for ceremony
* Groom tying tie
* Bride looking out window
* Groom pinning corsage/boutonniere on mother/father
* Groom hugging parents
* Bride and parents leaving for ceremony
At the Ceremony
* The wedding site
* Outside of wedding site
* Guests walking into/seated at church/wedding site
* Bride and father arriving
* Family being seated
* Maid of honour walking down the aisle
* Bridesmaids walking down the aisle
* Flower girl and ring bearer walking down aisle
* Groom and Best Man waiting for bride
* Best Man and Ring
* Close-up of ring
* Celebrant waiting
* Altar and flowers (close-up of decorations)
* Close up of bride, just before she makes her entrance
* Bride and father walking down aisle
* Groom seeing bride for first time
* Back of bride and father walking down the aisle with the groom waiting in the distance
* Shot of the guests from the bride and groom's point of view
* Elements of the ceremony
* Close up of bride and groom saying the vows
* Wide shot of bride and groom saying the vows
* Exchanging the rings
* Close up of hands
* The kiss
* Signing the marriage license
* Bride & Groom walking up the aisle
* Bride & Groom outside on steps
* Guests throwing confetti/rose petals
* Bride & Groom hugging guests, laughing, getting congratulations
* Bride & Groom getting in car
* Bride & Groom in back seat
Posed Photographs (These can be taken before or after the ceremony)
* Bride alone (full length)
* Bride with Maid of Honour
* Bride with bridesmaids
* Groom with bridesmaids
* Bride with parents
* Bride & Groom together
* Bride & Groom with parents
* Bride & Groom with families
* Bride & Groom with entire wedding party
* Bride & Groom with flower girl and ring-bearer
* Groom with parents
* Groom with best man
* Groom with groomsmen
* Bride with groomsmen
At the Reception
* The reception Hall/Garden etc
* Newly-weds arriving
* Newly-weds greeting guests
* Table centerpieces
* Table setting and Decorations
* Bride & Groom's table
* Musicians or DJ
* Guest book
* Place card table
* Close-up of bride and groom's place card
* Wedding cake
* Gift table
* A shot of bride & groom with guests at each table
* The buffet or, if having table service, a dinner serving
* Bride & Groom's first dance
* Bride & Father dancing
* Groom & Mother dancing
* Guests dancing
* Cutting the cake
* Toasts and Speeches
* Bride throwing bouquet
* Groom retrieving garter
* Groom tossing garter
* The honeymoon car
* Bride & Groom leaving
* Bride & Groom driving away
Get a seating list of significant guests and make sure you don’t miss them.
Sensitivity - With the great diversity of practice and belief within Western culture, these hints plus a modicum of Respect should get you through most Christian, New-Age and civil services. Be sure t stay on-side with the celebrants. For non-Christian faiths make very sure you approach the Priest or other authority well in advance and follow whatever instructions you are given... and post an Intel here to guide the rest of us.
I wish be useful. Thank you.
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