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Weddings

 

You are going to be asked to shoot a wedding sooner or later.  I'm here to tell you don't.  To shoot a wedding well you have to be absolutely on top of your game. You need a real understanding and fluency in your technical skills.  You also have to be really good with your people management skills.   Shooting a wedding is hard work, fast moving and frankly a job best left to the professionals.

However, you can add a lot to a couple's wedding day with your own photography. You can shoot things that will mean a lot to the couple of just for your own personal memories. Remember while you are doing this to keep out of the professional's way. You are not ruining his shots, but actually ruining the couple's photographs.

Above all else remember that not only is the wedding day a once in a lifetime event (hopefully) but to the professional photographer each individual moment is also completely unrepeatable.
 
There will be quite a few staged moments during the wedding day where you will be invited to take photographs.  If you are serious about your photographs then have a chat to the professional about where he would like you to stand.


Equipment

 

To get good coverage of a wedding you will find this is a two or three lens job. A 24mm to 100mm zoom is your main lens and will do most of the work. A fixed prime (ideally 85mm) with a wide aperture will be good for narrow depth of field shots. A long lens (200mm plus) for headshots at candid moments.

You can bring two cameras. This will save you swapping lenses on your main body. Some professionals will use two alternating all the time in case of camera failure. As a professional I always have at least one spare body left in the car as well.

You will also want a flash suitable for bounce flash; you may want to add a diffuser or "whale-tail". You will need lots of batteries for the flash. When I shoot a wedding I will take 1,000 to 2,000 pictures, with the flash on for a lot of those pictures - both indoors and outdoors.

You need spare batteries for your camera as well of course.

You want to shoot RAW throughout.  For this you will need several large memory cards.  Weddings are the classic photographer's nightmare, bride in a white dress, and groom in a black suit.  You need detail in both.
 
For shooting modes remember wedding events are really quick, with often fleeting microsecond emotions and expressions.  Use auto-focus or continuous auto-focus.  Shoot in aperture priority if you have time and are quick enough.  Use full auto mode if you are not.

Be prepared to toggle your ISO up and down. You will go from shooting outdoors in full daylight where you want ISO 100 for maximum quality. Next moment you are inside a dark church where flash photography is not allowed (and will be horrible anyway).


The Morning Preparation

 

This is an area where you really can help the wedding couple and their families.  Although now a lot of professionals are booked to shoot the morning preparations this is not always the case.  You are looking for great candid shots as everyone gets ready.   You are pretty much in "photo journalist" mode here.  During these mornings you can see everything from hysterical laughter to moving tears.  You want to catch each moment as it happens.   People will be moving around all the time, rushing from place to place.

Use aperture priority or full auto. Use a wider angle lens when shooting indoors as space is limited and probably prevents using a longer lens. Use flash indoors with the flash bouncing from the ceiling to prevent harsh lights. Bring the ISO up as you need to, ISO 400 or ISO 800 might be a good compromise between shutter speed and quality. Increase the ISO if you can't get a fast enough shutter speed.


Key Photographs to Look For

 

Bridal dress hanging - long shot and detail
Bridesmaid dresses hanging - long shot and detail
Bridal accessories: shoes, tiara, bouquet, button holes
  • "Old, new, borrowed and blue" items
Celebration cards around the house
Bride and maids being made-up and hair styled
Bride getting dressed
When parents first see bride dressed - often a tearful moment and might be worth setting up so you can control when this happens.
The wedding car being prepared and ready to go.
The groom getting dressed
Groom, best man and ushers together.
Special wedding present and/or gifts from the bridal couple.


At the Church

 

There are two parts here: the time outside the church and the time inside.   Traditionally as a guest you should be inside the church when the bride arrives.   As a guest you will normally arrive well ahead of the bride, but after the groom.  Take this time to get some shots of the groom and his team and indoor details of the church.


Key Photographs to Look For

 

Groom and best man, separately and together
Ushers and other officials, separately and together.
The wedding rings
Groom details
Guests arriving and greeting each other
Order of service
Church features: the church itself, the lych gate or other entrance way.

Inside the church you need to change shooting modes. Churches are very dark places. You should not use flash. Flash during the service itself is horrible and distracting. Flash in a church doesn't work very well because churches are big buildings your flash will rarely reach the walls. A flash photograph will give you bright people in a sea of black background.

You want to set shutter priority with a shutter speed just fast enough to avoid camera shake (1/100th). Then set the ISO so you are getting reasonable apertures of around f11. If you are confident you can go completely manual for exposure, if you are less sure then let the camera do the leg work. You can probably still use auto-focus, there is usually enough light for your auto-focus to work.


Key Photographs to Look For

 

Guests and family groups
Groom looking pensive or emotional
Parents of bride and groom
Church details - architectural and any decorations and flowers.
Bride's arrival and walk up the aisle.

Once the bride has arrived the officiant will usually say there is to be no photography. You should respect that a wedding service is an important and solemn occasion. As an invited guest you should be a full participant in the wedding at this point.

After the service the couple will sign the marriage register and wedding certificates.  Once the legal formalities have been completed guests are often invited to take pictures of a set-up signing.  Get the bridal couple tight together, looking happy and having a kiss.
 
You may get a chance for some shots of the newly-weds leaving down the aisle, though this part often turns into a rugby scrum of every family member taking pictures.


The Group Shots:

 

Each wedding professional has different ways of organising the group photos. The group photos may include every single guest - that includes you! If you are in the group shots then keep your camera held behind your back, it looks better in the picture.

You will want to shoot some of the groups because these are often the only times that larger families get together it is a good chance to record them. There are two places to stand for this, either very close to the professional or a long way to one side. Why? Because the group needs to know where to look. If some look at you and others to the professional then it's like a cross-eyed group shot and doesn't gel well.

Some professionals are very happy for you to shoot over their shoulder and may even invite you in for exactly this reason. Others may ask you just to hold on a moment until they have their shots. Some will not want you there at all. Again I would ask you to be respectful of the professional - he is the one shooting for the newly-weds and it is their pictures that are important and will end up in the wedding album.

But you also have a chance here to shoot other groups and combinations that the professional won't be shooting. So look for other family or friends that you can capture. Look for the children, after a boring sit in church they are often full of energy dashing around.


Key Photographs to Look For

 

Family and friends formal group poses
Casual groups of family or friends
The look on the bride or grooms face throughout
People greeting and hugging rarely seen relatives
The parents of the bride and groom, together or separately
The bridal car and decorations
Children
  • Throwing the bouquet
  • Showing the garter

Shoot these types of shots with a good mixture of wide angle for groups and long lens for tight head shots.

The confetti shot should ideally be staged.  A good professional will want all the guests to be throwing confetti at the same time for a really good cloud of petals.  Follow his lead and be ready to shoot.  Get a good wide angle shot of the all the confetti in the air and falling.  Quickly zoom in for details of confetti in the bride's hair, down her dress and so on.   Take lots of shots very quickly - the confetti moment is very quick.

As the newlyweds leave the church get some shots of them by the wedding car and looking through the windows once they are inside.


At the Reception

 

There is now a much less formal time.  You are now looking for candid shots of guests having fun.  You are looking for smiles as often as you can.  No-one wants to see unhappy wedding guests.   Keep looking for key family members, which may be distant relatives, elderly grandparents, and charismatic uncles.
 
Try and keep shots clear of drinks, food and cigarettes.   These are often annoying distractions in shots and regardless of the expense of the wedding always seem to look scruffy.

If you can get into the dining hall ahead of the other guests there will be special table decorations and flowers to be photographed.

Get some shots of the wedding cake before it is cut.  Look for details as well as the whole cake.  When the formal cake cutting time comes shoot the bride and groom at the moment of the cut.  American weddings often have a cake feeding moment which you need to catch as well.

During the speeches keep your camera attention on the bride, groom and parents. At most weddings you can guarantee a tear or two as well some good laughs.

The first dance can be one of the hardest things to shoot.   You will have disco lighting providing mood and ambience in a darkened room.  If you shoot with flash then you will lose all that.  On the other hand shooting without flash can leave you with a lot of motion blur and a few random laser sparkles.  Take a lot of shots and keep switching the shutter speed from slow to fast.   Switch the flash on and off to get a variety of shots.

Once the evenings dancing starts up you are pretty much done. As the guests become more "relaxed" and the alcohol flows then there are few flattering or memorable photographs to be gained by this point.

 

 

OK, I understand it is unlikely that you are going to be able to shoot at a wedding in the next few days.  So we're going to approach this assignment differently.
 
Get on the web and find wedding photographers in your area.   
Have a good look at their website portfolios
I want you to really look at the pictures they have chosen to show.
Are they good pictures?
  • Do they use good composition?
  • Have they used good lighting?
  • Have they used good poses?
  • Are the images clean with no distractions?
  • Do the images have impact?
  • Do they use colour or monochrome or both?
  • What types of shots have they chosen (groups, couple, details)?
  • Would you hire them?