Wedding Photography Tips

Here’s the first of the wedding photography tips: if it’s your wedding – hire a professional!

A set of wedding pictures is a very specific product that has very great importance for the consumers, and a professional knows in advance all the pitfalls and cautions to avoid so that you get a real product.

“Uncle George has a camera – why pay someone…?” is usually followed a week or so later with, “Damn, why didn’t we hire a pro?”

Just because your Uncle George fluked a picture of little Johnnie staring at the candles at his birthday party doesn’t mean he is up for this most challenging of photographic assignments.

If you’ve been recruited to cover the wedding, here are some wedding photography tips that may save your butt.

There are, generally speaking, four phases to a wedding and then post production.

The wedding photography tips pages here are laid out in the general sequence of both the entire wedding shoot and your role as the photographer. The menu at the top of the page will guide you.

You can use the links above to navigate to the particular Wedding Photograpy Tips you may be interested in or you can simply read through each page in sequence by clicking the “Next Page” buttons at the bottom of each page.

Before We Start Shooting… photos that is.

1. Think ahead.

A really planned wedding will usually be planned down to the finest details including what shots are wanted. Find out from the bride and groom what they want photographed, and make a ‘shot list’ that you work through.

2. Beg, buy, hire, borrow or steal the following equipment:

  • A camera with wide angle /zoom lens. You do not need a wide angle smaller than 35mm and you won’t need a zoom greater than 135mm.
  • Spare batteries for the camera.
  • Several spare Memory sticks, if your camera uses them – it had better.
  • A working flash outfit that can stand separate to the camera or has a slave unit and ideally a reflector.
  • Spare batteries for the flash outfit.
  • A reflector for out door shots. (you can make one but people will laugh at you. Better to hire one.)
  • A tripod.
  • A professional attitude.

3. If the bride can’t give you a shot list, make one of your own.

It’s indispensable. You don’t want irate ‘customers’ coming up later and demanding prints of the ceremony that you don’t have because you were taking a break… If shots of the ceremony are wanted, go visit the priest/minister of the church and find out what you can and cannot do during the ceremony.

Most churches will not allow flash during the ceremony but if you are discreet about it you may be able to set up your camera on the tripod (seriously – use a tripod for these shots!) and quietly shoot away with the available light. You can get some very lovely shots this way –  if you’re allowed.

But find out in advance. Most weddings have a rehearsal and you should get yourself invited to that so you can study the lighting, angles, key moments, etc. beforehand. 4. Realize that the consumers of your product will be first the bride and groom.

After them, the immediate family, then the guests. So plan your shots in that order. Don’t get waylaid by guests wanting shots of themselves until you have totally covered your principals. Stick with your shots list.

5. Practice with the equipment.

Set it up, take it down, set it up, take it down. Do test shots. Find out what the flash will cover. Don’t skimp on this because on the day you will want to be focused (literally and figuratively) on the subject not the tools.6. Decide you are a professional.

This means wear a suit, not jeans. This means act professionally. This means get the shots first and party later. This means think of your shots as being ‘saleable’ items – not goofy accidents.

7. If possible have a back-up or an assistant.

If you’re shooting the wedding for a friend or a relative, try to recruit another friend or relative as a back-up photographer or your assistant. Get him familiar with the shot list and work out any conflicts between shots.

For example, get the back-up guy to shoot the arrival of the bride outside the church while you’re setting up inside the church. Where there is no conflict just have him shoot ‘over your shoulder’ or the same scene from a different angle. In any case you will REALLY need spare batteries, memory sticks, tripod, flash unit and so on, and it really helps to have someone watching your stuff while you are blazing away.

Continue on to the next page for the Before the Wedding Shots

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Wedding Photography Tips – Shots Before the Wedding

Wedding Photography Tips – Shots Before the Wedding

Getting ready, getting dressed, stuff in the limo.

These are usually candid shots of the bride freaking out with her dressers and friends. Sometimes the groom wants these too but you can only be in one place at once – stick with the bride.

These will probably be indoor shots at home or the hotel. If you want to cover these moments shoot a lot.I suggest waiting until the subject is looking good before you start shooting. Pictures of the bride without make-up, or the groom in his underwear are not going to be big ‘sellers’.

‘Candid indoors’ usually means using some kind of lighting even if it’s opening all the curtains. Direct Flash is never very flattering to anyone so avoid it if you can.

If you plan to invest in equipment the best thing to get is a flash outfit that has a slave unit. This is a flash that is separate from the camera. Bounce this flash off a reflector, or the ceiling (light colored ceiling) for a soft flattering light.

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Make sure that you shoot at least several posed shots as well as candid shots. Get everyone together in a relaxed group and shoot it a few times.

Pose the bride with her friends – shoot that.

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Shoot the bride with her father.

Shoot the bride getting into the limo – this can be a posed shot with the bride half in the door looking at the camera shoot from the front seat, etc.

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Next Page: Wedding Ceremony Shots

Previous Page Wedding Photography Tips

Wedding Photography Tips – Photographing The Ceremony

If the ceremony is being done ‘on location’ – like at a home, a park, a beach, etc. this simplifies things a lot.

If you can’t shoot during the actual ceremony you may be able to shoot some posed shots after the ceremony in the church.

Talk to the priest or minister before hand and ask if you can come back after the bouquet is thrown and do a few shots. You’ll never know unless you ask.

This usually includes arriving at the church in the limo – but if you have to choose between the ceremony and someone in white getting out of a car go for the ceremony.

Remember the bride will like the shots where she looks beautiful, serene, committed, loving.

The groom will like the shots where he looks masculine, handsome, strong and loving – but he probably won’t really like many shots at all!

So let’s get to the ceremony. You may or may not be able to shoot this or you may only be able to shoot from the back of the church. You should know in advance what’s possible.

These posed shots will probably have to be done without the congregation so they will be medium – close-ups of the bride and groom and maybe the celebrant: you can still re-shoot the ring, the hands on the bible, the kiss.

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Getting a stained glass window in the background is very cool and says ‘church’.

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If you cannot do any shots at all inside the church, you can fudge them elsewhere by doing tight close-ups.

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If you can take shots of the ceremony ALWAYS plan to shoot for the bride – yes, the groom is important but men don’t usually buy or appreciate photos of themselves.

Work out where you should be able to get a clean shot of the bride’s face either in profile or from an angle. Then find a good angle for the groom. If they conflict, stay with the bride. If you can get both that’s perfect.

During the ceremony, there are several ‘still moments’ where the subjects are transfixed by the magic, or the paralyzing terror, of the moment.

These still moments make for good shots using available light.

Next Page: After the Church Shots

Previous Page: Before the Wedding Ceremony Shots

Wedding Photography Tips – After the Service and Before the Reception

After the ceremony, take the bride and groom to a nearby beach or park and let them chill out and shoot some candid shots.

These are their first minutes/hours of married life, so the shots can be happy, affectionate, excited, relaxed, reflective, etc.

You could decide in advance if these will be posed and glamorous or relaxed and carefree, or a combo.

Put the couple in a good scene, walking hand in hand along a beach, leaning relaxed against a tree, standing on a footbridge overlooking a pond, sitting on the grass, etc.

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Use zoom for some of these so you’re allowing them some space, and also to soften the background.

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The Dress: Do get a shot of the dress looking good and the bride with her bouquet. This might be the only chance she has of a photo showing how beautiful she looked on the day with all the accessories.

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Next Page: Wedding Reception Photography

Previous Page: Wedding Ceremony Photography

Wedding Photography Tips – Shots at The Reception

Okay now you are really into straight reportage and flash country if it is being held indoors.

You can sneak about and shoot candid moments while your shrimp cocktail becomes one with the universe, but here are the main shots:

At the Head Table

  • Bride and groom looking lovingly/lustfully into each other’s eyes.
  • Bride and groom toasting each other.
  • Bride and groom looking intelligent while they listen to someone beside them drone on and on…
  • Bride and groom eating…. Do not shoot these pix unless they are really on your shot list. When people eat it is not pretty, unless you want to get into the eroticity of it all. (See Tom Jones, the movie, for tips on how to shoot eating.)
  • Bride and groom dancing together. Try to get shots where the groom actually looks like he is enjoying himself…may take many shots.

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Cutting the cake. This should be posed. It’s usually a once-only shot. Get the best angle, have a clear shot, ask the bride and groom to hold the knife to the cake (don’t cut), and look at the cake, look into each other’s eyes.

Shoot until you’re sure you’ve got it.

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The Wedding Speeches

Before you expend lots of megapixels on these you should realize that almost NO ONE is going to want them.

It will be a fluke (sudden death), or guilt, to prompt anyone to want these pix. However, the speaker may – I stress may – want a copy.Usually people lose their uneasy grip on reality at wedding receptions – or they just sit there and yearn to go home.

The speeches are either funny, drunken, emotive or embarrassing. None of these is very photogenic in terms of the product you should be creating. Shoot enough shots so that each speaker doesn’t look like a congenital idiot and go back to your chicken salad.

This includes the bride’s speech and the groom’s speech. Don’t pop an artery covering these because chances are no one will want the photos. It’s ‘let your hair down’ time.

Not photogenic, unless you’re into documenting the decline and fall of Western civilization. Just do a workmanlike job and try not to get too drunk, because…

And the Band Played on… Group Shots

Here can be your most challenging period if specific group shots are on your list.

Why? Because semi-inebriated guests will want to be photographed with the bride, with the groom, with the bride and groom, with each other, and with defenseless wait staff and pot plants.

The demands on your attention and time can get a bit hectic. If you have a back-up guy or gal you can split forces – you stay with the bridal party and your back-up can handle the other shots.

Once upon a time these were very formal, stiff shots, with the bride’s dress carefully arranged and the other personnel standing at attention. These days they are usually much more relaxed but it’s still best to pose these shots – not very imaginative but these are really record shots.

You really have to shoot these. Orders may be few even though there is a feeding frenzy to get into these shots, however, these are seriously recordable moments for the following sound reasons:

  • This may be the only time when the bride’s father appears in the same pix with the jerk who is now legally authorized to impregnate his daughter.
  • This may be the only occasion that the bride’s mother and the groom’s mother manage to smile at the same moment in time.
  • This may be the only time when the bride can pretend that everyone (her family) agrees with her choice of husband.
  • This may be the only time when the groom can pretend that everyone (his family) agrees with his choice of wife.
  • This may be the only time the two families are united in a common purpose – getting a photo taken.
  • This may be when you make some bucks for all your effort. (People often feel obliged to order these pictures…)

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If specific group shots are on your list do as follows.

If no formal groups are requested, just wander about with your camera (follow the bride and groom) and record groups as they appear.

Posed Group Shots

Choose a background. If the reception is indoors at a commercial reception venue there is probably an area where these kinds of shots can be taken: against a curtain, on wide steps, ask the manager for a suggestion.

Other photographers have had to figure this out before you and the manager will know. You want somewhere at least 10 people wide, ideally out of the traffic flow of guests or staff. This is your ‘set’.

But here’s a caution: you should have worked out in advance how wide a circle of light your flash will ‘throw’.

In other words, if you’re shooting from a distance of twelve feet so you can get a large group in your frame, verify that the flash will illuminate the whole group, otherwise the people on either end will be underexposed and look like brooding presences in the final image.

If the reception is outdoors, these group shots can be much more casual but the same applies: choose a background that is not too distracting – and think with the sunlight.

The time of day may mean that the sun is going to be low and harsh, work this out.

If you have your subjects looking into a low sun they will squint. If you pose them against a setting sun, you could get lens flare. Open shade is best.You can use your flash setup to good effect outdoors because the flash can fill any shadows on faces, the ambient light softens the flash itself, and it all makes for a cleaner image.

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Here are some do’s and don’ts for these formal group shots:

  • DON’T: Trust available light for these shots, especially if you’ve been enthusiastically toasting the happy couple yourself!
  • DO: Set up your flash. Ensure how much area the flash will evenly cover. That defines the outer edges of your groups. You should mark this area with chairs or pot plants, etc. so when you get a large group you can be aware of any overflow. Remember that moving the flash away from the subject will make the ‘throw’ bigger but the light will be weaker. Test this out.
  • DO: Use Your Tripod. The idea is that you now have a ‘set’ and the subjects get walked in, arranged, shot, and walked out again. Next! So figure out the best distance (see flash set-up above) that allows you to use the flash effectively, and select a zoom lens that will suit. You can zoom in for a smaller group and zoom out for a large group without moving the tripod. Try not to go too wide with the lens. 35mm is usually safe, lower than that and distortion makes the people on the ends start leaning as if they’ve had a few toasts too many. If you can, stay around 40-50mm. (The human eye is 40mm).
  • DO: Frame the shot with some breathing space on each side, to allow for expansion of the group and a feeling of space in the image, and…
  • DO: Make sure that the bottom or top of the frame is parallel with the horizontal lines in the scene, otherwise you be correcting every shot later for tilt. If you’re confident you can do this without a tripod then skip the tripod. These can be medium shots (down to the waistlines) or full length. If they’re full length make sure you’re not cutting off feet. It’s good form to allow space above the heads – about 25% of the total frame is fine.
  • DO: Take a test shot. Just get a bunch of guests onto your set and shoot a few frames and review them. If it all looks OK, ask for the first victims to be brought forth.
  • DO: TAKE CONTROL! These shots will only work if someone takes firm control. You’ll also be competing now with anyone who has a camera or a cell phone. The smart way to go here is to ask the bride or the forceful matron of honor/bridesmaid to nominate the shots for you and corral the personnel.
  • DO: Arrange the group. Generally, for any group shot, you should arrange by height but in this case it will probably be by relationship to the bride or groom. The bride may insist that Uncle Frank who is vertically challenged just has to stand beside her and ruin your composition. Do what you can. You usually have to ask the subjects to move closer together. If you want an orderly looking shot, get the people to the right and left of center to turn their shoulders slightly so their bodies are aimed towards the bride and groom. This makes for a tighter shot and is good composition.
  • DON’T Undershoot: The more people in a shot the higher the chance that someone will blink, gawp, look away, or frown at the moment of exposure. When you think it’s right, shoot it three or four times. You work out what to say to encourage them all to smile at the same time. Usually waving your arm and saying “Hello!” will do it. Saying “Cheese!” works because it makes them bare their fangs and most people think it’s stupid and jolly. Getting them to shout the bride’s name usually works too – make sure you take the shot just after the shout, otherwise you could get lots of open mouths and dental work. Say, “One more!” and shoot three more…
  • DO: Review the shot before the group disperses. Just take a good look at what you have. If you’re not sure, shoot it again.

Next Page: Photography Tips After the Wedding is Over

Previous Page: Shots Between the Wedding Ceremony and the Reception

Wedding Photography Tips – Shots After the Wedding

Preparing the Proofs.

If the end product is to be an audio-visual presentation using slideshow software or basic video editing software, or a series of hard copy prints, you should provide a disk that acts as a ‘proof’, so the bride and groom can choose what pictures they want used or printed.

Arrange the content of the disk in a logical sequence, and title each folder: “At the Hotel…” The Ceremony…” etc.

Do your own Quality Control sweep first, so you’re not cluttering up the good shots with the duds. This makes selection easier and makes you look better too.

Occasionally a shot that is slightly blurred or out of focus will catch someone’s eye and they’ll want it ‘fixed’ – this can mean long hours for you fiddling with an image editing program and you probably won’t get a good result on blurred or out of focus shots.

You can have a “Discards” folder on the DVD for these or for other borderline shots.

One of the most popular pictures from a wedding I did was a fluke shot of the bride looking back over her shoulder at the groom as they walked somewhere. It was in low light and they were both slightly blurred but the shot conveyed a quality that the next sharp frames in the series didn’t. Go figure.

If you label these borderline shots as ‘Discards’ you won’t get killed if you fail to turn that sow’s ear into a silk purse.

Weddings can be fun or agony – for the photographer. Try to follow the above tips and life should be sweeter.

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