Photographing your first few weddings can be a daunting task. Its one of life’s little moments that is sure to give you a few butterflies, but fear not help is at hand. I thought it was about time that I offered some practical suggestions to get through your first few weddings, especially for the aspiring amateur photographer. Whilst all of these tips might not work for everyone, it’s a winning formula that helps me to photograph 40+ weddings per year.
1. Get to know your clients
Try and hold a consultation meeting with your client early on to find out everything you can about their photography aspirations. This will pay dividends on the wedding day, as you’ll be much better prepared and clearer about what your client wants and how you’ll deliver it.
2. The pre-wedding shoot
Gimmick or a nice to do! I am a massive fan of pre-wedding shoots, so much so that I will probably write another blog about it soon! A pre-wedding shoot is a few hours informal photography a couple of months before the wedding day with your couple. If you hold it at their wedding venue, then what better way to scout all the locations you’ll be shooting at in a few months time! I find it really helpful to find four to five postcard settings that will make beautiful pictures on the day. It’s also a great way to get to know your couples and make them feel more at ease with you.
3. Create a shot list
Asking your couples to supply you with a list of important shots they would like, especially group shots, is very handy. This gives you a checklist to follow just in case you forget to take any important shots.
4. Prepare, prepare, prepare
You can never be too prepared. Make sure you have two of everything, two camera bodies, two lenses, two batteries, two flash units, two memory cards etc. You don’t want to get caught short if any of your equipment fails, as you won’t be able to go back and do it again. Think about other elements of the day as well. Have you allowed enough travel time? Do you know where you are going? What are the key timings? If you can get a schedule from the bride and groom in advance, then again this is very useful, so you know when the different points of the wedding are due to start.
5. Manage your couple’s expectations
Make sure you manage every couple’s expectations. Show them your portfolio and style, so they can see exactly what type of pictures they’ll get back. Advise them on the amount of images they’ll get, how long post production will take and if you’re giving them a DVD how long it will take to produce. I find here that honesty is always the best policy and avoids any potentially awkward situations in the future.
6. Turn off the beeps on your camera
There’s nothing more off putting than the photographer’s camera continually beeping in the middle of the couple’s vows and later on during the speeches. Be sure to switch off your camera’s sound and then you can blend into the background and focus on those winning shots! If you don’t know how to switch off your sound, then there’s normally a quick guide in your camera manual.
7. Photography during the ceremony
Depending on the ceremony you could be photographing in a church, a wedding venue or a registry office. Its worthwhile contacting the registrar or vicar before the big day to introduce yourself and find out what you can and can’t do. I always try and email or call the vicar beforehand, as I’m often with the bride right up until the service and don’t normally have time to speak to the vicar when I arrive at the church. Most vicars are normally fine with photography in the church and generally if you follow two golden rules, you won’t go far wrong. Firstly, try and limit the use of flash in the church and perhaps turn up your ISO if you need more light, and secondly, don’t shoot directly over the vicar’s shoulder, this is bound to annoy them.
8. Wedding details
Be sure to capture all the tiny little details during the wedding – shoes, headpieces, dress, buttonholes, bouquets, decorative flowers, table settings, menus etc. They’ll help to add an extra dimension to your day’s photography. Try and remember to take detail shots (or anything important for that matter) in landscape and portrait, then you have a much better selection of pictures when you are designing your album.
9. Use two cameras
I photograph my weddings using two cameras – a Canon 5D mark II and a Canon 7D. I use the 5D as my main camera, mainly because it a full frame camera, so essentially you can fit more of the shot into your viewfinder. My 7D is a brilliant back up, which I mainly use with a fixed 70-200mm f2.8L lens. If you don’t have two camera bodies, then beg, borrow or hire one so you can use two different lenses with minimal fuss and just in case one breaks down.
10. Second shooters
I have a brilliant partnership with my second photographer; she is not only easy to get along with, but a brilliant photographer! Having someone there to support you is a great thing. It can help to take the pressure off, you can split up and cover the bride and groom getting ready and it also means less moving around and is also generally just a bit more fun.
11. Be assertive
One of the pre-requisites of a wedding photographer is being confident; however knowing when to be assertive is tricky to balance. When I’m in a church for example, I tend to move around at discreet times, like during a hymn or when there is a long reading, so the congregation and bride and groom won’t really notice. However, when it comes to group shots, I take control and give people clear instructions what I want them to do to keep things moving. A good tip is finding a gimmick people will respond to. At my last wedding it was ‘blue steel’ poses from the film Zoolander.
12. Group shots
When it comes to the group shots you’ll definitely need help, especially if you are shooting on your own. This part of the day can, but not always be a little hectic. You might not be aware of particular family dynamics or guests might be preoccupied with the bar or catching up with friends. In the early consultation stages, ask your bride and groom to nominate a usher or bridesmaid that know their family and friends inside out, so they can help to shepherd people together.
13. Diffused light
There’s lots of advice from different photographers on lighting and the use of flash. I tend to sit on the fence, you can take some amazing pictures using natural light but sometimes the use of flash is invaluable. Ultimately though, its what works for you. I tend to use flash in dark places like churches or inside venues, especially during speeches. I’ll use a 580EX II speedlite off camera on a light stand, with a remote trigger, which means I can move around more freely. The use of diffusers is also invaluable because it helps to soften harsh flashlight. If you are thinking about investing in diffusers, I use a Lastolite Ezybox hotshoe, which you can attach to a speedlite in less than 10 seconds! It’s definitely worth experimenting with flash first though before trying it out at your first few weddings.
14. Shoot in RAW mode
It’s easy to shoot in RAW and just takes a second to change the setting on your camera. The advantage of RAW is that you can edit your pictures more easily and play around with things like white balance, contrast, exposure etc to fine-tune your images. It’s also much easier to rescue an image if you take a bad shot, which can happen to us all!
15. Think about your framing
This is much easier said than done and definitely comes with practice, but when you are looking through your viewfinder, don’t over concentrate on how your subject looks, also check what’s going on in the background. You want to try and avoid things like trees growing out of people’s head or signs in the background that will spoil your picture. Ideally, look for an interesting subject, set against a clean or uncluttered background to start with.
16. Don’t delete your pictures
Sometimes it’s very tempting to delete your mistakes as you go along. Try not to do this if you can help it, as although they might not look quite right in your viewfinder, you’ll nearly always find you can improve them in post production. Sometimes having an image that is over or under exposed can add a bit of variety and a contemporary feel to your pictures.
17. Be creative with your photography
There’s nothing more boring that a set of pictures of people looking into the camera face on. Be a little more creative with your picture taking, whether it’s taking the same shot from high up, low down, side on or a wide angle. It will add more variety to your pictures and also will really help to improve the look and feel of your albums.
18. Bright sunlight
Fill flash is a way of cancelling out harsh shadows that the sun can cast on people’s faces. It takes a bit of practice and its best to have your flash on camera. I always find it useful to underexpose the flash a little by taking it back a stop or two, that way you won’t overexpose or make your subject’s face completely blown out. Fill flash is mainly used in direct sunlight, but if you struggle with your settings, then take your subject to a more shaded area.
19. Expect the unexpected
Things can go wrong at a wedding, no matter how much you prepare. It could rain, snow, the best man might mislay the rings, the speeches could overrun and who knows what the children will do! The best bit of advice I can give is don’t panic, just go with the flow and do your best to capture the moment as you could end up with some fun images.
20. Enjoy yourself
This is what you’ve been waiting for and this is why you got into photography. Enjoy the moment and have lots of fun taking pictures. If the bride and groom and the guests can feel your enthusiasm that has an infectious way of rubbing off on people and will generally make everyone feel more at ease with you.