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Bride and Groom Portrait Photography

The Best Location, Equipment and Settings For Shooting the Happy Couple

Bride and Groom Portrait Photography - The crowds have dispersed. You should have normally at this point, pre-arranged some time alone with the Bride and Groom. This can vary from between 20 minutes to one hour. Any longer and you are starting to encroach on their time.

This really is quality time and you should have pre-arranged this long before the day itself. You really need to book yourself in for these photos and push the couple to go with you. Regardless of how distracted they become.

Normally this isn’t a problem as the couple look forward to a “breather” too.

Bride and Groom Portrait Photography - Location

Take them to a nice, well lit and pre-determined area. Get the shots that you discussed or had in your mind before the wedding. Take your time and get this right. These photos will usually be the focal point of their wedding album, slideshow and large prints. Click images below for larger version.

Bride and Groom Portrait Photography
Bride and Groom Portrait Photography
Bride and Groom Portrait Photography
Bride and Groom Portrait Photography

Long before the wedding day you should have looked for;

  • ​A nice field or woodland in Spring or Autumn
  • ​A beautiful staircase at the reception venue
  • ​The gardens of either the church or reception or maybe a public place in between
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    ​A beach or park with birds, trees, lakes or a pond or water feature
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    ​If they aren’t into all that sloppy, romantic stuff, check out some cool places to get some funky retro ​shots.
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    ​Make them fun and natural​, sometimes a couple will take over and just be themselves…​fire away ​as they play!
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    ​Maybe use a motorbike or old classic car if they used one on the day. Find some props that completely go against the grain like old farm equipment and put the couple completely out of context somehow

Whatever you do this time goes quickly so I will stress again, plan ahead.

Bride and Groom Portrait Photography - Characters

Hopefully you followed my advice earlier and made the effort to visit the couple regularly before the wedding. You should have got to know their characters pretty well, as a couple and individually.

Try and incorporate this into your shots:

  • ​What are they into?
  • ​​Are there interests ​that they share?
  • ​What do they do for a living?
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    ​Do they have any hobbies they enjoy together?

Take your time. Learn what to shoot and how far to push any boundaries without getting over personal. Wedding photography could be described as 90% people and 10% technique. Therefore, never be afraid to simply ask outright what the couple are like and how they see themselves.

Bride and Groom Portrait Photography

Whatever mannerisms, expressions, moods and behaviour comes across will be recorded forever more as their memories of that day. Try and get it right.

Suggested Equipment and Settings

The equipment and settings that you use for the bride and groom portrait photos will depend entirely where you go.

Outside - Daytime/Sunny

If you are lucky enough to be shooting on a bright sunny day outdoors with some nice surroundings, you really should make the most of the natural light.

Bride and Groom Portrait Photography

If you visited this venue before at the same time, you should know what the light is doing. you should know where is best to place the couple for your shots:

Sun behind camera directly on couple - You may need to use a reflector or fill in flash top lose the shadows a bit. Beware that this generally causes the couple to squint and isn’t the most flattering pose.

Sun behind the couple but shining into your lens - This can be quite effective as you have the effect of a beautiful day but the couple aren’t bothered by the sunshine. Please note here that when shooting into the sun, your camera will meter for the brightness of the sun behind and your couple may be underexposed.

Don't Blow It

If you meter for the couple only, you will then have a blown out background…some people love this effect (including me) and some don’t. Experiment and try different angles. An alternative would be to expose for the background and use fill in flash or a reflector to expose the couple correctly and “level out” the shot.

Shaded areas - Look for a nice shaded area such as a canopy of trees or a bandstand in the park for example. Diffused sunlight is very flattering when used correctly, and a good reflector can also throw in some nice golden light from the sun’s rays.

Again, beware of your cameras metering setting. If you are in evaluative mode, the camera may well meter for the brighter areas in the background where the sun is prominent so watch this, meter from the couple using spot metering if you have it.

Outside - Daytime/Sunny - Equipment

You could need or use anything here depending on your setting but a reflector, speedlight and even a hand held light meter would all be advantageous. Always carry a grey card for metering. It is particularly useful if you have constant light outside as you can take a general reading for all shots and using flash or the reflector to add light here and there.

If possible, try and use lenses with 50mm focal length and above. 85mm is perfect for portraits as it won’t distort peoples appearance like a wide angle lens would. Of course, you may be going for some really different shots where a super wide angle lens would be very useful.

As time goes on, use some of your earnings to build up your props and equipment, these are some of the extras I use or at least take to every daytime/sunny wedding;

Polarising filter - Great for beach photography or water shots as this filter will kill the reflections. It will also add some real “punch” to your colour saturation.

Lastolite Reflector - Easy to carry and use and adds beautiful, flattering light to your subject.

Speedlight and Softbox - Great for fill-in flash on bright sunny days. The additional Softbox helps to diffuse the light even more.

Large diffusers - If you are shooting a very expensive wedding and have an assistant, these large diffusers are fantastic for controlling the strength of the sunlight.

50mm, 100mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm lenses - I like to cover all bases in case any situation crops up or if I see a shot that I want to try.

Underwater Housing - Well, I do live in Spain and shoot a lot of beach/pool weddings and I am still waiting for the day when the Bride and Groom agree to get wet.

Outside - Daytime/Sunny - Settings

On a bright, sunny day you may find that your cameras meter readings vary quite drastically as you move from direct sunlight to shade.

I may have mentioned before that I have been caught out in the past whilst using aperture priority as the camera adjusted the shutter speed dangerously low as I moved into the shade.

You can fix this by practising using Tv or shutter priority. You set the shutter speed to say 125th or 200th/sec and stay safe in the knowledge that camera shake won’t be an issue. If the light does decrease so much that even f2.8 won’t suffice for your set shutter speed, you can always increase the ISO to compensate and get you back on track.

Maybe try a couple of slow shutter speed shots for effect by “panning” with the couple as they run along a beach or something. There is nothing wrong with experimenting as the cost of digital is minimal.

Play with different aperture settings to vary the depth of field. Use f2.8 or f1.4 if you have it, to blow out the background entirely, leaving the summer colours and shades a simple blur to enhance the wedding photography portraits of the Bride and Groom.

Inside - Daytime/Overcast or Dark

Having shot weddings in England for many years, I know only too well that much of the time you have dull, overcast and sometimes rainy days.

The thing to do here is expect it! When we started out, I remember hoping and praying for a “wet wedding” as soon as possible to get it out of the way. We learnt what to do and how to handle the situation before each and every wedding.

This is why it is so very important to visit all venues before the wedding. As well as everything else I have mentioned, you need to suss out where to shoot the groups and couples portraits in the event of poor weather.

Bride and Groom Portrait Photography

Note: You may even be shooting an entire wedding ceremony from getting ready to the evening reception indoors. Look for nice places within the reception venue itself. Is there an area of particular interest such as a library, drawing room or spa/treatment area?

Make sure that you have the right equipment, especially lighting, so that you don’t miss any shots. What lighting do you want to use?

Inside - Daytime/Overcast or Dark - Lighting

  • ​Natural/Ambient Lighting from the Indoor Lights - You will almost certainly need to increase your ISO and use a tripod here as the light will be quite low
  • ​Speedlight or Flash - If you simply must use flash, try and bounce it where you can, or use an additional diffuser attachment to soften the light. Direct, naked flash is a no-no for wedding photography (for me anyway) unless absolutely necessary, and then try to diffuse it a little
  • Studio Lights - When shooting in the UK, on more than one occasion we would set up a small studio set up somewhere around or close to the reception venue. This is where we could shoot portraits of guests during the longer periods of time during, in-between and after the meal

This turned out to be quite lucrative. In these “speedy” digital times, and if you have the right equipment, it is quite possible to have these proofs or prints ready before everyone leaves meaning more coins in your coffers.

We used one or more studio lights, with a Softbox, for formals/group shots and some special shots of the Bride and Groom.

Inside - Daytime/Overcast or Dark - Equipment

Your budget for equipment will be stretched at this point which is why it takes more than just a Digital SLR and decent zoom lens to become a respectable and professional wedding photographer.

This day happens just once and you want to be prepared for anything. You can do most of this on a low-ish budget with some skills in Photoshop to start with but you are better to be safe than sorry.

My Essentials

  • Studio Lights - Kept in the car for any emergencies or times when I may just need that extra bit of power
  • ​Speedlights x3 - I take three in case I need extra power or if one of them fails
  • ​Spare Batteries - If you are using flash quite frequently on a poor weather day, you will definitely need more power. Consider a portable power pack or just stock up with “too many” AA’s
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    ​Diffusers - Again, if I am using flash throughout the day, I want to lessen the effect of direct flash with a good, reliable flash diffuser
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    ​Fast Lenses - Poor weather usually means poor light and if you cannot use flash, you will need high ISO’s coupled with fast lenses of f2.8 or higher. If you have a low budget, the Canon EF 50mm f1.4 is one of the best low light lenses I have used. If you have a healthy budget, the new EF 85mm f1.2 II is the perfect low light, portrait lens available from Canon
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    ​Tripod - Absolutely essential. No matter how steady a hand you have, you will need a tripod at some point during your days as a wedding photographer. There are too many reasons for owning one to go into here but the main ones being security and steadiness during low light situations
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    Remote Release - When using a tripod at weddings, I always try to use a remote release. Not only does it help with keeping the shot steady shake-free, it also allows you to interact with your subject more as opposed to speaking to them from behind the camera

It is also handy to be able to set up a group shot for example, leave the camera set up to adjust dresses, remove handbags etc, and go back to your camera without having to re-frame the shot.

  • ​SLR with good quality at High ISO’s - Without wanting to start yet another Nikon/Canon war, I have to say that the Canon EOS 5D is a trooper in low light and high ISO’s (I worked for Nikon once and used all their kit). The quality even at ISO3200 is almost unbeatable at the time of writing and is also a very affordable piece of equipment to start out with

Inside - Daytime/Overcast or Dark - Settings

Unless you are using powerful studio lights in a controlled environment, you will need to be aware of what camera settings you have at all times. Even when using flash indoors, you will still probably need a higher ISO for example.

Depending on what style you are trying to achieve, just remember the basic rules of depth of field, exposure and composition.

If you want to blow out the background completely due to it being quite ugly, use the widest aperture possible. If you want to include as much as possible do the opposite and use a small aperture of say F11.

To get a shot that is somewhere in between, giving a hint of what is behind but not to the point where it is distracting, use F4 or F5.6. Again, remember that the longer the focal length of your lens, the more powerful the effect of depth of field.

Outdoors/Dark/Overcast

If you are faced with these conditions, it can be quite a gloomy outlook but with the correct settings and use of light, you should do ok. Remember that the couple are quite aware of the conditions and are not expecting miracles, although they do expect the clearest and best images they can expect in these circumstances.

You will almost certainly need extra light and you can find this from all manner of sources depending on your resourcefulness and its availability.

I have seen photographers use:

  • ​Standard Speedlights
  • ​Portable Studio Lights
  • ​Car Headlamps outside
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    ​Maglites which have been used in the most amazing way and something which I fully intend to learn more about…painting with light. Great for shots taken in relative darkness

Again, fast lenses, high ISO’s and preferably a tripod are the order of the day under these circumstances.

Remember, your Bride and Groom portrait photography images will most likely be the ones they cherish the most. They are also the shots that the guests and family shouldn’t see being taken so make the most of it, get some great shots and hopefully some big orders!

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