A Crash Course on Professional Wedding Photography

By Kenneth William Caleno

Crash Course on Professional Wedding Photography

Essential Equipment

  • Two camera bodies that share the same lenses
  • Two flashes (strobes) plus cables, etc
  • 28mm Wide-angle prime lens, or 28mm-70mm zoom
  • 50mm standard lens f1.8 or even better f1.4 for low light situations
  • Not essential, but handy for candids and from back of church images is a 75mm-300mm zoom lens or similar
  • Twice as much film as you think, or minimum of two large capacity (250MB - 1GB) digital storage cards depending on your camera
  • At least twice as many batteries as you think you will need
  • Two white reflectors
  • Diffusion (soft-focus) filter
  • Red filter (for black & white only)
  • 85c warming filter for grey days
  • Tripod for formal photos
  • Lens hoods to control flare

Planning the wedding shoot

You must have a timetable to work from, or you will fail miserably. You must always remember:

  • The Bride is never on time
  • Cars are sometimes late arriving
  • Ministers will often talk for longer than expected
  • Traffic may be chaotic
  • Something may have been forgotten somewhere

Murphy, being the Patron Saint of Wedding Photographers, will no doubt ensure that if anything can go wrong, it will. Usually at the most inopportune moment. Allow for plenty of time for each section of the shooting script.

Planning Session

Planning is crucial, so make sure that time has been allowed for photography, and travelling to each location.

A: Who is Paying?

Find out who's paying for the photography, because the person footing the bill is the client, and needs to be consulted. If the bride's parents are paying, they may want nice, classic portrait shots of Bride and Groom. The Bride then wants cross-processed, arty, or black and white images. Regardless, you had better get nice "safe" photos for Mum and Dad!

It is very important to find out and determine EXACTLY what the client wants and is expecting to get. Quite often people do not know what they want until you have shot it.

What you don't want to hear is: "We didn't want half of this stuff, we want a refund!!!"

Whoever is paying, make sure you get paid up front. I usually ask for 1/3 of the fee on signing the contract, and the balance seven days before the wedding date. This saves you wondering if and when you are going to be paid, and saves you chasing clients for payment.

B. Working with schedules and timetables

Once you have found out what is wanted and who is paying, start working out your shooting schedule. I usually type these out and give to attendants in the bridal party, to organise everybody for their photo. This is to save time.

I also type my schedule on small cards for my pocket while I am shooting. This way I know when the next sequence is due, or when to change film/cards.

Let your clients know that formal photos of the bridal party should take between one to one and a half hours. Any longer will drag the proceedings, and any less time will limit the number of set-ups wanted.

Subtly point out that the guests should be advised of what is going on.

It is important to let the client know that if they cut your time, you will need to cut the amount of photography to shoot.

Protocol and family Politics

You need to tread very carefully where family politics are concerned. As you set up groups, think about ex-wives versus new wives, step-children and recently divorced couples for example. Better to let people sort themselves where they want to be. Then just arrange the set-ups accordingly.

If everyone (guests included) know exactly what happens, when, and with whom, it will alleviate the bride and groom's stress, your stress, and you will get results that please your clients.

Once PLAN "A" (beautiful sunny day with no wind) is in place, work out some alternatives. "B", "C", "D", etc. You will need somewhere to photograph if it's raining, snowing, gale-force winds etc. and a choice of idyllic locations.

A Typical Schedule Plan

A) Groom's House

Photos at the Groom’s house happen rarely, but if they are wanted, then you must make sure things run on time in order to get to the Bride’s house on time.

B) Bride's House

Get to the house early, showing you are both organised and professional. The Bride may be very nearly ready, and being the early bird may give you a chance to get things in order without rushing. Confidence is the keyword. Compliment the Bride, say she looks nice, and has nothing to worry about . Do not, under any circumstances tell her she is beautiful. Because if she isn't, she will know and this could turn her against you.

If you can help the bride and her family to be calm at the house, the tone of the whole wedding will reflect on this. Let the family know what you are going to photograph outside the church or wedding venue.

C) Church or Wedding Venue

Get to church, or wedding venue as soon as you can to get set up for what follows.

  • Talk to, and photograph the Groom
  • Talk to minister/celebrant, checking all is ok, use/non-use of flash etc
  • Wait outside for cars to arrive
  • While the ceremony is taking place, look around for photo opportunities, is the Bride’s mother crying? Is her father crying or smiling?

Once the vows have been made, and the register signed etc, the Bride and Groom will walk down the aisle or things will just finish. This can be an awkward moment and one of two things usually happen:

  1. 1
    The Bride & Groom will be surrounded by guests, and if there are lots of guests the crowd may take a time to clear
  2. 2
    (Usually at churches) When the Bride & Groom come out there is no-one at first, then all guests file out slowly and stand around the couple looking at them

Some guests will want to take photographs at this point, so set up the shot and let them fire away after you. Work politely and professionally with these people throughout the day. You never know, some of these people could become your next client.

Start the family photos, beginning with the Bride's side, then the Groom's, then all the friends and hanger's-on.

D) The Formal Photos

After all the ceremony "kafuffle", the bridal party will want to relax a bit. Maybe have a drink and a smoke for 10 minutes or so while you are getting ready.

But when you are ready, you need to get them back on track to get all required images of the Bride and Groom done on time. At this point, the couple aren't usually the problem. It's generally the best man who wants another beer, or the maid of honour who wants another smoke, or someone gets loud. You need to gain control of this.

If there are children in the party, use them first. They have a very short attention span.

No matter what happens here, stay calm even when things go wrong. Keep calm because you won't get good photos if you are stressed.

When you think you have finished, better check with Bride and Groom that you have all they wanted. If you were pressed for time, make sure that you have the set-ups they wanted the most.

Now you have to get back to the reception before the wedding party and set up for...

E) Mock Cake Cutting

This is done when budgets are tight, and you aren't required to attend the reception.

F ) The Reception

Get to the venue before the bride and Groom and be ready to catch them arriving.

Things that usually happen at reception are: (in any order):

  • Speeches
  • Toasts
  • Food
  • Then the first dance

While there is potential photography, don't eat, or drink. Just in case you miss something worthwhile.

Before leaving, ensure that the Bride, Groom and whoever is paying for the photography, have all the shots they need. With nothing missed.

G ) After it all

Get the finished prints or files to the Bride and Groom as soon as possible, that's good business. You will want them to see the images while the day will be fresh in their memory. Do not get caught in the middle of any disputes. The prints/images are always to be delivered to the married couple, and not to anyone else (unless arranged otherwise).

If someone other than the Bride and Groom is paying for the photography, it should be explained to them beforehand that the Bride and Groom get the prints.

When sorting out the finished prints, take out the blinks, and the ones that aren't up to par.

The Photography

A blow by blow account of a typical wedding - Ceremony at 4pm

  • Have your little schedule cards on a loop of string
  • Your flash/strobe should be set to ¼ ISO (for fill-in, or all outdoor photos if you want to play safe, use at full ISO for indoor shots)
  • Put your 50mm/28-70mm zoom lens on camera

1. Groom's house 10:00 am - 11:30am ( All times can only be approximated)

  • Groom getting ready
  • Groomsmen playing around
  • Groom in mirror
  • Groom dressed GQ pose, jacket over shoulder
  • Groom Full length
  • Groom with mother Close-up
  • Groom with Father Close-up
  • Groom with both parents full length
  • Groom with both parents close-up
  • Groom with Grandparents full length
  • Groom with Grandparents close-up
  • With sisters
  • With brothers
  • With immediate family
  • Groom and Best man full length
  • Groom and Best man close-up
  • Groom and best man shaking hands
  • Groom and all groomsmen

2. Bride's house - 12:30am - 3:00pm

  • Bride dressing
  • Mother helping with veil
  • Mother/maid of honour adjusting veil
  • Bride looking in mirror
  • Bride with mother looking in mirror
  • Bride putting on garter
  • Bride putting on garter with bridesmaids looking on
  • Bride full length
  • Bride half length
  • Bride close-up
  • Bride with Mother close-up
  • Bride with Mother full length
  • Corsage being pinned on Mother
  • Bride with Father full length
  • Bride with Father close-up
  • Bride pinning-on Father’s button-hole
  • Bride with both parents, full length
  • Bride with both parents, close-up
  • With Grandparents close-up
  • With Grandparents full length
  • With sisters
  • With brothers with immediate family
  • Bride and maid of honour full length
  • Bride and maid of honour. Close-up
  • Bride with attendants
  • Bride with flower girl/ring bearer
  • Bride leaving house with parents and Bridesmaids
  • Father helping Bride into limo

3. The Ceremony - 3:30pm - 4:45

  • Groups of guests and everybody [ 28mm or 28-70mm zoom]
  • Flower girl walking down aisle
  • Ring-bearer walking down aisle
  • Maid of honour walking down aisle
  • Bridesmaids walking down aisle
  • Father walking down aisle with Bride
  • Father "giving bride away" [You may choose to change to75-300mm zoom
  • Bride and Groom exchanging vows for these shots]
  • Bride and Groom exchanging rings
  • The kiss
  • Bride signing register
  • Groom signing register
  • Bride and Groom walking back down aisle
  • Bride and groom outside church
  • Bride and Groom getting into limo

4. Formal Photos 5:00 - 6:30

  • Bride alone full length
  • Bride alone ¾
  • Bride alone close-up
  • Bride alone head shot
  • Bride alone peeping over flowers
  • Bride and groom kissing
  • Bride and Groom full length
  • Bride and Groom close-up
  • Groom full length
  • Groom ¾
  • Groom close-up
  • Close-up of rings
  • Group shot of bride and bridesmaids [28mm wide-angle or 28-70mm zoom]

5. At reception

  • Wedding party announced
  • Bride and Groom announced
  • Bride and Groom's first dance
  • Wedding party dancing
  • Bride's dance with father
  • Groom's dance with mother
  • Best man toasting Bride and Groom
  • Bride and Groom toasting each other
  • The cake
  • Bride and Groom posed at cake
  • Cutting cake
  • Bride and Groom feeding each other cake
  • Throwing bouquet
  • Bouquet catch
  • Groom taking off garter
  • Groom throwing garter
  • Garter catch
  • Bride and Groom with catchers
  • Guests leaving
  • Posed departure of Bride and Groom (kissing, waving etc)
  • Bride and Groom leaving reception venue
  • Bride and Groom leaving in limo
  • Close up of invitation
  • Picture of band or DJ

About the Author

Kenneth is 64 years old and has been a photographer for 45+ years. He still photographs weddings and portraits and lives in Masterton in New Zealand.

Email: gloriaj@xtra.co.nz

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