Wedding Photo Tips for Amateurs

Thinking of Shooting a Wedding? Read This First...

Young Wedding Couple Taking Time Out

You only get one shot at a wedding so:

  • Get to know the couple
  • Prepare well
  • Use a checklist
  • Check your equipment
  • Check all lighting scenarios
  • Organise an engagement shoot
  • Get an up to date event schedule
  • Recce the locations
  • Have freshly charged batteries
  • Use our free advice below
Bride to Be Having Dress Tied Up

Here it the first of my wedding photo tips for amateurs. If you are being paid for photographing a wedding, but unsure of what you are doing, don’t do it. At least not until you have researched everything thoroughly!

Seem a little harsh?

Let’s put it this way. Wedding photography is probably the most demanding and stressful style of photography there is. Some professionals may argue that point but to expand on what I mean:

  • You get one chance at a wedding There is no re-shoot if you mess up!
  • The Bride and Groom are relying on you. In fact the whole family and most of the wedding party are relying on you.
  • You must be prepared. You must know the church, reception, the route to both and the names of the families off by heart.
  • Your equipment must not fail you. You must have back-up cameras, fully charged batteries, enough media, and an assistant if you can.

Has that put you off?

Mmmm the force is strong in this one

This section is not meant to put you off wedding photography. My tips here are meant to do the opposite, to encourage you. However, it is important that you know all the facts before you commit to any job. Let me expand further on the points above!

One Shot

This is it! You get one chance and one chance alone at this. The couple have probably prepared for over a year for "The happiest day of their life" . Weddings cost money and your time and photography skills are no exception. They are paying for a professional wedding photographer and that is what they should get.

Now don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to produce award-winning wedding photography every step of the way. Like the shots you see in magazines or in the portfolios of some of the greatest wedding photographers! By professional I mean:

  • Courteous
  • Polite
  • On time
  • Efficient and happy

Remember, this is a happy day for everyone. You should consider taking out indemnity insurance against any eventuality that may arise. The couple are quite within their rights to sue if things go wrong.

Reliable or Liable?

When the wedding couple asked you to photograph their wedding (even if it is just friends) they put their trust in you 100% . They will have enough to think about on the day and trust me, the photographer is furthest from their mind. Your photos will hopefully adorn their coffee table for a long, long time. They are something for them (and you) to be proud of.

But it’s not just the couple. I have on more than one occasion, had to put a wedding photography album, or DVD together for both sets of parents too. Even some guests on occasion. Of course, nowadays many people take cameras to weddings, but it is you that is ultimately responsible for recording the event. You are getting paid to do so usually.

Are you ready?

How can I say this without sounding like an old school book? "Prior preparation prevents poor performance"! Oh well, I can’t, but it does make sense, especially with wedding photography.

If you haven’t bothered to:

  • Meet most of the wedding party
  • Done a practice run
  • Visited the church and reception
  • Find some nice, suitable areas for the "special" shots

...then you are not ready. How embarrassing would it be to get the couples names wrong, or turn up late because you got lost? Your number one priority other than taking the photos, is to prepare for the day. As I said before, the couple have probably prepared for a long time so the least you can do is the same. See the checklist at the middle of this page. You would do well to print it off for reference too.

Remember, the list is just a general guide for you to plan your day. Most weddings are shot "reportage" style these days and this list is now quite dated.

You DO have a camera?

I read a lot of the photography forums on the web. One question about wedding photography that always crops up is "What equipment will I need?". If you are asking that question, you are still a way off from being ready to photograph a wedding. Many people reply by saying it’s not the equipment but the photographer that makes the images!

Whereas I agree with this to an extent, it doesn’t mean you can turn up to a wedding with a digital compact camera and a step ladder. The minimum quality I would use is a medium format film camera or a Semi Professional DSLR. Both of these are easily capable of producing up to A1 prints.

A selection of lenses ranging from ultra wide angle to medium telephoto for a start. If possible, lenses with a large aperture of F2.8. At least one decent speedlight, preferably dedicated to your camera so you have less to think about. Oh, and I was serious about the stepladder earlier, sometimes it is needed for the really big group shots.

I remember once having to climb up a 4 rung stepladder to get all 130 people in. Doesn't sound that bad, but when both hands are operating the camera it gets quite hairy. Quick tip: A huge shout from me and a 5 shot burst later, I do believe we got everybody in the wedding party looking at the camera, including babies.

Know Your Kit

You must know your equipment inside out. It's important to understand how it works and how to make instant changes to cope with unforeseen circumstances. You must have a spare camera and batteries. The batteries must be fully charged. It is easy to forget simple points like that as I have known, erm people (yes me) who have had to stop at a garage on the way to the reception to load up!

Above all, once you are confident, have fun and enjoy the experience. Unfortunately, it comes with the territory of wedding photography, that you will at some point get in the way. You may get some grief from the guests but as long as you are polite and as efficient as possible, the day should go smoothly.

Wedding Photo Tips for Amateurs - CLICK HERE FOR THE CHECKLIST

The Checklist

The Morning of the Wedding

Bride Getting Ready for Wedding

Wedding Photo Tips for Amateurs Fig.1

If you are able to, get to the Bride’s house as early as you can (make an appointment so they are expecting you). The house will more than likely be pandemonium if you leave it too late. Take your time and get some shots of the Bride and mother getting ready. The bridesmaids too and even set up a few mock shots of them leaving the house. This stops you from getting in the way when they actually do leave.

Also, grab some shots of the:

  • Shoes
  • Bouquet
  • Dress hanging up

Anything that looks good and can be added to a DVD slideshow later. Then leave . Don’t hang around as you want to be at the church or registry office well before the bride. This is to get shots of the Groom and best man waiting outside the church etc. Also get some candid shots of guests arriving, groom and best man messing about, the groom with his parents and anything else that you feel is necessary.

Equipment recommended: Camera. Ultra wide aperture 100mm lens range. Tripod for slow speed (moody) shots. Reflector (Lastolite are excellent) for window shots or shots where you don’t want the harshness of flash. Also for any shots outside, especially if sunny to fill in the shadows. Speedlight (preferably dedicated with diffuser or used on bounce mode). Maybe one studio light with softbox for more formal shots indoors.

During the Service

Newly Weds Smiling at Each Other

Wedding Photo Tips for Amateurs Fig.2

First of all BE QUIET! Secondly NO FLASH if possible! As you are going to be moving around, do it as silently as possible. The attention should be on the wedding couple not you! You should have already asked the vicar where you can go in the church during the service, so make sure you do. Also make sure it is actually ok to take photos during the ceremony.

You should already have your tripod set up at the back of the church or up in the organ area as you don’t want to be "clunking" it around too much. Try and get a high viewpoint and take some wide angle shots of the entire congregation. If you are allowed, get a bit closer and take some from the front of the church, with the congregation behind the couple.

Only use flash if you are allowed to. If so, use it sparingly, it is a wedding not a fireworks display. Set your camera (if digital) to a high ISO of 800 or 1600. That way you can get some good hand-held shots without worrying about camera shake. You can lose the grain or noise later on with a program such as Neat Image.

Equipment recommended: Camera. Ultra wide 16mm 200mm lens range. Tripod for indoor (no flash) shots during ceremony. Remote release. Speedlight (preferably dedicated with diffuser) if allowed.

After the Service

Newly Weds Enjoying a Cuddle

Wedding Photo Tips for Amateurs Fig.3

This is where you are going to have to get a bit assertive . Once you have the shots of the Bride and Groom coming back down the Isle and leaving the church or registry office, get ready to "let the games begin"!

You will find that the couple are immediately swamped by guests. Flashes are going off left, right and center and you can’t get a look in. You must take control here. Remember, you are being paid for this, and it is your job to organise things at this stage. If the couple want group shots, start organising people straight away. Ask a family member or an usher for help getting the relevant people together.

For whatever reason you cant get one or two shots that you need, don’t panic. You can do them at the reception later. At this point you can take a breather and download your photographs (if digital) to your digital photo storage device. I absolutely recommend one of these as you will find yourself shooting a lot more digitally than you would with film. If you have arranged somewhere special to go with the couple, go there now.

Equipment recommended: List of group shots with names, as requested by couple. Camera. Ultra wide 16mm 100mm lens range. Tripod. Step ladder if large group (this is where an assistant comes in handy!). Reflector, especially if it is a sunny day (the collapsible Lastolite reflectors are great as they fold away in an instant). Speedlight for fill-in flash.

Somewhere Special

Newly Wed Portrait at Sunset

Wedding Photo Tips for Amateurs Fig.4

If the Bride and Groom have agreed to have some special shots done, the best time is immediately after the ceremony . People have just 2 things on their mind at this point, food and drink ! Whilst the guests are making their way to the reception, take the couple to a pre-destined place of your choice (or theirs). Take some time to get some really nice, relaxed shots.

Make sure you have been there previously at exactly the same time, so you have an idea of what the light is doing and where you should position the couple. Look for any areas of interest near or on the way to the reception:

  • A pond
  • Ruins
  • Gardens
  • Even the beach

Just somewhere a bit different. Don’t worry about the guests too much, if the Bride and Groom are a little late, it makes for a grander entrance.

Equipment recommended: Directions to place/s with list of pre-determined shots. Camera. 35mm-200mm lens range. Tripod. Reflector, especially if it is a sunny day. Speedlight for fill-in flash.

Cake and Candid's

Girls Aloud and Dancers at Wedding Reception

Wedding Photo Tips for Amateurs Fig.5

Ok. You can start to relax a little. By this point you are probably ready for a drink (even if you don’t drink)! If you aren’t invited to the reception, at least get a quick shot of the cake before it is cut. Then you are done. If you are to attend the reception, get the shots of the cake and start to get some candid’s of the guests "unwinding!". Other must get shots are the cutting of the cake, the first dance and maybe the speeches.

Then it is really up to you how long you stay for. Maybe you can put your camera away and relax yourself.

What I sometimes do, space and permission granted, is to set up a small studio somewhere at the reception. Maybe there is a small room adjacent to the main area or even just the hallway. If it is possible, it can be a great way to earn some extra money from organising portraits with the bride and groom.

Equipment recommended: Camera x 2/3. 24mm-200mm lens range. Speedlights. Studio equipment if allowed with 2 flashlights, brollies (or 1 brolly and 1 softbox, stands, backdrop (personal preference). Tripod and any props you might need.

Anyway, food for thought! Remember, enjoy yourself and relax, with good preparation you are half way there…

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