I have had a few people ask me for advice about shooting weddings recently. I am not sure that I am best placed for writing an ‘advice’ post on them, since I have actually only done three weddings in my short career as a photographer…I have however learnt a great deal in a very short space of time and perhaps imparting a little bit of this knowledge will help. It will certainly be cathartic!
I was utterly terrified doing my first wedding even as a second shooter, last June. I don’t know what possessed me, but at the time I thought it would be a bit of fun and good preparation for a wedding I had agreed to do a few months later! I had made no preparations at all, in fact I just turned up at the railway station and started snapping away. I was not prepared, and that was the probably the hardest thing, didn’t really know my camera well enough, had never used an external flash, had no idea how to set the exposure to capture things like detail in a white dress, but, we live and learn and that is the beauty of photography. We never stop learning. As a second shooter I didn’t have to do much prep, but it would have helped had I known my camera a bit better. the best thing? Meeting the people I was photographing and at the end of it coming out with a few shots that I was actually really proud of. I am not sure that I felt particularly happy about ever having to do another wedding, but could hardly go back on my word, having said I would do the next one only a month later.
So what did I do? I trawled the internet for as much advice on shooting a wedding I could find. I searched and searched. I read everything I could, quite literally devouring article after article until I was satisfied that I had everything in hand. So, July came and I felt I had pretty much everything in order… shot lists, sketches, more lists and more sketches. Nothing prepares you for flu though… I can safely say that this was the hardest day ever. Flu, tonsillitis, headache – the lot – and a wedding to shoot… IN THE RAIN! But I did it! It worked and all the preparation in advance was worth it.
So what did I do for my 3rd wedding. Well, I felt so much more prepared for this one and actually the preparations started way back last year in October when I did the couple’s engagement shoot. Doing an engagement shoot is one of the best ways to get to know your clients and to make them feel comfortable in front of the lens and with how you work. Since the engagement shoot I spent the rest of the year really looking forward to this wedding, and I was not disappointed. I loved every minute of it and I simply cannot wait to do more. So, as I have now been blabbing on about nothing in particular and not a single piece of advice has been issued about shooting a wedding, perhaps I should start! Here are my 20 things that might make you think twice about doing a wedding, and if at the end of it you still think you have what it takes, I would heartily recommend going for it. It is the singularly most rewarding thing I have ever done, and such a huge privilege to be let into people’s lives in such an intimate way. It is a great honour to shoot a wedding. I hope I never lose sight of that.
One of the most important things to remember is that the bride and groom have chosen you because they know you can do a good job and that they like your style. Have self belief that you can do it and that you are the right person for the job.
- It starts with a conversation…have many of them with the bride and groom to be. Find out what their hopes and dreams are, listen to the preparations they are making, pay attention to the dress, the bouquet, the table decorations – talk to them about bridesmaids and ushers, be a listening ear. For me this was the most important thing. I wanted to be absolutely involved in the whole experience as I knew that knowledge would be power and the more I knew about the day, the more prepared and relaxed I would feel.
- Include a free engagement shoot in the price of the wedding shoot. For me, this was really important. Getting the couple together, with or without their children (in both the two weddings for me it was with children), is a sure fire way of everyone getting to know each other. Doing an engagement shoot allows the couple to get used to being photographed so that when it comes to the big day, they will already know what to expect.
- Make sure you ask for their honest opinions on the engagement shoot. If there is something they are unhappy with, you want to make sure that you don’t repeat it on the day. Pay special attention to what the couple may be unhappy about in themselves, it could be nose, teeth, eyes, anything. Remember, we never see ourselves the way other people see us.
- A few weeks or so before the wedding (or more if you can), sit down with the couple and prepare a list of the people who are going to be in the shots. There will be friends, family, bridesmaids, ushers and all sorts of people that will be expected to be captured on the day, for both formal and informal shots. Talk to the couple about the types of shots they would like of family and friends. If they have samples from websites even better. Some couples are happy to use Pinterest, and if they are, then following their pin boards is a good way to get a better idea of what they would like you to achieve. Make sure the list includes names and descriptions (ie Father, Mother etc), so that when it comes to the day itself, you can approach them by their first names or as Mr/Mrs… if that is more appropriate). The list also needs to include the shot lists of which people are going to be in the shot together. It might look something like this:
- Abby and Peter (Dad) – on bench by the tree
Abby, Peter and Molly – on bench by the tree
Ben, sandra and bill (parents) – on bench by the tree
Ben, Lillie and Harvey – sitting on swing
and so forth…
I also ensured that I had asked the family in advance to make sure that there would be 1 person responsible for getting all the people for the formal family shoots together at the right time. An usher, a best man or a bridesmaid is usually good for this, unless of course they also need to have their photos done. A responsible teenager did a great job at the last wedding!
- Always visit the venue and church in advance to scout out the best places and to speak to the vicar about what is allowed in the church in terms of photography. Some photographers just expect the couple to speak to the vicar on their behalf, but I prefer not to leave anything to chance. When you visit the church and the venue, take some shots to see what the light will be like. I thought I was very well prepared, but having taking practice shots of the light in the church, I was appalled to see that they had put red hot heaters on which made everyone’s faces bright pink. I was not prepared for that, so there is a certain amount of thinking on your toes that also has to be done! Luckily much of this was rescued in post processing.
- Make lots of notes when you visit the venue, think about where you could do the creative couple shots, and if you get the chance, do their engagement shoot in the same place, so you get some practice in.
- Before the wedding – about a week before – I sat down and made a complete shot list, from morning until night… I didn’t want to miss anything at all and I found it incredibly helpful to walk through each shot in my mind and pop it down on paper, so that I would have something as a form of reference when I needed it.
My shot list started at 9am and included a concise schedule and looked like this:
9am – CD arrive at venue. Bride staying in cottage (get directions in advance).
SHOT LIST: (50mm and 90mm lenses for close ups and portrait)
Prep shots – make up, hair
Bride and Bridesmaids
zipping up the dress
North window bride
Bride in Mirror
(if time would be good to spend 20 minutes with bride and bridesmaids for some posed shots before we go)
Bride walking down the stairs
Bride and dad getting into the car
CD leave before bridal party to get to the church in advance
This list went on for 3 pages of typed A4 – possibly a bit excessive but really helpful. and later I cut each section out and put it on index cards bound together so that I had them to hand and knew exactly what was coming next and at what time. I also had a reminder as to the lenses I wanted to use.
- Another list I wrote was the 30-45 minute couple only photoshoot. knowing the venue reasonably well having already photographed the engagement shoot there, I had each shot pretty meticulously planned, knowing exactly where I wanted them to stand/sit, and how I wanted them to pose. All the shots were outside. However, I messed up here as we were not able to be outside at all, not due to rain, but because it was so incredibly cold! The only shots we were able to get outside were the bridesmaids ones, and most of those featured blue-tinted skin tones – those poor girls! I was not however very well prepared for doing the shots inside, so for all my list writing, I still missed something. In the end, we had to do the shots inside, and we chose the bedroom which was magnificent, but for me, it was not enough. Had I been better prepared, I would have had a list of inside shots that I could have used and which would have been better than having to think on my toes.
- In between times there were lots of candid shots being taken of the bride and groom, of people enjoying themselves at the reception, of the table decorations, the well wishes tree and the flowers. Don’t forget to also take shots of the children and grandparents. I love photographing children so I always make sure that I build in time to pay special attention to the children that are there.
- Make sure that 1 person is responsible for making sure that you are where you are supposed to be at the right time – I almost missed the first dance because no one told me it was happening and it started earlier than expected.
- Memory cards… take lots. Change them regularly before they run out. There can be no worse feeling than one of the cards not working and losing all the images because the cards were not changed frequently or not until they were full. Shoot in raw even though it takes up more space – you have much more scope to play around with the image in post processing afterwards.
- BACK UP – If you can, bring back up options. I brought my ipad, my notebook, a WD passport hardrive and my laptop… I had an hour whilst they were eating and I backed up 2 of my cards in that time. Obviously don’t delete them off the cards until you get home and you have backed up again, but it is well worth trying to back up whilst you are there. Remember to always format your cards, rather than delete the images off them once you are done. Deleting the images can apparently corrupt the cards.
- KEEP cards safe… pockets are not safe! Label the cards with numbers and names.
- When shooting indoors remember to keep you ISO high – if you are shooting in AV, increase the ISO to as much as your camera can or pop it on automatic. There will be lots of noise in your shots but this can also look quite effective. However, if you don’t like it you can reduce it in post processing. Keeping the ISO high (Or if in shutter priority mode or manual, keeping the shutter speed fast) will ensure that your pics don’t end up blurry or with yellow or red casts on them! If they do – convert them to black and white and pray that that works afterwards in post processing… If you are really struggling getting the quality you want, set the camera to its automatic setting and let the camera do the work for you, especially if you are moving between inside and outside. Don’t feel bad about this, know when you are beaten and act accordingly, you can always do more research afterwards and figure out where you went wrong and how to change and learn from it for next time. The end results are the most important bit and if you are not yet totally at ease with your camera settings, then just let that go and pop it on automatic so you can concentrate on the composition of your images. I wish I had done this whilst moving between indoors and outdoors at the last wedding. Sometimes things happen so fast that it is difficult to keep track and it is not until afterwards that you really your ISO was not high enough and the images did not come out as sharp as you would have liked them to. Really, the best thing is to know your camera really well. Study, practice, study and practice some more!
- Using a flash… personally I prefer natural light but it can be very helpful using a flash, especially when indoors. Use a diffuser for the flash and/or if possible bounce the flash so it doesn’t hit the people right in the face. If you are using the on camera flash you can also use a diffuser or a neat trick is to use a piece of card that it reflects off set just under the bulb which gives you a really soft ambient light. Using a flash outside in direct sunlight can also a stop harsh shadows on people’s faces. I made the mistake of bouncing the flash off the walls too often when I would have been better off remembering that I had a diffuser on it, and that it would have been fine to have been facing forward or upwards most of the time. I was a bit obsessed with not having harsh light. It is unlikely that you can use a flash in the church, so use a tripod or a monopod to insure you don’t get a problem with shakey hands and I recently found out that using a monopod raised high up with a remote control is a really effective way of getting some great shots whilst standing at the back of the church – thank you to Peter Duce Photography for this little tip!
- Know your lenses and know when to use them. ave back-up lenses and a back-up body in case of emergency. I only carried 2 extra lenses on me, plenty of batteries, plenty of memory cards and flash batteries. I left the back-up body and back-up lenses in the car.
- Get insurance! Have a contract! Get it signed. This is really important, and, you will feel so much safer knowing that you have personal indemnity insurance, public liability and contents cover. The last thing you want is to lose the images and get sued, or have granny trip over your equipment and hurt herself. Don’t forget to insure your car for business use.
- Never stay and have a drink afterwards – one can lead to two..! Get your precious images home as soon as you can, and back up your raw files straight away. Back them up to 2 different places, the last thing you want to do is lose any of them. I tend to not look at the images until the next day, and then I just have a cursory look. I find that removing myself from them physically before making rash decisions about whether they are good or bad, is the best thing for me. I am super critical and sometimes that means that images that are actually not too bad, get popped in the recycle bin too!
- Last of all – Well, I have been thinking about this for a while now… I think the only real bit of advice is to enjoy yourself and to know that very often the whole wedding party will be looking at you for answers as they expect you to be in control – so be in control. To get the shots you want you will need to be well prepared and not be worried about being a little bit bossy! You will need to stick to your timekeeping and that often means dragging the bride and groom away from their guests. If you do not take control, you will not get the shots that you or the bride and groom want, even if at the time, they forget how much they want them.Most of all though? Have fun! Weddings are great fun, and capturing them as they happen is fabulous and exciting, and oh so very joyful!
I am sure I will have forgotten one thing or another and will no doubt come back to this list again in the future. I very much hope to be able to shoot some more weddings. Ideally I would like to be second shooter on a few more; getting some more experience and building up my portfolio. For now I am just looking forward to the next wedding I have booked. It really is a tremendous honour to be allowed to photograph someone’s wedding and such an immense pleasure too!