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As a photographer the time will come that you are asked to shoot a friend’s wedding for free or for payment. Most photographers baulk at the idea, citing the importance of the day and fear of failure as the main reasons. In this article I want to look at what it takes to shoot someone’s wedding to help you decide if it is your lack of self confidence that is preventing you for taking one on, or a honest reflection of your abilities coupled with a moral obligation telling you not to ruin the day.
This is clearly subjective and to a certain extent determined by the visual literacy of the bride and groom. What are their expectations and do they match what you are technically able to do? From your perspective, before you can even entertain the proposition, you should be competent, technically, with a camera. This means being able to use it comfortably in full Manual mode with an understanding of how shutter speed, aperture and ISO work together to give the correct exposure. If you currently work in Program ( P ) mode, although you may get okay results, you should probably decline the opportunity.
The above may seem harsh so let me explain my reasoning. If you do not understand the principles of how to nail exposure fairly accurately in Manual mode, then chances are that you will not be well versed in composition or the use of light, both of which are integral to creating images the bride and groom will love. You may ask at this point ask what does it matter if I shoot in Program mode – I spent a lot of money on my camera and I get well exposed images. Well, the problem is that you are not in control. Wedding photography is about translating what is in your mind’s eye into a photo, and you need the technical know how to do this, at the same time as capturing the couple’s and guests’ emotions. In short you need to control the depth of field which means shooting in Manual or Aperture priority mode (the latter in fine as long as you can do it manually as well and know about exposure compensation).
If I shoot a wedding I take at least three bodies with me (often five) so as not to miss a special moment while changing lenses, and to act as back up. The latter is incredibly important. You do not need a top of the range kit – in fact a good photographer could shoot a wedding very well with an entry level DSLR, but it does help. Do you have fast glass (f/2.8 or faster) or are you using a kit lens? If you have a kit lens, is it fast enough to give a sufficient shutter speed to capture the ceremony? The last thing you want is to ruin the proceedings and romance by using a flash. A 50mm f/1.8 can be purchased very quickly and are ideal as they all come with a built in zoom – your feet!
Even photojournalists will usually take portraits of the bride and group and arrange group shots, so being able to pose people is really important. It is an area that most photographers struggle to get right though and this shows up in the final images. They look awkward and unnatural, which is the last thing you want. It is something you can learn before the wedding and practice to get right. You really don’t want to be doing this on the day and lining the family up like a firing squad.
Even if you are covering a wedding for a friend you should still have insurance in case something happens. Your bride and groom may be forgiving, but suppose staff member at the venue trips over your bag, which you momentarily put down, and hurts themselves? You do not want to be sued!
They may have expectations of a grand album. Can you provide this, design it and deliver it? Do you have the time to do this or would you prefer to just hand over a disk of images?
A wedding is a serious thing and if you decide to take one on for the first time it is important to be very honest with the couple. Tell them that you are nervous and that it will be your first time. Unless they are very misguided, they will likely have asked you to cover it because you are either free or inexpensive, or they simply want a record of their day and you have a flash camera which works better than a camera phone.
You may be an excellent photographer, but can you handle your nerves? Can you think straight and logically if something goes wrong? Can you work to a strict deadline, like when the meal is due to be served. Are you comfortable shooting in bright sun, rain, snow or dark conditions? You need to ask yourself these questions, and ideally do a complimentary engagement shoot with the couple to ensure they like what you produce.
The above hardly touches the surface, but if you have the self belief and confidence that you can shoot a wedding, then go for it. Just be honest with the bride and groom, and set expectations. From their point of view they may not have a budget for a professional and would prefer that you got something for them instead of none. It is hard work. Your brain will ache and you really need to do your homework first, but if you do, then chances are you will love every second.