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Weddings Through The Eyes of a “Noob”: Lessons I Learned

One of the things I'll do is set up a remote camera in the back of the ceremony, elevated if possible.  In this shot, a tilt-shift lens was used to create that miniature look.  EOS 5D Mark III, TS-E 17mm f/4L. Exposure was 1/320, ISO 3200, f/4.

One of the things I’ll do is set up a remote camera in the back of the ceremony, elevated if possible. In this shot, a tilt-shift lens was used to create that miniature look. EOS 5D Mark III, TS-E 17mm f/4L. Exposure was 1/320, ISO 3200, f/4. Photo by Rick Berk/kNot Photography

Throughout the first 20 years of my career in photography, I’d photographed a lot of different things- NHL All-Star games, Major League Baseball, NFL Football. I’d photographed portraits, boudoir, model portfolios. Landscape photography became a passion of mine. One thing I never photographed was a wedding.  When I began my career, I assisted on exactly two weddings. Never did I shoot one.  The two weddings I assisted on went so badly that I never wanted to touch one again.  I thought all weddings were like that. It wasn’t until years later that I understood it was more the photographer I worked for than it was the weddings themselves.

This type of shot is the kind that makes for a nice touch in the overall collection from a wedding.  They complete the set and really show a photographer's attention to detail.  EOS-1D X, EF 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro. ISO 800, 1/200, f/8.

This type of shot is the kind that makes for a nice touch in the overall collection from a wedding. They complete the set and really show a photographer’s attention to detail. EOS-1D X, EF 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro. ISO 800, 1/200, f/8. Photo by Rick Berk/ OneRedTreePhoto.com

For a variety of reasons, I made myself available as a second shooter in 2012, and got my first taste shooting weddings.  That first one was intimidating, but I learned a few things along the way.

This is a must. Depending on the setting it will always change, but at least one formal portrait of the bride is essential.  This shot simply used on camera flash, bounced into a reflector at camera left. EOS-1D X, EF 85mm f/1.2L II. 1/250, f/1.2, ISO 400.

This is a must. Depending on the setting it will always change, but at least one formal portrait of the bride is essential. This shot simply used on camera flash, bounced into a reflector at camera left. EOS-1D X, EF 85mm f/1.2L II. 1/250, f/1.2, ISO 400. Photo by Rick Berk/OneRedTreePhoto.com

1. Prepare and be organized.

Prior to the wedding day, speak to the bride and groom about what shots they absolutely must have. Plan when and where you will be shooting each of the shots. If you’re doing group shots in the park, make sure they know that’s the plan, and when you need them there.  Keep a shot list with you. Don’t promise anything more than that you will try to get these shots, because things could always happen preventing you from getting the shot. But at least this way you know what to try and focus on.  This is also where you manage their expectations so they understand that you can’t possibly get EVERYTHING, but you will try to get what’s most important to them.

2. It’s your job to manage things.

Your bride and groom have a ton on their plates on the wedding day. Photography is the last thing on their mind. But you still need to get the shots and you need to do so as efficiently as possible so as not to hold up the proceedings.  Gentle reminders to the bride and groom about the shots they wanted will help, especially if you can give them a few minutes warning. For instance, “We need to get the family portrait, and we have a window in 5 minutes if we can get you all together,” works fine.  They WILL ask why the shot isn’t there if you don’t get it, and even if they are resistant during the event, they will thank you later.

3. Do what you can without their cooperation.

Yes, there will be some shots you absolutely need to pull the bride and groom away for.  But if you can manage to get shots without interfering in their activities, you’ll be exactly the kind of wedding photographer everyone wants- an invisible one who delivers the goods. Shoot preparation shots, detail shots of the rings, the cake, etc., while you have the free time and nothing else is going on. Getting those kinds of shots out of the way makes it easier to get the really important stuff later.

4. Don’t try to go it alone.

It’s easy to underestimate how much work goes into shooting a wedding. Many times, a photographer’s first taste is when a friend asks them.  It’s an honor to be asked, but it’s also a great responsibility.  Theoretically, this is a once in a lifetime event.  You can’t be everywhere at once.  The weddings I worked as a second shooter, I wasn’t a secondary shooter.  I just wasn’t the guy contracted to do the job.  But I shared responsibility for getting certain shots. For instance, the bride and groom getting ready at different locations. One of us would go to the bride’s, one to the groom’s. We’d meet back at the church, or at another location where we might be doing shots, depending on how the day is planned.  This takes a huge amount of pressure off.  In terms of the ceremony, it ensures that multiple angles are covered so if one of you is blocked, the other might have a chance at getting the shot.

5. Be on the lookout for those special moments.

It can be easy to focus on the primary photos and lose sight of those smaller, special moments that, when captured, make for the best images. Be on the lookout for a tender moment between bride and groom, the bride and her father, or the groom and his mother. Look for moments with friends and relatives that might end up telling a story.  This means your camera is always ready and you are always watching. There is no time to let down your guard.

6. Approach it like any other shoot.

There are a lot of little moments that make up a wedding day. Near the end of the father-daughter dance, the bride looked up and had this beautiful expression of admiration for her father. When her mother saw the image, tears came to her eyes.  As a photographer, those are the moments I live for.

There are a lot of little moments that make up a wedding day. Near the end of the father-daughter dance, the bride looked up and had this beautiful expression of admiration for her father. When her mother saw the image, tears came to her eyes. As a photographer, those are the moments I live for. Photo by Rick Berk/OneRedTreePhoto.com

One common theme I’ve heard from all photographers thinking of diving into the wedding pool is that they build it up so much that they become intimidated by it. You were hired for your expertise, so approach it like anything else. Look for creative shots you can use to illustrate the day, to give a storybook feel to the images, and to capture the emotion. If you need the bride and groom and other family members in a certain spot, direct them as you would a portrait shoot. Don’t be afraid to ask for them to do something for you if you think that by doing so, you can provide them with a shot that will make them remember the day fondly for the rest of their lives.

7. Use ALL of what you have.

In my bag at most weddings I keep a 24-70mm lens and 70-200mm lens.  These are my workhorse lenses. But I try to offer variety and for me this means using different lenses for different shots.  I have a 100mm macro for ring and detail shots, but also for portraits.  I use a fisheye lens for some candids on the dance floor. I’ll use an ultra wide angle like a 16-35mm.  I keep a couple of speedlites with me.  Sometimes I use them on camera, sometimes off, and sometimes I turn it off and just shoot available light.  The point of all this is to provide variety.  Different shots with different looks create more interest when the images are viewed as a collection. Yes, you could get away with using a 24-70 for the entire day, but I like to change things up when I can.

8. Have backup.

This means a backup camera, flash, batteries, memory cards.  Anything that can die, go bad, break, corrupt.  If you are being paid, you are considered professional, and being a professional means that the words “My camera broke” cannot be used as an excuse.

9. Check with the officiant

Each priest, minister, judge, or other officiant I have worked with so far has had a different set of rules where photography during the ceremony is concerned. Prior to the ceremony, introduce yourself, and ask what is permissible and what isn’t as far as you are concerned. Is flash ok during the ceremony? Where would he prefer you NOT be during the ceremony? Laying the ground rules beforehand can make a huge difference in how you cover the event.

10. Have fun!

Weddings are fun, happy occasions. Enjoy it. There’s good music, happy people, and you get to capture the memories. If you are enjoying yourself, it will show in your work.

For 20 years I always swore I wouldn’t touch a wedding.  But having shot three of them now, I find I enjoy the challenge and creativity of capturing these once (or twice) in a lifetime event for the couples I’ve worked with. No, they aren’t for everyone. But with the right attitude and know-how, they can be incredibly satisfying to shoot.

When the dancing started I decided I wanted something different. I mounted a 5D Mark III on a monopod with 14mm lens. a flash was mounted on the camera with the head aimed at the ceiling for bounce. Using a remote release, I got the bride's attention and waited for her reaction, firing when I saw it.

When the dancing started I decided I wanted something different. I mounted a 5D Mark III on a monopod with 14mm lens. a flash was mounted on the camera with the head aimed at the ceiling for bounce. I held the camera out over the dance floor by extending the monopod a few feet. Using a remote release, I got the bride’s attention and waited for her reaction, firing when I saw it. Photo by Rick Berk/kNot Photography

The church had these huge windows with light pouring in.  I knew I wanted to use it but time was tight.  I grabbed the bride and groom quickly and asked them to stand by the window and look out.  I fired off a handful of shots varying the exposure a bit. The black and white conversion added a nice artful touch. EOS-1D X with EF 24-70 f/2.8L II. ISO 1250, 1/100 f/5.6.

The church had these huge windows with light pouring in. I knew I wanted to use it but time was tight. I grabbed the bride and groom quickly and asked them to stand by the window and look out. I fired off a handful of shots varying the exposure a bit. The black and white conversion added a nice artful touch. EOS-1D X with EF 24-70 f/2.8L II. ISO 1250, 1/100 f/5.6. Photo by Rick Berk/OneRedTreePhoto.com

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Rick Berk is a photographer based in New York, shooting a variety of subjects including landscapes, sports, weddings, and portraits. Rick's work can be seen at RickBerk.com and you can follow him on his Facebook page.

  • http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/ Mridula

    I won’t touch a wedding *ever*! :D

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

  • Brute

    Not sure how much of a noob you are, good sir.. but a lot of good tips!

  • Ryan

    Another tip I learned as a noob in weddings… When looking for those candid, tender moments keep an eye out for what other guests have their cameras pointed at. Many times the guests will see kids doing something cute, or longtime friends reuniting, etc. They get out the point n shoot. That is a signal to you that something important or memorable is going on. Worth a looksee, and many of the times those shots you get will end up in the album.

  • Katrina

    My friend is getting married and doesnt have a lot of money. She asked me to photograph her wedding at the end of the year. I’ve never photographed weddings, infact I just bought my first actual photography camera. So I want to do her wedding but I dont want to ruin it.. anyone want to give me advice?

  • http://www.bettyaduffy.com Betty

    How appropriate!! I am shooting my first wedding as a paid professional this Saturday. Great advice!! And while you may be a noob @ weddings Rick, I find your images and blogs a wonderful source of inspiration and information! Thanks!!

  • JP

    Great article. Top tips for any newbie.
    Only point I don’t particularly agree with is number 4. I’ve been shooting weddings on my own for a while and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I don’t want to have to guess where the other shooter is all the time, wondering if they’re doing it properly etc. For me it’s one of those ‘if you want it done properly, do it yourself’ affair…

  • JP

    Great photos too, btw

  • http://www.rickberk.com Rick Berk

    To each his own JP. I just know, from my point of view, there is too much going on to be able to do it all myself and do it well. If you work with someone you trust, it shouldn’t be a problem. The people who hire me know that I know what I’m doing, and know that I know what needs to be captured. We discuss it all beforehand and there are no doubts as to who will do what. We end up with more timely captures because in essence, we CAN be two places at once.

  • Ryan

    Totally agree Rick. I shot second shooter on a friends first wedding gig (as Prime). He was so worried about getting all the “insurance” shots he completely forgot about shooting just the bride and groom at some of the locations they desired at the reception. As I was shooting details and candids, I grabbed them and took them around the property and got those shots. As we left the event, he was super upset about missing said shots and breathed a sigh of relief as I handed him my cards.

  • Rafael John

    although intimidated by the thought, I’d really love to shoot a weeding event, i guess it will be really hard, since im an introvert and can socialize that much, anyways, nice tips!

  • http://www.herviewphotography.com Darlene Hildebrandt

    As a photographer who’s done over 300 weddings, those are great tips and all true!

  • http://www.herviewphotography.com Darlene Hildebrandt

    @katrina if you want some honest, kind advice – I’d consider suggesting to your friends that they should at least hire a pro for part of the day, and have you do some of the extra stuff.

    As a classicly trained photography student with a degree from a 2 year photo program under my belt, I did my first weddings about 3 years after school. I can tell you that I felt like I was going to throw up for the first year at every single one of them! There is so much pressure at a wedding and there’s no going back.

    If you’ve just gotten your first SLR then you aren’t likely even familiar with it yet. Some things to think about:
    – what will you do if your camera body fails or worse yet quits in the middle of the day
    – what if your battery dies? You need to have at least 4 fully charged ones, 6 is better for a wedding
    – do you have an external flash and are familiar with using it? The lighting throughout the day will vary from really bright outdoors, to dimly lit rooms – you need to be able to handle all situations
    – how will you pose the people? They will look to you for guidance on where to stand, how to put their hands, etc.
    – do you have fast enough lenses (ones with large apertures like f2.8 or f1.8) to be able to shoot in low light?
    – what if the officiant says “no flash” during the ceremony, or “you can only stand at the back of the church” – do you have a long enough lens to capture that?
    – do you have a tripod?
    – do you have plenty of memory cards? Last wedding I did I shot about 60gb worth of photos
    – do they expect you to edit them? Don’t assume – ask. That’s how friendships are ended

    Do yourself a favour and decline it, respectfully. You’ll be doing yourself and them a favour. There are so many things that can go wrong at a wedding, is it worth losing a friend over (I’ve seen it happen). I too know many active, working professional photographers that wouldn’t touch a wedding with a ten foot pole! Just think about it.

  • http://www.rickberk.com Rick Berk

    Thank you Darlene!

  • http://www.flickr.com/people/kumardosi/ Kumar

    My wife and I did our first wedding last month. We did it for friends and as Darlene suggested, we ensured they had a professional photographer at hand.

    We are photographing for a year now but wedding is a totally different ball game. As Rick and Darlene highlighted, it is always better to have 2 and we really benefitted from it – not just to be in two places but also two angles. We also shot with 1 full frame camera which delivered very good high ISO performance in dim light.

    Our photos can be seen here on our FB page:

    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.510192215699778.132780.450089268376740&type=3

    Our friends were really happy with our work because of the candid approach.

  • Trevor

    I did my first – and so far, last – wedding as a present for two friends who’d co-habited for 3 years. Sadly, the marriage lasted only 18 months before she threw him out. The pictures still look good, though. I had to crop unwanted guests out carefully in post. Took loads of spare shots, especially of kids – squints, closed eyes and inappropriate expressions are inevitable. Burst mode was useful here. I took 2 cameras, but used only one, my trusty old D50 with a kit 18-55mm. Thankfully, the day was ideal, a bright but mildly overcast morning. Only required a bit of white balance tweaking and warming up. The set meal was in a large conservatory, so almost no flash needed. Found it wise to plan my shoot, especially for the exchange of rings etc., and groups and angles. Glad I arrived early, spoke to registrar etc. Later, I found the reception offered great shots, it’s where folk have a drink and start to relax.

  • http://hmooney.webs.com Hal Mooney

    I started assisting an experienced wedding photographer for $20.00 per wedding. I set up equipment, held lights, etc., and got to shoot as we went. When the film came in, the photographer would sit down with me, and compare my shots with his, showing me how this angle worked, that didn’t, etc., so I could learn. After a few weddings, some of my shots actually made the book! and the bride liked them. He gave me a commission on the shots that sold. I worked with that guy for about three years, reaching a point, after about a year, where he would send me to do the smaller wedding while he did the bigger affair. By that time, I was beginning to shoot weddings of my own, and eventually I went solo. I shot over 200 weddings on my own, and the lessons I learned at that photographer’s side saved me having to learn by making costly mistakes. Something to think about.

  • http://shine4himphoto.wordpress.com Nicole

    Great tips! I’ve done 5 weddings so far, and have enjoyed it!

    One thing I would also add, be aware of where you are standing when you take your photos! My cousin hired a guy for his wedding that stood right in front of the parents during the kiss. They were so upset, even if the pictures came out good! So just don’t get so focused on what you’re doing that you forget those around you.

Some older comments

  • Hal Mooney

    March 5, 2013 03:06 pm

    I started assisting an experienced wedding photographer for $20.00 per wedding. I set up equipment, held lights, etc., and got to shoot as we went. When the film came in, the photographer would sit down with me, and compare my shots with his, showing me how this angle worked, that didn't, etc., so I could learn. After a few weddings, some of my shots actually made the book! and the bride liked them. He gave me a commission on the shots that sold. I worked with that guy for about three years, reaching a point, after about a year, where he would send me to do the smaller wedding while he did the bigger affair. By that time, I was beginning to shoot weddings of my own, and eventually I went solo. I shot over 200 weddings on my own, and the lessons I learned at that photographer's side saved me having to learn by making costly mistakes. Something to think about.

  • Trevor

    March 2, 2013 06:32 am

    I did my first - and so far, last - wedding as a present for two friends who'd co-habited for 3 years. Sadly, the marriage lasted only 18 months before she threw him out. The pictures still look good, though. I had to crop unwanted guests out carefully in post. Took loads of spare shots, especially of kids - squints, closed eyes and inappropriate expressions are inevitable. Burst mode was useful here. I took 2 cameras, but used only one, my trusty old D50 with a kit 18-55mm. Thankfully, the day was ideal, a bright but mildly overcast morning. Only required a bit of white balance tweaking and warming up. The set meal was in a large conservatory, so almost no flash needed. Found it wise to plan my shoot, especially for the exchange of rings etc., and groups and angles. Glad I arrived early, spoke to registrar etc. Later, I found the reception offered great shots, it's where folk have a drink and start to relax.

  • Kumar

    March 2, 2013 02:08 am

    My wife and I did our first wedding last month. We did it for friends and as Darlene suggested, we ensured they had a professional photographer at hand.

    We are photographing for a year now but wedding is a totally different ball game. As Rick and Darlene highlighted, it is always better to have 2 and we really benefitted from it - not just to be in two places but also two angles. We also shot with 1 full frame camera which delivered very good high ISO performance in dim light.

    Our photos can be seen here on our FB page:

    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.510192215699778.132780.450089268376740&type=3

    Our friends were really happy with our work because of the candid approach.

  • Rick Berk

    March 1, 2013 02:21 pm

    Thank you Darlene!

  • Darlene Hildebrandt

    March 1, 2013 02:17 pm

    @katrina if you want some honest, kind advice - I'd consider suggesting to your friends that they should at least hire a pro for part of the day, and have you do some of the extra stuff.

    As a classicly trained photography student with a degree from a 2 year photo program under my belt, I did my first weddings about 3 years after school. I can tell you that I felt like I was going to throw up for the first year at every single one of them! There is so much pressure at a wedding and there's no going back.

    If you've just gotten your first SLR then you aren't likely even familiar with it yet. Some things to think about:
    - what will you do if your camera body fails or worse yet quits in the middle of the day
    - what if your battery dies? You need to have at least 4 fully charged ones, 6 is better for a wedding
    - do you have an external flash and are familiar with using it? The lighting throughout the day will vary from really bright outdoors, to dimly lit rooms - you need to be able to handle all situations
    - how will you pose the people? They will look to you for guidance on where to stand, how to put their hands, etc.
    - do you have fast enough lenses (ones with large apertures like f2.8 or f1.8) to be able to shoot in low light?
    - what if the officiant says "no flash" during the ceremony, or "you can only stand at the back of the church" - do you have a long enough lens to capture that?
    - do you have a tripod?
    - do you have plenty of memory cards? Last wedding I did I shot about 60gb worth of photos
    - do they expect you to edit them? Don't assume - ask. That's how friendships are ended

    Do yourself a favour and decline it, respectfully. You'll be doing yourself and them a favour. There are so many things that can go wrong at a wedding, is it worth losing a friend over (I've seen it happen). I too know many active, working professional photographers that wouldn't touch a wedding with a ten foot pole! Just think about it.

  • Darlene Hildebrandt

    March 1, 2013 02:06 pm

    As a photographer who's done over 300 weddings, those are great tips and all true!

  • Rafael John

    March 1, 2013 12:25 pm

    although intimidated by the thought, I'd really love to shoot a weeding event, i guess it will be really hard, since im an introvert and can socialize that much, anyways, nice tips!

  • Ryan

    March 1, 2013 09:26 am

    Totally agree Rick. I shot second shooter on a friends first wedding gig (as Prime). He was so worried about getting all the "insurance" shots he completely forgot about shooting just the bride and groom at some of the locations they desired at the reception. As I was shooting details and candids, I grabbed them and took them around the property and got those shots. As we left the event, he was super upset about missing said shots and breathed a sigh of relief as I handed him my cards.

  • Rick Berk

    March 1, 2013 09:05 am

    To each his own JP. I just know, from my point of view, there is too much going on to be able to do it all myself and do it well. If you work with someone you trust, it shouldn't be a problem. The people who hire me know that I know what I'm doing, and know that I know what needs to be captured. We discuss it all beforehand and there are no doubts as to who will do what. We end up with more timely captures because in essence, we CAN be two places at once.

  • JP

    March 1, 2013 09:00 am

    Great photos too, btw

  • JP

    March 1, 2013 08:59 am

    Great article. Top tips for any newbie.
    Only point I don't particularly agree with is number 4. I've been shooting weddings on my own for a while and I wouldn't want it any other way. I don't want to have to guess where the other shooter is all the time, wondering if they're doing it properly etc. For me it's one of those 'if you want it done properly, do it yourself' affair...

  • Betty

    March 1, 2013 05:54 am

    How appropriate!! I am shooting my first wedding as a paid professional this Saturday. Great advice!! And while you may be a noob @ weddings Rick, I find your images and blogs a wonderful source of inspiration and information! Thanks!!

  • Katrina

    March 1, 2013 05:46 am

    My friend is getting married and doesnt have a lot of money. She asked me to photograph her wedding at the end of the year. I've never photographed weddings, infact I just bought my first actual photography camera. So I want to do her wedding but I dont want to ruin it.. anyone want to give me advice?

  • Ryan

    March 1, 2013 04:13 am

    Another tip I learned as a noob in weddings... When looking for those candid, tender moments keep an eye out for what other guests have their cameras pointed at. Many times the guests will see kids doing something cute, or longtime friends reuniting, etc. They get out the point n shoot. That is a signal to you that something important or memorable is going on. Worth a looksee, and many of the times those shots you get will end up in the album.

  • Brute

    February 24, 2013 09:04 am

    Not sure how much of a noob you are, good sir.. but a lot of good tips!

  • Mridula

    February 23, 2013 03:07 am

    I won't touch a wedding *ever*! :D

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

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