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7 Tips for Better “First Dance” Wedding Shots

Today Ronan Palliser shares tips on how to capture the ‘first dance at a wedding.


You are most likely invited to weddings every now and then, and I’m betting that most people bring a camera with them.  Chances are, if you looked back at your photos and compared them with those that other guests took on the day, there will be many shots that are the same.  The most photographed moment of the day is often the bride and groom’s first dance, and with a little bit of know how, and if you’re lucky enough to have it, some extra lighting tools, it is possible to get a shot of the first dance that will stand out from the crowd and identify you as a capable photographer.

Tip 1: Change your shooting angle


Most people, most of the time, take photographs from the same viewing point – i.e. they hold the camera up to their eye and press the shutter.  For a different view, deliberately take the camera low down and you’ll immediately have a shot that stands out.  Wedding receptions are often held in rooms with ornate ceilings, so this can be a good way of getting that detail in the background also.

Tip 2: Move to the other side of the dance floor


99% of photographs of the first dance that guests take are captured from the same side of the dance floor.  For a unique shot, move around to the other side and include the “paparazzi” in your shot.  The resultant image will be fun, capture the excitement of the guests, and more than likely the enjoyment of the bride and groom at all this attention.

Tip 3: Post process your images


Instead of just settling for the images straight from the camera, bring them into some photo-editing software to enhance them.  This can be as simple as increasing the contrast, or you can get artistic and apply some effects such as this spot-colour effect, done in Photoshop Elements, to make the bride and groom stand out.  Photographers might think this look is cheesy, but many brides and grooms love it.  Notice also that this image uses the tips above as well – don’t be afraid to combine different ideas in one shot.

Tip 4: Slow down your shutter speed


By slowing the shutter (and keeping your camera steady, on a table or chair for instance) you’ll get shots that show movement on the dance floor.  You may also get lucky, like I did above, and find that someone else’s flash goes off in the middle of your exposure to help freeze the bride and groom.  Or you can make your own luck by following tip 5….

Tip 5: Take your flash off the camera


If you own a flash that can be taken off the camera and fired remotely, see what happens when you fire it from a different position to your camera position.  For the image above my wife was holding my Nikon SB-800 just out of the frame at camera left, and pointing it towards the bride and groom.  I triggered it using the wireless CLS system on my Nikon camera, but remote triggers from Ebay would do the trick as well.  The end result is another distinctive looking first dance shot.

Tip 6: Make use of the videographer


Often during first dances, there’ll be a videographer filming the event, and he’ll probably have a video light on top of his camera to illuminate the bride and groom.  If you underexpose your shot and wait for his light to brighten up the bride and groom you’ll get a pretty cool spot like effect.  Or you can achieve the same thing by using the off camera flash mentioned above and zoom it in as much as it will go.

Tip 7: Light the dance floor


The shot at the top of this page was lit by two off camera flashes, one either side of the band, pointing across the dance floor in an X to light the entire floor.   The wider shot above shows a similar arrangement – you can see how the two flashes (mounted on the band’s speakers) light the whole floor.  Depending on where you position yourself relative to these lights and the bride and groom, you can get some great front light, back light, side light or combinations of all of these for a professional looking shot.

-2About the Author: Ronan Palliser is an Irish photography addict, living in Dublin. He maintains a daily photoblog at http://www.ronanpalliser.ie/blog and publishes a new photograph every day, with in-depth technical details about how the shot was taken.

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