So You're Going to Shoot A Wedding: Part 2 of 3 [Day Of]

So You’re Going to Shoot A Wedding: Part 2 of 3 [Day Of]

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If you want to know how to photograph a wedding, there are ton of books on the subject but the truth is nothing is going to be a greater lesson than just doing it.  This series is not about what shots to take or how to shoot.  It’s about being a lone ranger vendor with no roadmap. Read Part 1 on the topic of Preparation here.

It’s Game Day folks.  Your pockets are jammed packed with spare batteries, CF cards, and gum.  You’re rested and ready.  You’re a vision of both professionalism and cool comfort.  You’re terrified out of your mind that you’re going to mess up, but no one else can even sense that.

Now what?

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The Art of Bossy Invisibility

This is the finest line you will walk all day: staying out of the way, but being right in the middle of everything.  One of the first things I do when I get started at the ceremony site is to chat with the officiant.  At that point, I have (hopefully) already met with the bride and groom and have a feel for if they are the type that want great pictures even if it means me shoving my way in, or if they would prefer that it’s a fun night for all of their people and no one even noticed that they had a photographer there.  

The officiant may have some very specific thoughts on this too.  Either they don’t care a bit and feel the couple are in charge, or they may ask you to stay out of the center isle, refrain from obviously standing during seated moments, and similar during the ceremony.  It’s the hardest part of the whole day—you are there to do a job, but you also don’t want to be known as the pushy portfolio-building photographer who couldn’t take a hint.  

At least 50 times a wedding I have to silently ask myself if the potential shot is amazing enough to risk being intrusive.  Sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes it’s no.  And sometimes I make a bad choice and I find myself obnoxiously close or I miss a great shot.  The sun  still always rises the next day though.

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Shoot THEIR wedding, not Yours

I’m a huge flirt.  And I don’t discriminate with this at all—men, women, kids, babies, dogs, whatever.  And while it maybe hasn’t made my dating life simple, it’s been great for my career and getting people  to feel comfortable and look happy quickly and easily.  

When this baby started making eyes at me with drool dripping, I forgot where I was for a second and thought, how fun is this shot—this baby oblivious to the union of souls happening mere yards away and instead diggin’ on me.  The problem with this shot is that, cute as it may be, there is nothing the couple—my clients—are likely to do with it.  They may not even know for sure who that baby is for all I know.  They hired me for pictures of them, important moments, and candid situations.  Not evidence of me flirting with a baby.  

Stay true to your style—it’s what you were hired for.  But always in the back of your mind remember that the end result will be what the couple didn’t get to see, what they didn’t remember, and what they will treasure for a lifetime.

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Don’t Miss the Moments

This is the greatest fear of every wedding photographer; that something will happen and they will miss the kiss.  Or the moment when the groom sees his bride for the first time.  Or the entire first dance because they somehow got locked in the bathroom and no one could hear them banging on the door, screaming to be let out.  (That last one is maybe just my own fear.)  

Worrying won’t get you anywhere.  Odds are, you’re not going to miss the big moments.  What is more possible though is that by being on high alert every second for hours on end, you’ll miss some sweet little situations that could be an image no one expected, yet a perfect capture.  Try to be there as an observer that isn’t stressed about seeing every little thing happen.  You’re going to miss some stuff.  But you’re going to see a lot more than anyone else there.  It’s the most interesting backstage pass—enjoy the VIP status and use it wisely.

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Shoot The Whole Story

Often couples in an attempt to cut costs, will push back the arrival time of the photographer or ask for ceremony and portrait shots and nothing else.  This is understandable: wedding photography is expensive.  I personally feel it’s the worst corner to cut with the exception maybe of tossing a giant cubic zirconium in platinum, but this is tough to explain to cost-conscience couples.  

If this is a wedding you are shooting that in any way will become a part of your wedding portfolio, go above and beyond and shoot even what’s not asked of you.  To only shoot the ceremony or portraits, leaves you with little to show for your effort and nothing that’s enough to impress the next couple you may try to book.  This may cost you time you didn’t account for or aren’t getting paid for, but it will come back to you in the long run when you have a wedding in it’s entirety as part of your portfolio.  It’s also just plain ol’ good experience.

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Make the Retail Shots Meaningful

I am convinced that those bouquet shots that photographers go to so much trouble to shoot at every possible different angle go completely to waste and I’m staying convinced of that until the day I walk into someone’s home and see a 16×24 gallery wrap canvas featuring a rose bouquet, laying casually on the alter as if by magic.  Flowers are expensive—I get that.  And every bride has likely been putting the occasionally thought into what color daisies her bridal bouquet is going to include since she was in the 4th grade.  But there’s better stuff to document, I promise.  Sure, take a pretty flower picture—why not.  

Digital is cheap and you likely will have a little down time while people are shoving chicken picatta into their faces (because, promise me, you will never, ever shoot people eating.  Don’t be that photographer.) But look for the details that are meaningful.  Instead of putting the rings somewhere weird and artsy, zoom in close and shoot that shiny new ring on their hand when they aren’t looking.  When it’s casually on their grooms face and they are enjoy a small moment.  Photograph the details that will be important years later.

And if you do get locked in the bathroom, don’t panic.  I have to hold on to the belief that a missing wedding photographer isn’t something that goes unnoticed for long.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Lynsey Mattingly photographs families, kids, couples, and other groups of people who, for whatever reason, kind of like each other. Her portrait work has been featured in People Magazine, Us Weekly, BBC Magazine, and on national TV including CNN, Oprah, and Ellen, but most importantly, in the personal galleries of clients across the country. Her photography can be viewed at www.lynseymattingly.com or on Facebook.

Some Older Comments

  • Glen August 24, 2013 05:52 pm

    This article is a great helpful for those photographers who just started their photography career.Some time due to not having experience they just got nervous and spoil the whole party unintentionally.
    I would like to use the technique of breaking the whole party in small segments and concentrate on each thing one by one.

  • Paul Plak August 20, 2013 06:49 am

    "The sun still always rises the next day though."

    Yes, but on that very moment, I'm not sure that's exactly the way I feel ... ;-)

    But you're right, staying alert & calm and not overdoing things helps to do it right.

  • Tope Ojo August 18, 2013 08:21 pm

    Great article!

    I love this article because its so true! I find that a day before I'm due to shoot a wedding I go into nerves overdrive! So much so, I totally lose my appetite. On the day itself, I'm looking around thinking, what the heck have just let myself into???????

    Once I'm over the nerves and jitters things settle down and I begin to go with the flow.
    One system that works for me is to not think too far ahead but instead, break it down into the four segments of the day (bridal prep, church ceremony, official photographs/couples portraits, reception) and deal with each one as and when. That way I'm not entirely overwhelmed by the whole aspect of the day......well, it works for me!

  • Colin Nichol August 17, 2013 04:17 am

    Having just completed my first attempt at being the wedding photographer for a friend of the family, I can certainly identify with the writer's comments. As the day drew closer, the more stressed I became. It was an extremely long day and I definitely made mistakes but it was valuable experience that I would not have missed. My advice is to charge a fee, no matter how small. Do NOT follow my example and do it for free. This diminishes your standing and you run the risk of being taken for granted. Anyway, the photographs are ready to be viewed when the happy couple return from honeymoon. There are almost 900, so hopefully there will be some that they will like

  • Jan Reichert August 14, 2013 12:53 am

    Thank you for this interesting series. I have been 'shooting' 4 weddings in my life. 3 times as "uncle Bob", or how you call him ;-) ... and once as main photographer for family members who actually did not care about having photos. So, except being in the way of the main photographer, so big risks.
    Lately I was approached by someone who asked me about doing wedding photos after seeing my page. Strange, because I nowhere mention that I do such kind of things... well I do try whatever I can in photography, and maybe she stumbled upon my site and liked the photos or someone told her about me.
    But I admit, wedding photography now frightens me, now that I grew older and wiser :-D... and I told her the truth, that I do photography for years, but am no professional, that I would do it if she wishes, that I will certainly be cheaper than a pro, but will not do it for free due to the amount of work, and finally I gave her the contact of a professional wedding photographer who is excellent.
    This was all last week, before I read your article... I just wonder, maybe I should just have done it, I mean be less negative about my experience... but I thought it's better to be honest. All this just to say, thank you for this article which I really found interesting, and I am waiting for part 3.

  • Nancy K. Mora August 13, 2013 05:54 pm

    This is a great source of tips for all wedding photographers especially the new ones. Weddings are one of the most important moments in one's life therefore it is important that every single detail or moment is perfectly captured. It is important that the photographer knows what he's supposed to do and does the job properly.