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Wedding Photography Tips to Get You Started

A Guest post by Mark Hauge from Ana Rita Photography.

Wedding Photography Tips to Get You StartedWhen my wife and I decided to take up wedding photography a few years back I had a good idea of how much we would need to learn. I knew reading one book on wedding photography wouldn’t cut it but it was a place to start. I recall the book stating that for weddings you should be in aperture mode so off we went to shoot our first wedding for a friend. After shooting most of the ceremony in aperture mode I quickly realized there was a lot more to it when I saw the soft and blurry images from low shutter speeds due to the low lighting in the church. I knew we had a long ways to go.

As my wife and I have grown in experience over the past few years I have made mental and physical notes of what we have learned in hopes of sharing our insight in with others and to further our learning by going through the process. This is not meant to be a how to guide but instead an overview of tips and techniques that work well for us with our style of wedding photography which is photojournalistic with some minimal posing of subjects.

Camera Settings

Every time we purchase new cameras I set them up knowing they will be used solely for weddings. Here are our preferred settings (we use Canon so your camera may have slightly different names for these settings):

Date/Time: Since both my wife and I shoot during weddings I make sure our cameras have the exact date and times down to the second. Later when we upload the photos to begin editing this makes everything quicker as the photos are in chronological order. There is no easy way to reorder photos in most photo software applications so this is a huge timesaver if you plan on posting the photos online as it simply looks better if everything is in order. It also saves time when you arrange the final wedding album.

Auto Focus Area: Many cameras have sophisticated systems to choose the best focal point for the shot. Our Canon 7D’s have 19 points which can be auto selected by the camera. When shooting weddings, we often find ourselves shooting between close objects to get the shot we want which might cause the camera to choose that object as the focal point. Also in low light it can be difficult for cameras to choose the correct focal point. If the camera chooses the wrong focal point and you need to change it you may have just missed your shot. As such, we set our cameras for single point autofocus and set the focal point to the center point. We then focus using this center focal point by pressing the shutter button half way and then composing our shot. This provides a consistent method for taking shots quickly as you are not composing your shot around varying focal points in the viewfinder and you can easily focus exactly where needed.

AF Servo Mode: This mode selects if the camera will keep a constant focus once you depress the shutter button halfway or if it will refocus if it detects the object is moving. Since many times during the procession subjects may be moving toward or away from you this is a nice feature to leverage which is why we set this to AI Focus mode (Canon). In AI Focus mode the camera will focus on still subjects as normal and notify you that focus has been achieved yet if the subject begins to move it will change to AI Servo mode which will attempt to keep your moving subject in focus until you take the photo.

Drive modes: Most cameras have various shooting speed selections from single shot mode, which is one frame per shutter button depress, to high speed continuous mode, which typically will take anywhere from 4-8 fps depending on the camera’s fastest shooting speed. We set our cameras at low speed continuous for weddings. That way we can take several shots quickly without making too much noise and without taking an excessive amount of photographs which can quickly fill up a memory card and add to your post production time.

Metering Mode: Now that we have focus set to single point we also want to tell the camera to look at the center of the image when setting exposure and this is done by setting the metering mode to center weighted average. The camera then gives higher priority to what is in the middle of the image and less to what is at the edges when it sets exposure. We also set our flashes to meter in the center, since we use flashes mostly for portrait shots, which can typically be done right on the camera when the flash is attached or on the flash itself.

Rear curtain sync: This tells the flash to go off at the end of the exposure as opposed to the beginning. This will make low light shots, such as during dancing, look more realistic as any motion blur will be behind the subject instead of in front of it. This setting can also be made on the camera with the flash attached or on the flash itself.

Highlight Warning: Most cameras will have this setting which will flash areas of the image on the LCD that are blown out in the highlights. This is a must since the last thing you want to do is blow out the bride’s dress causing you to lose all of the detail so we have this set to enabled all of the time. If we take a shot and notice areas of the image are flashing on our LCD screen we know we need to lower our exposure or turn down the flash using the flash exposure compensation setting.

White Balance: We choose to leave this set at auto. As photojournalistic photographers we take lots of photos and are thus moving around too much to be setting white balance continually. White balance settings often change even during a ceremony as the bride and groom move around so we prefer to do our adjustments in post-production using the bride’s dress to set the white balance which gives a consistent and accurate white balance to the images.

Shooting the event

Getting Ready: Typically the day starts off with my wife taking photos of the bride while I do the same with the groom. We always attempt to use existing light sources but find using the flash is often a necessity, especially indoors. During this time we both use diffusers on our flash and angle the flash upright at approximately a 45 degree angle. This gives a nice diffused light source and cuts down on shadows which are easy to come by in small rooms where people are often getting ready. For shooting modes we will use shutter priority mode and set our shutter speed to 1/60 or faster to get nice sharp stills since the subjects tend to be moving around as they prepare for the day. Manual mode is also used if we find ourselves stationary for a period of time to give the photos a more consistent look. Aperture priority may be used for detail shots of the rings, shoes, and other accessories to provide nice bokeh or to increase depth of field as needed. If you are using flash also practice with lowering the camera exposure to darken the background to give your subject more presence.

Image: 50 mm, F1.4, 1/160 sec, ISO 400, flash on

50 mm, F1.4, 1/160 sec, ISO 400, flash on

The Procession: We always attempt to practice this shot ahead of time during the rehearsal if we are in a church we have not been to prior. It’s important to know where to stand which the church’s event planner should instruct you on ahead of time. We always shoot a full length portrait shot keeping in mind the camera should be at about the midway point of the subject. This is a great opportunity to use manual mode since you will take all the procession shots from the same spot. This will give your photos the consistent look you will want if they are going into an album. Again make sure to check that shutter speed is at least 1/60 sec. if not faster. We prefer 1/100 of a second or faster when we know people will be moving. A typical setting for this shot would be 1/100 sec., F4.0, and ISO 400. Keep in mind there may be a wall behind your subjects so this a shot where you will want to use a flash bracket to keep the flash over your camera so as to minimize shadows showing on the back wall of the church. Again we typically have a flash diffuser on our flash keeping in mind they are not effective much past 10 feet so if the shot is longer than that we will remove the diffuser.

The Ceremony: This is the time to be creative but aware of lighting conditions. Since we move around a lot we will typically put our cameras in shutter priority mode to prevent low shutter speeds which might cause blur. We typically set the camera to 1/60 or 1/80 of a second depending on available light but we will go lower if needed so as to not go above ISO 1600 keeping noise at a minimum. Often we find our aperture maxed out at F2.8 which is fine by us. The depth of field at F2.8 is typically more than enough to have both the bride and groom in focus with a minimal amount of bokeh which always looks great. ISO may go up to 1600 or 3200 in some situations for which later use software such as Imagenomic’s Noiseware to remove the noise during post processing. Having a zoom lens is important to get in close from the back of the church (see below).

Image: 200 mm, F2.8, 1/80 sec, ISO 1600, no flash

200 mm, F2.8, 1/80 sec, ISO 1600, no flash


The Portraits

For the formal portraits after the ceremony we always use a tripod and set the camera to manual mode. The tripod helps maximizes sharpness of the photo and make it easier to move around to pose and direct. For indoor weddings we almost always use a flash. A typical setting for the portraits would be: 1/60 second shutter speed, F5.6 (or higher you need more light), and ISO 400. Keep in mind you are setting the exposure for the background so one thing we always think about is how much of the background do we really want to see? If it’s a beautiful background we may set the exposure to normal. If the background has nothing going for it we may set the exposure down to -2 stops to darken it a bit and make your subjects stand out more. This is done by raising the shutter speed. It’s certainly personal preference and we always take some test shots to verify the look we want. We use our flash in TTL mode and take it off camera using a sync cord or wireless. Our entire setup time is just a few minutes and we do not typically use a light meter. Remember, when using a flash, exposure becomes your friend, just like bokeh, to handle difficult backgrounds. In the shot below we used a -1 stop exposure to darken the background since the colors in it were a bit rich could be overpowering to the subject if not subdued.

Image: 38 mm, F2.8, 1/60 sec, ISO 400, flash on

38 mm, F2.8, 1/60 sec, ISO 400, flash on

The Reception

Here we will set our cameras back to shutter speed mode so we can take candid shots quickly without the need to change settings. If the reception is outdoors we may use aperture priority mode since available light is plentiful so we can choose the depth of field. Any outdoor portraits of the bride and groom would also be taken in aperture mode with the flash turned on for fill flash if needed. Flash exposure may need to be set to -1 or lower to make the flash blend nicely which we always verify on the LCD. Aperture settings would be F4.0 or lower for more depth of field if we wanted to show the background otherwise we might raise aperture to blur the background to draw more focus to our subjects.

Image: 32 mm, F4.0, 1/80 sec, ISO 100

32 mm, F4.0, 1/80 sec, ISO 100

Cake cutting and toasts is another time when a flash bracket is handy as often the couple will be standing near walls so keeping the flash over the camera for these portrait shots is essential. If you don’t have a flash bracket you are better off taking the shot in landscape and then making it a portrait image during post processing to help minimize shadows.

Finally for the dance we continue to take flash photos with our diffusers attached bouncing the light off the ceiling when possible. If we need more light we take off the flash diffusers. We also will lower our shutter speeds down to 1/10 sec. or lower to bring in more background light. This works fine since the flash freezes the motion of your subjects so blur is limited and it keeps the background from being overly dark with no detail.

Reception photos are a great time to experiment with different settings on your camera and trying out new ideas. We often will get on chairs to try a different perspective or you can also utilize live mode, if your camera has it, to take the shot leveraging the back LCD monitor which allows you to raise the camera above the action and still see your composition.

Final Thoughts

If someone asked me how to do a wedding and I had thirty seconds to respond I would advise them to use aperture priority mode outdoors, shutter priority mode indoors, and use manual mode for portraits leveraging a tripod and flash. While this is certainly no catch all advice it certainly has helped us to have a high level game plan in place which we then can build from as our experience grows. The worst feeling is getting into a situation where you aren’t ready to take the shot when it occurs so these basics are our failsafe. Over time I have come to enjoy using manual mode because in addition to giving the images a consistent look, it slows you down and makes you “think” more about your composition and your camera settings before you press the button.

I’m sure our techniques will continue to evolve over time. It’s that continual learning process which makes photography so rewarding for us. Each and every wedding we do prepares us for the next and this evolution will be your best learning tool and confidence builder as it has been for us.

Mark & Ana are an energetic husband and wife team specializing in wedding photography in Atlanta, GA.

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