People often ask me if I ‘do weddings’. That’s a funny question for a photographer. Perhaps like asking a chef if he ‘does chicken’. I’m a photographer and I have the ability to photograph anything. Do I base my business solely around weddings? No. Can I do them? Certainly! And I love it.
I’ve never taken a class on how to photograph weddings or read a book on the topic. I have my own way, my own style and my own rules and my clients are happy with me so I must be doing something right!
As a woman, I really feel at an advantage in the world of wedding photography. Firstly, I can capture the excitement of the bride getting ready in a way a man can’t because, let’s face it, most brides don’t want a man hanging around while they’re getting dressed.
I have also been a bride and I see things in a vastly different way than a man ever could. Having started as a makeup artist, I’ve been involved in many weddings and have watched many-a-photographer sit and drink or flirt with the bridesmaids while precious moments are slipping by un-photographed (like the mom fitting her daughter’s veil).
Mind you, I have only done a few weddings and I don’t claim to be an expert by any stretch of the imagination. But I do think that I have a few tidbits I can share with anyone who is just starting out or perhaps is a man in the business looking for a little female perspective.
1. Don’t Manipulate
When the bride is preparing on the morning, don’t get in the way and ask for smiles or stage the dressing. Just be on your toes and try to anticipate what’s next.
Is her hair and makeup finished? She will probably be getting into her dress next. Is she in her dress? Get yourself to the bottom of the stairs to shoot her coming down. There is no time to relax if you’re the photographer!
2. Fill In
If allowed, wander around the house or hotel room and snap photos which can be used to fill-in spaces in the album to create a sense of ambiance and location. I always snap the makeup brushes, dresses hanging up, important things around the home.
If you’re at the bride’s family home, there will be loads of memorable things around the house to photograph. Family photos around the home, her childhood bedroom.
Spend a couple minutes alone with the dress, the shoes, the flowers, etc. to take meaningful photographs without anxious people rushing you. There should be plenty of time while you’re there.
But when you’ve got what you need, remember to leave in time to photograph guests arriving at the ceremony and the groom as he waits for his bride.
4. Be Bold
Don’t be shy in front of the audience. Obviously, use a zoom lens so you’re not hip-to-hip with the priest but be strong and bold and remember that you have a license to be there! You were hired and everyone knows that so don’t worry about moving around and shooting from behind the priest if it’s appropriate.
Editors Note: Check out these Wedding Photography Tips from a Celebrants Perspective.
5. Dress for the Occasion
If you’re a woman, forget wedding protocol and wear trousers! No trying to look pretty. Before I figured that one out, I was holding my skirt down more than I was holding down the shutter. Quiet shoes are a must – you don’t want to be tip toeing around like a criminal.
6. Remember the Others
When I first started weddings, my clients were friends so I generally knew one side of the family better than the other. It was entirely subconscious, but I realised that in the ceremony, I was gravitating to the people I knew and leaving the others out.
Find out who is family and make sure to get some images of them as well.
7. Be Bossy
This part is (still) the hardest for me. There are two times I have to throw my weight around: after the ceremony and during family set. I usually take the bride and groom away to a location for 30 minutes of shooting privately and this can be difficult as the guests often form a spontaneous receiving line and kidnap the couple.
Know who is driving you there and make it happen. The bride and groom have told you what they want and although they are often distracted away from their plan on the day, they will thank you after if you make their original plan happen.
For the formal portraits, it can take a precise military operation to execute such an endeavor and this bit still makes my palms sweat! People are anxious to get to the food and dancing and I’m the only thing stopping them! Have a list arranged ahead of time of the specific groups the couple wants otherthan the usual his-family-her-family, him-and-his-guys, her-and-her-girls, etc.
The most important part in making this happen is to have your bossy go-to person who knows everyone (perhaps one of his groomsmen?) to announce all of the family and bridal party to step outside and then have him announce the groups you are needing. You can literally take each shot within 30 seconds if you can gather them and get them to engage with you all at once. Not as simple as it sounds, but it can be done. I just ask everyone to look at me and smile and then take about 10 shots at once. You can use the PhotoShop group merge function to grab all the smiling faces and put them into one photo if necessary.
A few of my thoughts on gear. NEVER use a pop-up flash. Always have an external flash ready to go and never point it directly at your couple. I always point it at the ceiling or a wall. I shoot with two cameras. My main one has a zoom lens and a flash and the other has either a 50mm 1.4 or 85mm 1.4 wide open so no flash is needed.
True story: I once saw a big, sweaty, poorly dressed wedding photographer hawk back a loogie and SPIT on the ground during formal portraits. Absolutely disgraceful!
It can be easy to fall into the fun of a wedding and obviously, you won’t be any good if you’re uptight and not having fun, but if you get too lax and begin socializing, you will miss important moments and you’re basically at work so remember to be professional.
I would even bring my own snack to eat on the sly when you get a chance – I would never accept an invitation to take part in the buffet. Remember that people are watching you and a huge percentage of them are either looking for a wedding photographer or know someone who is so be professional at all times.
10. In My Opinion
I never take posed table shots. I absolutely h.a.t.e. it when the photographer comes around, interrupts your meal, wine or conversation and forces everyone to squeeze their head into the middle of the table for a photo. What on earth would the couple ever do with that photo? Certainly, it’s good to make a record of everyone who was there and you can do that without being intrusive and even do it in a beautiful way.
But – and this is just my humble opinion – the photographer can easily lose guests’ feeling of ease and comfort the instant he/she becomes intrusive. Make yourself invisible!
I really love photographing weddings. It is HARD work and I actually ache for a couple days after. Bring an assistant who can help you (that’s a bonus tip!) and get a good night’s rest beforehand. Have a blast and be confident – the bride and groom already love your talent because they hired you in the first place. So be secure in that fact and own it!
Further Reading: Wedding Photography Tips for Amateurs.