Wedding Photography Tips for Beginners
By Jeanette DiAnda
It is a surprisingly common question that I get asked from fellow photographers. It is not just a question from newbies either, I have been asked about wedding photography and what makes it unique by professional and amateur photographers alike. “What do I need to know to shoot a wedding?” is the question and it is usually followed by a lot of begging, whining, and crying until I give in and answer. It is a reasonable question coming from someone that is about to make the jump into wedding photography or has been wrangled into it because the photographer that the couple wanted is not available. Whether you are expanding your portfolio of services on purpose or by circumstance the first step is getting some advice from someone that has previously taking the leap of faith into wedding photography, and below is my advice.
I started out shooting product shots and still do a lot of that type of photography today. It is something that I enjoy and have mastered. It is easily defined, easily scheduled, and usually indoors in a nice climate controlled studio. So, I can’t complain. Along the way I started shooting people in costumes that were digitized into video games. That is a lot of fun. I also love shooting architecture and nature and the occasional glamor photography. I was talked into wedding photography because some friends were in a jam when their daughters’ high-end wedding photographer had passed away pretty close to the wedding and they were out the deposit. Financially, they were not in a position to hire another photographer and there was a time crunch. I had never thought of doing wedding photography because I didn’t think that I had enough patience to handle all of the people at a wedding. Since I had worked with my friends at Disneyland they thought that I had a lot of patience in a crowd and was polite and jolly enough to pull it off. The reminder of dealing with difficult crowds at Disneyland gave me enough confidence to consider it and I gave in. The first thing that I did was asked another friend what specifically it was that she wanted in a wedding photographer and her answers set my mindset going forward. The wedding photography much like almost everything about the wedding is aimed at pleasing the bride. Women often start planning their weddings in their childhood. Men on the other hand probably don’t give it a thought until after the girl says yes to the ring. I have heard that some groom’s have an opinion but they rarely overrule their bride if she has a strong desire for something specific. So, that is the first thing to keep in mind, find out what the bride is looking for in her wedding pictures. I didn’t have a portfolio of pictures for the couple to peruse so I had to find out what they wanted. To make sure that I was on the right path I planned an on-location pre-wedding shoot with the engaged couple. This helped in two ways, one I got a first-hand look at what the couple wanted and I built a rapport with them. So my second piece of advice is to do an on-location pre-wedding shoot with the engaged couple. You get an idea of what the architecture and features are at the location. This also falls in line with the biggest piece of advice for wedding photography; plan, prepare and prepare some more.
One thing that is unique about wedding photography is that it is usually planned a year or more in advance. So, if you think about it, the couple is locking up your weekend twelve months or more before it happens. In the mean time new cameras will come out, your photography skills will get better, and new photo editing software will come along. All of which means that the work that you can do at the contract signing is so much more limited than what you will be able to do a year later come wedding time. So, now that you know that you have a little breathing room you need to get to work so that you can perform at the wedding. The most unique thing about a wedding and the following reception is that it is part well-planned ceremony and part well-planned revelry. But either way rarely does anything ever go exactly as planned. So in a sense you will be trying to do your job inside of a living, breathing mass of humanity that has their own desire to get a better view or just to have fun their way. You need to keep on your toes.
Now, to walk through what may happen along the way from booking to shooting the wedding. You have booked your first wedding and at the beginning, you may be really excited that you got the gig. Whether it is a paid job or one that you are doing for free for a friend because you need to get some experience it is a big deal for you because it is a really big deal for the wedding couple. In fact, it is one of the most important days of this new couple’s life so you need to be on top of everything and bring your best! As the year progresses you hone your skills and mentally and physically prepare for the wedding shoot. By the time that the wedding is about less than three months away your excitement will turn to stress and then to straight up, white-knuckle fear. Yes, that kind of fear where the mere mention of the wedding leads to beads of sweat appearing on your forehead and on the palms of your hands, even though you’ve never had sweaty palms before. But you need to get ahead of the anxiety as the big day approaches because you need to get organised! Keep these tips in mind, practice and plan and you do fine.
Hopefully keeping this list of wedding photography tips will help calm your nerves and get you as prepared as much as possible for your first wedding day shoot. But mostly, remember to have fun because that is the mood that you want to see in your shots and your best chance at capturing it is by exuding fun yourself. Yes, shooting weddings is not all about shooting pictures. Your photographer skills and experience only account for half of what you need at a wedding. Patience, positivity, being friendly, and being happy are the other skills that you will need to have to be successful.
You will need to have the ability to build rapport with anyone and become everyone’s best friend. It also helps to be a problem solver when things go wrong, ie, the limo is late, your camera breaks, the best man passes out, and many others things that can happen will. If you can think on your feet, make quick decisions, be flexible, offer good advice when needed and convince everyone it is the right thing to do then you will do fine. If not then do your best to fake it until you have the confidence to make it. It is not as bad as herding cats but you will need to perform a little bit of crowd control. Be confident and bold to make sure that you get people to listen to you but make sure to never be rude. Try to lighten things up by being a little bit of an entertainer, have fun with the bridal party, crack jokes, play games, give the bride and groom the best possible experience so that they can relax and enjoy having their photos taken. Remember that they will be looking to you to lead the photo sessions, you are the expert and your opinion carries weight.
Lastly, I just want to remind you about the number one, biggest piece of advice for all beginner wedding photography rules: plan, prepare and prepare some more. I mean… PLAN, PREPARE and PREPARE SOME MORE!!!
Although it may seem obvious to most people, if you’ve been shooting a while you get lulled into a false sense of confidence and feel that you’ve prepared. It is surprising how this takes over and then very little preparation is put into the very first wedding shoot! Trust me, this is not the day that you want to hope that you’ve got everything. You can’t expect to show up blindly and just wing it. It is irresponsible as a professional photographer to behave that way and it is totally unfair to the newlyweds who are relying on you and your skills to capture the biggest day of their life and the first day of their lives together.
Here is what you will need to do to meet the plan, prepare and prepare some more standard. It sounds a little extreme for a shoot but it is your first wedding shot so adopt the slogan. I have found that thorough planning and preparation is the key for success in any line of work. The following wedding photography tips will help you plan and be as prepared as you possibly can be so that you can direct, persuade and shoot with confidence.
1. Know your gear inside out!
Lets begin with one of the most important tips, know your gear! This should be a no brainer. Pick up your camera and make sure you know all the settings, understand the modes, get to know the settings that are available on your lenses (image stabiliser for example), work out all the options available on your speedlite, etc etc.
*Real life horror story** During one of my first weddings, I thought I knew my gear and then suddenly, BANG! My cameras shutter speed stopped increasing once it hit 1/250, the couple is looking at me waiting impatiently for direction and I’m red in the face and frantically trying to get my settings right. FYI, when your speedlight is attached and turned on, your camera does not allow you to shoot faster than 1/250. Simply turning on the ‘high speed’ mode on your speedlight fixes this! I wish I had known that before the day!!
Once you think you know your stuff, grab a friend or partner and practice getting perfectly exposed images, quickly and in a lot of different locations.
I used to torture my poor girlfriend at the time (now wife!), taking photos of her all around the house. It doesn’t need to be flattering, just practice so you get used to getting your settings right, so on the big day you can be prepared.
My wife is going to kill me for showing these images – but it is what I did to learn so I wanted to share it with you. I even grabbed some branches from the neighbours yard to use as the bouquet!! Here are some before shots (me learning at home) and after shots (real wedding examples).
TRY THIS: go into the lounge room, position your subject where you would position your bridal party (ideally photographer back to a window) and take a photo of him/her as quickly as possible with perfect exposure. Then walk outside to the backyard and do the same, find the best spot, either in the shade or with the sun behind the subject and shoot. Then head to the front yard, then the kitchen, study, whatever! Use your flash, practice in a darker room with little window light as this would be similar to the conditions you will be up against in the reception. Bounce the flash off the roof, or the wall, or turn it off and crank your ISO to see what happens. Practice all these options and see what works best, so that on the day, you’ll be prepared 🙂
**Funny story** I use to watch the TV through my camera and try and move my focal points around as quickly as possible to follow the persons face on the screen! Sounds silly, but now I can do it without thinking and it saves me getting a lot of camera blur issues when shooting.
2. Scout the locations
Scouting locations is another MUST DO before the wedding so you can be prepared. You most likely won’t get a chance to see the grooms house or brides house before the day but you can assume it would be like any average home. As long as there is light in the lounge room and master bedroom, then you will be ok 🙂
**Extreme Example** I shot a groom coverage in a 1 bedroom apartment with 5 boys in the bridal party PLUS 50 family members standing around waiting for me to finish so the bride could arrive and they could start the tea ceremony! Talk about pressure as well as working in tight spaces!
So, apart from the groom and bride coverage you should definitely scope out the scenes at the church / ceremony location, as well as the locations you intend to go to and even pop into the reception and see what you’re up against.
**Tip** It would be awesome if you could go to these locations at roughly the same time of day as you would be there on the actual wedding so the lighting will be similar.
I would ever suggest googling the locations before you go on your recce and see what other photographers have done there in the past. Then head over, use their shots as inspiration and work out your own ideas. Walk around everywhere, find the best spots and use your camera! Take photos pretending the couple is standing there so you can work out your compositions. Below I simply google “Parliament House Wedding” and heaps of examples pop up and makes for a really good reference!
I know this sounds like a lot of work, but like I keep mentioning, preparation is key. If you have already been to the locations, worked out your ideas, photographed your imaginary couple in the best spots, then on the day you’re going to kill it!
3. Write a shot list and memorize it!
This is another really important tip that I used to do for at least my first 20 weddings! Write a shot list of exactly what you’re going to do at every location. Feel free to be as specific as possible and then try and memorize it. Also, I feel that writing it with pen and paper actually helped me to remember everything a lot more than just typing it out.
I literally used to write the following info down the day before every wedding:
Groom Coverage Shot List
Ask the groom if there is anything else he wants
Boys Getting Ready
Boys helping groom with cufflinks
Boys helping groom with tie
All boys putting vests on
All boys helping adjust the back of each others vests
Slap each in the ass shot!
All boys grab jackets and do the Roger David shot
All boys put on jackets
Hero shot of all the boys fully dressed looking awesome
Serious and gangster!
Hugging and ruffing up the groom!
Etc, etc, etc… You get the point 🙂 I know this is super detailed, and all weddings are different, and things happen and you can’t always do all these shots, but at least I have all my shots memorised so whatever happens, I’ll be prepared and always have ideas up my sleeve!
Do this for the bride coverage and definitely the locations too. Bring a pen and paper with you when you’re doing your recce and as your finding spots, write stuff down. For example:
Bride on her own in archway (full length)
back of dress shot
bride looking down at flowers
bride looking away into the distance
bride looking at camera
Groom on his own in archway (full length)
hands in pockets looking cool at camera
looking into the distance
looking at his bride
serious and smiling at camera
Bride and Groom together (full length)
looking at eachother
looking at camera
Bride hugging groom from behind (close up)
both looking at camera
looking into the distance together
bride kissing groom on the cheek
bride sticking her tongue in the grooms ear!! Get the reaction!!
**TIP** For every scene try and shoot a series of wider shots, and then mix things up and shoot another series of close up shots in the same location. Doing this will make it a million times easier when it comes to designing the wedding album! All the pages will just fall into place.
4. Assist as much as you can
This is another super important thing that you should definitely do before you go out and shoot your first wedding! Ideally start trying to find someone to assist as soon as you book your first wedding or even before that. The sooner you start assisting the more prepared you will be.
**TIP** finding a job as an assistant or even volunteering is not an easy task. Especially because every other beginner photographer is looking for the same job. Find the best 20 wedding photographers that you LOVE and shoot in a style that you really like and start emailing them one by one. Make sure they have your details on file and know your available at the drop of a hat. Even email them once a month (but don’t be annoying) because I generally find that if your timing is right, you’ll get the job. Imagine, their current assistant is sick, they need someone urgently and suddenly your email pops up, you’re in!!
If you have no luck, then just make yourself a cup of coffee, put some music on and start emailing all the wedding photographers in your city. One will eventually get back to you and you can start heading out and getting some experience 🙂
This will give you first hand experience from a pro (hopefully) of exactly what goes on behind the scenes of a wedding. Try and put yourself in their shoes and guess what shots they are going to do next. Imagine what settings you would use on your camera as you go from location to location.
Best of all, you get a decent amount of one on one time with the photographer while driving around so you can ask plenty of questions (without being annoying!!). Pick their brains, most of the time they should be more than happy to help you and divulge their knowledge as they know that once upon a time they started out just like you.
5. Shoot a fake wedding
One of the best ways to prepare for the real wedding is to shoot a fake wedding! Get some friends together or a couple that you know and try and mimic some of the shots that you are actually going to do on the wedding day.
Shoot the groom coverage in a lounge room, try and memorize the shots you need and practice getting the images perfect in camera. Same as the bride coverage, don’t worry about the dress, just try and get the shots.
Go on location to the actual spots you are going to use for your first wedding and shoot all the images you would for the real day. Practice getting it right in camera. There is no pressure doing it this way, so take your time and get it right, until it becomes almost second nature!
I just found some old photos in my archives of me doing this. I dragged some friends of mine to the city and acted out the scenes that I actually was going to do on the wedding day. Check out my super embarrassing before shots compared to my half decent real wedding after photos below:
Thanks so much for reading
Hope you enjoyed this article detailing in my opinion the 5 top tips to get a beginner photographer ready for their first wedding. If this is you, let me know what you thought! Did it help you? Have you got some better ideas? Did I miss something super important??
Help me – I’m photographing my first Wedding!… Help me with some Wedding Photography Tips Please!”
It’s a question that’s been asked a few times in our forums over the last few months so while I’m not a Pro Wedding Photographer I thought it was time to share a few tips on the topic of Wedding Photography.
I’ll leave the technical tips of photographing a wedding to the pros – but as someone who has been asked to photograph numerous friends and family weddings – here are a few suggestions.
Wedding Photography Tips
1. Create a ‘Shot List’
One of the most helpful tips I’ve been given about Wedding Photography is to get the couple to think ahead about the shots that they’d like you to capture on the day and compile a list so that you can check them off. This is particularly helpful in the family shots. There’s nothing worse than getting the photos back and realizing you didn’t photograph the happy couple with grandma!
2. Wedding Photography Family Photo Coordinator
I find the family photo part of the day can be quite stressful. People are going everywhere, you’re unaware of the different family dynamics at play and people are in a ‘festive spirit’ (and have often been drinking a few spirits) to the point where it can be quite chaotic. Get the couple to nominate a family member (or one for each side of the family) who can be the ‘director’ of the shoot. They can round everyone up, help get them in the shot and keep things moving so that the couple can get back to the party.
Wedding Photography Tips
3. Scout the Location
Visit the locations of the different places that you’ll be shooting before the big day. While I’m sure most Pros don’t do this – I find it really helpful to know where we’re going, have an idea of a few positions for shots and to know how the light might come into play. On one or two weddings I even visited locations with the couples and took a few test shots (these made nice ‘engagement photos’).
4. In Wedding Photography Preparation is Key
So much can go wrong on the day – so you need to be well prepared. Have a backup plan (in case of bad weather), have batteries charged, memory cards blank, think about routes and time to get to places and get an itinerary of the full day so you know what’s happening next. If you can, attend the rehearsal of the ceremony where you’ll gather a lot of great information about possible positions to shoot from, the lighting, the order of the ceremony etc
5. Set expectations with the Couple
Show them your work/style. Find out what they are wanting to achieve, how many shots they want, what key things they want to be recorded, how the shots will be used (print etc). If you’re charging them for the event, make sure you have the agreement of price in place up front.
6. Turn off the sound on your Camera
Beeps during speeches, the kiss and vows don’t add to the event. Switch off sound before hand and keep it off.
7. Shoot the small details
Photograph rings, backs of dresses, shoes, flowers, table settings, menus etc – these help give the end album an extra dimension. Flick through a wedding magazine in a news stand for a little inspiration.
8. Use Two Cameras
Beg, borrow, hire or steal an extra camera for the day – set it up with a different lens. I try to shoot with one wide angle lens (great for candid shots and in tight spaces (particularly before the ceremony in the preparation stage of the day) and one longer lens (it can be handy to have something as large as 200mm if you can get your hands on one – I use a 70-200mm).
9. Consider a Second Wedding Photographer
Having a second backup photographer can be a great strategy. It means less moving around during ceremony and speeches, allows for one to capture the formal shots and the other to get candid shots. It also takes a little pressure off you being ‘the one’ to have to get every shot!
10. Be Bold but Not Obtrusive
Wedding Photography Tutorial
Timidity won’t get you ‘the shot’ – sometimes you need to be bold to capture a moment. However timing is everything and thinking ahead to get in the right position for key moments are important so as not to disrupt the event. In a ceremony I try to move around at least 4-5 times but try to time this to coincide with songs, sermons or longer readings. During the formal shots be bold, know what you want and ask for it from the couple and their party. You’re driving the show at this point of the day and need to keep things moving.
11. Learn how to Use Diffused Light
The ability to bounce a flash or to diffuse it is key. You’ll find that in many churches that light is very low. If you’re allowed to use a flash (and some churches don’t allow it) think about whether bouncing the flash will work (remember if you bounce off a colored surface it will add a colored cast to the picture) or whether you might want to buy a flash diffuser to soften the light. If you can’t use a flash you’ll need to either use a fast lens at wide apertures and/or bump up the ISO. A lens with image stabilization might also help. Learn more about Using Flash Diffusers and Reflectors.
12. Shoot in RAW
I know that many readers feel that they don’t have the time for shooting in RAW (due to extra processing) but a wedding is one time that it can be particularly useful as it gives so much more flexibility to manipulate shots after taking them. Weddings can present photographers with tricky lighting which result in the need to manipulate exposure and white balance after the fact – RAW will help with this considerably.
13. Display Your Shots at the Reception
One of the great things about digital photography is the immediacy of it as a medium. One of the fun things I’ve seen more and more photographers doing recently is taking a computer to the reception, uploading shots taken earlier in the day and letting them rotate as a slideshow during the evening. This adds a fun element to the night.
14. Consider Your Backgrounds
One of the challenges of weddings is that there are often people going everywhere – including the backgrounds of your shots. Particularly with the formal shots scope out the area where they’ll be taken ahead of time looking for good backgrounds. Ideally you’ll be wanting uncluttered areas and shaded spots out of direct sunlight where there’s unlikely to be a wandering great aunt wander into the back of the shot. Read more on getting backgrounds right.
15. Don’t Discard Your ‘Mistakes’
The temptation with digital is to check images as you go and to delete those that don’t work immediately. The problem with this is that you might just be getting rid of some of the more interesting and useable images. Keep in mind that images can be cropped or manipulated later to give you some more arty/abstract looking shots that can add real interest to the end album.
Wedding Photography picture
16. Change Your Perspective
Get a little creative with your shots. While the majority of the images in the end album will probably be fairly ‘normal’ or formal poses – make sure you mix things up a little by taking shots from down low, up high, at wide angles etc.
17. Wedding Group Shots
One thing that I’ve done at every wedding that I’ve photographed is attempt to photograph everyone who is in attendance in the one shot. The way I’ve done this is to arrange for a place that I can get up high above everyone straight after the ceremony. This might mean getting tall ladder, using a balcony or even climbing on a roof. The beauty of getting up high is that you get everyone’s face in it and can fit a lot of people in the one shot. The key is to be able to get everyone to the place you want them to stand quickly and to be ready to get the shot without having everyone stand around for too long. I found the best way to get everyone to the spot is to get the bride and groom there and to have a couple of helpers to herd everyone in that direction. Read more on how to take Group Photos.
18. Fill Flash
When shooting outside after a ceremony or during the posed shots you’ll probably want to keep your flash attached to give a little fill in flash. I tend to dial it back a little (a stop or two) so that shots are not blown out – but particularly in backlit or midday shooting conditions where there can be a lot of shadow, fill in flash is a must. Read more about using Fill Flash.
19. Continuous Shooting Mode
Having the ability to shoot a lot of images fast is very handy on a wedding day so switch your camera to continuous shooting mode and use it. Sometimes it’s the shot you take a second after the formal or posed shot when everyone is relaxing that really captures the moment!
Wedding Photography Rain
20. Expect the Unexpected
One more piece of advice that someone gave me on my own wedding day. ‘Things will Go Wrong – But They Can be the Best Parts of the Day’. In every wedding that I’ve participated in something tends to go wrong with the day. The best man can’t find the ring, the rain pours down just as the ceremony ends, the groom forgets to do up his fly, the flower girl decides to sit down in the middle of the aisle or the bride can’t remember her vows….
These moments can feel a little panicky at the time – but it’s these moments that can actually make a day and give the bride and groom memories. Attempt to capture them and you could end up with some fun images that sum up the day really well.
I still remember the first wedding I photographed where the bride and grooms car crashed into a Tram on the way to the park where we were going to take photos. The bride was in tears, the groom stressed out – but after we’d all calmed down people began to see some of the funny side of the moment and we even took a couple of shots before driving on to the park. They were among everyone’s favorites.
21. Have Fun
Weddings are about celebrating – they should be fun. The more fun you have as the photographer the more relaxed those you are photographing will be. Perhaps the best way to loosen people up is to smile as the photographer (warning: I always come home from photographing weddings with sore jaws and cheeks because of of my smiling strategy).