Lots of wheels in motion on a wedding day, and being trusted as the photographer can be a high pressure gig. After all, your photos are going to be some of the greatest reminders of one of the most special days in the couple’s lives.
So how do you make sure you capture photos that tell a couple’s unique wedding day story?
There’s no silver bullet. As with most things, it is a combination of technical skills, knowledge, and attitude that will get you across the line in wedding photography. But keep these five things in mind, and you could well be on your way to creating stunning wedding photos that truly capture the love and joy emanating on the couple’s special day.
01. Plan Your Day
Every photographer gets lucky occasionally—they just happen to be in the right place at the right time—but that is not a strong basis for your reputation or your business. To be successful as a wedding photographer, you must consistently deliver the goods. And to do that, you have to plan.
Before the wedding, make a list of shots you need to ensure you have photos of the most beautiful moments of the day, such as the bride walking down the aisle, the groom’s first look at the bride, or the couple’s first kiss as newlyweds.
It is a good idea to get a wedding day plan, so you know when and where you need to get your photos. Ask for the schedule of the whole day so that you get all of the specifics you need, including several contact numbers in case something goes wrong.
From the moment you start working you should also know who are playing important roles in the wedding, so you know whom to include in your shots. Find out who they are, what they will be doing, and even how they will get to the next location. Who are the parents of the bride and groom? Who are the groomsmen and bridesmaids? When does hair and makeup start? When does the bride leave for the ceremony? Is she using a special car to get to the ceremony? Every. Little. Detail.
If possible, scope the wedding location ahead of time, so you know where to position yourself throughout the day to get the best shots. This will also allow you to pick out the spots with great backgrounds and lighting for the formal shots.
Another problem you might run into, especially if you’re shooting a big wedding, is that while the bride and groom will likely be chauffeured from door to door, you have to leg it with bags of gear to your car two blocks away and even pay for parking. So schedule in buffers!
Planning your day, the bride and groom will be hugely impressed that you were able to capture all their special moments and always “just happened” to be in the right place at the right time.
02. Prepare the Essential Equipment
Having an idea of what you have to do, where you need to be, and when you need to be there, is just the first part of capturing stunning wedding photos—a more important factor is the gear you will need to capture it.
Below is a list of essential equipment you will need:
Use a camera that will allow you to take high quality photos in any lighting condition. Of course the lighting condition will depend on the location—is it an indoor or an outdoor wedding? At the end of the day, the many brands and types of camera each has its own strength and weakness. What’s important is it can handle the tough and varied lighting conditions of the location and complements your style.
While we’re on the topic of cameras, a second camera body (and possibly even a third), as back-up, is ideal. In particular, if you shoot only prime lenses, having two cameras on you during a wedding will give you much greater flexibility.
It’s also a good idea to use a camera harness, so you can switch between cameras quickly.
Variety is important for a great wedding album, so you should choose a range of lenses that will allow you to cover the range from landscape shots to close-up portraits.
When you’re making your lens selection, bear in mind that couples want natural-looking photos that capture the raw emotions on their special day, and you can nail that with a wide or ultra-wide angle lens. These type of lenses have a couple of characteristics that will really give your photos a candid feel.
Firstly, using a wide angle or ultra-wide angle lens will let you capture the context of a shot. A portrait of a bride laughing can be beautiful, but a wide shot which shows the bride laughing at her dog who has just skidded across the floor will make her laugh all over again.
Secondly, a wide angle shot places the viewer “in” the shot, amongst the action. One caveat to this is that a wide angle shot taken of a subject across a room runs the risk of minimizing your subject—and the wider you go, the more pronounced this will be. You need to be gutsy and get close to the action.
A lens around the 25-35mm mark is a staple for a lot of wedding photographers because it allows capturing a whole scene or venue in a single frame. Incidentally, if you have an ultra-wide lens, something in the 12-24mm range (depending on the size of your sensor), then you can start getting some really creative shots. Ultra-wide lenses will cause some distortion to the image, but work it in your favor by getting close to your subject and putting the viewer right in the middle of the action.
Add plenty of spare batteries and chargers to your camera bag. If you’re shooting with a DSLR, a few spare batteries should suffice. For mirrorless shooters though—stock up. Have at least one battery for every two hours that your shooting, plus a few more. If you will have access to power during the reception, you can recharge during the night, but it’s better to cover yourself with enough battery power for the entire wedding just in case.
You will also need core and back-up memory cards. As a rough guide, having a total of 100GB storage between all of your cameras and spares should be more than enough for the most trigger-happy photographers.A wedding day can take you from unflattering bedroom lights during the preparation to an outdoor ceremony in full sunlight to a poorly-lit reception, so when it comes to lighting, at least one off-camera flash with spare batteries will be helpful if lighting gets low, especially at the reception. Light shapers, such as a reflector, sunlight diffuser and flash diffuser, will also help get the best shots in every situation.
03. Take Natural-Looking Photos
So you’ve done your planning, your gear is ready, and the wedding is finally here. This is the moment the bride and groom fall in love all over again. Capture the love and happiness flowing around you as it happens—naturally.
Sometimes, however, people will clam up or get flustered if they realize they are about to be photographed, so try to avoid sticking a lens in people’s faces because you think they are on the brink of laughter. These are some things you can do instead to capture natural-looking photos:
Create a relaxed and fun environment.
Your tone and attitude play a big role in how comfortable your subjects will be. Keep things light and relaxed, and it will show in the photos. Make a few jokes, listen to your subjects’ ideas, and let them know how amazing they’re looking through the lens. Allow them to become a little vulnerable and show their emotions.
Pay attention to everything happening around you.
Photography is part creativity, part technical skill, part watching and part listening. If you want to capture a moment, a look, a burst of laughter or a quiet tear, then watch and listen. Throughout the whole wedding, tune into what people are saying and how they are saying it. Watch their facial expressions and read their body language. You will be amazed how often you can detect when something is about to happen.
Direct subjects if needed.
Generally speaking, your subjects at a wedding are not going to be trained models and might feel a bit uncomfortable in front of the camera. If the photos you are taking, especially of formal shots, are not looking natural enough, one of the best things to do is take the pressure of posing off your subjects.
Having a repertoire of couple and group poses in mind will be helpful in guiding your subjects. Learn flattering poses for men, women, and groups, so you can tell your subjects how to sit or stand to put them at ease.
Take advantage of posed shoots. The moments in between posed shoots are something you can also take advantage of. If someone drops her pose because she’s broken down laughing—perfect. Snap that.
If you’re photographing the couple and the entourage is taking a break nearby, keep them in your peripheral vision. If one of them cracks a joke at the bride and groom or moves to photobomb a picture, get ready to snap!
04. Manage Lighting and Composition Actively
The bride and groom may want natural-looking photos, but they are still relying on you to capture the best natural photos possible. Take it upon yourself to make sure that all of the locations you’re shooting in are primed for great photography. Then step back and let the action run its natural course.
Take the example of the bride’s preparation. Let’s say your bride is getting ready at home and has been awake since 7am to start with hair and makeup. It is her wedding day, and lighting in her lounge is not number one on her priority list.
When you arrive, she is sitting on a chair next to a window with some great, indirect light coming through. However, the chair back is a bit broken, there are toys and some washing all over the couches behind her, and she is sitting so close to the window that you can’t walk around her without getting in the way of the makeup artist. Before you start shooting, ask her if she would mind switching out for an unbroken chair (unless the broken one has a particular charm), move her a couple of steps back from the window and angle the chair so that you get some flattering light falling across her face. Ask if you can quickly move the toys and washing into another room, and hide any other distracting items.
Just because a photo is “candid” does not necessarily make it a great photo. That five minutes tidying up the scene can make a world of difference to your photos.
05. Enjoy the Day
More important than anything else is to never lose the sense of awe and wonder you get at your first few weddings. Stay excited about the small details, revel in the excitement and nerves of the day, and always be committed to delivering the best possible product you can for the bride and groom.
The gift of seeing everything as if for the first time will set you up to capture the moments that mean so much to the bride and groom, making them happy that they trusted you to capture their special day.
Weddings are a long day for the photographer—you’re usually the only one there from the start to finish, from planning to capturing the special moments within the day—but they can be a huge amount of fun. You are granted a rare opportunity to meet some incredible people and be part of one of the most intimate and meaningful days in their relationship. Families are reunited, food and drinks are flowing, everyone is excited about the future, and you have the privilege of capturing it all. So make the most of it by keeping these tips handy and making things a little easier on yourself the next time you go out there.