Wedding photography tips for beginners. How to photograph your first wedding.
I wrote this article in 2013. Many things have changed since then; especially when it comes to gear, but most of the advice I gave 6 years ago, I would still give today. I had to find a new home for this article, as my original website is no longer being used as a blog. I will add things that may be more suitable, or more relevant for January 2019, but the rest will be as it was written in 2013.
I remember my first wedding shoot very well. A friend of mine was getting married and asked me if I could photograph their wedding. I was rather honored and agreed immediately. I took pictures all my life and considered myself a capable photographer, but a few weeks later it daunted on me. Wedding photography is not a typical photo shoot. It is documenting a once in a lifetime event and it needs to be done perfectly first time. There is no do-overs. No matter what the weather is like, whether you’re ready for the shot or not, they WILL exchange vows only once, they will cut the cake only once and they will only have 1 first kiss. If you miss any of those shots, they may miss the memory they hired you to preserve.
I hit google search for wedding photography tips for beginners and I found a lot of information on the subject; I also bought a great book on wedding photography on Amazon called “Digital Wedding Photography: Capturing Beautiful Memories” by Glenn Johnson. Spent the next few weeks researching and studying, taking test shots and organising my gear. The wedding went actually pretty smoothly with only a couple of minor hiccups, mainly with batteries, and my friend was very happy with the photographs. I gave them the best photography I knew at that time with the amateur gear I owned and it came out very well.
For anyone who may be faced with a similar challenge, I compiled a few wedding photography tips to help a beginner get through that day.
1. Take a deep breath – relax
Do not stress that much. Your friend chose you for their wedding photography which means that they are quite confident that you will deliver, and if they are confident in your work maybe you should be too. Also if they chose an amateur instead of a reputable wedding photographer then perhaps getting those absolutely perfect shots from their wedding is not the most important thing in the world. So, as long as you document the day and provide them with decent shots they will be happy.
However, it will be an opportunity for you to shine, so please try to make an effort. It is possible to produce very good quality images from the wedding using “amateur gear” by following a few rules… you may even impress some of their friends and score a couple of wedding jobs on the strength of this shoot.
(2019) This is even more relevant now. You ARE good enough, otherwise, they would not have asked you. And if you don’t go for some weird lighting setups and but stick to documenting the event the results are going to be more than satisfactory. Modern cameras make it almost impossible to take a massively over or underexposed image.
2. Have a backup camera
You do not want to show up at a wedding with just 1 camera. No matter how great your current gear is, at one point it will break and you do NOT want that to happen when your friends are exchanging rings. Bring the second body and keep it handy in case of emergency. If you feel confident you can use both cameras interchangeably. Furnish one with a wide angle lens to capture group shots(maybe a 24-70 zoom), attach a longer zoom to the other camera.(70-200 if you have one or a 75-300)
3. Use the right gear for wedding photography
You can shoot a wedding with a cheap SLR and the 18-55mm f5.6 kit lens that came with the camera. It’s possible, but not ideal. If you can stretch your budget to include 1 or more lenses from the Ideal column, the results should be noticably better.
|Main lens||24-70mm f2.8||18-55mm f3.5-5.6|
|Portrait lens||70-200mm f2.8; 85mm f1.4||55-200mm f5.6, 50mm f1.8|
|Macro lens||100mm f.2.8macro||50mm f.18 plus active macro ring|
|Wide angle lens||16-35mm or 17-40mm (full frame)||18-55mm f3.5-5.6|
Remember to pack an external flash unit. Must be able to swivel and tilt the flash head to point the light in different directions. You really want to bounce the flash off a wall and ceiling for best effect.
4. Prepare a packing list
Make sure you prepare a packing list of the gear you need at the wedding. Apart from the camera equipment mentioned above make sure you remember to pack the following:
- Extra batteries(charged) and battery chargers. For a camera as well as the flash unit
- Memory cards. Enough for the whole day. You will most likely shoot about 200 images per hour.
- (2019) get 128GB card into both card slots in your camera, shoot with backup and you’re set
- Lens cleaning cloth
- Energy bar – you will get hungry and you may not have time to sit down and eat
5. Prepare shooting list
When you’ve shot dozens of weddings you will know exactly what you need to photograph, but when you do it for the first time make a list and study it to make sure you get at least most of the important shots.
- Bride and groom preparation.
- Arriving at the church
- The ceremony. Try to capture parents and guests emotions.
- Formal portraits. The couple, bride alone, groom alone, family shots, group shots.
- Details. Rings, Flowers, Table, Decorations
- Capture images of guests throughout the day and night
- Cutting the cake
- First dance
Remember, your main job is to make sure you have the Bride looking as beautiful as possible. She is the one who most likely hired you and she is the one you need to impress. Most grooms could not care less.
Be sure to take into consideration ethnicity of your friends and their wedding traditions. You do not want to miss a traditional tea ceremony at an Asian wedding, for example. Ask your friends to give you a few minutes notice about a ceremony if you are not familiar with the customs yourself.
When you take details shots, rings, the tables, flowers, the cake, desert corner, etc. Offer them to the people who were responsible for those decorations. If you impress them with your shots they will remember you and will likely recommend your photography business for their clients. Build a network.
6. Check out the locations
Go to the church and see what the light is like in there. Take a few test shots and study the settings. Find a good spot for the portrait session. Leave very little to chance. Professional photographers are able to adjust to any light conditions immediately, but if this is your first wedding it’s extremely helpful to study the location beforehand. If you know what to expect, you will approach the wedding shoot with a lot more confidence; not to mention a lot more relaxed.
7. Get a flash unit and learn how to use it
Not your camera pop up flash. Do not use that one at all. Organise or borrow a proper flash. One which will allow you to change direction so you can bounce the light off the ceiling or the walls. Don’t shoot with the flash pointing at the people. This will not produce nice images. Dial it down for fill-in effect. A lot of reception images will have to be shot with flash as its usually dark in the room; get a good unit and LEARN how to use it. Don’t forget to bring spare batteries, and not the cheap kind either. They don’t last.
8. Bring enough memory cards
You will shoot about 200 images per hour; make sure you have enough to cover the entire wedding. You do not want to stop in the middle of the night to delete some cause you ran out of space. You can bring a small laptop, upload the images onto it and reuse the cards, but easiest and safest is just to get more memory. It’s cheap now, so there is no excuse.
(2019) This part has probably changed the most for me. I no longer shoot or recommend many small memory cards. I simply believe that for a wedding you will have to get a camera which has dual memory slots. There is just no way around it for me. Back in 2013, we didn’t have that choice, so shooting into many small cards meant that if one of the cards failed we only lost a small number of the images.
In 2019 we don’t have to lose any images at all. I don’t remember if I ever had a card that failed on me during a wedding, and now I shoot every picture into 2 cards. Chances of both of them failing are remote. I shoot Jpeg into a smaller capacity card (cheaper) and Raw into a large card. One is 128GB and the other 64 GB.
I could probably shoot 3 weddings with this 1 set of cards before they fill up. This is not a recommendation… I’m just saying.
9. Consider shooting in raw rather than jpg format
RAW will require more memory cards and will require a bit of more work in post-production. What it will offer in return is a little bit more flexibility in processing the white balance or the exposure of the images after the event. Quite frankly, you have a better chance of rescuing a badly lit raw shot than a jpg image.
(2019) I still think it’s a good idea to shoot Raw, but the jpegs I get from my Fujifilm cameras are stunning, and for most of the coverage I don’t even bother with raw images. If I miss the exposure by a few stops then I’d still use Raw to try and recover the pictures, other than that Jpegs are more than good enough.
10. Wedding portrait and group poses
You may not be a professional wedding photographer, but you are the one holding the camera and you will be required to direct the bride and groom and the rest of the wedding party. Study a few good wedding photographer’s work, make a sketch or notes, copy the image to your phone and use it as cheat sheets. You can even show the poses to the couple to make it easier on them too. You don’t need many good shots, but you definitely need at least a few. Those are the money shots of a wedding photographer. Make the session fun, communicate with them constantly. Don’t leave them guessing as to what to do next.
During the formal photo session, you are the director; you drive it. Make sure the bridesmaids and groomsmen cooperate and know what to do. Remember the poses you studied and execute them with confidence. Be polite but stern; it’s your show and it’s your responsibility to get the shots. If you don’t get them, no one else will be blamed but you.
11. Practical wedding photography tips on composition
- Learn to use your camera properly. Know how to instantly change the aperture, ISO, shutter speed, EV compensation, flash settings.
- I suggest keep the camera on AV – aperture priority. F stop of f2.8 will produce nice background blur, but use it for individual or couple portraits. Adjust aperture to at least f5.6 for group shots. You want all people in the group shot to be in focus.
- Use a macro lens for details shots of the decorations, flowers and especially rings. If you don’t have a macro lens, use a 50mm f1.8 lens for this task. Set it at f2.0 and shoot the details horizontally, never from the top.
- Always check the background, especially during the formal portrait session. Make sure there is no clutter behind them, there are no trees in the distance that look like they are growing out of their heads; there are no people walking behind them.
- Try to find a shaded area; overcast days are best for photography, as long as it doesn’t rain. Avoid direct sunlight as it will always produce images with a lot of contrast. Brighter parts very bright, and darker parts almost black; compensate this by using fill flash.
- Experiment with a different perspective and different angles. Lower the camera to get a different view. Photograph children from their level, by getting down to your knees. Be creative.
- Try to get at least one good group shot of everyone in the wedding party. Use a very wide angle lens. Stand on a chair or a ladder or shoot them from a balcony. Take a lot of shots so you have plenty to choose from. Someone is always bound to close their eyes.
You are faced with quite a daunting task. Wedding photography is stressful even for the professionals, but as your night progresses you will realise that you are shooting a decent amount of good images. Try to relax. Put a smile on your face. It will make you a lot more approachable and it will loosen up people you are trying to photograph. You will get much better group shots. A good personality in a wedding photographer is almost as important as his technical skills; also friendly, charismatic photographers get a lot more work. I hope these wedding photography tips for beginners will help you do a fantastic job on your first wedding shoot, which may result in a great career in photography.
Visit my own Boudoir Photography Sydney page, as I no longer shoot weddings.