is stressful, no doubt about it. The day is long and the pressure is high, but
the rewards can be pretty great too. Here we’ll look at five inspirational
wedding photographs and some advice on how to make your own.
What You Need
A walk-around, all-purpose lens isn’t going to cut it at a wedding. You’ll need at least one fast lens that performs well in low lighting situations. Churches and halls are often very dark and mostly you’re not allowed to use flash in them.
Prime lenses are generally best for this: they’re fast and they’re sharp. They don’t have to cost the earth, either. Most photographers have a ‘nifty-fifty’ (50mm) lens in their arsenal and the f/1.8 version can be picked up for less than £100.
A wide lens is essential for those large group shots, but make sure you don’t have anyone standing too near the edges, or they’ll end up looking distorted.
A zoom lens will be perfect for capturing candid moments, unobtrusively. Heading right up to someone with a camera will either make them uncomfortable or they’ll go into ‘I’m having my picture taken’ mode. Being further away with a zoom lens on means you have a much better chance at capturing people as they naturally are, and that can make for some lovely shots.
- Here Is What to Look For When You Buy Photography LensesHarry Guinness31 Aug 2016
- Minimum Viable Camera: How to Get a Good Enough Full-Frame Digital Kit For LessJeffrey Opp25 Mar 2016
A Speedlight or Flash
Even though you might not be allowed to use a flash in certain venues, it’ll no doubt come in handy for the evening party. When the lights are off and disco lights on, photography becomes trickier. Use walls and a diffuser to soften the light and avoid pointing the flash directly at the guests where possible.
- Inside the Camera Bag: Wedding and Commercial Photography KitBen Lucas14 Oct 2014
- Essential Supplies for Photo and Video Gear HackingDavid Bode21 Oct 2014
Don’t ever attempt to shoot a wedding without having first visited the venue(s). Visiting prior to the wedding will let you see any problematic (usually dark) areas, places you might take some formal, posed shots and also give you an indoor alternative in case it happens to be terrible weather on the day.
You should also know how long it will take you to reach each venue so that you can plan your timing and allow for any delays. Scope out car parks as part of your itinerary too, will there be spaces. What’s your alternative if it’s full? Do you need to pay or have a permit?
You also need to know at what time of day each part of the wedding will be happening, so that you know exactly where you need to be and what you’ll need to do for each portion of the day.
Your photographs may look very different if you’re travelling between venues, or even as light changes throughout the day. At the end, you want to create continuity between all the photos so they flow better when placed into an album or set.
Actions (or pre-sets) for Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom can not only give your editing a boost but are also great time saving devices. You can even save your own editing process as an action, to run for each image.
- 25 Premium Lightroom Presets for WeddingsHarry Guinness18 May 2016
- How to Retouch Skin in Portraits Using Frequency SeparationDawn Oosterhoff22 Oct 2021
In any professional photography job you should have insurance but I hear of so many people who are asked to do a friend or family wedding on the cheap and do so for experience, uninsured. It’s a bad idea. Even if you’re confident that the bride and groom won’t sue you if something goes wrong, you don’t know one of the guests won’t.
If you drop your camera on a child’s head and the parents decide to take you to court, you’d have to pay all your expenses and any fines/compensation yourself. If you damage something in a stately home by swinging your tripod around, you’re liable. Be insured.
- Quiz: Are You Ready to Photograph a Wedding?Joel Bankhead
- Are You Ready for the Worst? Insuring Your Photo & Video KitMarie Gardiner11 Jun 2015
This is really important and a big part of managing expectations. Your contract should set out exactly what you’ll provide, for how much and under what circumstances. Ideally, you’ll include and take a deposit too.
Make sure your client reads and understands the contract, initials each page, signs and dates it.
- Setting Up Contracts for Your Freelance WorkAndrew Blackman14 Aug 2022
- 10 Critical Points for Strong Photography ContractsJosh Johnson11 May 2011
Some spontaneity and improvisation is required on the day, but there are also some shots you really need to get so as not to disappoint anyone or having any glaring holes in your album.
You need shots of everyone at the wedding, whether that’s in a group or individually and then combinations of those, too. Everyone directly involved with the wedding party (bridesmaids, groomsmen, parents etc) should be photographed.
Make a shoot list to help you if you’re not confident you’ll remember everything. Hopefully you’ll have discovered any awkward family issues when you prepped your itinerary.
Start with the full group and peel people away until you’re left with your core. You’ll find this easier than having to round people up once they’ve started drinking and partying.
- 2 Courses to Help You Get Started as a Wedding PhotographerAndrew Blackman26 Apr 2015
- How to Be a Wedding Photographer in 60 SecondsMarie Gardiner18 Jan 2016
Getting Shots of the Couple
Between the ceremony and reception is a good time to steal your couple away and take some pictures of just the two of them. Don’t be afraid to move them around if things don’t look right, adjust dresses if they’re bunched up. Be polite but firm and most important of all, keep it fun!
You should have gotten to know your couple during meetings, so tailor the experience to their taste and personalities. Having an assistant can really help, so if you don’t have a second shooter, think about roping in a bridesmaid!
Photograph everything, everything! Get details on any dresses, pictures of the shoes, the rings, place settings, table decoration – everything! Usually, there’ll be time to get into any rooms before the wedding party arrive, so make sure you check with whoever is running the event at the venue and arrange that.
Closeups of the little details of the day will not only pad out your album but add something really special to it, too.
Backup Your Images
Hopefully you’ll be shooting across two cards so you’ve got an instant back up, but when there’s a break, try to save the images to your laptop hard drive, too. You never know when something might go wrong and you don’t want to be in the position of explaining to the couple why they have no photographs of their big day.
Look After Yourself
If you’re lucky and have a thoughtful couple, they may feed you, but chances are you’ll have to bring your own food and certainly at the very least you should bring snacks and water.
Weddings are hectic and it’s really important to stay hydrated – you don’t want to keel over while you’re snapping away! It’s a long day – when I did weddings I was often there for at least 14 hours and it’s exhausting, so keep yourself well fed and watered.
The things that can go wrong at a wedding are unlimited. There’s a lot of pressure on everyone to have the perfect day and sometimes that can cause problems. You need to be able to stay calm, think through the problems and offer solutions where needed.
It’s not possible to think of every conceivable issue that might occur, but you may want to run through a check-list of possibilities before the day to make sure you can cope if the worst happens.
Hopefully you’ll have nailed expectations down in the contract and planning stages. However, if you find yourself in the position of being asked by a friend or family to shoot their wedding, be realistic about your abilities and what you can achieve. They may say that anything you can get will be appreciated, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be happy after the big day.
Couple on the Beach
Although this is very likely set up and not candid, the couple look like they’re having fun and it’s all very relaxed. The lighting and composition work really well here to create a pleasant, atmospheric image.
You can’t go wrong with a traditional kiss shot but the low angle adds drama, as do the surroundings and strong gold highlights and purple-y dark tones. The bride’s bouquet works well as as small punch of colour to keep our eyes rooted to the couple.
The brickwork and small ornate detail of birds is a great background for this image. I love the expression on the groom’s face too. The image is a little flat for my liking, but the toned-down can definitely work towards creating a classic, timeless look.
Figures in Silhouette
You don’t have to photograph your couple the traditional way in order to get a striking image. This silhouette in the sunset and long grass works beautifully well.
Make a Montage
the little details you’ll capture on a day can go towards making a lovely
montage, like this one. A picture of cuff-links or flowers may not be much on
their own, but put them together and they tell a great story: this would make
a lovely print, too. Grids like this are trendy at the moment.
How to Take Your Wedding Pictures Further
As I mentioned earlier, actions and pre-sets can help you create a theme or style throughout your set of photographs. They can also help to add punch to photos that might be lacking for whatever reason. I took the picture of the couple against the wall and used one of the actions from the Wedding Photoshop Actions set.
There actions are grouped into Bases, The Wedding Day and Finish, with several options and fill layers grouping down into a folder for each one.
Here I used Sunny, combined with Be There, with the Opacity lowered slightly to take the edge off:
The actions have added a sunny yellow fill layer which, brightens up the wall and the harsh shadows on the groom’s face. There’s also a blue fill layer which makes the blacks look slightly more vintage, and there’s a matt effect applied which is very popular at the moment.
- 2 Courses to Help You Get Started as a Wedding PhotographerAndrew Blackman26 Apr 2015
- Master the Toughest Parts of Shooting WeddingsAndrew Childress08 Apr 2014
Top Tips to Getting Wedding Shots
- Be fully covered with insurance and a contract.
- Make an itinerary so you know where to be and when.
- Remember to photograph all the little details.
- Be polite and friendly, but firm when directing people for photographs. Start with the full group and peel people away.
- Try using actions or pre-sets as a way to save time and add continuity to your photographs.
A Few Further Resources
- The ABCs of Photo Sorting: How to Turn a Mess of Pictures into an Organized Collection: Have you ever faced a necessary project that seems so overwhelming you don’t know where to begin? You delay, then you don’t start, and soon enough the project is a mental barnacle, forever attached to a to-do list.
- No Light, Low Light, No Problem: Environmental Portraiture at Night: Photography is all about light, but what do you do if there isn't any? How to Craft a Compelling Photo Story with Exposure: Exposure is one of the growing number of online publishing platforms for photo essays or long-form narratives—stories told with a combination of images and text. In this tutorial you'll learn how to create a compelling photo essay with Exposure.
Wedding photography is most definitely stressful, but the more you do, the more you’ll relax into the rhythm of the day and trust yourself to make the right decisions if and when problems arise.
You’ll need essentials in your kit, even if you’re just photographing for a friend as a freebie. Think a good, fast prime, a zoom lens and a wide—these are your staples. On top of this, a speedlight is really helpful for dark places like an evening party.
Prepare properly. This means a contract should be in place as well as the appropriate insurances. It’s not worth the risk, particularly if you’re doing it cheap in the first place as a favour!
When it comes to group shots, start out with photographing the whole wedding party before they scatter and then let everyone go but the main wedding party and photograph all suitable combinations of people. Between the ceremony and the reception is a good time to grab your couple and get some pictures of just the two of them. Use a zoom lens to grab some candid, reportage-style pictures of the day and use a macro lens to get closeups of absolutely everything.
Remember to look after yourself, stay hydrated and be sure to eat something. If something goes wrong, keep calm and think through solutions. Back up your images as often as you can and have spares of important things like a camera body, battery and memory card.
When you come to post-process your images, think about having a recognisable style through them so that they flow well and look right together in a set. Pre-sets can help with this as well as saving you a great deal of time.
Finally, enjoy the
day—it can be a whirlwind and exhausting but hopefully once you’ve got your
images together to present to the client, they’ll be so happy that it’ll blow
any other stress you felt right out of the water.