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Master the Toughest Parts of Shooting Weddings

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This post is part of a series called Wedding Photography.
Stealth Mode: How to Take Wedding Pictures Like a Reportage Photographer
5 Safety Nets Every Wedding Photographer Needs

Wedding photography is an exciting and high pressure niché that photographers are quick to dive into, often without enough preparation. In this article, you'll learn from my experiences (and mistakes) about how to properly manage a wedding day.

Shooting a wedding can bring a great deal of stress and pressure on the photographer. The seriousness of weddings can make it difficult to manage the day from start to finish. Preparation for every part of the day is key to performing at a high level. In this article, we'll take a look at the the most challenge parts of shooting a wedding.

Family Photos

I have always found the “firing squad” style of family photos to be stressful. The family photos usually take place in the short span of time sandwiched between the ceremony and reception.

In my experience, weddings start late and that only further squeezes the time for family photos. The job of the family portrait photographer is to serve as a logistics coordinator,  re-arranging family groups.

This part of the day alone hangs over my head, but I’ve found some ways to reduce the stress and anxiety involved with it.

Preparation is the key to having this part of the day run smoothly. Before any wedding, I send my clients a checklist of the family photos that they want to have captured. This presents them with an easy to signal list of ideas about what family photos they want included. Each checkbox is a “grouping” of the members involved, like “bride with groomsmen,” for example. I also include a box that allows them to add any other groupings that might not be on my standard list.

The survey I send to my clients includes a checklist of the family arrangements that they want photographed. I always print the list and keep it in my bag on wedding day. Special thanks to my tremendously talented friend Alex Bee Photography for giving me this form!

On the day of the wedding, I print this list and ensure that its in my bag. If I have a second shooter that day, he or she gets one, too. Second shooters play a pivotal part in keeping things running smoothly and letting me know what’s coming next. 

Scouting a location for the portraits early on ensures that you won’t be scrambling after the ceremony. Furthermore, being in command and assertive during this time is pivotal to making it run smoothly. 

I find that this part of the day is always smoothest when I am confident in telling people where to stand, how to be grouped, and what alignment looks best. With some preparation and confidence in this part of the day, it all becomes bearable.

Macro in a Pinch

Buying a dedicated macro lens can cut into your bottom line when shooting weddings. Although a macro lens is handy for capturing some details, there is a much lower cost option for getting up close and personal.

A reverse ring, which typically costs under $10, is an inexpensive option for getting macro capabilities with the lenses that you already have.

While the top image shows the maximium macro capabilities of the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens, the bottom image shows the power of the reversal ring. This inexpensive accessory puts you much closer to the subject without the expense of the dedicated macro lens.

Combined with a 50mm f/1.8 lens, you can reverse the lens so that the front element is attached to the body of the camera. With this, you get a fully manual lens with incredible macro capabilities. If you’re trying to keep costs low, skipping a macro lens for a reverse ring is a great option.

Dark Receptions

More often than not, the receptions are not planned with photography in mind. I’ve found that almost every one requires using flash, and that’s not something that we always have a good handle on.

Dark weddings are where the professionals separate from hobbyists. Although it’s easy to pose a beautiful couple in the light of day, it’s much more challenging to manage a scene that has little light. I’m going to offer two main methods for using flash in a way that doesn’t blind your subjects and keeps your images looking natural.

First, let’s explore the on-camera method. This means that our flash is sitting atop the camera in the hot shoe, firing whenever we release the shutter button. The tendency of the beginner is to simply point the flash head at the subject and fire away. Although this is simple and guarantees a “safe shot", the desired effects are a far cry from perfect.

There are many ways to improve the results of off camera flash.  The first step when using flash on-camera is to dial in negative flash compensation, telling the flash to use a less power than usual. In my experience, the flash unit gets overzealous in deciding how much power to throw at the subject. Going to -2/3 of a stop means that the flash is going to be more balanced. It helps to open the aperture on your lens a bit more to compensate

Shot just seconds apart, I find that the image on the right is a much more natural flash effect, dialing in -2/3 stops of flash compensation. There's no reflection from the background, and the lighting on the subject is much more natural.

Beyond the above tips, there’s an even better solution: moving the flash away from the camera! There are tons of solutions for setting your flash off wirelessly, including RadioPoppers, PocketWizards, and inexpensive alternatives seen on eBay.

One of the most popular ways of managing a dark reception is to place a flash in the corner of reception / dance area and let it do its thing. With a small softbox on it, the difference is tremendous. With this pointed at the subject, it’s going to make for softer and more natural light. If the flash is at a subject’s back, it can make for some amazing backlit effects. Either way, an inexpensive flash off camera is a complete game changer for the reception.

Adding an off camera flash can save the day during a dark reception. Even when the flash is behind the subject, I love the starburst, backlit effect that it can provide.

Keeping Shots Safe

No matter how good your shots are, you have to be mindful of protecting them.  On the front-end, you’ll want to ensure you take good steps to not lose memory cards, like using a memory card wallet stashed safely in the bag. Even better is using a newer DSLR with dual card slots that can create a backup as you go.

There’s never a time when data integrity matters more than when shooting weddings. That’s why I leave the original images on my memory cards until I’m forced to wipe them.

I'm proudly obsessive about protecting files during wedding shoots. Once I get finished, I immediately copy all images to my MacBook, ensuring that the number of images on the cards ties up to the number of images on my drive. I immediately copy them to my Synology DiskStation, which has two hard drives in it running in redundancy mode. At any given time, I recommend ensuring that your images are in two places at bare minimum.

When I finish shooting a wedding, I make sure to copy the images from the cards the same night and get them into Lightroom. Doing so ensures that all cards are accounted for and no gaps in image sequencing exist. I’ve known of situations when photographers have caught gaps in their Lightroom timeline and realized that one card was left lying on the reception dance floor. Catching errors like these on the night of the event increases your chances to resolve the issue.

At the bare minimum, you should keep a wedding stored in two places. Having them on my computer plus having the original images still on the memory card means that if my computer is stolen, I can always recopy the images from the card.

Even more ideal is having the images on an external drive in case your computer crashes. If I’m traveling and shooting on the road, it’s also a good idea to stash one drive with images in a second shooter’s hotel room to prevent the loss of images due to theft.

Stick to the script of your workflow when managing wedding images. All of the tips above will help to guarantee that you don’t lose the priceless wedding images that you just captured.

Stress Management

Although weddings are an incredibly special day in the lives of our clients, the stress is going to happen. People can be rude. People can lack understanding of what our goals as photographers are. Things can go haywire and the power can go out in the middle of your ceremony. Bridezillas and momzillas and auntzillas are present no matter how good of a job you do. Through it all, you have to maintain your professionalism.

Photographers, as a whole, are passionate. Sometimes, through passion we neglect our basic needs and forget to make sure that we are well rested, eating right, and keeping our energy levels up during weddings.

This tip may seem superficial, but I believe that managing the mental side of shooting is as important as the technical side. When you lose confidence in your abilities, it shows in your work.

I’m reminded of a simple tip a highly respected shooter once gave me: “Smile at people, they always smile back.” 

Whether you're shooting the ceremony or driving your clients in a golf cart, it's essential to maintain professionalism and confidence in your craft throughout the day. The results will show in your work.

Ultimately, you’ve been hired by the bride and groom. Everything you do should align with delivering a great product to them. There are sure to be people who are annoyed by having their photos made, but pay them no mind, beauty is in the eye of the checkbook holder.

Wrapping Up

Don’t let the fear of shooting weddings intimidate you into never trying them. Start off building your confidence by second shooting for others and grow your gear lineup to make sure you can cover every situation that the day brings. Following the tips above will help to manage the most stressful points of photographing weddings.

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