A collection of essential wedding photography tips, techniques and tricks for beginners – from candid wedding photography to a more classic approach…
If you’re new to wedding photography, this is the place to start. Whether you’re looking to gain some experience as the unofficial photographer on the big day, or simply looking for some pointers for improving your portraits in general, there’s lots of great advice on offer here.
General wedding photography tips
1 Use a wide aperture
The use of the widest aperture that your lens permits (for a narrow depth of field) can create a very appealing effect for wedding photography, keeping your subject in focus while making the background blurred – although you need to be sure you focus accurately.
2 Try slow-synch flash
If using flash, try as slow a shutter speed as possible – 1/15 to 1/25 second, say – to make the most of ambient lighting. Try panning with moving subjects while you fire the flash to freeze the subject and blur a distant background.
3 Pose the bride
For flattering images of a bride, make sure she doesn’t have her arms bent (a slight bend is best, but not straight) while holding her bouquet. If possible, ask her to create an ‘S’ bend with her body, similar to the way fashion models pose. Look through women’s magazines like Vogue and Cosmopolitan to see how the models pose to get an idea.
4 Look for lines
Try to make the most of strong architectural lines, such as pillars, for backdrops to your wedding photographs. Remember, if you sort out the background, the foreground falls into place to create the perfect composition. Scout out the venue beforehand to see which architectural elements might work best.
5 Use light patterns creatively
If there are any interesting light patterns outside the church or register office, you can use them to add impact and drama to your images. Be aware, however, that such patterns may come and go as the day progresses, so you may have to work quickly to capture them.
6 Frame the couple
When taking pictures of the bride and groom with their bridal car, try being creative by using the windows to frame them, or even jump inside the car, if it’s OK with them.
7 Tilt the camera
Camera tilt adds a sense of motion to an image. You don’t have to always keep the camera in landscape or portrait format, be adventurous and align the composition lines at diagonals in the image to create impact. As with all techniques don’t over do this – one or two images is ample.
8 Find the shade
If you’re shooting a wedding on a day with very strong sunshine, try to move the couple or group into the shade for a better exposure, or use fill-in, or forced flash to balance the scene. You’ll find the fill flash setting by cycling through the camera’s flash modes.
9 Add some blur
Try experimenting with pictures of the first dance using a very slow shutter speed to give your images a sense of movement. Use a combination of flash and a slow shutter speed to freeze the motion of the couple while still capturing ambience and movement. You may need to increase the ISO sensitivity of the camera – although noise will become more obvious in darker indoor conditions.
10 Use a ﬂash bracket
Attach an external flashgun to a flash bracket to lift the flash a few inches above the lens, eliminating shadows on the subject. The best frames works on a hinge mechanism and enable you to move the flash for portrait shots or landscape format shots accordingly.
Candid wedding photography tips
11 Look the other way
Weddings don’t just happen in front of you. Look around for other photo opportunities that may be behind you. After all, you’ll be looking at what your subjects can see, so if you’re aiming to capture their memories of the day, look at what they’re looking at.
12 Pay attention to detail
Look for the small stuff as well as the big picture. Often, details may go unnoticed by the wedding guests, and yet when they see a detail shot, memories will come flooding back. So be aware of everything around you and don’t be afraid to photograph it.
13 Go low
Try shooting from a low vantage point. Avoid crouching on your haunches, however. Such a stance makes you unsteady and you may find your shots ruined by camera shake. If the ground is dry, kneel down, or even lie down, in order to stand a better chance of keeping the camera steady.
14 Wait a second
Let other people take their photographs and then capture the subjects as they relax. Formal, posed shots are OK for the record, but when aiming to capture the emotion of the event, people come across better in photos when they’re happy, relaxed and unworried about people taking pictures of them.
15 Add grain
Grain can add atmosphere and lack of flash can keep attention from you. The last thing you want is for a flash to distract the wedding guests, drawing attention to yourself. The high ISO settings used in low light photography may increase noise a little, but this can give them character.
16 Try a telephoto
Long lenses keep you out of the action as an observer. They also create interesting perspective effects, which can add drama to photos. Be careful to avoid camera shake that can be induced when wielding such lenses – a sturdy tripod is a handy accessory in such situations.
17 Make friends with the organisers
They know what’s actually happening, as opposed to what should be. The organisers can tip you off about who’s going to be where and when, so it’s wise to consult them in order to be in the right place at the right time.
18 Don’t be intrusive
If someone doesn’t want their photo taken, leave them alone. There’s little point in taking shots of people who don’t like being in front of the lens. They’ll not look comfortable and you could end up causing offence. With experience, you’ll get to recognise the signals that the camera-shy give out.
19 Listen for laughter
Weddings are happy occasions, so keep an ear out for laughter. Shots in which people look happy and relaxed work very well, so use your ears as well as your eyes to monitor the dynamic of the wedding party and move in on where the action’s taking place.
20 Use the wind
If it’s windy, face people into the wind and get lots of movement. The bride’s dress in particular can look wonderfully dynamic when there’s a breeze – its lines will flow out with the movement of air. However, if you’re changing the lens on a DSLR, get out of the wind to avoid dirt blowing into the camera body.
The considerate wedding photographer…
21 Consult beforehand
Always have a pre-wedding consultation with the couple to get to know them and find out what they want first. It’s their day, not yours, so it’s wise to have a clear idea of how they envisage the occasion. Be polite and don’t promise anything that you can’t deliver.
22 Smile a lot
If you smile at people, they smile back, so make lots of eye contact. Don’t hide behind your camera. Someone with a big lump of technology permanently attached to their face can be off-putting and you’ll likely end up missing a lot of potentially excellent shots.
23 Give the couple space
After the ceremony, give the couple time and space to be congratulated. This helps you when you come to shoot the organised photographs – people won’t keep coming up and getting in your way as they attempt to pass on their best wishes to the bride and groom.
24 Be candid
While the couple are busy being congratulated, you can go round and get some candid shots of the guests. They’ll be happily distracted and therefore more relaxed than when they feel they have to pose for the camera. The unobtrusive photographer can have some of the best shots of the wedding day.
25 Compose subtly
Pre-focus and compose your subject through the lens, then get their attention by talking or smiling at them – they won’t know you’re taking the photograph. When they do realise, they’ll laugh and you can then take more natural-looking photographs. The more relaxed people are, the better the shots will turn out.
26 Go with the flow
Don’t fight the rain, wind, people and time. There’s always a way to get round a problem, so think laterally. As you become more confident and experienced, you’ll develop numerous ways of making the unexpected play into your hands, so exercise your problem-solving skills to the full.
27 Plan for rain
If it’s raining, use brollies. It’s handy to have a white one and a black one in your car. Get the couple walking with them, kissing each other and so on. They make excellent props, and can save your expensive digital camera from a soaking, which is unlikely to do it much good.
28 Use the crowd
If people are in the background in public places, just let them be there. Sometimes it’s good to take pictures of strangers wishing them the best.
29 Manage your time
You should always have enough time. If you don’t, you didn’t ask the right questions at the consultation. Be aware of the schedule of the day, how you’re going to get from A to B and where the wedding party will be and when. The disorganised photographer will miss out on key moments, so don’t let it be you.
30 Enjoy yourself
Wedding photography can be a lot of fun, but not if you’re fretting about the camera or the light. Relax and have a good time, just as the rest of the attendees are meant to be doing. You may find that your photography improves as a result.
Reportage wedding photography tips
31 Use your inside knowledge of the family to get shots
If some relatives haven’t seen each other for 20 years, a shot of when they first meet at the church could be very emotional. Think about the attendees and how they get on, then use that knowledge to plan your shooting schedule.
32 Avoid shooting when people are eating
Don’t take pictures of people eating. They never look good and no one will thank you for it. You may as well pack away the camera during the meal and have some food yourself while you wait for the speeches, which provide far more opportunities for good people shots.
33 No chimping
Don’t ‘chimp’ after each shot (chimping is looking at the camera’s screen to check your pictures). It uses up the batteries and takes your eye off the action. You’re better off reviewing the photos en masse occasionally, being careful to delete only those that you can’t feasibly use.
34 Bounce the flash
When shooting indoors, bounce your flash off the ceiling and balance the exposure with the ambient light. Bounced flash is far more diffuse, so you won’t end up with those harsh shadows that are characteristic of amateur snaps.
35 Tell a story
Adopt a photojournalistic approach – look for pictures that tell the story of the day. The classic way is to get three pictures of each moment, not necessarily taken at the same time. For example, a close up of the cake, a medium shot of the couple cutting the cake and then a wide angle of the guests’ reactions.
36 Take your own confetti
To make sure you get a good confetti shot, take your own confetti. Frame the shot and throw the confetti high in the air, not at the couple. Try a small aperture (f/11), slow shutter (1/15 sec) and fill-in flash. Just make sure the wind isn’t blowing towards you, or you’ll look like an idiot.
37 Listen for stories
When mingling with the guests listen out for someone telling a story. There are typically numerous characters at the wedding, each with something to say, so let them warm up the crowd for you and be ready to capture their reactions.
38 Edit ruthlessly
When you get back home, edit the pictures then edit them again. Remove any shots in which the bride and groom don’t look at their best. Retouch any blemishes from their faces, and so forth. Then edit the pictures again – only let people see the best shots, not hundreds of average ones.
39 Don’t let your camera sharpen the shots
Turn off any automatic in-camera sharpening. This is best done on the computer after you’ve resized the images. If possible, always shoot RAW format. This transfers the data from the imaging chip directly to memory without compressing it, although the file sizes will be much larger than when shooting JPEGs, so you’ll need high-capacity memory cards, or a portable storage device to copy your images onto over dinner…
40 Underexpose in bright light
In bright sunlight, try to retain the detail in the bride’s dress by underexposing by 1 EV and then bringing the shot up to the correct exposure on the computer. Digital cameras have excellent dynamic range, so shadow detail should be recoverable – it’s highlights which is where they tend to have problems. Again, shooting in RAW as opposed to JPEG really helps in this situation.
Contemporary wedding photography tips
41 Find a position
Try to get a position in the church about 2 or 3 rows back from the altar and to the side of the bride and groom. You can capture some fantastic emotional images throughout the ceremony. And make sure you turn the camera’s sound effects off so you don’t disturb people seated nearby.
42 Plan for key events
Think beforehand at what points you’ll be able to capture emotional or funny images – for example, during the ceremony itself, and the couple’s interaction while register is being signed. This is often the ﬁrst time they’ve spoken together on the day and their reactions can produce some wonderful images.
43 Soften your flash
Never use direct flash – as well as using an off-camera flash bracket, place a diffuser over the flash head. Sto-fen’s white plastic caps are affordable and great for helping flash pictures. They soften the flash, reducing those harsh shadows that can make photographs look amateurish.
44 Avoid effects
Keep away from too many digital effects on the camera. If you want to create a sepia print, or even solarize the happy couple, shoot in colour as normal and convert the shot in an image editor later. If you shoot with special effects, you’ll not be able to turn the image into a standard colour shot afterwards.
45 Go wide on architecture
Use wideangle lenses to capture interesting graphic shapes. The lines of a church’s interior can look spectacular when wideangle lenses distort them. Just avoid taking portraits with them – people’s faces will distort in a strange, bulbous way.
46 Go slow indoors
Practice slow-sync ﬂash methods, which can transform interior shots. The camera’s flash will fire to illuminate foreground subjects and the shutter will stay open longer so that the background’s properly exposed. Rest your camera on a tripod, though, otherwise you’ll introduce unwanted motion blur.
47 Aim high
Where possible, try high angles (or low ones) to get shots that are different from those taken by the rest of the guests. Most people will shoot from head height, so get on a chair, table or windowsill to make your compositions stand out from the rest.
48 The best man’s speech
Watch for reaction from the bride and groom during the best man’s speech. This can be the funniest point in the whole day, so keep an eye on their faces as he talks. When the inevitable funny stories start coming out, the couple’s reactions will be well worth capturing.
49 Use exposure lock
Make good use of the camera’s exposure lock – yours may have an AE-L button, or it can be locked by half-depressing the shutter – and take spot meter readings from faces to ensure you get the correct exposure. People are automatically drawn to faces in a photo, so you don’t want them under- or overexposed
50 Use a reflector
They’re cheap, you can clearly see the effect and it’s better than flash. The reﬂector helps to reduce the harsh shadows caused by strong, directional light, and is essential when aiming to take flattering portraits.
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