Beginner’s Guide to Wedding Photography
You enjoy photography as a hobby, you have a good
SLR camera system and you’ve taken many photos in
the past few years that you and others enjoy. The
chances are good that at some point in time you’ll be
asked to take some wedding pictures. Perhaps the
wedding couple or family can’t afford the substantial
cost of having a full-fledged professional shoot the
wedding. Or maybe they’re so impressed with your
picture-taking ability that you were automatically their
first choice for a wedding photographer. If you’ve
accepted their invitation to photograph the wedding, this
guide will help you know what pictures you should take
and how to take them.
A great deal of equipment isn’t needed to shoot a wedding. A digital or 35mm SLR camera with a normal lens
will work fine. (28-70mm for 35mm, 18-55mm for digital.) Lenses wider than this are too wide for most wedding
use because they distort people who are nearer the camera than others. There’s also the chance that your flash
unit may not cover everything included by an extra-wide lens, causing dark edges on the pictures. A short tele-
photo lens may be helpful when shooting existing light photos during the ceremony from the back of the church.
It will also be handy for shooting portraits of the bride and/or groom. These instances will probably be about the
only times you’ll be able to use a telephoto lens at a wedding simply because you’ll seldom be able to get back
far enough from the subjects to include them in the picture.
A good, dependable flash is extremely valuable when taking wedding pictures. It should be moderately powerful,
because a small low-power flash won’t reach out very far when taking pictures inside a large, high ceiling church
sanctuary or other public facility. Since photos will sometimes be taken in rapid sequence, the flash should be
capable of fast recycling. Be sure to take extra sets of batteries for the flash. To avoid dark church backgrounds
in your portraits, try “dragging” the shutter to help burn in the background that wasn’t lit by the flash. Instead of
shooting at 1/60 sec, try 1/30 or slower to burn in that background. If you have digital, testing this will be easy.
A tripod will be helpful when taking the group pictures of the wedding party and families. You’ll want to use it
when taking existing light pictures of the ceremony, too. A quick release mount will speed camera mounting and
releasing from the tripod.
If you’re shooting with a 35mm film camera, moderate speed color negative film is popular choice for wedding
photos. High speed color negative film (above ISO 400) can be used but there may be some sacrifice of color
quality and definition. Color slide film can be used, but it requires greater exposure accuracy than negative film.
Since prints are usually the desired form of wedding photographs and negatives produce better prints than do
slides, avoid using slide film.
Act in charge when taking the formal group photos. It’s best for you to play a low-key role during most of
the wedding picture-taking, but when taking the portraits of the wedding party and families, it’s up to you to
direct things. You should see to it that everyone who is to be photographed is at the right place at the right time
and doesn’t leave until you’re finished with them. You’re the one who arranges individuals in the group shots.
Don’t show your bad pictures. Most likely the majority of your pictures will be technically good - properly
exposed, in focus, properly composed, etc. You may have a few failures, some of them out of your control.
(Such as subjects with his or her eyes closed). Unless there is a real purpose or need to include such photos
with the good ones, leave them out.
Go to the rehearsal. It will provide you with a good opportunity to plan your photographic coverage of the
wedding. Take along your cameras, not to take pictures but to check out the vantage points through the
viewfinder and to see where you’ll have to be to take certain pictures. If you’ve never been inside the church
before, the rehearsal will give you a chance to preview locations for pictures of the groom and groomsmen and
No flash photos during the ceremony. Even though some churches permit you to take flash photos during the
ceremony, it’s best to not take flash photos during the ceremony, from the time the bride walks up the aisle until
the end of the ceremony when the couple starts to walk down the aisle together. Guests will be distracted and
perhaps annoyed by the flash going off during the ceremony and bursts from your flash unit may take away from
the spirit of the occasion. With the minister’s permission, it’s a common practice to take a few existing light pic-
tures from the back of the church, such as from the balcony, choir loft or back of center aisle. The sound of the
camera shutter can be distracting so avoid taking pictures during moments of silence.
When to take the formal group photos. In years past it was the custom to take the posed photos of the wed-
ding party and families after the wedding ceremony, usually between the ceremony and reception. This was in
keeping with the tradition of the bride and groom not seeing one another on the day of the wedding until the cer-
emony itself. Many couples now part with tradition and have the formal poses taken before the ceremony. This
gives them more time to mingle with guests afterwards. It’s also the best time to catch everyone looking their
best before hair and clothes become messy. Most photographers prefer taking the group photos before the cere-
mony but the decision should be left to the bride and groom.
Equipment reliability. Use only photo equipment that works properly and that you are familiar with. If you bor-
row a flash, lens or other piece of equipment to take the wedding pictures, borrow it far enough in advance to
allow you to shoot a tests and view the finished images. Have a backup for the camera and flash.
Check your flash synchronization. Most pictures taken at a typical wedding are taken with flash, so it’s
extremely important that your flash and camera synchronize properly. Before you load your camera, make a
simple check of your camera and flash synchronization. With a 35mm camera, before you load film, set the
shutter to the normal flash setting, turn on the flash, open the camera back and point the camera and flash to a
nearby light-colored wall. Press the shutter release while looking at the shutter. If you see bright light coming
through the entire image area when the shutter is tripped, synchronization is OK. If some of the image area is
bright while some isn’t, that means the camera’s flash synchronization isn’t working properly or the shutter
speed is set too high. With a digital SLR, take a test shot while viewing the LCD panel. A black band along one
edge indicates the shutter speed is too fast to synchronize and a slower speed needs to be used.
Quality processing. This is no time to try out that new cut-rate photo lab that you just heard about. Use a
quality photofinishing service, one with whom you’ve had good results previously. If you must mail film to the
photo lab, don’t mail all the rolls of wedding pictures in one parcel. Split it up so some of the film goes one day,
some a day or two later. It’s far better to risk the loss of a roll or two in the mail than the entire group of wedding
pictures. Do not put the film in an outside mail box as these boxes can get very hot, leading to damaged film.
Digital files. Instead of shooting all the images on one large memory card, split up the wedding among several
cards, changing back and forth during idle moments during the wedding. Treat your cards with care and use
some type of case or holder to minimize the chance of loss or damage. Immediately after the wedding, back up
the images on several CDs or DVDs as an added precaution.
WEDDING PHOTO LIST
Here’s a listing of more or less standard wedding photos. These pictures are found in most wedding albums but
by all means tailor your picture-taking to the preferences of the wedding couple and yourself. The bride will
probably have a good idea of what she wants photographed, so visit with her before the wedding. She may want
you to photograph special friends or have other pictures in mind for you.
Posed group portraits
_ Bride alone
_ Bride & attendants in dressing room
_ Bride and groom
_ Bride adjusting garter
_ Bride and bridesmaids
_ Bride and her mother
_ Entire wedding party
_ Bride and flower girl
_ Groom and groomsmen
_ Groom and groomsmen
_ Couple and minister
_ Couple and her parents
_ Couple and her family
_ Bridesmaids walking up the aisle
_ Couple and his family
_ Bride and her father walking up the aisle
_ Couple and his parents
_ Existing light photos of ceremony
_ Bride and groom walking down aisle
_ Close-up of bridal bouquet with rings on hands
_ Couple silhouetted by stained glass windows or
_A few shots of the receiving line
_ Cutting of the cake
_ Portrait of couple illuminated by light from
_ Sharing the first piece of cake
stained glass windows
_ Couple toasting
_ A few shot of the couple greeting guests
_ Throwing of the bouquet
_ Guests throwing rice as couple leaves
_ Couple in the decorated car
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