Become a wedding photographer in 2 months
December 30, 2006 2:20 AM   Subscribe

It's been suggested that I take wedding pictures at my friend's upcoming wedding in February as the bride and groom are doing a nice low-key affair. What camera do I get, and how do I get good decent at it in 2 months? 3 parts inside

A confluence events leads to this question - my trusty compact camera was recently stolen, so I'm in the market for a new camera. I've been looking at getting a digital SLR for a while, so taking pictures at the wedding is a great excuse to buy something nice.

1. What am I looking for in the sub-$1000 price range for a good (possibly upgradeable?) digital SLR? It'd be used for the wedding, obviously, and after that mostly outdoor photography when on hikes and climbs and such. This one is pretty general so feel free to skip it.

2. What's a good way to practice taking pictures of people without actually having to have a wedding going on?

3. What makes a great wedding photo? Examples here would be awesome. Angles, lighting setups, who's in, who's out, good group photos, good solo photos, etc.

I've scanned over previous threads and found good recommendations for books and such, but if you have anything specific to add I'd be happy to hear about it. I also realize that I Will Not Be A Professional In Two Months, so no worries there.
posted by 0xFCAF to Media & Arts (39 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
No direct flash, be creative. Figure out what they're looking for.
posted by trevyn at 2:28 AM on December 30, 2006

I think getting a very fast lens (eg f1:1.4 or if possible, f1:1.2) would be doing yourself a service - by allowing you to shoot with less light, the lens makes you less reliant on lighting, better allows indoor/ceremony shots without a flash, and can get faster shutter speeds allowing better results when shooting without a tripod.

Basically, a fast lens makes a lot of things more forgiving.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:32 AM on December 30, 2006

Second the lens suggestion. Fast lenses will cost you, though.

In order to stay with your budget, you can't really get a top-end body. Luckily, the entry-level consumer bodies are still excellent. Take a look at the Nikon D50/D70/D70s and Canon Rebel/Rebel XT/Rebel XTi.

Definitely get a flash unit. The entry level unit made by the manufacturer of your camera body will do nicely. Fill-flash indoors and outdoors is quite important and you'll enjoy the ability to use bounce flash so that the lighting is soft and even on your subjects.
posted by roomwithaview at 3:33 AM on December 30, 2006

Best answer: There's lots of good knowlege over at

You're going to need three things, if you want to shoot this with digital: a SLR body (doesn't matter how good, really, as long as it's got automatic settings...), a flash with a tilt on it (sometimes called a 'bounce flash'), and a lens, whether that be a 50mm f1.4 as suggested above, or the zoom lens that comes with the package. I personally think that as long as you have a flash the zoom lens is a better idea. Don't worry about buying a 'brand name' zoom lens, i.e. a Sigma or Tamron is perfectly OK.

The flash is important. The popup flash on the camera will do you no good in a wedding hall, and it'll eat your battery like there's no tomorrow. You want to 'fill' the light forward, not bounce it directly off their face. This technique is called 'bouncing' the flash, whether you bounce it off of a ceiling or a white card rubberbanded to the back of the flash.

I'm partial to Canon, because I've always shot Canon and my fingers can generally operate the camera systems without me having to think of it. You might be a Nikon or Pentax person. Only way to tell is to go to a camera store that's well stocked (there's at leaset one advanced amateur to semi-pro store in every city. Portland, OR had five or six. Since you haven't filled out your profile (AHEM, COUGH, AHEM), I can't reccomend one in your city.) and try them on for size.

You can find a Nikon D50 or Canon Digital Rebel XT for about $500 on B&H and Camera World, with a strong preference for B&H, are the only two places I'd really order online. The Nikons are a bit cheaper, the Canons I personally think work better. (personal preference.) Don't forget to get enough media to shoot the entire wedding, or to quickly download a large card into your laptop. Get a "UV Filter", a clear filter, for the front of both lenses. With Canon, the flash you'd want is the Speedlite 430EX. The 580EX is wonderful, but is probably out of your price range.

Alternately, if you have a place like Pro Photo Supply (Portland, OR) in your town, you could *rent* the equipment you need for the weekend for much less than $1,000.

And as for how to take pictures of people... offer your friends a free portrait session both indoors and outdoors. I had five or six cute girls jump at the chance last time I needed some practice. I burnt each of them a CD of the ones I liked, and the practice (plus the flirting) was well worth the cost of a CD. That's the nice thing about digital!
posted by SpecialK at 3:52 AM on December 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

Hi, I'm not a wedding photographer myself, but have just attended a workshop run by a pro, and he gave lots of good tips. Here are the one I remember:

1) Lens is more important than the digital camera body. He raved about the Nikon Coolpix sub-SLR and sometime uses that for entire weddings because of the lens quality. Typical kit though was a Nikon D70, SB-600 bounce flash, and then a range of lenses. Agree with the suggestion to go for a low aperture lens to the extent possible, but you are likely to need to zoom in and out because you won't be able to move around that much for portions of the wedding.

2) Leave the camera set on aperture priority (mode A). This gives you a lot of control without needing to do complex shutter speed estimates. Just remember, a low F number (F1.8, 3.5 etc) means that the aperture is wide, so lots of light, quick shutter speed, and importantly, narrow depth of field. This means you can do cool stuff like focus on the couple and blur out the background. Play with this ahead of time and practice the 3 variables to get depth of field right - aperture number, distance to the subject, and the distance from subject to background.

3) For the more casual shots, tilt the camera about 10-20 degrees off vertical and horizontal - gives the shots a more energetic feel, and they look less 'snapshotty'.

4) Use the rule of thirds - mentally divide the frame into 3, horizontally and vertically. These lines cross at 4 points. Put the subject at one of these points for better composition.

5) Take LOTS of photos - usually about 5% are usable - set the camera to multi burst, the split second differences in facial expression change the photo enormously. Be ruthless in cutting out the other 95% - 40 or 50 strong shots have much more impact than 1000. Lots of memory cards are the key here....

6) Practice - definitely follow SpecialK's suggestion of free portrait sessions.

Um, what else can I remember...

7) Check out the venue ahead of time, get there early and set up a tripod where you want it (a tripod and remote trigger are nice to have). This stops people sitting right where you need to be.

8) Use things like leading lines (the aisle for example) to draw people into the shot

and perhaps most importantly

9) Work on some banter. Get the people you are photographing to relax and smile and laugh. Actually taking more photos can make people relax more as you become part of the background rather than it being a big deal to pose for the photo.

Hope this helps, will let you know if I remember any more!
posted by csg77 at 4:17 AM on December 30, 2006 [3 favorites]

The 50mm 1.8 lens is about $100 (for either Canon or Nikon) and is, obviously, very fast. You could get a 1.4 but it's three times more expensive and I'm not sure it's worth it. However, when you use the wider apertures you get shallow depth of field and are taking a huge risk of out-of-focus issues. When using a shallow DOF, you have to make sure your subjects are facing the camera dead on, and focus on their eyes. At 1.8 it's so shallow that you can focus on the eye and the ear will be out of focus. So if your subject is at any sort of angle to you, you could get one eye in focus and one eye would be blurry.

I have the Nikon D70 and the SB-800 flash. This flash absolutely kicks ass and is a major piece of equipment in itself (I'm still exploring its capabilities!).

I taught myself how to do portraits by reading a ton of stuff online and practicing constantly. Here are a couple of quick tips I have for you up front:

1. Don't use pop-up flash. Ever.

2. You can take beautiful portraits outside if you do the following: Place subjects in shade (never direct sunlight). Make sure there is a patch of open sky behind you, in front of them. This will light up their faces and give you a beautiful natural light portrait. Consider using a tripod because shutter speeds will be slower in natural light. In natural light, just make sure subjects are always facing where the light is coming from so their faces are as illuminated as possible.

3. You might want to meter for her dress if it's really light to make sure it doesn't get blown out in the shot. You also might want to experiment with this beforehand. Otherwise meter for their faces. I use the center-weighted metering with portraits. Don't use matrix metering for this type of photography. Some use the spot metering but I have had better results with center-weighted.

I'm not a pro; these are just things I've picked up along the way.
posted by forensicphd at 4:54 AM on December 30, 2006

Consider whether you really want to do this: What happens if your camera breaks on the day? Are the couple going to say 'Oh well, never mind' or are they going to blame you for ruining their memories of their 'special day'. The future of your friendship could hinge on the answer to this question!
posted by pharm at 5:41 AM on December 30, 2006

A photographer friend of my husband's shot our wedding. He's not a professional, just a talented art student looking to make some money. Here's what we did to make it easier for everyone:

1. He attended and photographed the rehearsal so he could get an idea of the layout of the church and the lighting situation.

2. We gave him a list of all the shots we absolutely wanted. Stuff like individual shots of me and my husband, a shot of us together, a shot of all the bridesmaids, pictures of everyone going up and down the aisle, etc. Having a physical list of all the important shots made it easier for him to know what we wanted and it helped me relax knowing that all the "important" photos would be there.

3. We looked at his work before he even agreed to be our photographer, so that when we met to hash out the specifics we were able to tell him what we liked and why. I think it helped him understand the look we wanted.

I'm very happy we went with him instead of a professional. I'm sure you'll do a great job too.
posted by christinetheslp at 5:44 AM on December 30, 2006

It probably goes without saying, but make sure to get enough full-length shots of the bride--the entire dress. A friend had her wedding shot by a friend, loved the pics, but was a little upset that there weren't any full length shots of her lovely dress.
posted by LoriFLA at 5:56 AM on December 30, 2006

Best answer: I agree with pharm that you might want to think about this, or at least be absolutely sure what you're agreeing to (just taking the photographs, or the costs of developing and printing? Who puts the albums together in the way a professional photographer probably would, you or your friends?).

A friend of mine took the wedding photographs for another friend of hers, and it caused some bad feeling afterwards. It was very difficult for her to make sure she got all the photographs they wanted - they'd made a list, but hard to keep referring to it in the middle of things, especially as she didn't know everyone's names. And with other commitments it took her a while before she was able to get the album together. My friend ended up feeling out of pocket and her friend felt that she'd have got a better service from a professional.
posted by paduasoy at 6:00 AM on December 30, 2006

I agree with the kit described above. A Nikon D50 or D40 with dual lenses can be had in the low $600s. You will need a large flash unit on a bracket and you will need some kind of diffuser. Look at some of these

Most external flashes will not have a direct connection to the camera. You will need to find a unit that has a pc cord (flash sync cord) that matches whichever camera you buy. DO NOT rely on using an external slave flash. Everyone else will be setting off your slaved flash, and it won't be ready when you need it.


As far as becoming proficient well you're lucky that digital film costs nothing. You must get out and become absolutely familiar with the camera and the flash. You should have a good idea of delay and recovery times, what different settings will do etc.
posted by Gungho at 6:13 AM on December 30, 2006

all good advice above ... one more small comment. Beware the autofocus. In low light it can have the bad habit of focussing on the background. Comming from a 100% manual to a canon rebel DSLR I learnt that the hard way ... J
posted by jannw at 6:21 AM on December 30, 2006

I agree with the folks that question whether you really should be doing this. No matter how "low-key" they claim it is, it's still their wedding and they are going to have expectations that are very unlikely to be met by somebody doing this for the first time with a camera they bought 60 days prior.
posted by COD at 6:23 AM on December 30, 2006

I just came here to echo what COD says. Weddings have a very strange effect on people, especially brides and their mothers, and what started out as a "few nice shots for us to remember the day" and there's no hurry" turns in to "MY MOTHER WANTS THAT PICTURE OF MY UNCLE AND THE NEPHEW! WHERE IS IT? YOU SHOULD HAVE TAKEN IT!" and woe betide you if you don't have it. It can cost you the friendship, and I've known that happen more than once.

What's more, for a wedding you need two cameras -- what if one breaks? You can't just look at the floor and say "sorry, it brokeded". Therefore, if you're going to go ahead anyway (brrrr brrrr brrrr), I'd recommend renting two bodies (EOS 5ds are great for this) plus a 24-70 f.28/L (for cutting about), an 85mm f/1.2 (for portraits) and possibly a very wide, if you think you an work with it. Also a serious flash and power pack for it.
posted by bonaldi at 7:21 AM on December 30, 2006

I agree with pharm, COD, and bonaldi. Do it if they insist, but I'd try really hard to talk them into hiring a wedding photographer. It may seem expensive, but those guys know what they're doing, and there's no way you can "pick it up" in a month. Tell your friend "I'll try if you really want, but you have to promise that if the pictures turn out like crap you and your sweetie won't hold it against me." And if he tries to brush you off with compliments—"I'm sure you can do a good job!"—try harder, because that's just putting the onus on you. If he says "We're willing to take that risk and we won't hold it against you, we know it's asking a lot and you're not trained for it but we really don't want to spend the money for a pro," then give it a try, but be resigned to the possibility that the bride will freak out anyway when she sees the pictures. Weddings make people crazy, especially brides.
posted by languagehat at 7:43 AM on December 30, 2006

I only noted one person commenting on the low aperture lenses and the shallow DOF. I want to echo that. If you're new to SLRs you'll need some time to really work that end of the spectrum. I have a 50mm f1.8 lens that I've recently started taking some awesome photos with. But I have about a months worth of crap to show for it.
posted by FlamingBore at 7:59 AM on December 30, 2006

I want to echo some of the advice above... are you sure you want to do this? Taking good photos at an event like this is not easy. You need good equipment, you need to know how to use it, you need to know where to position yourself, etc. etc.

I agreed to photograph a large event (300 attendees) in a hotel ballroom as a favor to a friend, and I was very disappointed with the photos. I expect she was too. If I'm in that position again, I will probably decline.
posted by kdern at 8:47 AM on December 30, 2006

I second the suggestion to look into renting equipment. An extra body is important for redundancy, if nothing else, and a nice fast tele-zoom would otherwise eat your budget, even without a body and a decent flash.
posted by Good Brain at 8:48 AM on December 30, 2006

Just chiming in to side with the folks who are suggesting you put the brakes on this idea. This is a situation where expectations can fly out of control REALLY quickly. I've attended hundreds of weddings (professionally) and the photographer is ALWAYS on the spot, and needs to be at the top of his or her game to ensure that the millions of things that can go wrong, photography-wise, don't.

There are tons of details that have nothing to do with taking the pictures that also need to be dealt with, e.g. coordinating the bridal and groom parties, family photos, making and delivering prints afterwards, dealing with the crazy mother- or father-in-law, the drunken wedding photo organizer-wannabe, etc etc etc.

I've even seen a wedding utterly destroyed by an incident involving a non-professional photographer. Not for the faint-hearted.

Please try to convince your friends to shell out for a pro. These photos are the one thing (other than the marriage itself) they'll have in later years to remember the wedding by.
posted by Aquaman at 9:57 AM on December 30, 2006

Best answer: Bring extra batteries, and extra media storage cards.

It's often a good strategy to build a "story of the day" arc in the photos -- that means getting establishing shots of the important buildings (church, reception hall) and the signs that indicate the date or the name of the couple. Establishing shots of the cake and the decorated reception room are usually important too.

During the (interminable) hours of the reception, just go around by every table and the dance floor multiple times and try to get a photograph of every single guest. This keeps you shooting (all the guests will admire you because of how much they see you working), and covers you for the special college friends that the bride and groom didn't specifically mention you should get a shot of. My wedding style is "documentary", so I just photograph whoever I want to without asking them to pose, and after the shot I smile and say thank you.

For posed shots, be sure and give feedback during the session, saying things like, "Looks great!" and "Nice!" so that the group stays relaxed and feels that the shot is attractive. They will be less apt to get restless then. If you can do posed group photos with a tripod, that's helpful -- you can take a few shots in succession and later digitally swap out faces on the people who blinked or looked bad.

For practice, you can shoot at any dark events that happen between now and then -- parties, restaurants, bars, karaoke, etc. If you hear of someone getting married between now and then, you can ask to be a bonus photographer for practice (just make sure you don't get in the way of the pro).

For me, the worst part of wedding photography is the damned albums. I come from a fine-art background, so I expect acid-free papers and adhesives, but these things are hard to come by in the album world. Plus, you won't be able to get any samples from companies without a tax ID. And they will force you to attend a trade-show, anyway. My advice is to have a sit-down talk with the bride and groom and get them to agree on what your obligation is after the wedding, and then follow up with a summary in writing. I had a friend swear "no albums!" at the time we agreed I'd shoot her wedding, but she ended up with albums that I laid out and assembled, because in the end I still knew more than she did about putting albums together. It's easiest if you get the couple to just take your (corrected) final shots on disc or as prints, ending your obligation right there. You should also decide whether you'll do retouching of blemishes for them, or if color-correction is enough. (This one is tough because you will want to make everyone beautiful because it makes your photos look better, but it is hours of work.) You also have to work out who keeps all of the digital files -- do you have to hang onto them forever in case the bride and groom lose the disc? Also work out a timeline for delivery of the photos -- most couples want to see them right away, but personally I like to give myself two weeks or so before I even look at the photos, so I can see them in an unbiased light. I usually send one great photo via email after the wedding so they get excited, and then give myself a few weeks to go through the whole lot of them.

In the end, I think shooting weddings is a delight and I take a lot of pleasure in capturing people looking genuinely happy, but it is hours and hours and hours of work.
posted by xo at 10:09 AM on December 30, 2006

Best answer: I think getting a very fast lens (eg f1:1.4 or if possible, f1:1.2) would be doing yourself a service - by allowing you to shoot with less light,"

A 1.4-1.2 is ill advised for someone with your skill level. It takes skill to get it to focus on what you want (the person's eyes usually) and everything else is blurred which is not an effect you usually want in wedding photos.

I'd avoid renting any equipment. The chance of equipment failure is much less than the chance of you screwing up with unfamiliar equipment, especially since you've never used a SLR. Pros worry about their back up cameras not having the same exact interface as their main camera. Renting a body (that you've never used before both generally(SLR) and specifically) to shoot a wedding (something that you have never done) sounds like a recipe for disaster.

In your shoes I'd go to the nearest camera store and play with everything they sell. Pentax, Canon, Nikon all have systems that will be sufficient for your needs for several years so pick a body that feels right. I find find the digital Rebel way to small (IE: hard to hold on to) and light (flimsy feeling) but my pod mate loves it. Buy what feels comfortable, local stores will sometimes come close to B&H prices on bodies and lenses if you buy the accessories there (don't forget about shipping costs). Plus you get your stuff a few days earlier and you don't have to worry about it getting lost somewhere along the way.

On the Nikon side you'll want either the SB-600 or SB-800 for flash. The 800 is more flexible for wireless activation but that only really comes into play when you have more than one flash and it is a lot more expensive so I'd buy the 600 to start.

I'd also only use one lense, the 18-70DX D70 kit lense is cheap, covers the range you need (especially so with an APS sensor camera (all Nikons and all but the most expensive Canons)) and takes decent photos. That lense and any Nikon body and you'll be skill limited not equipment limited.

Plan on 400+ images and shoot, shoot, shoot. Try to get a list of must haves from the bride/groom and if you don't know the family press an aunt or someone into helping you track down all the people on the list. Shoot the receiving line if they have one and take a half dozen pictures of each table at the reception, preferably from several angles as a back up to getting everyone. If they have a gift openning see if you can shoot that too.

When I shoot a wedding (as an amateur for friends) I'll crank thru 10-20 rolls of NPH at 36 per. I'd shoot RAW to allow a bit more flexibility in final results. You can download Capture NX for a free 30 day trial to do all your post processing. If you shoot RAW you'll need several GB of storage. I prefer to have several 1GB cards instead of one huge card. Label the cards by number and start with #1 so that as you go thru the day you can increment each change and not accidentally install an already full card.

What you need before you start is lots of practise, several thousand exposures worth preferably. Definitely shoot the rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner so that you can get to know the major players (and get more practise). Your practise model should wear a bright white shirt (preferably with some details like buttons and pockets, a dress shirt is good) with black pants (again preferably with a subtle texture or pin stripping if possible). This will give you realistic practise exposing the high contrast bride and groom. You need several sessions to get the number of exposures you require and so that you can make a calm assessment of your shots between sessions. Generally it's unreasonable to ask an amateur model to work for more than an hour at a time. A pair of models will be even better. If the venue allows pictures during the precession/ressession try to practise taking pictures of your model while they are walking down a long hallway (schools, work places or even smaller malls are perfect for this but even an alley or lightly trafficked road can work in a pinch).

You should also shoot a set of announcement photos for the B&G once you've had a bit of practise with your new equipment. This will let you get very specific practise with the main subjects.

I like to shoot weddings (any rapidly changing, non poseable events actually) using shutter priority when taking non flash shots and let the camera set the exposure. All your practise should have told you what you what you can handhold. Set your shutter speed to that and allow the camera to get as much DOF as possible. Your practise should have told you if you need to dial in compensation to your camera's meter settings. For flash I set the camera to manual (1/60 and F8), the flash to iTTL and dial in the flash comp my testing indicated.

Be aware if the bride wants formals taken away from the wedding venue that many places including some public parks require a permit for commercial photography and are like rabid wolverines enforcing it. I know you aren't making money but you are going to look like a pro to a rent a cop. Again try to practise at the off site location if at all possible.

With digital be paranoid about accidentally losing data. Once I got home I'd immediately copy all the cards to a folder on my PC and then make two copies on DVD. I'd also avoid deleting the cards until I delivered the finals to the B/G.

I'll play devils advocate to those recommending you run away. Very basic photography, even of a wedding, is well within the capabilities of anyone who can take a decent picture. With 4-6 weeks of intensive practise you should be able to manage basic wedding photography. The B/G obviously seem to think you take ok pictures with your old equipment. Many people can't afford professional services (even basic formals will set you back a months rent many places) for a wedding or would rather spend that money elsewhere. Yes some bridezillas will freak out afterwords but if your friendship is so weak that would be a problem it's not really a problem. The real risk is you do a great job and you end up working every family wedding for the next 20 years. It's a lot of work but allows you to give the B/G a very personal gift. Read the wedding/social forum archives at for an idea of what people go thru but filter the naysaying pros protecting their turf.

I'll second making your deliverable a CD/DVD of images. Let the B/G mess with processing/albums. It's not fun and has real expense attached.
posted by Mitheral at 10:54 AM on December 30, 2006 [4 favorites]

I agree with renting at least one other body and a few good lenses. Just make sure to practice with rentals before the wedding.

Most digital SLRs have proprietary batteries so be warned that you'll need to buy at least two more than the one that comes with whatever camera you buy/rent. Always have one in the camera, at least one in your pockets, and if need be, one charging off to the side. If you get a flash, don't forget to stock up on AAs.

Don't stop taking pictures. The more you take, the better your chances of getting really great shots. Of course, this means buying large/multiple memory cards. I prefer the Sandisk Ultra II or Extreme cards.

Get someone to be your assistant for the day. You'll have an extra pair of hands to change a lens or grab another battery. Also, your assistant can help wrangle family for photo ops with the bride and groom. And if you decide to keep a list of shots that must be taken, your assistant can double check and make sure you're getting all the shots.

Have fun and work hard! Never be content that you've taken enough pictures.
posted by inviolable at 11:09 AM on December 30, 2006

let me summarize Mitheral's comment:

encourage them to get a professional :)

having said that, there is a ton of great advice in here. this is a great thread and should be on the blue sidebar!
posted by joeblough at 11:23 AM on December 30, 2006

Bride. Bride, bride, bride, bride, bride.

People don't want pictures of the second groomsman trying to get into the bridesmaid's pants. The bride is front and center. Trail her.

For the posed group shots, get a good tripod and head. It will minimize the blur.

And remember, you can fix a number of issues with Photoshop, but one thing you can't fix is bad memory cards or running out of them. Have lots of quality empty memory cards on you at all times.
posted by dw at 11:26 AM on December 30, 2006

Be very, very, very careful about agreeing to this -- as bonaldi says, what starts out as "please take some casual shots of us" can quickly turn into a FAMILY SHITSTORM. Know what you're getting yourself into, because weddings -- with their inflexible lighting setups, lots of people, and no do-overs -- are hellishly difficult things to shoot.

Equipment is, to be frank, the least of your worries. I would advise you forget buying something and instead investigate renting two bodies, one for panoramics/scene shots, the other for profiles. Bring twice as much media as you think you'll need, shoot the crucial pics in RAW and everything else in JPG.

Getting experience beforehand is also key. Maybe approach a local wedding photog, explain your situation, and see if they'll let you tag along?

Good luck. You'll need it.
posted by docgonzo at 11:30 AM on December 30, 2006

Get someone to be your assistant for the day.

Seconding this. At my wedding, we assigned one of my wife's cousins to the photog. I think it's important for someone to act as your guide through family politics, etc.
posted by docgonzo at 11:32 AM on December 30, 2006

I feel compelled to add my voice to the chorus urging you to pass on this.

Technical issues aside, consider this: As a friend you'll want to participate in the wedding festivities, chat with the other guests, etc. This makes it all but impossible for you to capture the moments the couple wants to remember. Part of the reason people hire professionals is because they maintain a dispassionate distance, don't know anyone at the event, etc. They are meant to be ignored and they want to be ignored. That's part of what makes for decent, candid photos.

If you want to learn a bit about photography buy a camera and take a few shots at the wedding - send them the ones you like the best. But DO NOT take on the burden of being the official photographer.
posted by aladfar at 12:17 PM on December 30, 2006 [2 favorites]

Shoot like crazy every single day beforehand. Do not just practice taking portraits. If you just shoot like crazy for two weeks, you're going to be shocked at how much better you've gotten. Keep taking photos like your life is a photo-diary.
posted by xammerboy at 12:22 PM on December 30, 2006

My sister asked me to do this. Many years before I'd liked to mess around taking photos, but the camera had been in the drawer forever. When she asked I just shrugged and said I guess I could do it. As the wedding approached she handed me her newer camera with automatic functions and told me to get accustomed to it. I wasn't up to the responsibility, as I wasn't good at taking charge and getting people to pose, and I knew I was in over my head.

If I was asked again I'd certainly decline, but I think it worked out okay, mostly because when we were taking photos everyone was free to join in and help out. There was no professional photographer keeping everyone else away while they did their thing, there was no waiting around the reception hall for everyone else while the bridal party went off to take photos. If they didn't get the photos they wanted from me, maybe they got them from someone else. Everyone goes so overboard on weddings, and many photographers who call themselves professionals but who make their living shooting weddings and grad photos aren't bringing anything special, except for an investment in equipment, a little experience guiding the same cliche poses week after week and a thousand dollar plus billing. My favourite wedding photos are those from the Docce elopement, pictures they'd taken themselves with a point and shoot digital held at arm's length. I think there are advantages to staying casual, especially with often absurd froufrou money sucking events like weddings, but you have to make certain that the person asking you is honest about what they want.
posted by TimTypeZed at 12:38 PM on December 30, 2006

I'd like to add a voice of experience, as one who has
shot a wedding as a favor. I had 5 camera bodies (two
medium format, two SLRs and one digital) and two assistants
(one other photographer, and a crowd wrangler) to get
people together for the list of shots that I had to take.
It turned out pretty well. We got all the pictures taken,
and a bunch of good candids.

Don't do it, especially if you are wondering what camera to
get, and how to get decent in two months. Unless you are
very, very diligent between now and then, your photos will
probably be disappointing.

Another disadvantage is that you are WORKING the entire
wedding. You don't attend the wedding, or the reception.
You are part of the staff. Taking good pictures is hard
work. No drinking. Always on your feet. Walking around.

Repeat after me: "Wedding photography? That's really hard
work. You need a professional."
posted by the Real Dan at 1:20 PM on December 30, 2006

TimTypeZed has already hinted at this, but it bears repeating:

If the bride and groom want formal portraits, are they willing to make time for them to be taken? And how do you feel about directing what may be a sizable number of people to get them all organised into the appropriate groups and posed in a way that will make for a worthwhile photo while you're under time pressure because everyone is wanting to move on to the reception?

Having the right equipment and knowing how to use it is less than half the job of taking successful wedding photographs - you need to be able to deal with people and put them at their ease. If you feel in any way uncomfortable about this then I'd say don't do it.

But if you do decide to go ahead then be sure to take lots of photos. Take duplicates so you can drop the ones where you catch someone talking or with a wierd expression on their face. And don't show your out-takes: a goofy photo of the bride or her mother - even if it's "just" a proof - is a sure fire way to cause offence.

And don't underestimate how much work you'll have after the event, especially if you shoot RAW: processing the images, weeding out the duds, and enhancing them to look as good as possible is a major, time consuming task.
posted by arc at 1:47 PM on December 30, 2006

Aladfar nails it: Do not be the official wedding photographer. It is a path rife with peril. Instead, offer to be on hand to take candid photos of the couple and guests on the condition that they hire a professional photographer for basic portraiture, etc.

This allows you to enjoy the wedding and reception, mingling and snapping shots as you go, without the stress that something will go wrong. And at the end of the day, you'll have a great gift for the new couple - record of the wedding as it was, and they'll be assured a set of frame-worthy shots from the professional.
posted by SemiSophos at 2:50 PM on December 30, 2006

Best answer: I am a professional wedding photographer, though only part time. Given my experience and my large family, I have been asked many times to do wedding photos for weddings that I've been invited to as a guest. Let me share some of my experience:

1) There's a reason a lot of people are telling you not to be the photographer. Without consulting with the bride and groom, I don't know the answer. You need to know what the bride and groom want before you agree to do anything. There are things you can not do, so know if they expect you to do something that you aren't sure that you can do it well. Do they want formals? Are the formals the most important part? Do they want prints for family members? Do they want an album? Do they want a website? Do they want a slide show? Do they prefer candids? Do they want prints at all? There are a lot of things a couple may want. What's more, there are lots of expectations other members of the weddings or family members may have. Know what they are.

Casual weddings can be shot by most anyone with a camera for the purpose of capturing the event on film. Formal weddings with huge expectations can not. The trend these days, in my experience, is toward casual weddings, no albums, and lots of candids. You can do candids or at least contribute.

2) If the bride and groom are looking for traditional wedding shots (formals, shots of the service, and shots of the entrance, cake, garter, first dance) then ask them to find a local, inexpensive, all digital professional. It may be difficult to find someone who will work without a whole package of prints, but there are photographers who will work by the hour. No offense to you, but these shots are once in a lifetime types of things. I've seen inexperienced photographers screw up formals where they have virtually one hundred percent control over the situation. Practicing for a couple of months can help, but experience at events is critical. Things don't happen as planned.

If the bride and groom are looking for more candids or could care less about formals, you can probably be of service in a variety of different ways. Buy a lot of disposable film cameras with flashes, put one on every table, and have a table set up with extras. Leave a little note with each camera explaining to people they should take as many pictures as they'd like. The best albums I've seen were comprised of shots taken with disposables. Sure, they weren't technically the best photos, but the overall presentation and the moments captured were priceless.

You can also pick up a DSLR for yourself and have the bride and groom pick up disposables. You can be responsible for candids of specific events (cake cutting, entrance, first dances, semi-formals) and you can fill in what you're missing with candids from the disposables. This can be used to great effect.

You can also work in collaboration with other people who have digital cameras. The likelihood of other people bringing their cameras is high, so you can work together to get multiple shots and multiple angles of everything. I've been at weddings where I, the paid photographer, have had to fight to get shots with hordes of camera toting attendants who didn't seem to realize their flash, head, or entire body were preventing me from doing my job. (That's not entirely their fault, a good DJ or MC will make sure you're getting time before the actual events of importance to do mock candids or formals.)

3) As for renting equipment, I'd advise against it unless your renting something you are intimately comfortable with. If you're on a budget, pick up a used DSLR. I shoot with Canon, but feel free to choose Nikon or any other brand that suits you. Pick up a 50mm 1.8, as suggested above. This should put you in the $500 - $700 range or less if you buy an older model DSLR. Pick up a flash that has enough power to bounce off the ceiling at the reception and light up the largest group you can reasonably imagine shooting. For your purposes, a used flash will likely be good enough, but make sure it is a bounce flash. I can't recommend a flash without knowing which DSLR you are going to use. I mean, if you want to blow a $1000 on a Sunpak, I can make a recommendation. Get a flash that uses AA batteries, bring rechargeable, but also bring some spare lithiums. Don't bother with external batteries. If you can afford it, get an off camera slave you can use to fill. If you do this, practice using the fill light. A fill flash can make this set up very successful.

DSLRs often require a second cable to mount a flash off camera. Furthermore, mounting a flash off camera, while better overall, is awkward for most people at first. Not to mention, a good bracket can be pricey. As such, I recommend you simply mount the flash directly on the camera. Get yourself some Lumiquest reflectors. An 80/20 kit should be enough as long as you understand how to use the inserts.

Bring extra camera batteries and the charger. You can likely stash your chargers in the DJ booth or at another private location to keep juice flowing into your batteries. Use the fast charge method (if available) during the event and the slow charge method otherwise.

Bring some sort of bag that you can comfortably wear over your shoulder or on your belt to store batteries and the Lumiquest hoods. Your hands will need to be free and on the camera during candids or when arranging groups. It's not useful to always have to run to a certain location for a quick battery change.

If you're going to shoot DSLR, shoot in raw format and pick up RawShooter to process your photos. You can use the trial software if this is a once in a lifetime thing. Photoshop is good for single picture processing, but RawShooter allows you fix mistakes in batches like no other software. I recently (past couple of years) switched to mostly digital and RawShooter and couldn't be happier.

Don't bring an assistant if you go with my advice. The assistant will just make your job that much more complicated, especially if they have even less event photography experience than you. You don't need back ups, you don't need extra lenses, or extra flashes, so having someone fetching these for you or carrying them behind you isn't all that useful.

As far as equipment failure, I've had equipment fail on me, but always film cameras or bulbs in flashes and almost always before the event. Test your equipment the night before the event while your charging batteries. You're unlikely to be getting a flash with a user changeable bulb. That's not to say digital equipment can't fail, but your highly unlikely to need it. If your nervous, rent or borrow the same camera you end up buying. You can use your kit lens for a back up or you can borrow a lens as well.

Have at least 2 1 gb memory cards and a method for offloading your photos. When shooting digital, I shoot about 200 pictures an hour and don't review them, unless they are staged or critical shots, until after the reception. I offload the memory cards onto a laptop I stash at the DJs booth or, in a worst case scenario, in the trunk of my car. Shoot a lot of pictures. Auto bracket your shots or manually bracket every shot if you're unsure.

Above all, practice. Go to events that you have little or no control over and practice your candids. Borrow some friends and practice some formals. Practice in all kinds of light. Practice with a setting sun. Practice with children. Practice with people that are inebriated. Practice manual focusing. Practice getting the focus right in the dark. Practice shooting people dancing in the dark with a high ceiling while not using a direct flash. Practice, practice, practice. Oh, and if you get a fill flash: PRACTICE EVEN MORE.

For what it's worth, I shot my first digital wedding with about $1,000 worth of prosumer grade digital equipment. It was in pretty much the exact same circumstances that you're in, but I had been shooting weddings since I was, oh, old enough to be useful to my father who has been shooting weddings since before I was born.

Sorry if this comes across as rambling. There's a lot to share in order to help you make an informed choice.
posted by sequential at 4:13 PM on December 30, 2006 [5 favorites]

Bride. Bride, bride, bride, bride, bride.
People don't want pictures of the second groomsman...

Yes, actually they do. People want pictures of everybody. If you turn in a zillion pictures of the bride, there's going to be no end to the "where's Cousin Selma?" questions. Don't make this your problem.
posted by languagehat at 5:18 PM on December 30, 2006

We had no professional photographer at our wedding, and I'm thrilled with the results, and yes, I was the bride. Not everyone is as uptight or freakish about this stuff as some people imply.

We bought a memory card reading device that works with every commonly-used digital camera, and had a laptop that we brought out at the very end of the reception. We asked anyone who was willing to share their pics with us to take some time at the laptop, and we helped them transfer their pics.

In addition to the pics we got from our designated amateur photographer, we ended up with quite a few other awesome photos of pre-wedding stuff, the reception, friends, every single guest, the cake cutting, the scenery, and a lot of other great stuff. The pictures of us saying our vows are probably the fewest lowest quality, because people were paying attention to the main event rather than to their cameras. But with several dozen to choose among, we definitely had a few favorites.

We framed our two favorites, and used a third in our Christmas card. That leaves 983 pics unused. Of all the photos people took for us, 97 were good or interesting enough to earn the "weddingfaves" flickr tag for pics we shared with our families. OK, swell.

This cost us: nothing (except the price of a few prints at Walgreens).

I'm still not sure why wedding photos are supposed to be this incredibly expensive massively big deal. If the pictures hadn't come out, we'd still be married. Hell, we'd still have had an awesome wedding with a big fun party, good food, music, cake, and our very favorite people all gathered in one place for the day.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:57 PM on December 30, 2006

I'm still not sure why wedding photos are supposed to be this incredibly expensive massively big deal.
As an aside to the original question, let me shed some light on this. Wedding photographers are expensive because of three things:

1) Professional photography equipment is expensive. Furthermore, to do it all "right" for a the greatest potential market, you need to have a variety of equipment (lenses, backs, flashes, batteries, tripods, etc), backups, insurance, and so forth.

To give you some idea, my dad works with about $30,000 worth of equipment when he shoots film. He does on the order of 2 to 5 weddings a year these days and a surprising chunk of what he receives pays for film, lab, and album related expenses. (In other words, it's not all profit.) He's profitable because he doesn't buy new equipment every year, but it can take several years to pay for expensive new equipment when he does have to buy.

2) Experience. My father won't walk out the door for less than $2,000 for a wedding that doesn't include anything more than proofs. He's been doing it for more than thirty years, he primarily does high end formal weddings, and he's damned good at it. For comparison, at one of the last weddings I shot for free the professional that was hired was paid a whopping $200 for her time (about 2 hours worth of work) not including proofs or an album. Her work was so terrible that they chose not to use a single picture she shot. The formals were done at night and in the rain with a single, camera mounted flash. (Granted, it was a damned nice flash.) The pictures were poorly lit because she didn't drop in a fill flash. From the focus on the rain drops, not the wedding party, it was clear she used auto focus. Rookie mistakes, for sure, but the kind of mistakes you don't see a seasoned pro making very often.

It comes down to, "How do you charge for the decades of experience you have?" My dad could to ten 2 hour weddings at $100 an hour or one four hour wedding for $2,000. The clients are willing to pay for the latter.

3) Despite what it seems like, there's a lot more that goes into shooting a wedding than the fractions of a second the shutter is open. From the original sales call to a sitting with the family to the regular contact a wedding party keeps with a good photographer, there's a lot of time spent that's not explicitly charged for. Furthermore, to shoot a wedding, it's not like you just show up with a Polaroid. There's equipment to be tested, prepared, and set up. Many photographers will use an assistant, some of whom are quite capable photographers that shoot candids and assist with formals and so forth.

In days of yore, and in some circumstances today, we used to price wedding packages to include an album. It may seem like an inexpensive thing, but it's really not cheap to get a nice album together. Oh, and the time it takes to prep film or digital photos for printing is not insignificant. Sure, labs can do most of this work for you these days, but at a cost.

In my case, I used to make a lot of profit on reprints, but over the years either couples got wise or traditions changed. I see couples never pick up anything more than their proofs and couples who don't even get that. (Granted, those are marriages that don't last long in most cases, but I'm sitting on a mountain of negatives that haven't been touched in years. To the point where I'm thinking of giving the negatives away after a certain number of years.) With the changes in the ordering habits of families and couples, the price had to change to keep photographers in business.

Hope that helps a bit.
posted by sequential at 12:15 AM on December 31, 2006

There are a lot of good comments here, so my apologies if mine is somewhat redundant.

I sell cameras for a living and am trying to come up with stuff you can buy that makes it close to $1,000. I can't make it quite $1,000, but close.

For $1,000, if you shop around:

D50 with 18-55mm: ~$699
Nikon 50mm f/1.8: ~$110
SB-600 flash: ~$229

Now, of course you're going to need memory cards and for a wedding you'll probably want something that can shoot in burst mode, so I would suggest SanDisk ultra II (or something of an equivalent speed). Anything faster is too fast to be of benefit. For a wedding you'd want two or three 2 GB cards (or more). Assuming two of those at $75 each you're talking...$1189 plus tax or shipping, depending on your chosen shopping poison.

I would also suggest the Magic Lantern guides for both the D50 and Nikon's Creative Flash System (of which the SB-600 is a part), as they'll be able to explain the camera and flash much more clearly and usefully than the manuals that come with the camera.

After that, practice practice practice. You're shooting digital so you can go to town, see what you're doing right and wrong, format the card and start over. Practice portraiture, using the flash (especially in bounce mode), etc.

You might want to consider the D70 or the D70s as well, because they allow greater control over Nikon's flash system than the D50 does.

Some things I don't recommend:
--the D40 -- I like this camera a lot: it is really freaking simple to use. Nikon decided, though, that they wanted to save money by not making the autofocus work with older lenses (explained here). This includes lenses like the 50mm f/1.8 we've been talking about, so if you're looking for a body that you can build upon, I don't think the D40 is your best bet
--Canon digital SLRs -- simply because their flash system is more expensive and less capable than Nikon's.

I know a lot more about the equipment than how to shoot weddings, so I'll leave those suggestions to others.
posted by ztdavis at 12:45 AM on December 31, 2006

Response by poster: Coming back a bit late, but I've marked a subset of all of the really great answers everyone gave.

The groom has also read the thread and is discussing it with the appropriate people. These are some amazingly laid-back people about the wedding (and in general), but not everyone in the families is the same way and they'll be looking at all the relevant facts to make a decision. Thanks again for all the responses.
posted by 0xFCAF at 9:55 AM on January 3, 2007

Did you end up shooting? How did it turn out?
posted by oxford blue at 5:01 AM on July 27, 2007

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