I'm about to photograph my first wedding. (help!)
December 17, 2007 11:39 AM   Subscribe

I'm about to photograph my first wedding. (help!)

I've been taking photos for a couple of years now (not a plug, but here's a link to my flickr photos simply for you to understand my 'skill level' and 'eye' for photography) and have been asked by a close friend to photograph a small wedding (100 people) in a small chapel, as well as the following reception (350-500 people) for a 3 PM wedding this Saturday. Everything will be indoors, except for some outdoor pre-wedding pictures.

I'm looking for...
- Tips 'n Tricks.
- Things you 'wish someone had told you'.
- Articles/websites that provide helpful suggestions.
- Anything else i haven't asked that you think might be helpful.
posted by bamassippi to Society & Culture (24 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
PS - I'll be shooting with a Nikon D80, SB-600 flash, and a battery grip.
posted by bamassippi at 11:44 AM on December 17, 2007

I strongly suggest that you search ask.mefi for previous similar questions and take note of the responses.

Particularly the ones that go (I paraphrase): "Friends don't let friends photograph their friend's weddings", although you'll also find some more concrete suggestions.
posted by pharm at 11:49 AM on December 17, 2007

I'm not a pro photographer, but I pay attention to photography and my wedding photos are going to be the most highly critiqued of all. My advice, is make a list or get a list of all the mandatory wedding photos. Something like this. Nothing is worse than missing the shot of the new in-law grandparents with the bride because feelings could get hurt. Similar story happened at my brothers wedding. If the couple has time you could go over the list to make sure that their special requests are in there.

Also pay attention to key people at the reception, beyond just the bride and groom watch their parents, their siblings and their best friends. Their reactions to the speeches and moments are the type of memories that people want to keep.

Good Luck!
posted by jlweber at 11:55 AM on December 17, 2007

Bring more batteries and media than you initially think. Make sure you understand and manage the expectations of the key players (bride/groom, parents, etc.).

Good Luck.
posted by mmascolino at 11:58 AM on December 17, 2007

Get a flash diffuser if you don't have one already, to soften shadows. No one wants harshly-lit wedding photos, especially not the bride.
posted by lia at 12:01 PM on December 17, 2007

Get a schedule of the wedding events. You'll need to know what order the first dance, cake cutting, etc. will be in so you'll be prepared and not be taken by surprise if things don't follow the traditional order or if there are any special family traditions you'll need to take into account. The couple might split up during the night and you'll want a good idea of who to follow. Approximate times help, but should be taken with a grain of salt.

Also, take a picture of anyone who looks like they might keel over and die in the near future. It means a lot to have nice pictures of family members who might not be around for the next family gathering.

Decide in advance with the bride and groom if there will be any large family shots and where they will be taken. Also, choose a spot in advance for post ceremony pictures and have a backup if there is inclement weather.
posted by Alison at 12:09 PM on December 17, 2007

Nice pictures, although from the first few pages I don't see a lot of posed people shots. Those are much harder to set up, pose, etc. I don't doubt your skill level, you have a good eye, good understanding of lighting, but this is a whole new level of pressure. Many people will be stressed, distracted, and not easy to work with.

If you decide to go ahead with this, 100 people is not a small wedding (my wedding had about 15 guests - that's small). There will be a lot of people to track and manage, especially at the reception. It helps if you are good with names, so you can refer to specific people immediately when posing them rather than telling "The guy in the tux to move to his left."

Extra batteries. Extra memory cards. Charger at the wedding with more extra batteries. Extra batteries for your SB. Don't use direct flash, but it looks like you've learned that already in many of your photos. Overshoot to get that moment of laughter. Shallow depth of field adds nicely to closeups at the reception.

Take pictures of the bride's flowers, the couples rings, and any other detail items that will look nice in a scrap book.

If you're getting into pro photography, have some cheap business cards printed up to have in your pocket.

Ask the couple what they'd like you to wear to the wedding. Formal attire will make it harder to move and carry accessories, but don't be too under dressed. How about a guest you can bring as an assistant?
posted by shinynewnick at 12:12 PM on December 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Change flash cards when convenient not when full. You don't want to miss a shot because you're busy changing cards.
posted by advicepig at 12:25 PM on December 17, 2007

2nding business cards- if this works out, it could become pretty lucrative.
Also 2nding detail photos. Macros almost always look classy.
posted by kidsleepy at 12:28 PM on December 17, 2007

practice inside with the flash. practice bouncing the flash off the ceiling, off side walls.

Be careful of bouncing off colored walls.

Be careful of backlit situations. When you do those, you will want to be using your flash as the main light so that you don't get this.

Talk to the priest/rabbi before the ceremony if possible. They all have different ideas about what they want. Talk to the bride and groom.

Shoot raw, as long as you have enough cards. It can save your ass. Make sure you have enough cards.

If a shot is important and looks good, shoot at least 3.

If you shoot a group portrait with more than 3 people in it, shoot 6. Or 10. People blink like crazy.

Get a good nights sleep. Don't plan on enjoying the wedding, talking to people. It's a lot of work. You have to bust your ass all day.

Bring some powerbars.

Take some breaks.

Get there early. Time flies real fast.

Extra Batteries.

I had a teacher, he said "what does pro stand for?" THen he said "Bring extra stuff". DOesn't exactly make sense but it's true. Try to bring an extra camera, even if it's something old and film.
posted by sully75 at 12:38 PM on December 17, 2007

I used to try and dissuade people from doing this, but there's no point. Here's what you have to do:

1. Warn the couple in the strongest, strongest terms that it might all turn to shit and they could end up with no prints. Make them sign something affirming that they're cool with that, just to get over how serious you are.

2. Get a backup of everything: you need two bodies (this is v. handy on the day to avoid lens-swapping), multiple cards, two flashes, etc. More batteries than you can carry.

3. Hire good lenses: You want a fast, fast, f/1.4 or faster portrait lens, and a long lens, and a wide.

4. PRACTICE: Seriously -- the technicalities of shooting a wedding are second only to arranging the people in their nightmareishness. You're shooting a white-as-white can be bit of fabric next to sheer black, in the gloom of a church or restaurant, and it's got to be perfectly exposed. So go and practice. Get a friend dressed in white, and another in black, and take them to a church, and a pub. Shoot shots of them. Lots! Work out how to do it, how to bounce the flash, how to make sure they come out, every time.

5. On the day, machine-gun it. Shoot multiples of all the line-ups. If you get a blinker, chances are you can photoshop in some open eyes from another grab. Don't bother with bracketing, there's no time.

6. On the day: be Captain Bossy. Make sure you get people to stand where they want to stand. For the formals, don't allow other people to shoot at the same time. Otherwise, people will be looking at that camera, and your shots will look shit.

7. Recce the reception venue. If it's popular for weddings, look in the foyer for demonstration portfolios left by other photographers. Then steal their best ideas for your couple.

8. Be fit. You're going to be doing a lot of squats on the day, and you don't have time to stop, so carry a bottle of water.

(BTW, Number 4 is the killer. Do this. Seriously. Really!)
posted by bonaldi at 12:47 PM on December 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

If you don't have experience posing groups, you could be in trouble. My dad has been doing professional sports photography for a year and a half. Over Thanksgiving weekend, he did family portraits. There were only 9 adults, 1 child, and 1 newborn, (assembled in various groupings) and it was really really tough forming a visually pleasing arrangement as well as getting everyone looking in the right direction with eyes open. The first evening's worth of photos didn't produce a single one of my sister's family (2 adults with the child and newborn) that was acceptable, so they had to come back the next night and do another sitting. And this was with the photo shoot being the main event, rather than being shoehorned into a wedding.

Are you sure you want to do this?

If so, your friend needs to understand ahead of time that you are not a wedding photographer, and make sure their expectations are not more than you can handle. When my best friend got married, her attitude was that the pictures were forever, so they had to be perfect. If the bride feels that way, then you could be in for years of 'bamassippi ruined the most important day of my life!'

Okay, you're still going to do this? Then my advice, from being a participant in the really really long photo shoot over Thanksgiving:

* Have a list of what groupings you want to do. We didn't, and a few got missed.
* Do the groupings that have small children first, before they get tired and cranky.
* Don't expect the small children to be in too many groupings.
* If you can get an assistant, do so. They don't have to know anything about photography--this is someone to help direct the group being photographed. Maybe the hat falls off the baby's head, or the bride's veil needs to be arranged just so. It's much quicker if your assistant can fix these things than having the photo subjects doing it and then having to re-pose.
* A hand mirror is nice to have, so all the women don't disappear to the ladies room to touch up hair and makeup.
* Don't let people start looking at the pics using your camera's preview. Once one person starts looking, then everyone wants to see, and there's your nice camera getting passed around and no photos being taken. If you want to let them see the photos that day, then someone needs to bring a laptop with a card reader. But even with that, my dad regretted letting everyone see the photos before he edited them. So consider whether that will be an issue for you before you let the cards out of your hands.
* Double sided tape is great for fixing clothes that gape around the neckline or between the breasts.

Good luck.
posted by happyturtle at 1:04 PM on December 17, 2007

If their budget will allow, you might want to suggest they have a disposable camera (you can get a bunch on the cheap for wholesale prices) at each reception table so guests can take photos of each other. Fun for the guests at the party, great for a casual photo album for the couple afterwards, and it helps covers your ass in case you don't get to take photos of every single person there.
posted by lia at 1:07 PM on December 17, 2007

Get a list of all of the traditional groupings and print it out. Nothing like forgetting to take a shot of the Bride and her Mother to get dis-inherited.

Find out also if the Bride and Groom want the photo in the local paper and if yes, find out the details of doing so.
posted by dantodd at 1:11 PM on December 17, 2007

Everything bonaldi said.

Make sure some time has been set aside for the formal portraits and that people know this so you don't end up with anyone the bride and groom want included in the group photos wandering off to the reception.

On the technical side, take plenty of memory cards and shoot RAW (assuming you have Nikon Capture, Photoshop or some other converter). This will give you a much better chance of correcting any shots that are somewhat off in the exposure or white balance. It means extra work, but it really can be worth it.
posted by arc at 1:14 PM on December 17, 2007

Find out from the bride & groom who their point person will be on the wedding day. If they don't have one, they should - it should be someone who's willing and able to answer the questions that the bride and groom just can't right then, like where to put the presents, and when the cake-cutting will happen. It might be a best man/maid of honor, or it might be the shy but responsible best friend. In any case, talk to this person a couple times before the wedding; find them early on the day of and make sure what you know of the schedule meshes, and have them point out the people you'll need to get shots of. They can help round up strays for the group shots, and diplomatically handle tipsy Aunt Edna who wants to be in every photo.

Nthing get a list of who has to get photographed - this is not something you can ask them on the day of.
posted by rtha at 1:24 PM on December 17, 2007

Piggybacking on bonaldi's number 6, not letting people take shots while you are posing groups; let them know when you are finished with the largest group so they can go ahead and take pictures after the fact. Take those few seconds to go over your picture list and grab the people you need from that full group.
posted by shinynewnick at 1:26 PM on December 17, 2007

Some good stuff here:
posted by 4ster at 1:34 PM on December 17, 2007

+1 for extra batteries and plenty, plenty of media cards. The last wedding I did was 12 hours long (from bride getting ready at the house to the last bus leaving the reception) and I shot 800 RAW frames. Keep your unused CF cards in one place and your shot ones in another (very different!) place to keep from getting mixed up in the chaos of things.

I also recommend bringing a backup film-body camera and ISO 3200 film... it's nice for adding atmospheric grainy shots here and there, and will save you if your digital rig goes down.

If you're doing a big group shot with all the bridal party, shoot some with a tripod. Take lots without moving the camera -- that way, if one person closes his eyes or does some weird mouth thing, it's an easy swap-out in Photoshop afterwards.

Also, at the wedding lots of people will ask you to take custom pictures that they will never order. Group shots, Christmas card ideas, impromptu family reunions... don't spend too much time on these and miss out on something important to the couple. Speaking of important, ask the couple if there are any don't-miss people they want captured at the reception. It's easy to miss Grandma if she doesn't move from her table much, or the best friend from college who flew all the way from New Zealand. The couple will love you if you get shots of these special people. (I try to get one good candid shot of absolutely every wedding guest, and then put extra emphasis on the key players.)

Take some good storytelling shots too: establishing shot of the venues, placecard with the bride and groom's name, hotel sign congratulating them, etc.

What I wish I had known: how much work all the post-production would be. Processing all the files and registering with an online album site so that the family could see all of the shots and place orders for prints. Filling those print orders. Retouching out the guy raising his glass with the father of the bride. Adding him back in when he died 6 months later. Then getting the list of album shots from the bride and groom and super-retouching those (every single one of the bride's father needed a cold-sore removed). Researching wedding albums that aren't made from particleboard and acid. Laying out and assembling the albums. Teaching the bride and groom how to open the CD of their digital negatives, so I don't have to keep a backup of them for the rest of my life.
posted by xo at 4:12 PM on December 17, 2007

As somebody who did a few weddings behind the video camera (and stopped before it got out of hand), being friendly and even cooperative with the video guy won't kill you. Some stills people think they own the show but, no not really. You have different objectives but you both have to get your jobs done, and you just might run into that guy down the road.
posted by trinity8-director at 5:13 PM on December 17, 2007

I would avoid the diagonally-framed shots. They can be pretty distracting. You want good, solid shots but don't want to over-stylize the framing.
posted by Sreiny at 8:15 PM on December 17, 2007

Everything I'm about to say has been said above in various ways, just consider this confirmation of their very helpful advice.

As someone who has done several weddings, I recommend the following:

1. Never, ever, try to shoot any assignment with new equipment. It may seem like a hot idea to rent out a really nice camera on the day of the shoot, but YOU WILL MESS IT UP. Always shoot with equipment that you are intimately familiar with. If you bought that D80 in the last three months, go out every single night between now and the wedding and shoot at least 50 frames of *anything*, using every mode you've got on the dial. When you're done reading this post, go out and do it.

2. Your equipment will fail you, in some way. I've learned this one the hard way too many times. You might get dust on the sensor five minutes before the ceremony, you might drop and crack your favourite portrait lens, your batteries might die. Just last week I was shooting a fashion show and my trusty portable hard drive suddenly decided to stop reading my memory cards for no apparent reason. The next day it worked fine. Something WILL go wrong. Always bring backups of everything. If you don't have access to a second digital body, bring a film one with several rolls of 35mm. Bring an extra flash if you can, bring LOTS of memory. And I mean LOTS. You will need it. Make up a contingency plan for every item so that if it fails, you know what you need to do to work around it.

3. As a corollary to #2, keep lens swapping to a minimum. I make this mistake all of the time, my old D50 got dust on the sensor all of the time, plus it takes your concentration away from the action. Even if you think nothing is going on, something is going on.

4. Shoot in RAW only. Seriously. I'll punch you in the mouth if you shoot in jpeg. You'll thank me later.

5. Learn to quickly switch between your preferred mode (I always preferred Aperture Priority when I was a Nikon shooter) and manual. In most situations, your preferred mode will probably be fine, but you have to learn to recognize those situations where lighting is just weird and it won't meter correctly. Don't feel bad about "aping" it, (Named for how people look while huddled around the LCD) it's important to ensure that you're getting the lighting right.

6. Shoot, shoot, shoot. It can't be stressed enough that you have to take LOTS of shots. Blinking eyes, a tie out of place, stupid expressions, there will always something that will piss you off when you're looking at it in post. Hopefully one out of the ten shots that you took of each pose will turn out exactly as you wanted. If not, Photoshop. On average, for a 10 hour wedding I generally take at least 1000 frames. It doesn't cost you anything to shoot more, except in storage space, so do it.

7. Bring lots of water and some sort of snack, power bars, whatever. You're going to get tired because you're basically going to be doing squats for several hours, and the more breaks you take, the more you're missing. Remember the rule from #3, even if you think nothing is going on, something is going on.

8. Talk to the bride and groom before the wedding, and make a list of the people they want to be in the formal photos. Then ask them again the day of the wedding. Odds are that there will be someone who came to town who wasn't expected and they'll be important.

9. Make a list of the "wedding shots." These include the cake-cutting, the rings, the couple, the parents, and everyone else on that list from #8. Print this out, and don't forget to look at it. It's very easy to overlook one or two of these, but chances are they'll be disappointed if you miss them.

10. This is really a part of #2, but bring lots of batteries. Lots and lots of them. That SB-600 is pretty good on batteries, and I'm sure the D80 is too, but you'll run through one or two sets easily.

11. This should be #1, but I'm just rattling this off so it's not in any particular order. This one is IMPORTANT: Be professional. AT ALL TIMES. I know this is your friend's wedding, but if you want to ever do another, you have to keep the tie on. Keep your language and appearance clean, maintain a calm demeanor even if things are falling around you, and treat everyone with a very high level of respect.

12. Bring business cards. Someone always knows someone who needs a wedding photographer.

13. Always try to shoot at the highest aperture you can get away with. It sucks to get home and realize that the picture you took of the wedding party has only half of the people in focus due to a shallow depth of field. You can still shoot some shallow shots, but you can always add the blur in post. Keep this in mind, but...

14. ...always keep your ISO as low as you can get it. If you're just shooting some atmospherics, go ahead and shoot at 1600, but for the formals and the ceremony, ISO200 or better. When shooting stuff that really matters NEVER use autoISO, you'll get screwed.

15. Shoot EVERYONE. Some wedding couples are not very communicative and they'll forget to mention that Auntie Em over there was the bride's favouritest relative ever, and Auntie Em never gets around to going over and congratulating the young couple. As the photographer you have no way of knowing she's important if no one tells you. Save yourself a lot of grief and just make sure to get at least one picture of everyone that you can.

16. Scout out the venue ahead of time. Decide where you want to do the formals, where you might want to do a funny shot with the groomsmen, etc. Bring a friend and have them pose where you're going to be shooting so you can get some idea of the lighting.

17. Be assertive, especially during the formals. It's easy to be lenient and let others take shots while you're shooting, but don't let it get out of hand. Pretty soon you've got a wedding party that's looking in all different directions, Grandpa Al is bumping your elbows, and you've got somebody's crappy digicam flash in half of the images. Also, don't let your wedding party run amok. If you're getting the formals, tell them where to go. People get bored and they'll wander if you don't tell them somewhat forcefully what they need to do. If they are to be in the next shot, don't let them leave the area. If they're not in this shot, make sure to tell them to get out of the way. (You *really* don't want to end up photoshopping out entire people, it gets very time-consuming.)

18. If you can get someone to assist you, do it. Or enlist a friend who's at the wedding. It's very helpful for setting up the environment and for corraling wedding parties. I don't know what I would do without my assistant, he's saved my ass more times than I can count.

19. If any money is going to change hands, get a contract signed that specifically states your liability. You may be friends now, but a screwed up set of wedding photos can change that a lot faster than you think and you do not want to get sued. As anyone who watches Judge Judy will tell you, if you don't have an agreement down on paper, you're up the creek. Here's a good example of a wedding contract.

20. Don't expect to eat there. It's unprofessional to do so unless specifically invited to do so. Most wedding couples that I've worked with have been kind enough to set a place for me, but don't expect it. Also, don't drink. Period. Don't even have a single beer. It's unprofessional, and you run the risk of getting tipsy and breaking your equipment, just don't do it.

Establishing shots are nice. Shoot the venue outside, the entryway, any signage for the wedding, flowers, arches, a wide angle of the reception and ceremony halls. Shoot the food, the cake, the rings, the placeholders, the napkins. I especially like cake toppers.

22. Be creative. Try to get at least a few images from a weird angle, or with strange lighting. Something that catches the eye and makes the couple feel like their wedding wasn't a day like any other. Don't overdo it though, or use it on really important shots as it can easily backfire.

This was said by others, but I want to reiterate it: I seriously recommend steering clear of shooting the weddings of friends. You screw up and not only do you lose money, but you damage your friendship as well. Even if this one goes great, the next one might not. It's just safer to avoid it altogether.

There's probably more, and I'll add them as I think of them, but there's a starter list. Feeling intimidated yet? You should be. Shooting weddings can be a really scary thing, because you are expected to be everywhere at once, catching *everything*. Just relax and focus, and you'll be fine.

Oh, and post a link to your work afterwards, I love looking at pretty pictures!

-Drayke Larson
Photosynthetique Imaging
posted by rez at 9:36 PM on December 17, 2007 [4 favorites]

One key thing I haven't seen mentioned is this:

Talk to the couple about what kind of wedding pictures they want. Maybe look through some albums on-line together. As a more-established photographer, you'd have a body of work and people would know your style and what they were "booking." You have talent, but don't have a style in this genre. If the couple is expecting you'll zip around recording whatever strikes you as pretty, and doesn't want you to get all involved in staging things, you'll break their hearts if you get all old-school close-up-of-rings on them. Maybe they don't like kids, but you get enchanted by some little guest and shoot 80 pictures of them. Maybe they like black-and-white realism, or maybe they like romantic, processed soft-focus. Maybe they like formal group shots, and maybe they'd rather see their bridal party half-naked and drinking.

Get someone to be your assistant for the day if at all possible. Even if it is a member of the family/bridal party who can be a set of eyes telling you where so-and-so is. A lot of your job ends up being people-wrangler, and that is a lot of stress on top of the taking pictures stress.

If you think you'll have to take some posed group shots, practice it. There is an art to arranging people, and possibly a mathematical formula to how many pictures you should take depending on the group size to cover for people blinking, looking dumb, etc.

These days, half the work is in processing, selecting, and tweaking the digital files, make sure the couple knows what you are providing. Are you just giving them a zillion images, or are you going to do the processing work?
posted by Mozzie at 8:30 AM on December 18, 2007

I very much agree with bonaldi's #8 suggestion of being fit.
I shot my friend's wedding, and not only was my camera hand painfully crumpled for several days, I could barely move my legs because they were so sore from repeatedly squatting... all... day... long.
posted by asranixon at 8:30 PM on March 6, 2008

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