Help me shoot the bride.
July 18, 2008 7:03 AM   Subscribe

Please give me YOUR TIPS for wedding photography. I have tirelessly searched google, read excerpts from books etc. I don't need links. I need YOUR REAL LIFE TIPS on wedding photography. What worked at your wedding? What did your photographer do that you liked, and that you didn't like? If you've had experience photographing weddings, what worked and what didn't work for you?

FYI my equipment is as follows: Canon EOS 20D (my primary camera), mounted with Sigma 18-200mm f3.5-6.3 DC OS and the Canon Speedlite 580 EXII flash with a Gary Fong Lightsphere Cloud diffuser; back up camera is Canon Rebel XT mounted with a Sigma MACRO 70mm F2.8 EX DG (my portrait lens for these events) and a Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 APO DG MACRO lens if needed. Also, Macbook Pro 15' loaded with Lightroom for immediate feedback.
The main events will be as followed:
1 dawn ceremony on the beach (east coast USA)
1 indoor evening reception in a fairly lowlit facility with no natural light that I am unable to "scope out" in advance.
1 reception/ceremony a week later in at Architectural Artifacts Atrium in Chicago (I've never been there but seen pictures) and will be able to get in the night before for a the rehearsal dinner.
I have a professional tripod, I have charged batteries for cameras and flash and computer, I have a CF card management system and file management system on the computer in place. I will easily be able to "dump" photos onto my computer as necessary during most parts of the two weddings, but I have extra CF cards just in case.

So what am I forgetting, or what else should I be doing? Again, I've done my research on the internet, looked at old askme posts and looked at some books as well as wedding magazines, but I thought I'd seek specific or additional suggestions. Thanks in advance.
posted by Soulbee to Grab Bag (31 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Our photographers followed us invisibly. They caught marvelous photos of every tender moment between the two of us without us noticing they were there.

My wife and I were talking about this the other day: she was recently at a wedding where the photographer was telling the bride and groom where to put their elbows during the cake cutting. Exact opposite.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 7:15 AM on July 18, 2008

Make sure you know how to take good pictures of people wearing glasses. If you would like a primer on how NOT to do it, you are welcome to peruse my wedding album.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:16 AM on July 18, 2008

What timewaster said, our favorite photos are the ones taken by the photog we hired to take candids who followed us invisibly most of the day.
posted by Any Moose In a Storm at 7:22 AM on July 18, 2008

It's hard to beat burst mode for its ability to capture that special moment between a couple - recently, I took candid shots for a friend's wedding and most of the best shots were in the middle of a burst set, catching them in the happiness of the moment
posted by at 7:28 AM on July 18, 2008

Get an assistant. Get an assistant. Get an assistant. Good that you've got the Fong lighting. Did I mention you should get an assistant? You'll need someone to haul equipment, gather wayward bridemaids, take candids, etc.
posted by Gungho at 7:32 AM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Find out ahead of time if there are specific shots that the couple would like to have. If they would like to get a posed shot with their families, talk to them about the marital status of parents/stepparents et al. to help avoid any awkwardness. Remain calm and go with the flow.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 7:44 AM on July 18, 2008

The best wedding photographer I ever saw had someone shooting constantly, with a zoom, while group shots were being arranged. There are a series of beautiful, natural relaxed photos of a single person or 2-3 people at a wedding I stood up in and all of them were shot while someone was herding 5-10 people together for a group shot. You know that camera face that little kids get? Adults have it to and it can ruin what would be an otherwise beautiful shot. This technique got lots of lovely, natural, joyful moments of people relaxed in the moments before they put on their camera faces and smiled for the photographer.

It's along the lines of what timewaster is saying. Sure, people will want the formal portraits and you can do those well. But with good lights and good lens, anyone can do the posed shots. What will make the pictures fabulous are the captured moments of people not aware they're being photographed, with their guard down, just celebrating.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:52 AM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Gleaned from watching my SO do wedding photos: Be prepared to get really aggressive about giving directions if you're doing formal group/family photos. Also, either know people's names, or have someone there who can tell you who's who so you can give directions like "Joe, move left; Grandma Sue, move forward..." rather than "hey, guy in suit... can you? yes, you? no, not you... can you move..."
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:59 AM on July 18, 2008

Your primary lenses are too slow for the indoor shoot. Is there anyone you can borrow a lens from? Look for the canon 50mm f/1.8 or f/1.4. I've found that at weddings even the 2.8 lenses aren't enough for the ambient shots.
An assistant would help, if only for carrying your gear. Grab a friend.
Shoot naturally, don't rely too much on formal posing.
posted by nougat at 8:02 AM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Try to have every wedding attendee in at least one shot. Even if it's wide-angle group shots, you don't want Uncle Harry to get upset that there are no pictures whatsoever of him.
posted by jozxyqk at 8:05 AM on July 18, 2008

Response by poster: wow thanks so far this is awesome and nougat, i actually just went out and bought the canon 50mm f/1.8 based on something i read in a previous thread! I'm nervous though that I've never used it before. I'm going to use it tonight in bars around town (they'll love me) and try and get the hang of it...
posted by Soulbee at 8:17 AM on July 18, 2008

Response by poster: oh and i will have an assistant for the big wedding next week, but no one yet for tomorrow... i might be able to coral my little sister. luckily it's a smaller wedding (around 50 attendees vs next week's 150)
posted by Soulbee at 8:19 AM on July 18, 2008

I did a little bit of wedding photography, and quit when I realized I didn't like it. That's just to let you know I am by no means a wedding photography expert, so others' advice may very well be more useful. Anyway, my stream-of-consciousness advice:

- Be patient. Emotions and stress levels will be very high. When instructing and posing people, give clear directions, but stay calm and positive. Use phrases like, "Let's try lowering the flowers" instead of, "Don't hold the flowers that high." In the midsts of wedding stress, people take "don't" suggestions as scolding and it increases the stress level.

- Have a written checklist of shots, and mark them off as you take them. Consult with the bride and groom ahead of time to get their list of "must-have" shots. (Google can find some recommended lists.) Once the shooting starts, people will have "helpful" suggestions of what to shoot. You want to accomodate the family and the bride, of course, but it can really throw you off your game plan. Someone will undoubtedly say, in the middle of your shots, "Hey, get one of me with the bride!" If it's already on your list, gently tell them you will get to it. If it's not, you will have to tell them it's better to get through the list first, then you can add other shots as time permits. The last thing you want is to get sidetracked and miss the ONE shot the bride really wanted.

- Make sure the bride, groom, and bridal party are clear on how much time you need for photos. I can't stress this enough. They will have a lot going on, so allow extra time. If they don't get there on time, or leave too early, you may not get an important shot. In these instances, the family will only remember that you didn't get the shot, and will not remember why. So, plan ahead, allow plenty of time, and stress as firmly as possible the importance of their presence for their own photos.

- For the dawn ceremony, consider a warm filter on the flash to balance the light temperature and make it look natural. For posed shots, consider using a mylar reflector to control the natural light and fill in shadows.

- As a general rule, but especially for something like a wedding: if your computer offers to erase the card after you dump the photos, say NO! Format the card yourself after you are sure the files are all safely on the computer. A crash or once-in-a-lifetime quirk could leave you with all the photos gone. It's extrememly rare, but it has happened.

- Consider getting a rotating flash bracket for your Speedlight. This will allow you to keep the flash centered over the lens, regardless of orientation. Your diffuser will help keep shadows soft, but keeping the flash above the lens will ensure that there are no unsightly shadows next to the subjects.

- If this is a paying gig, and not for friends, don't eat at the reception, and definitely do not drink any alcohol, no matter how much they tell you it's ok. Certainly you'll need to have a quick drink of water or a soft drink, and you may need to take some quick bites of something. But if you are seen sitting and eating for any length of time, it might have negative effects. Maybe not during the reception, but when they get the bill, some people might not remember how hard you worked, but just remember you partying with them. Don't give them a reason to think this way.

- Besides the obvious (extra batteries, a backup flash, maybe) here are some things to put in your camera bag: tissues or handkerchiefs for sweat and snot; gaffer's tape (NOT duct tape. It has millions of uses from cobbling together equipment or bundling wires, to temporarily holding unruly clothing in place); rubber bands; bottled water for drinking or for cleaning stuff; A small flashlight (it amazing how many times you find yourself in a dark corner trying to find something in your bag or mess with camera or flash settings.)

- Quiet shoes!

- Get the shot. Get the shot. Get the shot. Make sure you get the shot before getting artsy or experimental or wacky. A plainly lit, "normal" shot, in focus, and well composed is way better than an artistic, unique shot that just didn't work. So, get the basic first, and make sure you have it right, before you start suggesting the bridal party hold sea-turtles from the beach.

Good luck!
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 8:25 AM on July 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

One big difference between your rig and a pro setup is that pros generally use additional slave flash lighting (key light and fill light, at least), at least for the posed shots, even outdoors. Not giving the bride a balanced back light and soft, low fill light for her posed shots is nearly hatin' on brides, particularly if she has had professional hair and makeup, even outdoors.
posted by paulsc at 8:32 AM on July 18, 2008

Response by poster: Hey guys since I'm using Lightroom for photo processing afterwards, do you think I should be shooting in RAW? Any arguments AGAINST using RAW? I have 4 gigs worth of card space AND can dump unlimited on my computer during, so size isn't really an issue.
posted by Soulbee at 8:54 AM on July 18, 2008

I don't know enough about your technical specs to offer advice in that area, but here are two thoughts from my wedding:

1. One of our photographers (there were 3) stood behind my spouse and me as we greeted guests in the receiving line shortly after the ceremony. He took shots of guests just as they prepared to hug/kiss/greet us, or as they were actually hugging and kissing and chatting with us. Many guests had wide, happy smiles of delight, and, as with crush-onastick's situation, they didn't know they were being photographed, so their expressions looked natural. This was also a nice way to get a close-up shot of all our guests.

2. For our formal pictures, the main photographer asked that the men tuck all fingers other than their thumbs into the pockets of their suits/tuxes. In many of these pictures, the men have their thumbs sticking out, almost as if they were trying to hitchhike while keeping their hands in their pockets. As you might imagine, this looked pretty silly. In other pictures, however, some of the men figured out that what the photographer meant was to keep the thumb outside the pocket but to also tuck it against the index finger in the pocket. This produced surprisingly good pictures - the men's hands were unobtrusive and uniform.

Best of luck!
posted by cheapskatebay at 9:02 AM on July 18, 2008

Here's a few things:
(disclaimer: I shoot film, not digital, and mostly medium and large format, not 35mm)

If you've got ANY money sitting around, buy faster lenses. 3.5 at the wide end just won't be fast enough without some serious flash, which will change how the pictures look. Some people like it, some people don't, but the less flash you use, the better.

Re: RAW vs JPG -- JPG writes faster to the card than RAW, so you can take more shots faster. If you hit the exposure the first time, there's no need for RAW. If you're not confident with your ability to get the right exposure, then shoot RAW, and deal with the slower cycle time. The photog for my wedding shot JPG, and we were happy with the results. He ensured that his exposure was spot on, and in general it worked.

Don't look at the pictures on your computer within view of the guests. You'll have a crowd judging you, and seeing pictures that are probably not representative of your final product. Believe it or not, many people think photogs should take a perfect shot the first time, every time. They'll say bad things if they see a few duds.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 9:10 AM on July 18, 2008

do you think I should be shooting in RAW

YES. No matter what Ken Rockwell says, if you have the space, shoot raw! Depending on your camera's sensor, with raw, you can mess up your exposure by a couple stops and still salvage the shot in post-processing. Flash cards are cheap; blowing a shot that could have been rescued had it been shot in raw is not cheap.
posted by zsazsa at 9:10 AM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't shoot weddings but I do shoot a lot of event photography with bad lighting, fast moving subjects, and lighting systems from hell. And I'm getting married next year, so I've started my hunt for the "right" wedding photographer.

Do any of the venues have specific photography restrictions? I'd definitely ask that beforehand.

You say you have a flash with a diffuser. Are you able to use it off-camera, just in case?

Also, either know people's names, or have someone there who can tell you who's who so you can give directions like "Joe, move left; Grandma Sue, move forward..." rather than "hey, guy in suit... can you? yes, you? no, not you... can you move..."

Yes, and it also helps to have candy or something on hand if the flower girl starts crying because she's camera shy.

if your computer offers to erase the card after you dump the photos, say NO! Format the card yourself after you are sure the files are all safely on the computer. A crash or once-in-a-lifetime quirk could leave you with all the photos gone. It's extremely rare, but it has happened.

Ditto. Your CF card may have come with rescue software (often a CD-ROM that's throw in a plain envelope). Make sure you have it around, just in case.

Certainly you'll need to have a quick drink of water or a soft drink, and you may need to take some quick bites of something. But if you are seen sitting and eating for any length of time, it might have negative effects. Maybe not during the reception, but when they get the bill, some people might not remember how hard you worked, but just remember you partying with them. Don't give them a reason to think this way.

Energy bars can help here. That's what I end up carrying in my camera bag when I know I'm doing an extended shoot.

Besides the obvious (extra batteries, a backup flash, maybe) here are some things to put in your camera bag: tissues or handkerchiefs for sweat and snot; gaffer's tape (NOT duct tape. It has millions of uses from cobbling together equipment or bundling wires, to temporarily holding unruly clothing in place); rubber bands; bottled water for drinking or for cleaning stuff; A small flashlight (it amazing how many times you find yourself in a dark corner trying to find something in your bag or mess with camera or flash settings.)

I'd also add: chapstick, cough drops (you don't want to be the one hacking away during the ceremony if you get something stuck in your throat), eye drops, and painkillers (in case of headache).

Some people I know even bring the charger just in case, so when their first set of batteries runs out, they can put in the second set (do you have a battery grip that holds two batteries at once?) into the camera, and let the first set charge. This only works if you know you're going to be in the same place for a while, though. Myself, I just carry three to four spare charged batteries at a time, with two in the battery grip. I also carry a small microfiber cloth to clean filters and lenses. And a poncho/camera water gear, in case it starts raining.

The nifty fifty (50mm f/1.8) is awesome but might hunt around a bit looking for focus in very dark situations. Also on either body it is going to be rather telephoto, so keep that in mind. And AF often has a lot of trouble in low light situations, so I hope you have some practice in focusing manually if you need to.

If you are shooting a sunrise, I'd look into getting a Neutral Density filter.

Oh, and I hope your shoes are comfortable. Gel inserts, etc. can help.

I like these checklists, if the bride and groom haven't already gone through this sort of thing with you:

Wedding Ceremony and Reception: Must-Have Photo Shots Checklist

Wedding Ceremony and Reception: What to Ask Your Photographer
posted by kathryn at 9:10 AM on July 18, 2008

Wait, you have 4 GB total space? I'd buy more, especially if you plan on shooting RAW and doing some "spray and pray." There's a Sandisk rebate going on right now.

When I shoot a large music festival, I bring 14 GB with me. But then again, I'm paranoid. :)
posted by kathryn at 9:15 AM on July 18, 2008

Regarding RAW:
The main advantage that has stuck in my mind is the ability to rescue badly exposed photographs without degrading the quality. This might be useful in your low-light shots, allowing you to push things further than you would otherwise. So, if you think the lighitng is marginal, it might be worth it. Everyone has their own opinion about it, so I suggest some research and then decide what works best for you.

Related note; don't be afraid to shoot at 800 or even 1600 ISO if needed. But a little grain is better than missing the shot or having the subjects blurry due to movement.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 9:15 AM on July 18, 2008

My favorites have always been candids, using my 50 mm lens, aperture wide-open.
posted by neilkod at 9:35 AM on July 18, 2008


Rent better lenses. The 18-200mm 3.5 - 5.6 is going to frustrate you at the evening receptions for many reasons: you won't be able to use the higher end of your zoom because the range of your flash won't cover anything past 105mm; in low light, it will hunt and seek FOREVER before focusing and this gets exasperated by the built in optical stabilization, forcing you to turn off the OS which in turn makes your lens too "slow". Also, using a macro lens for a portrait lens is going to frustrate you in low light. Macros are notorious for hunt and seek on objects you're not physically close to. If I were you, I'd rent a Canon 16-35mm 2.8 and an 85mm 1.8. If you can swing it, also rent the 70-200mm 2.8 for the morning ceremony. That glass is divine.

Get a 2nd flash and carry both cameras at the same time. Switch back and forth from one camera to the next, giving your flashes time to recycle between shots.

Buy more cards. You won't have time to dump the pics from your cameras to your computer because you'll be shooting all the time. Cards are cheap. Buy more.

Synch the times on your cameras so that your photos will be grouped together in Lightroom.

Shoot RAW.

I've been shooting weddings for a year and I love it. Have fun and know your equipment inside out before you start shooting. Especially the flashes.
posted by inviolable at 9:37 AM on July 18, 2008 [4 favorites]

At a wedding, the whole family is there, as dressed up as they ever get. Get a lot of family groups, esp. with GrandDad, who may not be at the next wedding.

Look at the women's feet, and remind them to pose their feet. Tell subjects to take a deep breath and relax their shoulders. People tend to get their shoulders hunched up.

Almost everybody looks better smiling.

Flatter and flirt; it gets good responses.
posted by theora55 at 9:57 AM on July 18, 2008

Shooting in Raw is a good idea. However one 4 gig card, I could burn through that pretty quick. I would not plan on dumping your cards during the wedding at all. Not a good idea.

Actually, TERRIBLE IDEA. You'll be in a rush. Those cards, once they have pictures on them, are precious. I make sure I know where they are at all times. I don't erase them until I have them backed up in 3 different places. Sounds nuts but if you screw up you're screwed.

I'd practice a lot. Even to the point of going into a church and shooting some test shots. knowing how to bounce flash is really important. Knowing the difference between hard and soft light, so you know whether you'll be able to do outdoor portraits, is really important. I don't like the fill flash hard light outdoor portrait style, to be honest, no matter how skillfully it's done. But you should probably know how to do it.

Anyway, yeah, practice. You can not believe how fast things will go by and you can't screw anything up. The ceremony, in particular, happens pretty quickly and you need to be ready. Know when the kiss is going to come up, have your camera prefocused and ready and in motor drive.

Remember that when you switch to a high iso, you need to switch it back, so you don't have a ton of crappy pictures at ISO 1600.

Basically it involves having a vision of what you want the pictures to look like, and knowing what it takes to get there.
posted by sully75 at 10:03 AM on July 18, 2008

Forum about this on

Someone by the name of Karen Simmons created an FAQ for amateur wedding photographers back in the nineties that was posted to USENET groups. It seems to have disappeared, but is reproduced here:

Amateur Wedding Photography FAQ.

There is one enormous caveat that the FAQ begins with. If you are doing this for friends, run, don't walk, from the opportunity. Or at least give them the opportunity to read the FAQ and understand what they are letting themselves in for.
posted by galaksit at 10:17 AM on July 18, 2008

The first thing that comes to mind is to make sure you know how to handle taking a photo of the bride in her white dress and the groom in his black tux and be able to properly expose the shot in order to not blow out the highlights of the dress or lose the darks of the tux. This may or may not be a big problem depending on your lighting, but I know it can be tricky to take a photo when it contains a lot of white or black material. The camera's auto exposure may be fooled in these scenarios. Check for blinkies and check the histograms. Get the exposure right in camera.

Another thing that comes to mind is to be make sure to leave some extra room around the subjects in the frame. The bride is going to want some 8 x 10 prints, and your frame is at a 2:3 ratio. So, you'll need to be able to crop off some height on portrait-oriented pictures without chopping off people's feet.
posted by daser at 10:58 AM on July 18, 2008

I agree with everyone who suggests faster lenses, RAW, and more CF cards. Personally, I'd skip the laptop entirely unless I had a dedicated assistant who'd be copying the cards over. Also, keep an eye on your shot counter with the wedding event schedule in mind so you are sure to start with a fresh card at the right time (even if you have 28 shots left on the one you're using...) having to change cards at a busy time results in missed shots.

My favorite little trick is to have one lightweight 35mm film camera on my shoulder with a fast fixed lens wide open and loaded with 3200 TMax for a few grainy B&W beauty shots here and there. Most people see grainy B&W and think of old-fashioned romance. Especially if the reception hall is some beige hotel ballroom, the B&W can give it some character, which is great for an establishing shot of the setting.

Okay, one last major factor that I haven't seen mentioned yet: how to deal with that gelled event lighting at the Atrium. You'll want to experiment with the amount of fill flash you need to get skintones normal (instead of candy pink and alien green) without looking like you're using a point and shoot. For me, this is a challenge... the right amount of fill flash with a long enough shutter to get some of the background colors in, without making so much motion blur that the subjects smear all over the photo. Practice with this lighting as much as you can!
posted by xo at 3:25 PM on July 18, 2008

It's been a good many years since I shot weddings (we were still using this odd stuff called "film" back then), but I do have advice.

As someone else said, once or twice, have an assistant. The extra pair of hands is not just invaluable, it's essential. Weddings are complex events with lots of people involved. Preferably, have someone who knows a bit about photography and knows your computing setup as well.

I'm surprised there hasn't been more said about multiple flashes. I always used two flashes, tied together by optical slave circuits (essentially a circuit with a photosensor on one end to detect the flash from the "master" flash attached to the camera.) They were easy to make. One thing I have never done is used multiple flash with the pop-up flash found in modern cameras. The pop-up and the second flash used as a fill-light may be all you need.

Candids are essential to a good wedding album, but so are formals, such as the group pictures, the pictures of the bride and groom at the altar and perhaps alone, off to the side, etc. In this situation, don't forget that you are the boss. Accept input, but assert yourself as far as bringing people in and out of the shot, lining people up, etc.

If at all possible, do your formal photography BEFORE the ceremony. Some people hold to the tradition of the bride and groom not seeing each other before the ceremony, but if you can convince your couple to break the tradition and give you an hour before everyone starts gathering, the formal pictures will be so much easier and more enjoyable for everyone. Avoiding the pressure of getting everyone out of the chapel and to the reception is priceless.

Finally, if you are doing weddings for pay, have you decided how you're going to handle the question of ownership of the original files (I almost wrote "of the negatives). For a time I sold a package of pictures and kept the negatives so people had to come to me for reprints, but no one ever did. So I sold the package plus the negatives (which means I added a bit more to the package price), which got the problem of storage a cataloging out of my hair. Again, I'm not sure how this plays in the digital world, since all my photography is for myself now.

I don't have anything else to add to the excellent advice here. Good luck!
posted by lhauser at 4:23 PM on July 18, 2008

-Try a 50mm or 85mm fixed lens, preferably 1.4. Rent if you have to.

-Shoot some ambient light photos without flash. They will be closer to the actual visual memory people have of the event, with its mood and feel.

-Shoot low, shoot high, float around the subject to capture different angles.

-Learn how to spot meter.

-Shoot unposed, spontaneous images. Shoot a LOT.

-Watch for details, hands, feet, eyes, and gestures that will tell the story.

-Have something to wipe champagne, wine, etc off cameras/lenses.

-Have double the memory and batteries you think you'll need. Have spares/backups of everything.
posted by ig at 4:26 PM on July 18, 2008

I know zip about Wedding Photography, but you absolutely need more than 4 GB of card space. If you rewrite cards and you drop your laptop on the way to the car, you've lost their wedding photos. Do not put yourself in that position. Flash memory is cheap right now. Buy enough so that you don't have to reuse the cards, especially if you're shooting RAW.

If I were in your shoes, I'd get a couple of friends together at a time and location similar to the one you'll be shooting for the wedding. Do an hour of practice shots, indoor and out, and see how they turn out. It's their wedding, and no matter how much they want you to shoot it, there's not a lot of room for error. Practice first.
posted by cnc at 9:45 PM on July 18, 2008

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