Capturing the Big Day: An Insider’s Guide to Picture-Perfect Wedding Photography

October 15, 2018

Wedding photography is an art, but that doesn’t mean you can’t practice and plan on your way to creative excellence. Whether you’re an amateur shutterbug just beginning to hone your craft or an experienced photographer who’s always striving to get better, these tips and tricks may be just what you need to turn another day of I dos into a portfolio-worthy masterpiece.

Gather the Right Equipment
If you’re the kind of photographer who loves new gadgets, you’ve likely got a collection of specialty lenses and fancy accessories just waiting to be used at your next gig. Take a moment to remind yourself that a perfect wedding shoot isn’t about packing all equipment but rather bringing the right equipment.
Invest in a DSLR or mirrorless system that offers versatility. At a bare minimum, you’ll want a camera with a fast shutter speed, superior focusing capabilities and a high ISO sensitivity. Also bring a second camera, if possible, that you can use as a backup or dedicate to specific tasks such as wide-angle shots or close-ups pics.

Other accessories to add to your list include a tripod, a lens-cleaning kit, a wireless transmitter (great for uploading pictures when you have downtime) and a laptop for broadcasting images of guests in real time (or close to it).

What’s worse than missing the ultimate shot of the happy couple? Missing half the wedding because you maxed out your memory card and don’t have any more room to store images. Memory cards are reusable, so they’re easy on the budget, and barely take up any space so there’s no excuse to not tuck a few spares in your bag.

Make a Plan with the Bridge and Groom

Yes, you’re the expert, but delivering the shots you think the clients should have and delivering the shots they’re hoping for aren’t always the same thing. Client satisfaction and managing expectations go hand in hand. Long before the big day, schedule a sit down and create a list with three sections:

  • Must Have
  • Would Be Nice
  • Great If You Have Space/Time

By prioritizing the images you’ll be expected to capture and deliver, you’re setting yourself up for success and ensuring everybody is on the same page.

It’s not always possible to tour a venue beforehand, but if you have the time and access, scouting your location can give you a chance to memorize the layout, brainstorm angles, decide where to set up and see how long it will really take you to get from the parking lot to the ballroom or oceanfront ceremony site.

A pre-event tour may have another benefit, too. Make a point to say hello to venue management and establish a relationship and you may be lucky enough to score referrals later on.

Prepare, Check, and Double Check

Are the fresh batteries in your cameras and external flashes? Did you pack those extra memory cards you bought? Do you have your laptop, phone charge and power cords, if necessary? Are your lenses clean and in working order? Do you have the correct address for the venue? Are you sure about the day’s itinerary? Is there gas in your car? Do you know how long it will take you to get from your home or office to the event site?

Leave nothing to chance and never assume anything.

It’s a kind of an inside joke among married folks that the bride and groom spend a ton of time and money creating a mouthwatering wedding meal and then they never get to eat any of it. That’s often true, but do you know who eats less at a reception than the guests of honor? That’s right, the photographer.

You don’t have time to sit, visit the buffet or even sneak off the bathroom, lest you miss an important moment and fail in your duties, so eat a hearty meal before you start work and pack a few healthy snacks you can eat one-handed when hunger strikes.

Honor the Dress Code
Just because you’re not in the wedding doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look like you’re part of it. As a photographer, part of your job is to blend in so you capture the experience rather than interrupt it. Ditch jeans and scruffy cargo pants in favor of simple, streamlined attire that looks professional and stays neutral. One hint: You can never go wrong with all black.

Consider a Different Point of View

The best shots are often the unexpected ones. Rather than taking all of your pictures in your normal, fully upright position, vary your altitude and try to see things from another angle. Crouch down and point your lens up, stand on a chair or even a table (as long as you’re not making a spectacle of yourself), point your camera through a bit of foliage or peek around a fluttering drapery to catch the emotional mother and father of the bride in a sweet embrace. Play with wide-angle and tight shots, too – you can always crop or discard the unimpressive ones later.

Pay Attention to the Big 5

Most experienced wedding photographers agree that there are five shots you should never, ever skip:

  • The groom’s face when he first glimpses his soon-to-be spouse walking down the aisle
  • The married couple’s first kiss
  • The first dance
  • The cutting of the cake
  • The “exit” – the confetti toss, the run to the getaway car, a sprint through a saber arch, etc.

Of course, there are dozens if not hundreds of other pictures that are almost as iconic as those five, but none that would be quite so glaring if omitted from the final album.

Once you’ve gotten the “big five” as described above, make an effort to capture those small moments and tiny details that make the event space, decorations, ceremony and reception personal to the couple who hired you. Those tender hug between the bride and her grandmother, the tear in a dad’s eye as he watches his son quiver with emotion, the niece or nephew who swipes a sneaky taste of the buttercream off the wedding cake, the DJ shooting flirty glances at the adorable maid of honor – these are the moments that guests will cherish for decades to come, and you’re likely the only one in a position to save them for posterity.

Your watch, your smartphone, your camera and your tablet. You don’t want to hear your Lady Gaga ringtone go off in the middle of the vows and digital shutter sounds can be almost as distracting.

A great wedding photographer masters the art of being bold but also stays inconspicuous. You need to be confident enough to step forward and claim your shot. On the other hand, no one wants guests staring at you rather than the bride and groom. One way to camouflage your presence is to change positions when somebody else springs into action. When the choir finishes a song and the pastor steps up or the groom gets in position to stomp on a glass, use the movement as cover for your own relocation plans.

RAW is a file format similar to the more widely recognized JPEG or GIF, but with one major difference: while JPEGs can only hold eight bits of data per pixel, RAW holds 12-14 bits. That might not seem like a huge difference, but those extra bits mean a lot to a photographer who is skilled at editing. The more photographic data you have to work with, the more you can manipulate an image, tweaking lighting, balancing exposure and restoring detail you once thought lost. In essence, RAW gives you a second chance to take the perfect picture, and that’s priceless.

One thing you can’t fix in editing? Bad posture. Slumping brides and slouching grooms will ruin a shot every single time. Swap out the typical “stand up straight” with a suggestion that your clients elongate their spine – it’s a new way of thinking and it might encourage the right results.

Study Up on Group Photography

Putting together a group shot takes patience, skill and the ability to shout commands over a gaggle of extra-excited partiers. When the groom’s aunt refuses to stand next to ex-husband she recently divorced or the bride’s ornery cousin insists on pulling faces throughout the entire shoot, life will be easier for everyone if you know how to cope and subtly nudge people in the right direction.

Also important: Knowing how to arrange people in an aesthetically pleasing way. Leave the wedding party to organize themselves and you’ll have chaos. Go in with a plan and gently but firmly guide your subjects until they’re where you need them to be.

Consider a Different Point of View

The best shots are often the unexpected ones. Rather than taking all of your pictures in your normal, fully upright position, vary your altitude and try to see things from another angle. Crouch down and point your lens up, stand on a chair or even a table (as long as you’re not making a spectacle of yourself), point your camera through a bit of foliage or peek around a fluttering drapery to catch the emotional mother and father of the bride in a sweet embrace. Play with wide-angle and tight shots, too – you can always crop or discard the unimpressive ones later.

Help Them With Their Hands

Most people can smile in a photo without thinking twice, but widen the angle to include their whole body and suddenly they’re floundering about looking for something to do with their hands. Make suggestions such as “lightly touch your veil” or “rest your hand on his lapel” and you won’t give them enough time to stiffen up.

Don’t Ignore the “Oh No” Moments

No wedding goes completely according to plan. It may be tempting to make like a professional and pretend you don’t see those awkward events, but you’re there to document the day, and that includes all things good and bad. Feel free to take a shot of the grump ring bearer hurling his pillow down the aisle or the sheepish groom hurrying into the church 20 minutes late. Even goofs that seem stressful at the time tend to be funny later on, and your clients may be thrilled that you saw fit to record those lesser moments – and if not, there’s always the delete button.

Posing is not natural unless you a professional model, and 99% of your clients won’t be hitting the catwalk after their honeymoon. Rather then quietly snapping away as the newlyweds stand rigid and silent, engage them in conversation. Ask them to tell you how they met, what their favorite part of the day has been so far or what they’ll be doing on their honeymoon, then watch as the memories and excitement lights up their eyes and brings their face to life.

A grumpy wedding photographer is a real bummer. Yes, you’re there to do a job, and yes, those people are likely total strangers, but they’re also two people in love, surrounded by people celebrating that love. No matter what’s going on in your life, leave the stress and distractions behind and embrace the occasion. Relax, smile and remember, you’ve been entrusted with an incredibly important task. How special is that?

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