Wedding photography is a form that is often looked down on by ‘serious’ photographers. It’s seen as being cheesy, and there’s a perception that dealing with stressed out brides is a total nightmare.
Having photographed many weddings in my time, I can tell you that most people are super happy on their wedding day, and as a result are really easy to work with.
The cheese factor is a bit of a pitfall for sure, and wedding photography websites are full of the type of awkward and over-posed images that give the genre a bad name.
The fact is that wedding photography is one of the most demanding forms of photography you can practice. You need to know your equipment inside out, and you need to be able to work fast and unobtrusively, you need to be creative at a second’s notice and make the best of the environment you’re in. You also need to have a really strong grasp of lighting and know how to deal with tricky low-light situations.
Today I’m going to give you my top 5 tips for making great wedding photographs.
Keep Your Eye To The Viewfinder
The best wedding photos are the candid ones, where the photographer has a captured a moment of genuine feeling and emotion. They’re like little gems that you can’t manufacture, you just have to be in the right place at the right time to discover them. And you have to have your eye to the camera. There was an old lottery advert that chanted ‘If you’re not in, you can’t win’. In photography, if you don’t have your eye behind the viewfinder you can’t make that award-winning image. And that’s part of what make’s wedding photography so challenging; if you want to do it well you have to be on point all day long.
Some of the best photos I’ve taken have occurred in the moments between photos that I was setting up. People tend to let their guard down when they don’t know they’re being photographed, so a stealthy approach and a long zoom can pay real dividends.
Know You Shot List
If you want to have a great set of photos at the end of your shooting day, you can’t leave it to chance – you have to make things happen. I have a shot list etched on my brain, photos that I’m going to make sure I get, for example I want a shot of the bride alone before the ceremony, and a shot of the groom and his groomsmen. So I have to do a bit of corralling and cajoling – in the nicest possible way! Even if you’re just photographing for fun, you can still be really effective if you try to previsualise some of the shots you want to have at the end of the day. A shot list is also like a set of goals – if you find yourself at loose end you can always refer to your shot list to get you back on track.
Use Friends As Smile Generators
It can be really hard to get a genuine smile from someone you’re photographing. Speaking for myself, I don’t particularly like having my photograph taken, and I’m aware that my fake smile is terrible. I always keep this in mind when I’m photographing other people. I often recruit friends and family to help me get genuine expressions from my bride and groom. When I’m photographing a bride by herself for example, I might ask her bridesmaids to stand right behind me so the bride is actually interacting with her closest friends, instead of feeling self-conscious about havving her photograph taken. With the help of the bridesmaids however, I’m pretty much guaranteed to get a genuine smile.
Similarly, if I’m photographing the bride and groom, instead of asking them to look at the camera, I’ll ask them to look at each other. Now instead of a photograph of two people having their photograph taken, I’ve got a photograph of two people looking into the eyes of their soulmate. They’re either going to smile or cry – either of which I’m totally ok with!
Tell A Story From Start To Finish
The great thing about a wedding day is that it’s a self-contained story, complete with it’s own narrative and cast of actors. Every part of the day has it’s own unique energy that deserves to be captured and preserved, from the giddy excitement of the preparations, the outpouring of love at the ceremony, through to the riotous celebrations at the reception. If you want to photograph a wedding effectively you have to make some strong images at each segment of the day.
Don’t think for a minute that you need to be the primary photographer to tell the story of the day though. When I was building my wedding portfolio, I did it at weddings of friends where I was a guest. I asked their permission beforehand to take some photos, which they were happy for me to do, and on the day itself I just made sure I didn’t get on the way of the professional photographer that was hired. I built a portfolio of mostly candid work that I’m proud of to this day and that helped me to start booking paid gigs.
I’ve written before about the advantages of shooting in RAW mode. Because RAW modes lets you capture more bytes of data, more information about the scene, you have more leeway to fix a poorly exposed image after the fact. You’d be surprised how far you can push and pull an image that at first glance might look pretty underwhelming. The big thing about wedding photography is there are no redos, you get one shot and one shot only, so do yourself a favour and capture the highest resolution file possible.
If you want to master the craft of photography, shooting weddings is one of the best things you can do. You can learn about working candidly, posing large groups, off-camera lighting techniques, and you can even undertake the detail shots like product shoots for a catalogue. But you have to like working with people, and make sure you that on a day that can be pretty streesful, the photgraphy doesn’t become a source of stress for those involved!
If you’re looking for an entry-level camera with a super long zoom to try some wedding photography this summer, have a look at the Sony DSC-H300 which I reviewed recently. And remember, the equipment doesn’t matter nearly as much as you might think – you can make great photos with almost any camera nowadays.