How do you shoot a beginner’s wedding?

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Weddings are a once in a lifetime (hopefully!) occasion and a day that the bride and groom will cherish forever. Wedding photos play a large part in this, but this can also put a huge amount of pressure on the photographer – missing a shot simply isn’t an option.

While wedding photography is possibly the most stressful challenge a photographer can face, it can also be one of the most rewarding. If you’re lucky, it might even lead to a lucrative and enjoyable career.

If you’ve been asked to photograph someone’s big day, or if you’re interested in gaining some experience to make it your profession, follow these tips to make sure everything goes as smoothly and stress-free as possible.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to shoot wedding photography? That is exactly what this photography for beginners post is all about! I’m super excited to share this with you, a full overview, behind the scenes, what goes on, the fun stuff, the stressful stuff, what needs to be prepared and just an awesome summary of the whole day, start to end.

Wedding is a serious matter, the real deal and you don’t get any second chances. That’s why you need to be prepared, organised and know your stuff!

So, let’s set the scene: you booked the wedding a year ago, regularly communicated with the couple throughout the year, had a pre-wedding meeting to go through the timeline of the day and all other details (I’ll go through this in detail in another post), and now the time has come, tomorrow is the wedding day!…

Photographing weddings is a hard task, and you only get one chance at it, so there is no room for mistakes. This is a special day for the couple, and your photos will be stored as memories for generations. So, more than perhaps any other genre of photography, it is crucial to prepare and practice ahead of time – the last thing you want to do is mess it up. Especially if you are just beginning to shoot weddings, it is important to research everything ahead of time and leave nothing to chance. In this article, I will give you a few crucial tips and pointers to get you started.

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Meet the Couple

The first step before you start planning anything is to meet up with the couple and talk about their requirements for your wedding photography, including any special requests. This might sound simple, but it is one of the best ways to determine the type of images your client will like the most. No two couples will have the same requirements!

Write a List

With help from the couple, it is useful to write a list of the key wedding guests to photograph, including who needs to be in the group shots. Your clients will not be impressed to receive their photos and realise their parents aren’t in any of the pictures, or you left their grandparents out of the group shots.

Check out the Locations

I would highly recommend checking out the locations beforehand so you can choose the best spots to photograph. This also should help ease any tension before the day arrives. It is a good idea to take the couple to the locations to get their input. You should consider taking some test shots with different poses in various spots, so you know what to do for the wedding itself.

Practice Before the Event

Practising before the event is key for a successful shoot. If you go without any experience photographing people or weddings, you are setting yourself up for failure.

But the chances are good that you’ve taken photos of people before, or this is not the sort of article you would be reading! So, build upon that experience by photographing your friends or family around the house. If it is one of your first times photographing a wedding, you can even take your friends to the location of the ceremony in order to practice and gain confidence.

Prepare Ahead of Time

There is nothing worse than being clueless about where and when to take your important photos. So, be sure to have a schedule of the day on hand. It is important to plan the places where you are going to stand while taking pictures, especially for the most important parts of the ceremony. So, scout the building (if it is an indoor wedding) ahead of time so you know how to move between the positions you have in mind. A good time to do this is at the rehearsals. Ask the couple if you can attend it, and they’ll probably be happy for you to go.

Taking a second photographer – or requesting the couple to find one – can be a huge help. It will relieve a lot of pressure off your back if something disastrous happens. For example, if you happen to miss an important (or even less important) moment, there is a good chance that your backup photographer will have these shots. Another benefit is that you can delegate your work, such as asking them to photograph only the guests while you focus on the bride and groom.

If you’re not familiar with the couple’s family and guests, it can be difficult trying to round them up for group shots. So, it is a good idea to get the couple to designate one of their family members to do this particular job.

Create a Photo Checklist

It is important to make a list ahead of time with key events and subjects you will photograph, especially if you don’t have experience in shooting weddings. It is also a good idea to get the couple’s input on this. A few key events that come to my mind include walking down the aisle, the kiss, exchanging rings, cutting the wedding cake, and the dance. But don’t forget to shoot the small details such as flower bouquets, rings, and the wedding dress as well.

Have a Backup Plan

The weather during the wedding can ruin all your preparation if you don’t have a backup plan. Every photographer dreads facing rain on the big day, but you can use this to your advantage and get some very dramatic photos if you plan.

Here are a few tips to get the most out of bad weather:

  • Include some props. For example, you could give the couple a black or white umbrella to add some contrast.
  • Use the sky to your advantage. Positioning the couple in front of dark, moody clouds can give some impressive results.
  • Make sure the bride brings spare shoes. If the ground is muddy and soft, you don’t want your bride wearing heels and sinking into the ground. So, make sure to warn them ahead of time to take a spare pair.
  • Look for alternative locations. If rain cancels some of your plans, you will need to find some alternative places to photograph. So, be sure to find these beforehand, and perhaps ask the venue owners if they have any good sheltered spots or rooms you can use.

Prepare Your Camera Gear

There are a few gear essentials you’ll need, including backup camera equipment in case something breaks. The same is true of memory cards and batteries – always bring a spare. Not everyone can afford to buy all of this outright, but you may be able to borrow from a friend or rent the equipment you need for a small fee.

Here is some of the basic gear you’ll need if you do not have it already:

  • A good camera, preferably a DSLR or a more advanced mirrorless camera
  • A range of lenses appropriate for many different situations
  • A camera bag to keep your gear with you at all times, with easy access.
  • A flash with a diffuser for the ceremony and indoor shots
  • Memory cards with lots of storage
  • Spare batteries and chargers
  • A tripod, maybe, although you can do without it in many cases

Wedding Photography Tips

Here are some of the best wedding photography tips to help you succeed in taking the best wedding ceremony and family photos at your next event.

Assist a Professional

You should know the dos and don’ts of wedding photography before shooting any weddings. Learning the basics from a veteran photographer will help you avoid common mistakes.

Try reaching out to a professional wedding photographer before you start your own wedding photography business. They may allow you to shadow them at weddings they’ve booked, or pick their brain for advice.

You can gain hands-on experience while working alongside a seasoned professional that you can apply to other, later shoots. Some of the tips you learn may not be new to you, depending on your photography skills. But, it’s always helpful to see how other professionals in your fieldwork to achieve the best results.

Test Your Camera in Advance

You should check all your gadgets to make sure they’re working properly before you leave to take great wedding photos.

You’ll likely want to bring a tripod with you to use at the wedding ceremony, in addition to several camera lenses and external flashes. If the wedding you’re photographing takes place indoors, you may also need other lighting equipment. For outdoor ceremonies, you can likely get by with a bounce rather than cumbersome lights.

It’s a good idea to err on the side of caution and bring more equipment than you think you’ll need. Pack several spare batteries and memory cards, so you don’t miss anything from drinks at cocktail hour to fun-filled dancing on the dance floor.

Pack Sufficient Accessories

As a professional photographer, making excuses for your failures doesn’t look good. So bring all of your accessories you’ll need to take great wedding photos. If you can, bring a laptop to manage the backup of your photos in real-time. This will help you avoid potential significant technological mishaps down the road, including losing photo data.

Wondering how much does it cost to start a photography business? We’ve got a guide for that.

Photograph with a Partner

You can’t carry all your photography accessories alone. You’ll likely need a helping hand to make the best wedding photography images you can. You may also need another professional photographer to assist in managing lights, taking test shots and capturing scenes you’d otherwise miss. You can’t be everywhere at once!

Ask a wedding photographer to become your assistant in exchange for being their second in command at their next event. This trade is a smart way to stay on budget and get help from an experienced wedding photographer.

Pre-Plan the Shoot

Planning your shoot is just as important as the shoot itself. Make some extra time for this part of your wedding photography preparations. 

You’ll want to schedule a time to take multiple photos of the bride and groom in different locations. The couple will follow your instructions and defer to your professional judgment, but they may also have their ideas for photo ops. 

How you decide to pose the couple in the photos is up to you. We recommend showing your clients a manual of poses as you plan the shoot together. Let them choose the poses they want for their wedding photos, and then add them into the contract you both sign.

Depending on how comfortable your clients are in front of the camera, you may have to provide extra instruction to capture the best shot. That’s why it’s so important to be patient with the newlyweds. The more you can help them feel comfortable, the more they’ll enjoy the experience. 

And remember, word of mouth advertising is essential for growing a photography business. A patient photographer is one of your clients will recommend!

Capture the Firsts

A couple’s first dance in a brightly-lit, black and white photo

Couples want to remember every minute of their big day, especially the milestone first moments. These monumental firsts include the couple’s first kiss, first dance and first look. Your clients may even be planning their own, nontraditional “first moments,” so it’s important to ask them about any special moments they want to be photographed.

Plan time for these first moments, and make sure that you’ve set up in advance to capture the best shot. These milestones are quick, so you have to be prepared ahead of time.

The best strategy for ensuring that your first-moment images come out well is to set your camera with a high shutter speed so you can take multiple, quick photos without delay. That way, in post-processing, you’ll have a series of images from which you can choose the best one.

Try to get different angles of these first moments, too! For example, if the couple plans a grand entrance, try setting up multiple cameras with a remote shutter to capture the entrance from multiple points of view.

Shoot the Reactions

Newlyweds love seeing photos of their guests having fun in their wedding album. If you notice guests and friends having fun on the dance floor or during the reception dinner, make an effort to capture those moments, too. Those expressions of the relatives, friends and family that showed up to support your clients deserve to be captured.

If you’re working with an assistant, this is a great job for them to assume. Assign them to capture the “WOW!” expressions of guests and family while you stay close to the bride and groom.

Ask your partner to take photos quickly and cover as many faces as they can. It’s a joyful occasion, and these moments should be preserved for the couple to see later.

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Know the Guests

In a wedding, there is all kind of guests. Neighbours, colleagues, relatives, friends and others will turn out to show their support for the happy couple. While capturing the guests’ joy is important, keep in mind that the guests didn’t hire you for the shoot.

Discuss the guest list with the couple to designate some VIP guests. These special guests should get priority portraits, and you should make an effort to learn their names and make them feel comfortable fro the shoot.

As you already know, friends and family of both the bride and groom are the life of the party. They’re important to the couple, which should mean they’re important for you—plan on shooting some good portraits of them with the couple and solo.

Capture a Group Photo

Everyone wants to have a portrait with the couple, which could take all night! It’s better to shoot in groups. Otherwise, you won’t have enough time for the most important shots.

Manage these groups efficiently with the help of your partner. Your assistant might be in charge of assigning groups, fixing flyaway hairs and adjusting other small details so you can focus on photographing.

When shooting groups, it’s difficult to get everyone looking perfect at the same time. Some people blink, others are out of focus. That’s why it’s helpful to take lots of extra shots so that you can choose the best picture for every group.

Look for Smiles

Where there’s a smile, there’s a moment worth capturing. Kids are playing, people whispering about a special moment, friends laughing from the corner — these are all hidden moments within a wedding ceremony and reception that can liven up a wedding album.

You can’t create or plan these moments, because they’re rare and original. That means you have to be on the lookout for them and don’t hesitate to click your shutter! The couple will love these kinds of photos.

Our wedding photography tips for beginners is the most comprehensive post you will find on this subject online. We spent a crazy amount of time writing this beast of a post, and we hope you were able to find plenty of information you can take to heart and apply as you start to explore wedding photography yourself.

Even with the greatest tips on Earth, you’ll still need to get hands-on experience to feel comfortable with what you are doing truly. And of course, you’re bound to have questions as you come up with new and unique challenges.

That’s a lot of advice for beginners! Hopefully, this article has helped you think about or plan your next wedding photography shoot. Are you a seasoned wedding photographer? Share in the comments what advice you have for newcomers looking to make a name for themselves in the wedding photography industry. Your experiences can help others along the way!

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