Photography: Advice for Weddings
I wrote this for someone who was seeking advice on wedding photography, and thought it might be worth posting on my blog, especially since I'm looking toward doing some wedding work in 2006 and have been thinking about how exactly I want to do it, moving forward. That said, I highly recommend that you not allow yourself to be manuevered into photographing someone's wedding for them unless you're very sure that it is what you want to be doing. It's demanding work, and people can be very touchy. A minimum prerequisite should be experience as a portrait photographer, since the most important shots of the wedding day will be portraits.
Weddings are a one-shot deal, and there are no reshoots. With that in mind, regardless of other technique, there are three things I recommend keeping in mind. In priority order:
1. Take at least two cameras, and use both throughout the day. There are a bunch of things that can go wrong with a shoot and not be noticable until you look at the finished product, and having a backup camera minimizes that risk by a huge amount.
2. Pay attention. Not only to what is currently happening, but to what is about to happen. Get a copy of the wedding program early and consult it during the ceremony. If you're photographing the reception, talk to the DJ or hall coordinator early, so you get a sense of what's happening when. The trick is to be waiting in the right place when something is about to occur, not to have to rush to get there only to miss it while you're setting up your shot. I would say that this alone is what separates most wedding pros from otherwise competent photographers. This is also the hardest thing to simulate without experience, and why our studio traditionally requires photographers to apprentice for a season before they fly solo.
3. Remember the following 13 shots that you have to take or your shoot is catastrophically incomplete:
Portrait: bride alone, full length.Don't get me wrong, there are dozens of other shots I consider important, but if I miss them, I don't consider the job blown. If you miss one of the ones I've listed here, however, there's likely to be trouble. These would be especially good photos to be sure you get with both cameras, and to take multiple shots of.
Portrait: bride alone, head to bouquet.
Portrait: bride and groom, full length
Portrait: bride and groom, heads to bouquet.
Portrait: entire wedding party, (inc. kids and ushers)
Portrait: bride's family (inc. spouses and kids)
Portrait: groom's family (ditto)
Portrait: bride and grooms hands & rings.
Ceremony: Bride and groom facing each other at alter.
Reception: Bride and groom cutting cake.
Reception: Bride and groom first dance.
Reception: Bride and father dancing.
My other piece of advice is about how to shoot the altar portraits. Start with the bride. Have her stand at the top of the altar steps. If she has a train, spread it in front of her by wrapping it around on her right side (your left.) Shoot portrait and full length. (I especially like to do looking at camera and looking at bouquet for each.)
Then put the groom in next to the bride, on her left side (opposite the train). Have him put his arm around behind her, but under her veil or he'll tug it awry. I have the bride put an arm around him as well. Have the bride and groom turn toward each other making a bit of a V, and then have him help hold the flowers with his other hand. (This keeps it from hanging limp at his side, and since the bride is holding them one-handed, they'll be getting heavy) readjust the train. Shoot portrait and full length. The bride and groom will be in this pose for a while, so keep reminding them what do do for the rest of these shots, especially when the groom drops his hand. I sometimes find it helps to tell the bride and groom to tilt their heads slightly toward each other as well.
Add in the best man and maid of honor on appropriate sides. Shoot portrait and full length.
Move the best man to stand next to the maid of honor. Add the rest of the wedding party as couples, women toward the middle, men to their sides. Alternate sides and put each couple one step down from the next couple on that side. If it's a small wedding party put the ushers at the ends, if a large one, have them kneel in front. Kids should be in front of the groom, as close as possible, even tucked a little bit inside the draped train would be OK. adjust the train, and shoot. If desired, kick out the kids and ushers and shoot again.
Kick everyone except the bride and groom out. Have the bride's parents stand on her side, like the maid of honor and best man just were. (If the parents are divorced, put the mother next to the groom instead unless you know they get along.) Shoot. Add in brothers and sisters. Shoot. Add in spouses and children of brothers and sisters. Shoot. Take out everyone except the bride, groom, mom and dad, put in the other mom and dad on the grooms side. Shoot. Drop out the bride's mom and dad and repeat the family build up with the groom's family.
Only when you've done all of the above should you even consider entertaining anything other than the most urgent of requested shots. The reason for this is because there are often time pressures, and if the shoot gets cut short, you want to have the above photos, because it will be hard to do them in any other location. Especially once the groomsmen start drinking.
After 20 years of practice, I can get through the above set of photos in about 15 minutes with a cooperative group, leaving me time for available light portraits by a window and request shots. If this is your first job, I'd expect it will take you closer to 30-45 minutes, so be prepared to feel rushed.
As a job, it really can be fun, but it can feel very high pressure. Make sure you eat breakfast, because it's always distracting when the photographer faints. Happened to an assistant of mine once, I was mortified.