These days, most of my photography is inspired art from nature, landscapes and urban settings. But when I was living in Australia, I did commercial wedding photography, from the bride getting ready through to the reception. So this piece draws on my experience.
Watch what the professional photographer is doing
Most weddings have a professional photographer. This photographer may be hired to cover just the ceremony, or they may cover bridal party preparation at home, and the reception.
If there is a pro photographer, remember that the couple has engaged him or her to get the best shots of the day. So try and not impeded their work. But do watch what they are doing and the kind of shots he or she is taking. Take some cues from that in deciding when and what to capture as informal shots to share. Get the “other” shots – people not included, angles on the toasts, cake cutting, other guests.
Some photographers allow friends and family to “piggy-back” on set-ups. In other words, they will arrange and shoot the photo groups, then allow time for the other guests to take pictures of that same group. Other photographers are protective, and disperse the group immediately to stop others from getting the shots.
Opportunities for amateur snapshots can be moments, people and angles the professional does not cover. If there is no coverage of the preparation by bride and groom at home or wherever, there can be some great candids there. Look for shots that reflect camaraderie between groom and best man, Get some nice shots of the bride in the latter stages of make-up, posing with the gown, leaving home with father, or older brother, say. And if there is a nice garden, take pictures of the bride and others in the garden.
Not all packages by professionals cover the reception. Even those who do, mostly do some of the ceremony and some selective tables. This is another great opportunity for the amateur to get additional shots. Take pictures of tables and groups early in the proceedings. Get table shots just when the meal is served to have nice meals in the shots instead of dirty plates.
If there is no official photographer, your pictures may be IT! So make your pictures count.
Tips on photographing people
When you are bringing groups together, remember what I said in an earlier interview (check my blog posting and podcast on Groups). Cajole and “direct” the people. Make them feel good about being in the photo. Use my tips for getting the best smiles.
Don’t tell them to smile and then take 10 seconds to get ready with the shot – the smiles fade fast! Use the red-eye reduction light as a “watch the birdie” device. Take several pictures in case you get a person who blinks a lot.
In a group photo, position lighter complexion further from the camera than those with darker complexions, to get more even lighting. Do the same with the bride and groom for their outfits if it is a group shot where some people are closer than others. Tux at the front, gown further back.
When photographing people at tables, make sure there are no foreground objects like flowers and wine bottles that will “hog” the picture and be washed out by the flash.
If there is drinking, take some important pictures early, so as not to get red noses, silly grins, and glazed eyes.
Even so, when you are photographing people, particularly a couple, make sure that you focus on one of the faces. Many great shots (even for experienced photographers) have been lost by focusing on the background.
And talking about background – always pay attention to what else gets included in the shot. If you miss something distracting, it will be there forever. And if there is a nice setting, try and use that in the background. Even a plain background is better than a street full of cars, or billboards in the background. But never straight in front of a mirror or window – take the shot on an angle.
And finally – pay attention to framing your shots. Don’t bullseye the faces in the middle of the shot, or crop off the top of people’s heads. Balance the framing of the shot nicely.
Tips on using flash
When you use a flash at the reception, and make sure there are no reflective objects in the picture. If you are photographing in a dim, large room, use the camera’s “night flash” setting (or equivalent) if it has one. That will slow down the shutter speed, to let in more background light before and after the main flash. If your camera does not have this setting, then chose a slower shutter speed, say 60th or 30th of a second. But you will need to hold the camera more steady.
Another trick to bring up the background is to reduce the strength of the flash. Test it out, you may need to increase the exposure or EV setting to avoid the picture looking too dark.
Use the camera’s red-eye reduction setting at the reception, or most other indoor shots, where people are looking at the camera. If you want to get candids of people not looking at the camera, then turn the redeye reduction off, so as not to warn the subject you are taking a candid.
Flash can create harsh lighting. If you have a diffuser, use it for portraits and close-ups. Or use a small piece of frosted tape across the front of the flash. If you have a separate flash unit, tilt it up and bounce the flash off a light ceiling.
Most people don’t think of using the flash in daylight, especially in bight sunlight. But using a fill flash setting can get rid of harsh shadows in the eyes and under the nose and chin. Just make sure it doesn’t over-expose. And when you are photographing people in the shade, with a bright sunny background, you should almost always use flash then for a natural look.
Some smaller cameras with built-in flash may have a limited range of, say 10 feet. Bigger flash units will carry further. But remember, the light drops off quickly as you move further away.
And remember to allow time for the flash to recharge, otherwise you may just lose an important shot. Learn how to check your flash is ready for the next shot.
On using the camera
Today’s cameras have a lot of features that make it easier – anti-shake, face-follow, shooting modes, extra zoom, ISO adjustment, auto compensation for skin tones, and extended tonal range. Learn what these do beforehand, and use them to advantage.
White tablecloths can sometime be a problem. The make the picture darker as the camera compensates for all that white. Try the “sand and snow” setting, or increase the EV or light value by about 1 setting if more than half of the picture is white tablecloth. Same with the bride’s dress.
If you need to blur the background a little, try setting your camera to Portrait mode, or even try Sports. If the camera has aperture control, chose a low number that will give a larger aperture.
Use a memory card with room for lots of pictures. Carry an extra if you need. And always have a second battery.
One more time – don’t wait until the important day to learn how to use your camera. Practice, Practice Practice! Play with it a lt. Have fun with it. Take all kinds of shots of people. Read the book, ask people who know how to use one. Otherwise you will miss the shots or get second-rate pictures. If it’s worth buying a camera, and using it for important pictures, it’s worth learning how to use it!