This spring I had the opportunity to shoot my first wedding when my cousin got married. I was excited and terrified at the same time as I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into! But, after the wedding was done and I had a chance to reflect on my experience, I decided to develop a Pros & Cons List for myself (plus a list of other important tips that I learned) to help me remember what to do better at the next wedding!
1. Having an assistant
This was HUGE! There’s no way I could have done this wedding without the help of my assistant! (Note: this was not a second photographer…more on that later.) I asked my aunt if she’d be willing to assist me with the wedding shoot. She ran errands for me, played chauffeur between locations, carried my equipment, and organized people for the group shots. I ran the camera; she dealt with the logistics.
2. Having a pre-determined shot list
Another timesaver! This wedding had a guest list of about 35 family members and intimate friends. Since I knew just about everyone present by name, when it came to organizing family shots, I already had a list of groupings arranged in a logical sequence (see example below). I gave my assistant a copy of this list so while I stayed in position, she called out the groupings and arranged people for me. I’d set them up and say “more left or more right or (whatever else needed to be said)” and then take the picture, give a thumbs up if it was good to go, and she’d call in the next group.
I used a lot of abbreviations for my shot list.
- A (bride) + L (groom) + M & M (groom’s parents)
- L + M & M
- L + K (groom’s sister)
- A + L + J & D (bride’s parents)
- A + J + D
- A + B’s S (bride’s siblings)
And you get the idea. Make it work for you.
3. Having all photos taken at one location
The ceremony was held at my grandparents’ house, and since they’ve been blessed with a large home, it was logical (and very helpful!) to have everyone at one location. I was able to take the pictures of the bride downstairs, the groom upstairs, and then the mingling guests in the kitchen/living room. It made my life so much easier and helped me be able to capture more candid shots, per my cousin’s request.
(Note: be forewarned: this list is significantly longer.)
1. Dappled Lighting
As I mentioned before, my cousin’s wedding was held at my grandparents’ house, however, it was held outside on the front lawn in the middle of the afternoon on a cloudless, hot, sunny day. Naturally, the lighting was my biggest problem of the day. Since it was afternoon and early spring, the sunlight was harsh. The front lawn is also graced with several large trees; so when the afternoon sun was shining through the tree branches, enter…the dappled light effect. Ultimately, it would have been nice to have removed those trees but that was a bit too much work for the sake of a couple hours of shooting. So, I did a lot of exposure compensation. My goal was to shoot more on the underexposed side than the overexposed because I knew I could fix underexposure better in post-processing than the overexposed. In short, dappled lighting isn’t fun. I recommend you avoid it if at all possible, but if you can’t, just be prepared to spend extra time in post-processing.
This may sound odd depending on how many weddings you’ve shot or attended, but this seems to be a growing problem nowadays with advancing technology. Everyone and their phones want to capture the moments—often at the expense of you, the photographer. During the ceremony, most people kept their phones on a low enough level that they didn’t interfere with my shooting too much. However, immediately after the ceremony during the family portraits session, it was a full-fledged war between the photographer and the cellphones that went something like this. “Everyone look at Morgan!” just as I’m taking the picture. “Look at me!” cries someone on the sidelines. I look at the picture and discover one or more pairs of eyes have shifted from straight ahead to either the left or right. Ugh. “Retake!” I announce. “And please everyone look at me this time!” I take the picture again and usually meet with victory after the second or third attempt. Repeat that 25x or so for the remaining group shots and that war took quite a bit of extra time. I’m not exactly sure how professional photographers battle this one, but I think establishing your wishes for a “no-cellphone policy” during the family groupings with the bride and groom beforehand would be helpful, so then they can choose to have that announced/displayed as they see fit.
3. From Ceremony to Reception…
Obviously, as the photographer, you don’t get to plan the wedding and create the itinerary, but I would highly recommend talking with your clients about the time between the ceremony and the reception. In my experience, the timing was a bit crunched. The ceremony, family shots (25 groupings or so), and sendoff was shot in about an hour. The formals were also an hour and then it was a race across town to get to the reception area for a couple more pictures (which didn’t happen due to a minor hiccup). I’m sure this probably wouldn’t phase a professional, but as a first-timer, it was a bit too much of a crunch for me. If that last minor hiccup hadn’t happen, things probably would have gone smoother at the end, but life happens and that’s okay! Just remember communication is HUGE!
Communication itself is not a con but rather what is communicated and to what extent it is communicated. Without going into details, this particular wedding was planned and officiated in 11 days—so naturally some details were going to be missed. What I highly suggest is sitting down with the bride & groom to find out what they want. (I didn’t have this opportunity as we live in different towns, but a few short phone calls helped). The one thing my cousin voiced was that she wanted candid shots. So I made sure to focus on that since she asked for that specifically. Another thing she wanted (which I wasn’t told till about 2 minutes before the sendoff) was for her parents and siblings to be present for the formal couple shoot so I could take some more immediate family shots. Yes, it would have been nice for a bit less of a short notice, but we managed.
5. No dress rehearsal
I have learned to never take a dress rehearsal for granted. Never. As a first-timer, not having an opportunity to do a “trial run” was…well…hard. Thankfully, I was able to shoot the ceremony location the afternoon before the wedding while folks were still setting everything up. That gave me the opportunity to get a basic grasp of the lighting I’d be fighting, see where twinge and tulle were on the lawn so I didn’t trip, and have patio stones placed in the garden beds for achieving better angles. I had 20-30 minutes to shoot the decorations in the reception hall and figure out the lighting on the morning of the wedding. Not a lot of time, but better than nothing. Take full advantage of your dress rehearsal when you shoot your wedding—it really is invaluable!
6. Be assertive/Confident
I struggled with this one, and I bring it up because it’s something another photographer brought up to me before I shot the wedding. I felt inadequate since I’d never done something like this before (professionally, I only had a homeschool conference and a high school senior photoshoot behind me). Remember that as the photographer, you are the one your clients have hired. You are there to do your job; don’t let other peoples’ suggestions or critiques get you down while you’re working. Be patient but firm in knowing how and what you need to do.
7. A Second Shooter
I’m fully persuaded that I never want to shoot another wedding without a second photographer along! My assistant was amazing, but having a back-up photographer would have been fantastic! (There was another gentleman present taking some pictures per request of the bride, but we didn’t know each other so it wasn’t as if we were working together so to speak). If you can find a photographer friend who is willing to shoot a wedding with you (and has the same standards as you do), you will be so thankful! As a solo photographer, there’s a lot to think about all at once: formals, family, decorations, entrance, signing of the marriage license, etc. And usually something is bound to get missed (in my case, something rather important…). In short, have a partner; you won’t regret it! (And if, like me, you don’t have a photographer friend you can work with, at least have an assistant!)
1. Get inspiration from others!
I used the Lenspiration Wedding Portfolio, my parents’ wedding album, a wedding photography book I had, as well as some other online portfolios from other photographers to familiarize myself with traditional wedding poses. Modest wedding pictures are hard to come by so I had to use discretion in my search. I “screenshotted” my inspirational photos and archived them in a “pose folder” on my device. I studied them in the days leading up to the wedding and then during the formal shoot it was easy to whip out my device, pull up a picture when I needed it, and say, “This is what I’m thinking; can you replicate it?” It was often faster than trying to explain something when we were already short on time. Benefit from the work of others, but don’t be afraid to be creative yourself!
2. Know where the rings are
I know this is going to sound amusing and probably a little ridiculous but bear with me. When I was about to shoot the rings (traditional photo, right?), whomever I asked didn’t seem to know where they were. (This wedding didn’t have any attendants, who are traditionally supposed to have the rings. So don’t assume, make sure you know where they are and who has them!) After not getting any answers as to the lost rings, I had my name called about a half dozen times asking me anything from where my mother was to where the safety pins were to whether or not I was ready to come and shoot the groom (not literally, mind you!). Needless to say, I never did find out where those rings were or who had them. So I didn’t end up getting the traditional ring shot.
3. Have a list of “required” shots
Check out a list of traditional required/recommended shots either online or in a wedding photography book, if you have one. This will give you a basic idea of what you’ll need to be looking for while shooting. Consult with the bride and groom and adjust accordingly. (I had a half written/half mental list so this is something I wish I has taken more time to do!)
4. Run through the day mentally
Maybe it’s just me being weird…but this really helped me! Since I didn’t have a dress rehearsal to go off of, I had to make my own “rehearsal” in my head. “They’ll enter here. Walk down the aisle there. Sign the license over there. Etc.” As one photographer told me (and it was one of the best pieces of advice I received): know where you need to be before you need to be there. This tip was one of the most important, and it really worked!
5. Get advice
I’d highly recommend you check out the Wedding Photography topic on the forums if you want some more tips; I learned SO MUCH from these fellow photographers and had their advice ringing in my ears all day—it was fantastic!
6. What is my source of strength?
On a final note, I thought I’d share two pieces of Scripture that helped me shoot this wedding. Halfway through the day, I was already feeling discouraged and wondered why in the world I’d agreed to do this. I was mentally exhausted when the Lord brought these two precious promises to mind.
“As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” —Deuteronomy 33:25b
“And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” —2 Corinthians 12:9
I wasn’t called to stress over the perfection of these photos—I was called to do my best and leave the results up to God. He promised His grace would be enough…and it was.
I’m a country gal from western Canada, who has enjoyed capturing memories through my camera lens for the last few years. My greatest desire is to honour the Lord with both my photography and my daily living–all things for His glory! (1 Corinthians 10:31)