A lot of wedding shooters come to Action Camera to get their gear so I though I’d put together a little discussion about some of the things I think wedding shooters should consider. Depending on your level of experience, what I’m going to cover will probably range from obvious to obscure.
First, let me just tell you a little about my experience. Somewhere after 25 or 30 weddings I stopped counting. I would guess it’s not far off, give or take, from 60. On second thought, considering I did 15 weddings just last summer I’d say that number might be a little low. My first 3 weddings were actually shot on film; which should give you an idea of how long I’ve been doing them. I’ve been primary shooter, second shooter and primary shooter disguised as second shooter and probably a couple other configurations including guest turned shooter. For the purpose of this blog I’m going to keep it short and somewhat “conversational” and less like a tutorial. Perhaps it will eventually grow into a full-blown tutorial or even a class; we’ll just have to see. OK, now in no particular order let’s get on to some tips.
Tip number one. Know your gear. I guess I lied when I said in no particular order. This is number one for a reason. The worst mistake I see made all the time is people going into a wedding not having a good idea of what their camera can do or how to get the most out of it. Having made just about every mistake in the book at some point this one is no exception. So believe me, there is no worse feeling than fumbling trough settings while the bride and groom wait. I’ve worked in camera retail for a few years now I can honestly say it’s not uncommon for people to come in and buy a new camera for a wedding just days away. Huge mistake. No matter your experience level a new camera has a learning curve. When your shooting a wedding especially for the first few dozen times you will no doubt come across shooting situations that will catch you off guard. If you don’t know your camera inside and out you’re going to panic; your going to flub your settings or sometimes flat-out forget how to get to them. It’s true some lessons can only be learned on the job, but it’s always better to be prepared. This includes things like knowing which lens to use for what situation and having them ready before you need it or when and where to use your flash. If your mentally prepared, even the most chaotic wedding can be a breeze; if your not, the simplest wedding can quickly become a nightmare.
Tip number two. Manage your time. Just when you think there is a break in the action and you can rest is exactly when you should be asking yourself if there’s something you can be doing. For example, get the rings and do your ring shots so you don’t end up doing them in a 100 mile an hour rush at some point later. Ring shots can become a signature shot. Ring shots are great for advertising because they are timeless.
You can also make use of “down time” to get the most out of your detail and venue shots. Good venue shots can get you noticed not only by wedding clients but by other venues and coordinators as well. Any time you shoot a wedding at a fancy venue you can bet that the coordinator will check out your website. If they see you have great shots of other venues they are more likely to talk to you about future shoots or referrals.
Sometimes the dance can feel like an eternity. An hour into two hours of dancing you might feel like there isn’t possibly another shot to be taken. Take this time to get creative and get a shot that will stand out and not just be another candid shot of people dancing.
Here I asked the best man to stand as still as possible for a full second exposure while the rest of the dance floor moved about in a blurry mess.
Used my on camera flash to freeze the couple while the lights in the background blurred due to the half second shutter speed. For a little added movement I rotated the entire camera during the exposure causing the lights to streak.
Again, on camera flash was used with some rear curtain sync to freeze the near by dancers while I rotated the camera during a half second exposure.
The best time to actually take a rest is right after everyone starts to get served dinner. Quickly get a few shots of the food and the bride and groom getting seated and then relax for a while. No one likes a camera in their face when their stuffing theirs. If your lucky it will be one of the weddings where they did not forget to feed the photographer! If it’s been a long day and your hungry it never hurts to ask the coordinator if there’s a plate waiting for you even if they haven’t offered or if they seem to have forgotten you. Don’t go to far though, many weddings have impromptu toasts and speeches. Also by the time the last tables get their food the bride and groom will most likely be up and about greeting and thanking their guests which can provide many opportunities for smile laden candid shots.
Tip number three. Use your environment. Obviously the subject of your shot is what is most important but the surroundings can help to make the shot special. Sometimes changing your angle and using your surroundings can completely transform your shot. Take a look at several examples below that all use elements of the surroundings to change the shot. If 10 photographers are standing in front of a shot, 8 of them will end up with roughly the same shot… don’t be one of the 8. Use the environment and unique angles to make your shots different.
Textured walls or structures can add interest to a shot.
Here at the Grand Island Mansion; rather than opening the doors all the way to reveal more of the stair case I decided to leave the doors partially closed and use them as foreground elements which also serve to direct the eye right to the bride.
In this shot I lowered my camera to the level of the table I was behind and shot through the flames of two candles to give this shot a dreamy foreground to go with the dreamy background.
Another simple example of using objects between you and your subject. Here a frosted glass is used to add interesting elements as well as to obscure an unsightly background behind the bride (in this case a table of dirty dishes).
Inside a cramped elevator with no room to maneuver to get a good angle so I created a better angle by shooting off the glass. Again, use the environment to your advantage.
Lastly, here I simply changed my angle to position the DJ’s light behind the bride to add a colored highlight to her hair.
Tip number five. Envision your final shot. You will most certainly encounter situations where there may be an element in your composition that you’ll want to avoid. For example, if you take the time to move a trash can or dirty napkin you may miss the “moment”. This is when you have to ask yourself if the picture can be fixed in post.
In the above example, shot at the Arden Hills Villa, I could have easily moved a few feet forward to get the bits of tree leaves out of my shot. However had I done so it would have made it even harder to correct the perspective on the building. Realizing that I could remove the branches in post I stayed where I was which allowed me to more easily obtain proper perspective as well as give me a little more negative space between the villa and the edges of my image.
Tip number five. Envision your final shot. You will most certainly encounter situations where there may be an element
Tip number Six. Don’t be afraid to take charge. Even though my personal photographic style is journalistic; meaning I like to let the action unfold and capture it naturally, there are times it’s best to become a director.
When it comes time for signature moments like the bouquet toss I make sure everything happens according to plan. I’ll position the bride and make sure I have a clear angle to get the shot. Even if that means moving objects and people a-like.
Other moments you’ll want to give some direction and coaching to the couple are the first kiss. Let them know to hold it a little longer so you can get the shot. The cake cutting. Again ask them to stay in position to give you a great chance to get the angle and shot. This one takes several seconds because I like to get a really close shot of the knife in the cake and a wider one with the cake, and bride & groom all in the shot.
Lastly, one of the hardest shots to get can be the placing of the rings on the fingers. For one, you have to be right there in front, likely blocking the view of half the guests. Secondly, it’s hard to get the right angle. Usually the bride or grooms hands will be blocking your view of the actual rings. The best view would be from above but unless your friends with Spider-man or know of a silent drone you won’t have this angle. Often I will re-create this moment somewhere later on just so I have a nice shot of the ring going onto the finger for the album. Kind of cheating, for sure, but best to get the shot and let them decide if they like it or not.
Just a few more quick ones for the road.
◊ Never promise to get a shot. I will accept shot lists from my clients but I will make sure they know that nothing is guaranteed. I don’t care if it’s the first look or the first kiss, things can happen. People can stand up and get in the way, your gear can fail… anything. Make sure the clients know you’ll do your best, of course, but promise nothing further.
◊ Get the family to help you. The couple will no doubt want all the various combinations when it comes to the friends and family shots. This is when it really helps to have someone who knows who everyone is. That way your not standing around calling for people by their title; grandma, brides uncle, grooms sister, etc. Further when I’m asking the bride and groom to assign this person to help me I also let it be known that it will help if this person isn’t shy… ie. he/she may end up shouting over a large commotion. Ask for someone who isn’t shy… or better yet get someone who is flat out LOUD. You’d be surprised how often the bride and groom will know the perfect person for this job.
◊ Find a safe place for your gear. Most likely you will bring more gear with you than you can carry at all times. I ask the event coordinator or someone familiar with the venue for a safe, out of the way place to store my gear. If the venue has no such place they can recommend, I’ll find one anyway. Often the safest place is by the DJ or Band.
◊ The MC is your best friend. Get in good with the MC and you’ll have a heads up all night before the big moments are going to happen. Get in really good with the MC and you can make sure everything happens according to YOUR time table.
◊ Don’t be afraid to copy. At this point, original probably doesn’t exist with regard to photography and particularly wedding photography. If you see a shot you like then add it to your repertoire.
◊ Lastly, kids will often try to steal the show. Let them.
© All images are property of Blackriver Photography and Lightsmith Studios.