HELEN BRADLEY explains how to cope when a friend asks you to photograph their wedding
Photographing a wedding is different to just about any other photography you’ll do. You only get one chance at it and you run the risk of severely disappointing everyone if you don’t pull it off. It’s a job that professional photographers charge a lot of money to do, and for good reason. However, it can be a rewarding experience if you get it right. The key is preparing well and having a well thought-out and practised plan.
Scoping the job
Talk to the bride and groom well before the wedding. Ask how many photographers there will be; if there are a few, determine who will be responsible for what, so you aren’t tripping over each other on the day and missing out on key shots because you thought someone else was taking them.
Make a list of the photographs that the couple want taken. Have a detailed checklist printed up with the images they want you to capture. If you order this in the approximate order of the ceremony and reception, it will be easier to make sure you get everything you need. There are some good Web sites that have information on wedding photo lists including: tinyurl.com/5tpgc7 , tinyurl.com/gdc2v and tinyurl.com/6attd7
Enlist the help of a skilled assistant. You need someone to help you organise group pictures and run around getting batteries and holding things for you. Your assistant can also double check to make sure you don’t miss any photos on your list.
Before the wedding, visit the locations that will be used, such as the church and the venue for the reception. Check these at around the same time of day as the wedding will take place, so you can get an idea as to what lighting will be available. If possible, place your assistant where the bride and groom will stand and shoot some sample images to check the lighting and your camera settings. Also check locations inside the church and the reception venue where you can take photos, particularly places with clean or interesting backgrounds. If you can’t find clean backgrounds to work with, plan to use a wide aperture lens so the background won’t be in focus.
If you’re not able to use a flash, such as in a church, you will need to use a fast lens and you will need to know how to use it before the day. If you don’t have such a lens, consider borrowing or renting one, but test it thoroughly before the big day. You need to be very familiar with how it performs and how to configure it for best results. However, you should avoid changing lenses too often, as you risk getting dust into the camera, which can ruin your photos or cause you a lot of work cleaning them up.
Make a checklist of the kit that you will need. This includes cameras, batteries, memory cards, tripod, computer, diffusers and so on. If you will be shooting outdoors, a diffuser will help to control bright light and your assistant can hold it for you. If you’re shooting indoors you’ll need an off-camera flash, if not a special lighting rig. Make sure that both you and your assistant know how to use every piece of equipment. A second camera body is essential as a backup if something happens to your main camera.
Arrive in plenty of time to set up before the wedding. In many cases you will be expected to photograph the bride as she and her attendants get ready and leave her house. You may also be asked to photograph the groom and his groomsmen before the ceremony. Make sure you have scouted an appropriate location and you have sufficient time to do everything required of you.
If you’re the sole photographer, don’t expect to see any of the ceremony or to enjoy the reception – you’ll be working pretty much full-time capturing images. At the reception, move around the guests, capturing a good range of photographs - both candid and posed images - as well as small detail images such as those of the table settings and the cake, and so on.
Check your camera settings regularly throughout the day and every time you change locations. Check the camera’s white balance setting, the image size, compression, exposure compensation and ISO, to make sure nothing has altered. If possible, shoot in RAW format and process the images into JPEGs later on. Take lots of photos – it’s too late at the end of the day to realise you should have shot more ‘film’. Count on taking anywhere between 500-1000 photos so you have plenty of images to choose from. Avoid setting any fancy in-camera settings, and shoot in colour, as you can always convert to black and white later.
After the wedding, download all the photos to your computer and, if possible, don’t delete them from the camera cards until you have them checked and backed up. If you are giving the photos to the bride so she can print her own album, you should still perform some basic image editing. Check each image and only give the bride the best ones. If the images need lightening or contrast enhancement, do this. Rotate the photos so they are all in the correct position, and crop away any obvious problems.
Burn the images to a CD or DVD and make a backup copy of these discs too. Do this before removing the images from your PC or from the original memory cards if possible, just to be safe.
If you’re well prepared and focused on the task at hand, you have a good chance of doing a good job.