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Photographing Weddings

The bride & groom This is my favorite shot of the bride and groom, I knelt down for this one (in my best suit!) to get the effect of the flowers behind their heads and, at the same time give them a bit more stature. I often find that kneeling down is better for full length portraits.

Wedding photography can be quite a stressful job, it is the couple's big day and (despite what they may say to you) the photographs are a very important part of the whole thing. If you are going to be the 'official photographer', whether paid or unpaid, you need to make sure that you produce a good pictorial record of the day. This involves using all your normal skills as a photographer plus one important new skill - crowd control. It is often necessary to bully all the guests into position to get the photos you need without taking all day about it. I'm sure we've all been to a wedding where the photographer kept everyone waiting for ages while he fiddled and fussed over each photo, patiently waiting for people to get ready. Usually this just puts everyone in a bad mood and makes the photos even worse than they might otherwise have been. More on this later.

Telling the Story

Although it's great to get that one brilliant shot of the bride and groom, your main job as the 'official' photographer is to tell the story of the whole event. I think that the main difference between an amateur photographer and a professional is that the amateur will be happy if he gets one or two great shots of the day, whereas the professional has to ensure that he gets an acceptable shot of each and every situation. This is never more important than at a wedding, you can't go back and do it again, so you have to ensure that you've got it all covered.

First Shots

Sometimes you will be invited to the bride's house to take a few shots there, but otherwise the story begins outside the church, registry office, or wherever the service is being conducted. For the sake of brevity let's assume our wedding is taking place in a church. The first thing to do is line up the groom and the best man for a shot, sometimes it is possible to get a humorous shot of the groom being dragged into the church or something similar but always make sure you get a formal one as well. This would be a good time to get shots of ushers or other 'officials' as well.

The next important event is the arrival of the bride with whoever is giving her away, usually her father. You can normally get three or four shots, the bride stepping out of the car, the bride with her father and a group shot of the 'bridal procession' with bridesmaids etc. With the 'getting out of the car' shot, it is best to fake this as the actual exit can sometimes look a bit ungainly. The best way to do it is, after the bride has got out of the car, get her to sit back on the seat with her feet on the ground. This will look much better.

During the Service

During the service a backlit shotFor this shot, I cranked up the ISO to 400 so that I could shoot without flash and get the nice backlighting.
Inside the churchYou can't go wandering around the church in the middle of the ceremony, but what I can do is put my wife on the balcony with a second camera. Her timing was perfect to get this shot just as the bride and groom looked up.

This is where you need to do a bit of grovelling to whoever is conducting the service to get permission to take a few shots during the ceremony. I always found, in England, that the more beautiful and ancient the church, the less likely I would get permission to shoot during the service. I think people are a bit more switched on to photography these days but nevertheless I would always ask first.

During the service you need a shot of the rings being put on, the blessing if any, and the kiss. Also be aware of any other special customs that are going to be included such as the breaking of a glass at a Jewish wedding. So it's really important to work out where you need to stand for the best angle and make sure that space is reserved for you as you will be one of the last people to enter the church.

After the Service

This is your busiest time and needs to be planned most carefully. The traditional place to do the group photos is on the steps in front of the church doors. Obviously if for some reason you can't do this then you need to find another location nearby. Once everyone is out of the church, grab the bride and groom and pose them where you want them, as you are taking those first few shots which you need to get started on as quickly as possible, the rest of the guests will usually gather round behind you and some will start taking pictures over your shoulder.

Getting the Group Shots

This is where your crowd control skills will be put to the test. Make sure you have the bride and groom's full attention at all times and they are not distracted by others. As soon as you can, start building the groups. The next people to bring in are the best man and the bridesmaid(s). Then add on the parents of both, which will now give you a group of about eight or ten people and you have all the 'key players' of the wedding. Next on the list are two pictures one with the bride and groom and each set of parents.

Now you need to move on to the big groups. Depending on the size of the guest list you can either do one shot with everyone in it or you can split the group into three, the bride's family, the groom's family and lastly a picture with all their friends.

Planning, Planning, Planning

My rule for photographing people, especially at weddings is to be as quick as I can whilst still getting the pictures I want. You can do this by being really organized and deciding well in advance what you want to do and where you want to do it, what backgrounds you are going to use and how the light is going to be. I try to visit the location a few days before if I can at the same time of day as the wedding, so I can scout out the best location and see where the sun is going to be.

Then, on the day, I shout (respectfully) at everyone to get them into position as quickly as possible, no one thanks you for being timid and leaving the guests standing around wondering what they are supposed to do. They've just been sitting through a long ceremony and you are stopping them getting to the bar. Whilst on the subject, never, ever, ever let the guests get to the bar before doing the group shots, you will never be able to get all of them together again.

At the Reception

There are three really important pictures that you must get at the reception, the cutting of the cake, the toast and the first dance. I would advise you to 'fake' the cake shot and the toast as you want the bride and groom looking at the camera and the chances of you being able to control the situation at the end of the meal are less than if you grab them as soon as you get to the reception venue. Unfortunately you can't really do this with the first dance.

For the rest of the reception you can amuse yourself by taking a few candid shots with a long lens, this is not the easiest job in the world as you will find that people tend to congregate in more or less circular groups, so you get a lot of backs. However, with a bit of patience, you can often get some nice shots as the evening wears on and the drink takes it's toll.

If you're not getting great candids, put the short zoom back on the camera and go round getting people to pose in small groups. There are also 'table shots' to consider, not my favorite pastime but, if you do decide that they would be good, don't try to get too many people in at once. It's best to have smaller groups of three or four than try to shoot the whole table at once. The success of these shots will depend on how cooperative people are, which comes back to your crowd control skills.

Arty Stuff

Portrait of the brideKeeping your eyes peeled for interesting backgrounds is all part of the job.

Throughout the day, as well as doing all the above, you should be keeping an eye out for some 'arty' shots, particularly of the bride and groom, but also of any cute bridesmaids or pageboys. Do your research thoroughly and have a few great backgrounds in mind that you can whisk the bride and groom off to when there is a lull in the proceedings. All the shots mentioned above are the 'bread and butter' stuff that you are expected to get right, your success will be judged on what else you can come up with. Your failure will be judged on not getting the 'bread and butter' stuff right.

Being the Best

As you are taking your pictures there will be people behind you (and sometimes pushing in front of you if you're not careful) taking exactly the same photos, so how can you ensure that yours are better than uncle-Fred-who's-got-a-nice-camera-too? The most important difference, if you have taken on board my tips on crowd control, is that the group will be looking at you. Talk to them continuously never let their attention wander for a moment and, as I said before, be as quick as you can, get the shot before they start to lose interest.

Good framing can also make your shots stand out. Notice that, in most of my shots, the subject fills the frame completely. The other 'secret' of success is to use fill in flash. Basically this is using the flashgun on every outdoor picture, set to deliver half power and fill in the shadows. Even though the wedding you see here was photographed on a dull day, I still used flash on every outdoor photo. The only shot I didn't use flash on was the close-up in the church, because I wanted to make use of that lovely backlighting.

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