Tips for Photographing a Wedding as a Guest

Many people consider their wedding day one of the most important days of their life and hire a professional wedding photographer for this special occasion. This article, however, is for the guests at weddings who may want to remember this occasion by looking at pictures and give some of their shots as gifts to the married couple. If you are a guest or relative wanting to capture a happy couple’s special day in a unique way then here are some tips and tricks for you.

wedding photo secondary angles

Photo captured by Ekaterina

1. Plan and Prep: Planning and preparing yourself before the wedding can help you perform better on the day.

(2 months before)

  • Ask the bride if she wouldn’t mind you photographing her wedding.
  • Does she have a professional photographer? if yes, you need to make sure not to interfere.
  • Show her a list of potential shots and ask her which she would allow you to take.

(1 week or so before the wedding)

  • Ask for an itenerary of the day’s events.
  • Find out if you can take photos at the location and if you can use flash.
  • Check that your camera and equipment is in good working order.

(On the day of the wedding)

  • Make sure you have: extra batteries, extra camera(s), a helping hand, a tripod, a watch, directions, and the schedule.
  • Have a list of potential shots handy to make sure you don’t miss any.
  • Arrive early to photograph things like the empty venue or the flowers arriving, etc.
wedding rings in a book

Photo captured by András Makó

2. Divide and Conquer: There are more shots to take than one person can usually manage alone. Sharing the task means you can relax a little and will be more likely to capture every moment.

A friend can take notes, hold stuff like extra cameras, shoot alongside you or from another vantage point, and help find and organize group shots for you.

  • If you don’t have a friend with you, buy disposable cameras to place on reception tables for guests to take photos then collect them at the end of the day.
  • Write down e-mail addresses of people also taking photos to swap pictures.

3. Placement and Direction: Most times as long as you are giving clear and polite instructions people will happily oblige.

Anticipate spots where things will happen and position yourself before a crowd forms.

  • If necessary, call out specific people and give specific instructions (something like a crooked tie or piece of spinach in the bride’s teeth can and will steal the show in a group shot).
  • For formal shots make sure you let them know when you’re about to snap the shot.
  • Move around. Later you will be glad you took several similar shots but from slightly different angles.

4. The Perfect Shots: Perfect shots are the ones that look both beautiful and natural. They capture key moments in the day like the couple’s vows or first dance. Consider all the elements to increase your chances of taking lots of these.

If you think you’ve missed something important like the perfect shot of the cake cutting, you could ask the couple if they’ll do it again.

  • If you know the guests and families personally, you will have a special advantage as a photographer. Try and capture people looking natural; if they are goofy and outgoing make sure to get those pictures of them dancing!
  • Take lots of pictures or use bursts. This will give you several photos of the same thing taken fractions of a second apart. This could be the difference between a blinking bride and the perfect shot.
moments in a wedding

Photo captured by Mandy Austin

5. The Special and Artistic Extras: After the perfect shots come the special extra shots that capture the feel of the day without being completely necessary. These include artistic shots and fun candid shots. Some of the most beautiful pictures from weddings are of things, places, and people who have some sentimental significance to the couple. Everything from the flowers to the vicar should be thought of as potential material.

  • Think about the bride and groom and consider setting up shots that show off their personalities.
  • Keep an eye out for cute children and good lighting as both usually perform well in wedding photography.
  • Consider the opposite shot to the obvious shots (if you shoot a photo of the bride and groom from behind the vicar, consider having your friend shoot one from the organ loft).

Here are a few examples for shots that will help. Create your own list depending on the type of wedding you’re photographing and how close you are to the couple.

Shots before the Ceremony

  • Wedding gown lying over a chair or hanging on a door
  • A close up of the bride’s shoes peeking out from under the dress
  • Bridesmaids shoes in a row
  • Groomsmen dressed and posing

At the Ceremony

  • Guests walking into the venue
  • Groom seeing bride for first time
  • Close up of couple’s hands
  • Guests throwing confetti/rose petals/birdseed
taking photos at a wedding

“wedding” captured by b-bee

During the Reception

  • Outside the reception venue
  • Arrival of the bride & groom
  • Table centerpieces
  • Musicians or DJ

About the Author
Have fun photographing at your next wedding! View some great examples of wedding photobooks at www.koodibook.com. KoodibooK is about preserving and sharing your memories in a unique way while giving you the best possible experience with photobook creation. The KoodibooK software allows you to access your photos at amazing speed from wherever they are stored and use them to create photobooks that can be previewed in 3-D, published online for free and printed professionally.

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14 Comments

  1. Two things first: (A I have to applaud the guest who is willing/inspired to go to these lengths to provide such a personalized, special gift to the bridal couple. (B) Taking photos at a wedding when there’s little/no pressure is one of the greatest ways to learn about wedding photography technique on the face of the planet.

    That being said (as a wedding photographer), this article worries me. I know, I know… I’m probably coming across as one of those stuffy/elitest photogs. But hear me out. Sure, the first paragraph serves as an excellent disclaimer but it seems like the amateur aspect of the article ends there. The prep lists/outlines of shots you “need” to get (especially in the pre-wedding day checklist) are shots that the professional photographer needs to worry about… not a guest. Obviously there are extenuating circumstances (couple doesn’t have a pro photographer/any photographer at all, etc), but 99% of the time this is the case.

    If you want to take some quality shots with your DSLR gear for fun/practice/whatever… shoot away. But as a photographer first as WELL as a guest, I can’t imagine that you couldn’t put yourself in the pro photographer’s shoes and imagine what it’s like to have someone running around, possibly distracting the bride/groom (it’s hard enough to avoid blinks, let alone them looking at someone else trying to take their picture), running in front of our shots, etc. Not only do we do this for a living (our livelihood depends on our performance at these events), but the success of our shots, portfolio and the overall relationship between the professional photographer and the bride/groom hinge upon the shots we are able to get.

    I’m not saying that this article is wrong, erroneous or insulting, but care should be taken if you’re going to use this as a template for your photographic endeavors/blueprint for your wedding gift to the couple. Simply following this list/guide as a guest is bound to result in the stepping on toes of the pro photographer as well as increasing the stress on the bride/groom (sometimes).

    Instead of going to these lengths, maybe just shoot casually (trail the wedding party around during the day) and/or consider giving them a credit/gift certificate for a wedding book/prints at a company like Mpix or something?

    Just my two cents….

  2. I’m going to have to agree with Ross. Even though you say not to get in the way of the hired pro photographer, that’s exactly what happens, and this article encourages that more so by actually having a shot list (all of which are the same things the hired photog is trying to do).

    There has been many times I’ve had a guest or two jump into the aisle just as the bride and her dad are walking down the aisle, guests taking photos behind me while I’m trying to get the formals done (someone is always looking at a guest instead of me), and it’s always crowded and hectic enough in the brides getting ready room – they don’t need someone else in there trying to get the detail images.

    By the time the hired photog is done doing formals and couples images, the couple wants to go relax and be with their guests, not have someone else doing the same shots. This whole article just makes our jobs that much more difficult, and it’s already stressful enough.

  3. Thomas Smith says:

    While I agree with the two previous comments, the missing element is “professional photographer”.

    As a wedding photographer you are hired not only to get the shots on the list. You are expected to control the situation. The nuisance of another camera nearby can be managed my explaining to guest what you will be trying to accomplish and using them to enhance your efforts rather than complain of their interference.

    Hand out cameras for each table (Inexpensive ones), and I assure you many usable pictures will be added to your effort. And there will be a different perspective to the pictures taken by others who are much more in tune with the bride and groom than a professional photographer could ever hope to be.

    I realize wedding photography is stressful, but guest are a resource to be brought into the process, not shut out so we have an easy day.

  4. Here is a thought…..instead of taking photos why not actually watch and look at the beautiful bride and groom….they have spent thousands of dollars on their wedding/dress/decorations. I see it far to often now….guests trying to get photos of the bride and not actually looking at her beautiful smile and dress……Is it really that important to get a photo with your IPhone or point and shoot that is probably going to be blurry?
    Just let the professional photographer do his job and you enjoy the day as a guest.
    JMHO

  5. angel canary says:

    I am glad that the first two things you listed were to ask the bride if she would like someone to do that. I hope that the guest would clarify in asking the bride to take photos as you have listed. Most of us professional photographers clearly have it stated in our contract that we can not be held responsible for missed shots, etc. that are ruined by guests interfering. The biggest problem that professional wedding photographers face is people out in the isle during the ceremony or even their camera’s hanging out in the isle. The bride does not want that in our photos, and in the end, it just makes her feel bad that the guest ruined their photo.

    If I could add: Please refrain from using flash in burst or a lot. This severely interferes with the professional’s photos – you should follow church rules as flash is never permitted during a ceremony. Nobody wants to ruin the bride and groom’s photos, so I think it’s best to educate them on the interference of their flash.

    Usually when they are trying to be out of the professional photographer’s way, they feel the need to stand opposite from the photographer – that is the worst thing to do. Doing that will put them behind the bride and groom’s head every time – the best place to be is behind or beside the photographer.

    I have nothing against someone wanting to take photos for the bride and groom, I just ask that they clearly are upfront with them when they ask permission because we educate our couples and they would explain what they can and cannot do.

  6. Beth says:

    I agree with the above photographers. People hire a professional photographer for such an important event. Your job as the guest is to sit through the ceremony, crying, laughing and rejoicing at the appropriate times, keeping your body parts out of the aisles, and your other job is to eat drink and be merry at the reception… along with not forgetting the all important card and gift for the happy couple. That’s about it!

  7. kat says:

    I agree with ross, and would like to add that guests run the risk of ruining photos that the cupple are paying for. They want those shots of the first dance without someone jumping in the way.

  8. Ivan says:

    Seriously…..Guests need to start learning to be GUESTS!!!!! One of the biggest movements in weddings today are brides spending extra money to have cards printed and handed to all guests alerting them that their wedding is “Gadget Free” because they are actually tired of guests shooting, texting and facebooking their special day instead of “being present” on their special day. And I am sorry to say this, unless you are a professional, you will end up getting in the professionals way whether you intend to or not.

    As for the “as a gift to the couple” comment….they are probably spending thousands on images from a trained professional. So while your images are welcomed, they are most likely not going to be needed. And you give them a shot of a moment that the professional wasn’t able to capture because you blocked his shot, expect a not so happy friend. ;)

  9. Louise Beattie says:

    I have to say I agree with the other professional photographers and their comments. When a bride and groom invest in me to photograph their wedding it is because they want the best possible photography to remember their special day by. They invite their guests to celebrate that day with them, not to watch it through a viewfinder or by following lists of “must have” shots that are in all truth are likely to interfere with the photographer doing the job the bride and groom is paying for. When the bride is getting ready she has enough on her mind without having a guest in the room trying to take photographs that they are not experienced in and adding to what can sometimes be a very stressful time for a bride.

    Don’t get me wrong, I encourage guests to take photographs at weddings, but I too have had guests jumping out into the aisle in front of me at crucial moments during the ceremony and using flashes that are not powerful enough for the conditions but ruining my images. It is hard enough trying to get a group of people all looking at my camera, not blinking, without an enthusiastic guest to my side distracting people.

    So please, if the bride and groom are not investing in a professional photographer, by all means follow these tips. But otherwise please respect the bride and groom who are no doubt paying good money for you to be at their wedding as well as investing in a photographer. Concentrate on being a guest and enjoying the wedding.

    And if you think that you might want to be a wedding photographer and being a guest is a good way to get a portfolio, think again and do it properly. Find a photographer who will take you along as an assistant to get a real feel for what it is like. Then get trained in both photography and business.

  10. Jenny says:

    Can you please not post this article where the wedding guests will see it!?!? Actually can it be deleted?? It’s bad enough to deal with 1 or 2 Uncle Bob’s at the weddings. We don’t need 100 of them getting in the way. I can’t imagine dealing with a guest at a wedding who read this article and applied every rule and advice. Pure Chaos.

  11. Nami Dadlani says:

    This should be retitled to: “So, you want to be a wedding photographer?” or the synopsis for a “Wedding Photography 101” course. This is NOT what a guest is supposed to be doing at a wedding. This redefines them from guest to amateur photographer. Shot list?? Seriously?!?!?!?

    • Nami Dadlani says:

      This should be retitled to: “So, you want to be a wedding photographer?” or the synopsis for a “Wedding Photography 101″ course. This is NOT what a guest is supposed to be doing at a wedding. This redefines them from guest to amateur photographer. Shot list?? Seriously?!?!?!? – Sorry rephrase – not photographer – FAUXTOGRAPHER

  12. Buckelup says:

    I recently attended a wedding as a guest and took my camera. I took photos during the outside ceremony, but I placed myself away from the professional photographer. And when they did the formal photos, I stayed away. As a guest you should have respect for the professional hired to do the shots. I took photos during the reception also, but I made sure to place myself away from the couple and the photographer. And I used a telephoto lens so I could be out of the way. As for a list, If you are a guest at the wedding, you should not be asking the couple to follow your list of shots. You are a guest and most of your shots should be candid. I got some wonderful shots and did not interfer with anyone and now the couple has a set of shots that were of things they may have missed while they were posing for the professional. Courtesy people, the couple is paying for their formal shots, and paying a lot for them.

  13. Marianna says:

    Disposal cameras? Really? :-) Everyone has their own camera these days .. in the form of their smartphones. I was looking for ways to collect pics people are taking on their cell phones and my final answer was that there are a few good apps that allow that very cheaply and seamlessly. Plus, you don’t have to wait for guests to send you pictures. One example and PicsAshare (picsashare.com). You will never discuss disposable cameras again.

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