Wedding Photography Guidelines for Amateur Photographers

As a photographer there are two common questions asked at a wedding.

The first question is invariably, “How much did that camera cost?” My reply is always honest and is usually met with a sharp intake of breath by the individual who asked the question.

The second most common question asked is, “What advice do you have for someone wishing to become a wedding photographer?” This is a difficult question to answer, as the individual usually thinks that being a photographer is simply owning a camera. It’s important that anyone who wishes to become a professional photographer understand that they have certain responsibilities when it comes to taking photographs of an event that is both as special and as unique as a wedding.

amazing landscape wedding

Photo by Wei Zheng Wang; ISO 100, 4.5 aperture, 1/25 exposure.

Nevertheless, there are certain guidelines that can help any amateur photographer achieve good results when photographing at a friend’s wedding. It must be stressed, however, that these guidelines cannot and will not make anyone into a professional photographer.

Every photographer has his or her own style that is developed over time; don’t expect to have a style of photography without the experience to develop your own personal style. It would be incorrect of me to pretend that there are any shortcuts to experience. This being so, I will not endeavor to explain the technical side of photography but assume that you’ll be using your DSLR camera in the fully automatic mode and will be recording your images as JPEG files. If, however, you feel more confident and wish to use either aperture priority, shutter priority, or the manual modes on your camera (and even shoot in raw), then I would ask that you ensure you are fully proficient as a photographer before taking control of these settings on your camera.

Wedding Photography Guidelines

It’s important that a couple getting married think about and discuss with the photographer the type of images they’re expecting. The bride and groom need to be happy that the finished results match the expectations—exceed them. Ask the question, “What style of photography do you want?” The answer may be traditional, where everyone stands shoulder to shoulder, or reportage where the photographer documents the day through the images and, hopefully, conveys both the story and the emotion of the wedding. The couple may also ask for a more contemporary style where the images are both candid and perhaps a little more quirky than would otherwise be expected. Moreover, the couple may decide that they would like a selection of styles to match different criteria. For example, the traditional style to keep parents and grandparents happy, reportage, to create a wedding album that will tell the story of the day, and the contemporary style of photographs to capture the amusement for friends and family.

awesome wedding photo ideas

Photo by Nathan O’Nions; ISO 640, f/3.2 aperture, 1/800 exposure.

Having established the style of images required by the bride and groom, it’s important to convey the necessity of producing a list of important photographs that must be captured. There is nothing worse than discovering that Great Aunt Bertha was missing from the official photographs, as Great Aunt Bertha will think that this was deliberate and that you never liked her in the first place! This can and does happen, but asking the bride and groom to look at their guest list and compile a list of photographs will help alleviate the possibility of embarrassment.

I always find it advantageous to ask the bride and groom if they can nominate a friend or family member to act as a coordinator for the photographs. The bride and groom will not have time to round up friends and family, and I generally have no idea who the individuals listed are. Enlisting a coordinator to assist has a number of benefits. This person should have an idea as to who all the individuals are and they’ll know if they’re not available. Because this person can be getting one group together for a photograph while the preceding group has their photograph taken, this speeds up the process considerably, preventing people from getting bored and disappearing. The third benefit is that because the official wedding photographs are taken in a shorter time than would otherwise be possible, both photographer and the bride and groom will be less fatigued by the process.

Choose Your Location

I believe it’s important that as a wedding photographer you understand the wedding venue. This may require visiting the venue before the wedding or arriving before the wedding party in order to look around and find the best places for the photographs. I usually try to meet the bride and groom at the venue before the wedding day in order to take some pre-wedding photographs.

Understanding your location will also help in the event of bad weather. For many people, weather is the one thing that they feel will ruin their wedding photographs. However, if we understand our environment then we are able to ensure that even in bad weather we’re able to produce remarkable images by using our imagination and our environment to the greatest effect.

Don’t forget that the couple has often gone to great lengths to choose a wedding venue that is beautiful and they understandably expect to have photographs that reflect this beauty. Try to capture the detail of the day both in the architecture and the grounds of the wedding venue. It is also important to capture the decorations, those details chosen by the couple that make their wedding different from every other. This is another reason why arriving before the wedding party may be useful; it may give you time to take those photographs that may otherwise be forgotten.

beginning wedding photographer

Photo by John Hope; ISO 100, 3.2 aperture, 1/800 exposure.

Consider Your Equipment

If you’re photographing a friend’s wedding it would be very unfortunate if that friendship was spoiled because you lost the images or missed photo opportunities. My advice would be to ensure that you have two cameras available to you. Perhaps you can borrow one as a spare or perhaps it would be better to hire a camera, but it is important that you do have a backup in case there is a problem. Ensure you have a memory card that will not be filled up in the first 20 minutes. So often I have seen people with expensive cameras running out of space on their memory card and unable to continue taking photographs.

When using a flash, it’s important to use a flash diffuser. Most churches and registry offices have quite low light levels. It’s rare that you’re allowed to use flash during a ceremony. Use a tripod or monopod and a fast lens with image stabilization. If you’re allowed to use flash, consider bouncing the flash off the ceiling or walls, but remember if the ceiling or walls are a colored surface then you will add a color cast to the picture.

When shooting outside after the ceremony or during the formal photography, you may need your flash to fill in the shade. It can be useful even when you are shooting in daylight, particularly in an area that’s back lit or when the sun is causing harsh shadows. Remember to reduce the power of the flash in order to prevent the highlights from being blown out.

Expect the Unexpected

Remember that even at the best planned weddings things can go wrong. Always be ready to capture the amusement and tenderness of those moments. They can make the day unique. It may be the weather, it may be that the people hired to decorate the reception venue ran out of balloons, the best man mislaid the rings, or the flower girl decided she wanted her daddy—always be ready to capture those moments.

As the photographer, you are the eyes of the bride and groom, but your eyes also see what they fail to see and capture those moments forever.

evening wedding toast

Photo by Thomas Hawk; ISO 4000, 3.5 aperture, 1/100 exposure.

Wedding photography is about having fun; we’re celebrating the beginning of the two people’s new lives together as they are joined together in matrimony. Engage with the bride and groom in such a way that they have fun and smile naturally because they are enjoying themselves. When this is achieved there are no aching faces (from forced smiles); the fun will be reflected in the photographs that will form the final wedding album.

About the Author:
William Johnston (wedding photographers Bristol) is a professional photography service providing wedding photography and portrait photography throughout Bristol, Bath and Somerset, the South West, Birmingham and the West Midlands, Leicester and Leicestershire, London, and the Home Counties.

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6 Comments

  1. Great piece.I am glad I read this.

  2. Alan Duncan says:

    Every wedding photographer has to start somewhere and this article provides a lot of useful and essential information.
    As a pro wedding photographer there’s a couple of points I would like to stress. Photographing a wedding is the one photo assignment that you cannot repeat! You might be able to reshoot a portrait or a commercial job if the results for whatever reason were not satisfactory – but you can’t reshoot a wedding! So everything from your timing to your camera gear has to be reliable. Spare camera bodies and flashguns are essential not just as a backup but for speed of operation as well. When I am photographing a wedding, I’ll usually have a wide angle zoom with flashgun on one camera and a tele-zoom and flashgun on another camera to keep all possibilities covered.
    Memory cards are relatively inexpensive these days, so there’s no excuse for running out. At a “big” wedding, I’ll often shoot 20 – 30 GB’s of RAW files on 21MP cameras to give you an idea, but I’ll be carrying a lot more.
    Get as much experience as you possibly can before taking on a wedding and be honest with your client.
    Hope this is useful advice!

  3. Rodger Phillips says:

    Very informative, with lots of very good information and tips,but in places, a little difficult to read.
    It doesn’t look like this was proof-read at all.
    I think the main thing to keep in mind is that you don’t get a “do-over” with a wedding shoot. Be ready, both equipment-wise, and ability-wise. Shoot a few events (class reunions, family reunions, etc) to get a taste of what’s required. Treat these events like a wedding, and offer to photograph them for free. They get the pictures, you get the experience. Do some basic post-processing, and give the images to the event organizer on a cd to distribute as they wish. If you do a good job, it will lead to paying engagements. Some may not agree with doing an event for free, but that’s how I got started.

  4. I like reading articles like this because introduce the new wedding photographers to the reality they have to prepare for. it’s easy to dream the beautiful wedding photos we see online and think about the pay we might receive but when actually getting down to photograph a real wedding things don’t always look as glamorous. It’s a fast paced and split decision, hectic work. Tracking all the people one has to take photos of, keeping track of the schedule and changing light is daunting task.

    You listed great topics and gave great examples of what to watch for and be aware of. Hope many photographers would read and get ready before they jump on a real wedding. I also wrote a guide which might be useful to your readers: https://trifonanguelov.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/how-to-deal-with-the-brides-wedding-list-of-images/

    It’s a topic which frustrated me in the beginning. Having to memorize a long list of images and to sweat not to forget any was stressful. Instead I developed an easy way to track this and has been working well for me.

    As other mentioned, the right equipment and having backup is very important. One cannot easily repeat a wedding. Great work!. Keep it up.

  5. Bob Dumon says:

    Pretty good article, but filled with distracting typos and poor sentence structure. This lack of attention to detail would concern me if I was considering hiring this photographer.

  6. Walter says:

    Thanks William. That was quite an insightful post. Well appreciated. You turn simple people into ‘real pros’.

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