Wedding Photography Tips and Techniques

So – you love photography and have been asked by a friend to take pictures at their wedding. Why is it that it seems like every professional photographer will recommend you don’t do it? Are they a bit biased? Maybe they don’t want to be blamed for encouraging you to take the photos if you make mistakes and ruin the wedding photos. I’m a wedding photographer who realizes every professional started out by photographing a “first wedding” at some point. While I will still recommend you give the couple a monetary gift so they can hire a professional photographer, if you are going to go ahead and do the photography yourself, I want to help you do the best job possible!

"the most romantic photograph ever" captured by Jason Lavengood

“the most romantic photograph ever” captured by Jason Lavengood (Click Image to Find Photographer)

I remember spending more than a hundred hours working HARD to prepare for my first wedding. Learning as much as I could online. Buying wedding photography books. Taking practice photos (indoors and outdoors). Visiting the church and reception site. Taking more practice photos. Begging people (family members, relatives, friends) to pose for me so I could practice arranging…

It is possible for an amateur to successfully photograph a wedding – but you have to be willing to work really, really hard. And be willing to dedicate a lot of time to preparing for the wedding. And make sure the couple knows it is your first wedding so that they have low expectations. Then you can blow them away with your good results!

Learn About Lighting

Do you know how to take well-lit photos in a variety of settings? Can you take nicely-lit photos that primarily use natural light while indoors? Or do you use “blast-flash” on all your subjects?

"Wedding" captured by Samantha Foster

“Wedding” captured by Samantha Foster (Click Image to Find Photographer)

There are three basic settings on the camera that control exposure. Do you know what those three are? If you are a student of photography you should immediately know the three I am referring and you should know how they interact.

1. ISO

Do you know what ISO refers to and what settings work best for various lighting conditions? If you stepped outside for some photos at a wedding, what would you move your ISO to? If you are indoors, what ISO setting will give you a good mixture of quality and light capture? At what ISO setting does your camera begin to take grainy photos? On my Nikon DSLR I will shoot indoors at ISO 400 all day and end up with beautiful, grain-free results. If needed, I can go up to ISO 520 or 640. I try to avoid moving up to ISO 800 or higher – but will do it if needed (there are tons of Photoshop plug-ins, free and paid, that can be used to lessen the grain).

Photo captured by Joe D'Alessandro

Photo captured by Joe D’Alessandro (Click Image to Find Photographer)

2. Shutter Speed

Do you know what shutter speed you can comfortably shoot at without taking blurred photos? The first bit of advice is to hold the camera as still as possible while taking photos. Sounds simple, but it’s important! Don’t jam the button down; press it gently.

The second bit of advice is to use a tripod whenever possible. I almost always use a tripod during wedding ceremonies that are indoors. Most of the time it is the only way I am able to get natural-lit shots of the wedding ceremony (due to the slow shutter speeds and dim lighting).

The third bit of advice is that, if you can’t use a tripod, try to brace yourself on whatever is handy. Lean against a wall. Set the camera on the back of a pew as a stabilizer.

The fourth bit of advice is the industry-wide rule of thumb regarding shutter speeds: you generally shouldn’t shoot at a shutter speed “faster” than the zoom of your lens. If you have a 50mm lens (don’t forget about digital magnification factors) you would want to shoot at 1/50 or faster. A 200mm zoom would be best shot with 1/200 of a second or faster. But this is why PRACTICE is so important: over the years I have found I can shoot with a slower shutter speed if I am using flash (to find out about my flash lighting techniques, visit my web site which I link to below). I’ve successfully taken non-blurred images while indoors with extremely dim lighting using ISO 520, f2.8, 1/30 of a second exposure with a 70mm lens and some bounce flash.

3. Aperture

Do you know what aperture setting is best for indoor photos? For outdoor photos? For achieving a blurred-background effect (yes, shooting “wide open” – which means a low-numbered aperture – with a zoom lens is all that is needed)? For having as much of the photo in focus as possible?

Photo captured by Joe D'Alessandro

Photo captured by Joe D’Alessandro (Click Image to Find Photographer)

This is the first in a series of articles that are designed to help amateurs as they prepare to photograph their first wedding. I have a significant amount of additional information on my website, and also link to other web sites that have information to help you out!

About the Author:
Christopher Maxwell is a photographer in the Kansas City area. He has a web site that includes Wedding Photography Tips for amateurs. He shares practical advice and information that he has learned while photographing weddings.

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11 responses to “Wedding Photography Tips and Techniques”

  1. vencanice says:

    Great article. Thanks for sharing!

  2. janaka says:

    Dear Maxwell, thanks for nice article , May i know connection between, shutter speed & zoom of lens, in # 2 you have advised not to use faster shutter speed than current zoom of lens, if i break this what would be happen negatively to my image, can you please brief.thanks

  3. C. Hopper says:

    You couldn’t have written this article and sounded more like a jerk than you did. Like you’re the only one who knows anything! Why not just give the info without demeaning all the readers.

  4. davidlee says:

    Thanks for the lesson Mr.Maxwell. It is very useful for initiators of wedding photography to become a professional photographer. And it helped a lot to understand about ISO, shutter speed and aperture.

  5. Jerry says:

    C Hopper you’re out of line. Where is YOUR article on wedding photography? I did not feel talked-down to at all. This person was nice enough to go out of their way to share some knowledge.

  6. Lisa says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write and publish this article to help others take wonderful pictures! Unlike someone else, who is actually the one that couldn’t sound more like a jerk than he did, I googled help because I am new to using anything other than a point and click before I purchased my Nikon D3300. Your information was very helpful and I liked the way it was worded :) Thanks again, and don’t let those few negative people out there that have no appreciation to others, make you stop being so generous and helpful in life to those of us that really appreciate it.

  7. Michelle says:

    Hi there. I am shooting a friends wedding in a few weeks and would like some advice. I am a bit nervous as she has brought the wedding forward as her father has not long left to live and want to make the photos extra special. I have done a few friends weddings before and some photos was ok but I think that was just pot luck. When I have tried to take a nice picture of the wedding dress it always turns out yellow. I have a Canon EOS 600D. I am always switching from manual to portrait to TV etc and am always unsure which settings and functions I need to use. I would be most grateful for any advice. Thank you in advance.

  8. Chandan says:

    Very informative article.

  9. Thanks Christopher for your time you have given for this post.

  10. Indranil Roy says:

    Thanks for the useful wedding photography tips. It’s really helpful and informative. I agree with the point like learn about lighting that is basic and important thing that improve the quality of photos.

  11. Christal Taylor says:

    Thank you for your article, it was straightforward which is what I like!

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