You’ve made a vow to shoot somebody’s wedding and your heart’s in the right place but your approach is on shaky ground. Here are some things to expect when photographing your first wedding, along with gear that is best suited for creating everlasting memories. Keep these wedding photography tips and tricks up your sleeve before you shoot your first happily ever after.
Finding the Perfect Match for Photographing Your First Wedding
It’s important to consider your gear list first so that you can practice using it. Even a new lens on a familiar camera can throw you off without a dress rehearsal. The happy couple have been planning this event for at least a year so you must have a plan at least a month in the making.
Cameras to Consider for Your First Wedding or Engagement Shoot
Consider bringing two camera bodies. You’ll keep dust out of your own camera when you’re not switching out lenses plus you’ll be able to get the shot much faster with different lenses already mounted onto cameras. If the worst happens and your camera seizes up, the spare will save the day
Next, know that lighting won’t be ideal. Indoor spaces will be dark and some of them don’t allow flash lighting. Choose a camera with very high ISO capabilities. You may be shooting at an ISO of at least 3200 all the way up to 12,800 and beyond.
Choose a camera with quiet shutter options. Canon’s 5D Mark III has a quiet shutter mode as well as a quiet video mode. Nikon’s D800 also sports a quiet mode and gives you “beep” volume control. Sony’s a7S has a fully silent mode and mirrorless cameras, in general, tend to be quieter than DSLRs. Many other cameras have similar modes, usually in the “shooting modes” menu or dial. Find out if your camera has this mode.
Lastly, it’s wise to use camera bodies with dual memory card slots. You can set slot A as your main and slot B to mirror the contents of A. If you suffer a card failure or randomly lose it, you still have your extra slot and card. Cameras with dual slots include (but not limited to):
• Canon 5D Mark III (1 CF, 1 SD)
• Canon 1D X (2 x CF)
• Canon 1D X Mark II (1 CF, 1 CFast)
• Nikon D810 (1 CF, 1 SD)
• Nikon D4s (1 CF, 1 XQD)
• Nikon D5 (2 x CF)
• Nikon D7200 (2 x SD)
• Fuji X-Pro 2 (2 x SD)
Lenses to Consider for Your First Wedding or Engagement Shoot
Zoom lenses, like the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II, offer more range coverage without switching out lenses or moving from your shooting position. Prime lenses, like the Canon 50mm f/1.2L, have larger maximum apertures which are ideal for low light and for creating pleasing out-of-focus backgrounds. Lenses with Image Stabilization will allow you to shoot at slow shutter speeds while still maintaining a certain level of sharpness. All of these features have to be taken into consideration.
Also, most lenses don’t have a very close focusing distance – at least not good enough for fine details and ring shots. If you have to choose one specialty, limited-use lens to drag around with you, then it should be a macro. Trying to keep the load light? Remember that most macro lenses double as fantastic portrait lenses.
Common Focal Ranges for Weddings
If you’re shooting with a mirrorless camera, you will likely be able to carry more lenses with you since the form factor is more portable. Whether a small mirrorless or a large DSLR, the most common focal ranges for weddings include:
24-70mm or 24-105mm (for interiors, scenery, group portraits, and the reception)
70-200mm (for the ceremony and candids from a distance)
60mm or 100mm Macros (for rings, flowers, and portraits)
50mm or 85mm Primes (for low light/natural light portraits)
16-35mm or 17-40mm (for interiors, very large group shots, vistas, and the reception)
Check out our complete gear checklist to help you plan your own customized list!
Get Devoted to the Day
Gathering your gear is only the beginning – now you must work on your strategy. To get a sense of what the day will look like, here are some questions to ask the couple:
Will you have a “first look” prior to the ceremony?
If possible, arrange to have the formals taken prior to the ceremony. Getting these out of the way early in the day frees up the rest of your time to spend with your guests.
Do you prefer traditional or photojournalistic photos?
If your couple are the type who don’t like surprises, you may be in for a regimented and formal shooting schedule. Otherwise, a more organic photojournalistic approach is appropriate.
Will there be other photographers there?
This is a fair question if you’re a beginner. The couple may have spread the duties across a number of guests in addition to you. Find out if this is the case. It will reduce collisions later. This is a less common assumption for professional wedding photographers, who typically have clearly-stated contracts and second (or third) shooters to cover the entire floor, leaving no room for “Uncle Bob” and his iPhone.
Lastly, find out how you’re going to offload your images. Are you expected to edit them? If so, how much editing is expected and what styles do the couple prefer? We often spend so much time preparing for the shots that we are at a loss as to what to do with the images after we’re done.
Committing Your Skills
Getting back to basics will both calm your nerves and increase your confidence before the big day. Here are some photography 101 tips and techniques that are built to last.
What Shutter Speed to Use
For hand-held shots, use a shutter speed that is faster than the reciprocal of the lens’ focal length. Using a 200mm telephoto, for example, requires a 1/200th of second shutter speed or fast to prevent unwanted blur. A 50mm would require faster than 1/50th of a second. If you’re getting motion blur, remember this rule.
What Aperture to Use
Shallow depth of field portraits tend to be more flattering. Choose an aperture at f/4 or wider and focus on your subject’s eyes.
What Mode to Shoot In
Consider shooting in Aperture Priority Mode (Av – where you control the f/stop and the camera does the rest) or Shutter Priority Mode (Tv – where you control the shutter speed and the camera does the rest) rather than in fully Auto or fully manual mode. It will give you enough control to be artistic or to better learn the camera but not so much control that you’re messing with settings and missing the action.
Positioning and the Sun
It’s counterintuitive to want to shoot into the sun but keeping the sun off your subject’s face will prevent squinting and overly backlit photos produce a fun and summery feel for wedding photos. To shoot like this you’ll need to leave your comfort zone of shooting in auto mode because the camera is too good at trying to keep entire scenes properly exposed, which means your foreground (the subject) will be underexposed compared to the backlighting. You have to override the camera’s tendency to do this. A very quick way to override your camera’s settings is to use the exposure compensation dial to intentionally over or underexpose your scene accordingly to taste.
What Hours to Shoot During
The quality of light is better during early morning and early evening hours, known as blue and golden hours. The blue hour is the hour preceding sunrise and the one following sunset while the golden hour is the first and last hour of sunlight in a day. If the wedding (or pre-wedding) events happen to coincide with these times, seize the moment!
A little bit of preparation goes a long way. Don’t let lack of experience keep you from producing pictures of the heart. With the right equipment, and some quality time bonding with it, you will be able to create a visual story with every moment.