Professional wedding photographer Emir Hasham shares his top tips for new and amateur wedding photographers to help ensure you capture the best wedding shots couples will always treasure.
Weigh up the Pros and Cons
If your friends have asked you to be their wedding photographer, think twice before you accept. It’s very difficult to be a guest as well as doing a job – something will suffer, either your enjoyment of the day or gaps in the photographs where you’re trying to join in the fun for a moment. If you ask for payment, even if it’s a nominal sum, you’re most definitely ‘staff’ and focused on the job at hand. The couple are also more likely to brief you on what kind of shots they do and don’t want.
The Couple – Meet the couple and discuss their ideas to establish if there are any specific items or people they want featured in the photographs. Show them examples of your work and make sure they’re happy with your style. If they’re paying you, make sure that both the price and what they can expect for their money is clearly agreed in advance. Put it in writing in an email. If you’re a professional photographer, ask the couple to sign a contract.
The Venue – Wherever possible, visit the venue in advance to familiarise yourself with its layout and identify good shot locations and angles and any potential problems that you can plan around, such as dark rooms and high ceilings (which make lighting more difficult).
Shot List – Create a shot list – this is essential as it will serve as your plan for the day. The couple may want a particular heirloom, piece of clothing, person or pet featured in a shot – note these down.Events at a wedding happen quickly and it really helps to know which basic shots and setups you need to shoot. As you tick them off your list you’ll feel relaxed and confident to photograph some additional ‘creative’ images.
You don’t need lots of equipment to get good shots, plus less equipment to carry means you’re more mobile. Simply make sure you’ve got the basics to cover everything you want to shoot, and remember to bring spares – equipment can fail at the most critical moments.
Lenses: Hire a set of good lenses if you’re not ready to purchase them outright. Take a selection, and be sure to pack a 24-70mm for exterior and group shots, and a 70-200mm for portraits and candids – this longer lens will help you capture more natural shots of people from a distance, unobtrusively.
For indoor shots any lens slower than f2.8 may cause you problems with insufficient light. Faster lenses have a wider aperture, giving you the added advantage of being able to push backgrounds out of focus. If you have a prime 70 or 110mm lens that you like using, take that for portraits too.
Tripod: Most of the time you’ll need to be mobile and hand-held, but a tripod is invaluable for some formal and group shots as well as capturing evening and firework images.
Flashgun: Use it to bounce light around inside a dark venue and with some kind of diffuser or umbrella to light more flattering portraits. Get creative in the evening and use the flash to pick out people on the dance floor amongst the swirling lights or set up a romantic outdoor night shot with the couple just barely lit by the flash amongst candles or the stars! Modern cameras can give very acceptable results when set at very high ISO settings, so you may only need your flashgun to provide a hint of extra light.
Reflector: Take a simple white, silver or gold reflector to fill in the shadows on faces and provide a more flattering light. Particularly useful for the more formal shots.
Batteries and Memory Cards (Spares): You will use more of these than you can imagine, so take spares and then spares for the spares!
Getting the shots
During the Ceremony – Remember to turn off any sounds on your camera and flashguns – you don’t want these beeping away during the ceremony!
Candid shots – Watch the couple carefully during the speeches – they’re relaxed and ready to laugh. Listen for laughter or children’s voices around you – people having fun are relaxed and distracted – they’ll look comfortable in photographs. Look around and behind you to catch unexpected guest candids.
Formal shots – If you’re photographing family groups, make sure you have spoken to someone from each side of the family to help you find and ‘herd’ the relevant people for each shot. You’ll need to get through these efficiently before guests disperse and start drinking.
Make sure that the couple know well in advance that you will need them for a certain period of time. If you’re taking formal photographs after the ceremony, make sure that this time has been built into the wedding schedule. Let the other guests take their photos first, then take the couple somewhere private for the formals. Don’t try to get your shots whilst everyone else is firing off their phones and cameras.
The details – Don’t forget to capture the small memories of the day – the rings, the decorations, the table settings, the clothes, the food, etc. These details really round out the overall collection and add atmosphere. They’re the little memories that the couple themselves might not even notice during the rush of the day, so they’ll be delighted to see them afterwards.
Save, Don’t Delete – Don’t delete any shots from your camera until you’ve had time to view them on your computer after the event. Sometimes those ‘mistakes’ become ‘creative’ shots with a quick bit of cropping and colouring.
Smile & Keep Your distance – Remember that it’s the couple’s day, not yours. Make sure you give them space and time with their guests – your advance planning should allow you to be efficient with the time you need with them. Smile and enjoy the day – you’ll get more photos of smiling people that way!
Be prepared for the unexpected
If you’re as prepared as you can be and view the unexpected as a surprise opportunity, you’ll often end up with great, creative shots that you might never have planned in advance.
Weather – Take an umbrella (or two). If it’s raining you can keep the couple and the camera dry and have some fun posing them under it. If it’s a glorious sunny day you might use the umbrella to create some shade so that the couple’s faces aren’t too harshly lit. On a breezy day, turn people towards the wind so that any long hair or flowing clothes make interesting dynamic shapes behind them.
Props – Take your own confetti if the venue allows it. It can often look better thrown in front of the couple close to the camera and you can control the timing. Be equipped with gaffer tape and safety pins for quick clothing fixes or to hold a dress train in place.
Changes & Delays – Get on side with the venue staff – they might be able to tip you off when something unexpected is about to happen or the schedule has changed. If there’s an unexpected delay, take the opportunity to photograph the details around you or the guests whilst they’re waiting and chatting. Or just swap your camera/flash batteries over with the fully charged ones sitting in the charger. You do have several spare sets of batteries and charger with you, don’t you?!
Editing & Presentation
Make sure you’ve told the couple in advance how and when you will supply the images to them. It takes time to work your way through hundreds of images, so manage their expectations in advance. They may want a beautiful bespoke album designing to showcase their photographs or they may just want the digital files to post them on Facebook. Make sure you know so that you can plan your workflow, costs and time.
Editing – Be ruthless with your editing. Get rid of the dud shots and make your first selection. Then edit that down further getting rid of the average shots. Do any post-processing and then cut your selection down still further to only the really great shots. You don’t want to present a huge selection of average shots, just the very best. If in doubt, edit the selection still further. You want your clients to be delighted with each shot and keen to see more.
Presentation – Once you have your final selection, think about how best to present them to the couple. It’s not easy for them to wade through dozens of attachments to dozens of emails. Try out some of the many online gallery services and consider using website templates (eg. WordPress, Prophoto, Zenfolio) to control the layout and display the images at their best.
Organisation – Create some kind of structured system on your computer to organise all the photos from various shoots and to track client approvals. Many photographers use ‘digital darkroom’ software to both manage and post-process their images – e.g… Adobe Lightroom or Apple’s Aperture together with Photoshop and plugins like Alien Skin Exposure and VSCO. There are plenty of free online tutorials and tips for using all these products and they can both enhance and speed up your workflow. Make sure you have (several?) backup system(s) in place.
Round-up – The most important tip is to make sure that you plan and enjoy the whole process and have fun. Your photography will improve for it too. Hopefully you’ll create a wonderful collection of photographs that will bring happy memories to the couple and their friends and families for years to come.
These aren’t the definitive rules to wedding photography, just my approach; I’d love to hear your own tips and methods too.