Are you a beginner who is about to photograph your first wedding ever? Or, are you a seasoned pro shooter who could pick up a second job critiquing the moistness levels of wedding cakes from hundreds of different bakeries?
Regardless of your skill levels and experience, there is always room for learning new tricks and adding new, great images to your portfolio. We spoke to a handful of wedding photographers around North America to capture their thoughts on how to improve the art of shooting wedding photos.
One of the most echoed and consistent advice we heard was: Scouting. Nearly every wedding pro we spoke to stressed this aspect of their imagery. Alex Oat, based in San Diego, California, keeps it simple by saying, “Scout it out! Know the venue, the light, the cool spots for photos.”
Westchester, New-York-based Jesse Rinka expands on this by stating, “During your consultation with the bride and groom, topics related to the types of locations and settings that they prefer to use for portraits should have been discussed. Your clients are paying you a decent amount of money for your knowledge, experience, and expertise. Put in the time and research ahead of their big day and be sure to review the options that you feel would work best for them based on their feedback. Have a plan A, B, and C in case of unexpected issues or inclement weather. Also be sure to check for requirements related to the need for having a permit. Typically, the clients are responsible for securing one if it is necessary, especially when there are fees involved, but knowing ahead of time the risks involved with having or not having one will put you ahead of the game.”
2. Know Your Gear
Another commonly held view among the wedding pros we spoke to was that shooters need to know their gear inside and out. The wedding day is NOT the time to experiment with new equipment, try out different settings, or figure out a wireless trigger.
Eric McCallister, based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, said, “Don’t practice on your clients. New flashes? Sort them out the week before. Make sure they work, and have a plan for if they don’t. Sure, go ahead and try new poses, shoot a sunset or night portrait for the first time, but make sure your equipment is working the way you think it should, and at least have practiced at home.”
Rinka adds, “Realize that there is a big difference between simply having great gear and actually knowing how to use it. There is no lens or camera that will make up for lack of education or experience. Know your gear better than you know yourself and you will be able to adapt to the many unexpected changes that can occur on the wedding day.”
“Learn the basics inside and out before even trying to book a wedding,” says New-York-based Ryan Brenizer, “not just camera basics but also framing, lighting, and portraiture with lots of different body types. The better you are when you start, the more solid your overall branding will be, and the better for your couples.”
The key to all photography. Without it, there would be no images, or life, for that matter. All photographers have different approaches to lighting, and there are infinite possibilities and options on how to control and manipulate the lighting in a scene—some provided by nature. Warren, Ohio-based shooter Nicki Hufford tells us, directly, “Learn off-camera flash (like yesterday).”
New York City pro wedding photographer, Vilson Lleshaj, says, “Use multiple light sources. Know and be good with available light, but know how to balance ambient light with artificial light.”
Closing out the topic, Lori Waltenbury, from Ontario, Canada, states, “Practice exposure! Bring your camera around with you everywhere and practice getting perfect exposures in a heartbeat! This will save you a significant amount of time editing and will help you avoid taking unsalvageable shots of important moments.”
Composition and framing come naturally to some. To others, it is a skill that must be learned and refined. There are some things to think about every time you depress the shutter release on the topic of framing. Jesse Rinka says, “Wedding days can be very fast paced; be extra careful and remind yourself to slow down when posing your subjects. Take a moment to scan the frame before you press the shutter and look for any distractions that could potentially ruin the photo. Nothing is worse than having everything perfect, only to later find out that there are tree branches or horizon lines cutting through your subject’s heads.”
Brighton, Massachusetts, shooter Zac Wolf shares this tip: “When shooting family formals, make sure to leave room to crop for an 8 x 10″. Early in my career, this was something I never thought of because I was never a wedding client, but then I had a client complain about the crop factor. Never again did I make this mistake and I always make sure to leave room for the crop in family formals since 8 x 10″ is the most popular large standard size.”
5. Backup: Files
Nearly every photographer we talked to emphasized file backup at length. San Diego, California shooter Sarah Williams says, “Back up your photos. Once isn’t enough. You should have a backup to your backup. Two onsite and also an offsite.”
Eric McCallister shares these thoughts: “Take file management seriously. That includes the day of and after the wedding. I shoot duplicate files to dual cards and only large ones, so that I don’t ever have to take them out of the cameras. I’ve only lost files due to card failure when opening the camera card door too quickly or losing a card. If I don’t ever have to open the camera I believe I am less likely to corrupt a card, and certainly unlikely to lose one. Once you’re home, ensure that you have a redundant backup system where your files reside in multiple places. The cloud is a great option, but possibly less so for high-volume shooters (your uploads will never catch up). Oh, and be sure you’re backing up your Lightroom catalogs, too. It’s no fun to find out you have all of your files but none of your edits.”
Several pros suggested starting the card backup process as soon as time allows, even between the ceremony and the reception.
6. Backup: Gear
Cameras are mechanical things. Many of them are electronic. Mechanicals and electronics have limited life spans. They will eventually fail and the Law of Murphy tells us that the failure will not happen while out taking snapshots—your gear will fail at the worst possible moment. Pros need to be ready for this. Flagstaff, Arizona-based Jamelle Kelley incorporates her backup gear into the shooting rotation. “We like to shoot with multiple cameras instead of changing lenses throughout the day. The wedding day action happens fast and you can miss something by fussing with your camera.”
Vilson Lleshaj jokes that you should have backup gear, but adds, “There are always a few guests with good cameras these days, but you do not want to have to ask them to borrow their gear.”
In conclusion, Lori Waltenbury says, “I think this goes without saying, but know your gear inside and out. Know how to troubleshoot basic problems and have a strategy for WHEN, not if, things fail.”
Logistics is sometimes overlooked by shooters, since the emphasis is on capturing images. Tucson, Arizona-based shooter Kim Cota-Robles has some tips to share about how to manage your gear at the venue. “If possible, set up a sort of ‘home base’ for yourself in the back of the venue (out of the way and view of guests) where you can possibly keep some of your heavier equipment when you’re not using it.”
She adds, “Bring two camera bags—one smaller and one much larger. The smaller one can be used during the ceremony without being intrusive, but the bigger one will house everything you need.”
There are often arts intertwined with the art of wedding photography, which come in the form of lighting, composition, location, and pose. Candid images are not posed, and group shots may only require basic adjustments, but when it comes to staging images with the bridal party, posing is as integral to the image as lighting and background. Alex Oat emphasizes this by stating, “Know how to pose—not everyone is a model or feels comfortable in front of the camera!”
New York City shooter Andre Reichmann adds, “Telling people how to pose is one of the most difficult things in the field but could really make a huge difference between bland and eclectic.”
It is often said that every photograph you take, even non-selfies, is a self-portrait. Your photographic style defines your brand image. Versatility as a photographer is never a bad thing, but it might have negative effects on your wedding business. San Diego’s Sarah Williams says, “Keep your editing consistent. Find what you like and keep it that way. Showing different editing styles in your website is confusing to couples.”
“Be consistent,” adds Eric McCallister, “I know, kind of broad, but it’s important. As personal as our service is, from the client perspective you’re still a business and they want to know what to expect from you. From your Web presence to your in-person meetings, your message about who you are and what you do needs to be consistent. The processing of your images needs to be consistent. Your ongoing communications must be consistent. When clients know what to expect from you, you’re easy to work with and they can have confidence in their purchase.”
Regardless of your style, whether it’s formal, documentary, classic, or something else, it’s important to remember not to lose sight of the task at hand. Jamelle Kelley advises, “Be hip, fun, and creative, but don’t forget the traditional. We have what we call the “Gipper shot.” It’s important to get one traditional bride and groom smiling and looking at the camera photo. Every mother and grandmother is looking for this simple portrait.”
The last tip we’d like to share comes from Alex Oat.
“Be a ninja. The best wedding compliment is: ‘We didn’t remember you were there.’ When you’re invisible, sometimes you get the best shots!”