Surviving Your 1st Wedding–Tips for Amateur Wedding Photographers

Louise and Brian McKendrick were bathed in the beautiful glow of late evening, as they kissed on a balcony of Riverside’s historic Mission Inn.

In the eleventh hour, your best friend who’s getting married is in tears.

The professional she hired to photograph her wedding bailed. You happen to have a digital SLR and all of a sudden you’re it. Here’s my survival guide for you.

1. Make a “Shot List”.
Think of this as your “storyboard.”

A guide to the different scenes you want to see if you were doing a movie.

This shot list will break down what you might concentrate on in the 3 phases of any wedding: preparations, ceremony and reception.

Just be careful not to totally rely on this.

It is there to help you plan on what’s coming up next.

It’s your cheatsheet on the various arrangements for the formal portraits e.g. bride and parents, bride and maid-of-honor et cetera.

2. Shoot lots of candids.
Just because you have everyone bossing you around, telling you to take their picture, it doesn’t mean you have to pose all your subjects in every picture.

Look for those moments that are unrehearsed.

Being focused, observant, and patient are key to anticipating where to stand, and more importantly, which lens to use to capture these moments.

3. Scout out the location.
If the ceremony, reception and preparations are all at one location, then you can thank your lucky stars.

Realistically you can count on starting your day with the bride wherever she plans to get dressed.

She may do this at the church or at home, so count on knowing the route.

It’s bad form to get lost if you’re the photographer.

The logistics of driving, finding parking nearby and watching your equipment while you make pictures will take its toll even on the most experienced professional.

So finding an assistant is a good idea.

Use the internet to help. Print out maps from MapQuest, Google Maps or Yahoo maps and study the route.

If you are unfamiliar with the city and if the wedding runs into the night, these maps and another set of eyes can save your sanity.

4. Borrow or rent a second camera body similar to the one you own.
Since you’ll be working quickly, having identical camera bodies will allow you change settings faster. Consider renting identical flash units if you don’t have one.

Never shoot a wedding with just one camera. Always have a backup.

If you have to rent more memory cards and batteries for the cameras, do so.

It will be worth your peace of mind.

5. Shoot closeups or details

Be on the lookout for tight shots of the diamond rings, bouquet of flowers, party favors, textures on the  bride’s gown et cetera.

These will make good backdrops for albums and backgrounds for DVD menus.

These detail pictures will also give you variety in your coverage.

6. Do as many of the formal group portraits beforehand.


If the couple is open to this and don’t mind seeing each other before the ceremony, do as many of the formals portraits beforehand.

Even if the couple prefer not to see each other before the ceremony, you can still round up the bride and her maids-of-honor, groom and groomsmen, their respective family members.

The whole idea here is to buy you more time between after the ceremony and the reception.

Typically the time between ceremony  and reception is when the photographer is under the most stress.

The “just” married couple wants to celebrate with their friends and they want to get the pictures over and done with.

If you can convince them to do some of those formals portraits beforehand, you will have more time to devote to the couple.

As a novice, that’s where you will feel most pressure. Making good pictures take time. You should be calm and resist the pressure to rush through these. Mistakes happen when you rush.

Remind the couple, the party, food, drinks are for their friends and family, but these all-important pictures are for them to cherish hopefully for the rest of their lives.

7. Enlist the help of Maid-of-honor.
Women like this role more often than men. (Must be their maternal instincts)

The Maid-of-honor is usually more than happy to help.

If you don’t hit it off with her, try the Best Man.

What’s important is, they’re officially dressed and suited up, so if they ask guests to do something, they’ll get less resistance.

8. Establish a rapport with the DJ & Wedding Coordinator.

Get to know the DJ & Wedding Coordinator.

Being on the same page with both of them means you won’t be out of position and scrambling to photograph the Best Man’s toast, the bride’s bouquet toss, the garter toss, the first dance and so on.

This little effort to establish rapport with these professionals will reduce your stress levels at the reception.

9. Be considerate of the other guests.

Even though what you’re doing is important, don’t be obnoxious.

If another guest is in your way, ask politely for them to move.

At the same time, don’t be obtrusive.

Staying back and shooting with a longer lens allows you to capture great spontaneous moments with cleaner or uncluttered backgrounds.

10. Don’t forget to enjoy yourself.

You can’t be expected to be everywhere especially if this is your 1st wedding.

Generally speaking, once the ceremony and the formal portraits are done, you can catch a breather.

The rest of the proceedings will not happen without the DJ & wedding coordinator consulting you if you followed the tip#8.

Compared to the wedding coordinator, the caterer or the DJ, you have the hardest job at the wedding, so have enjoy the meal and have a drink.

Remember if you’re not having fun taking pictures, your images will reflect that.

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2 thoughts on “Surviving Your 1st Wedding–Tips for Amateur Wedding Photographers”

  1. Rachel,
    I know of the lightsphere and also the lumiquest. Both good products if the ceilings are white,neutral, low and if you are just lighting small groups. Diffusion devices cut the output of the flash. What you get in nice soft light is a tradeoff for loss of light and corresponding loss in depth-of-field. If you ever get into wedding photography seriously, then some sort of external battery for your flash is a necessity. Flash units powered off of double A’s alone are depleted quickly and can’t recycle fast enough to allow you to shoot sequences.

    As for the zoom you mentioned, this one is a better choice. BUT it’s a lot more money. Sorry. That range of 55 to 200 may be very tempting but it’s f-stop is a slow 5.6 at the 200 mm end. Even with “VR” you might only be able to drop your shutter speed one-stop and still handhold the lens.

    A word of caution about those lumiquest diffuser/bounce flash attachments. They work well in low ceiling rooms but bear in mind the color of the ceiling is important because reflected light off any surface takes on the tint/color of that surface.

    I’m glad you found the post about weddings helpful. Let me know if there are topics I could write about.

  2. This was a really good post, and helpful. I’ll keep it in mind when I go in a few weeks to wedding in Pittsburgh. It should be interesting – there ceremony is in a wooded clearing, the formal pics will be taken there and then of the couple at falling water house, then others within the barn as the night falls. i hear there’s no electricity there, so I guess I’ll be depending on my flash…

    I bought a lightsphere http://store.garyfonginc.com/ls2-clear-more.html

    I’ve had some luck with it, other times I don’t see it making a huge difference. I saw a photographer with one of these this weekend. http://www.lumiquest.com/products/ultrasoft.htm

    your opinion?

    What do you think is the best kind of zoom lens for me to save up for? I have my 18-72mm nikkor that came with my d70, then i bought a 50mm 1.8f no zoom for close up and portrait stuff (it is GORGEOUS-the pics).

    I was thinking of this: http://www.kenrockwell.com/nikon/55-200mm-vr.htm

    thoughts? ok I’m done stealing all your advice now.

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