If you’ve been using a camera for any length of time, chances are that by now a friend will have asked if you’d shoot their wedding. Just because you’re good with a camera, people instantly assume it’ll be a breeze to photograph a wedding. If you’re under pressure and feeling tempted to give it a go, here are some helpful tips to give you a leg up.

Great expectations

Wedding photography works best when there’s a good rapport between the photographer and the happy couple. If you’re shooting a friend’s wedding then you’ll have that rapport already, but if you’re shooting someone you don’t know well, it’s important to meet up beforehand. Either way, make sure you have a shot list before you start – what are the key shots your subjects would like to take away with them at the end? It’s also worth finding out how many photos they’re expecting to see.

Props can sometimes be useful but they can also get in the way. You’ll most likely find all the props you need at the event itself. If you fancy using an empty picture frame or have some other ideas in mind, then by all means take props with you, but make sure you have a clear idea of how and when you plan to use them. The same goes for your tripod. It’s handy to have when you’re setting up a group shot or if you’re got some special long exposure shots in mind but make sure it’s worth the effort of carrying it around all day – or at least make sure you have somewhere in mind to store it when you’re done.

The wedding is one thing, but there’s the before and after to think about as well.  With bride and bridesmaids preoccupied with hair, make-up and getting dressed as they prepare for the big event, it’s the perfect opportunity to get some candid shots showing everyone busy. Before you set off to the church though, sit down with the bridesmaids and encourage them smile for their photos and ask them to walk really slowly when they come out of the church. You’ll be glad you did.

Taming the crowds

Until they get to the reception afterwards, guests tend to mingle with the people they already know. This makes it the perfect time to go around shooting small group shots of work friends, family and personal friends.  One of the biggest problems you’re likely to encounter will be crowd control. Getting all the people you require for a group shoot into the frame at once can be a struggle, not helped by the very young and very old, who have a habit of wandering off! It’s an issue with any wedding but the bigger it is, the more of a problem you have. If you can identify someone who is already cajoling everyone to get into the church, hang onto this person and use him or her when you can.

A really cool set of wedding photos should include a few surprises. Catch people when they don’t realise the camera is on them and you can immortalise behaviour that will have the couple laughing every time they look back. The reception is your best chance for this. Once everyone has had a drop to drink and the boundaries between different groups fall away, you can find some priceless moments.

However, the shots that really sum up the day and tell a story are likely to be the little details that made the day personal. Whether it’s shots of the table settings, a detail of the dress or a close-up of the ring, you can bet that your newly-married couple will appreciate these details. While you’re at it, keep an eye open for signs of affection. A close-up of one hand holding another can make for a powerful image and speaks volumes about what it means to be human.

A back-up plan

If possible, try to take a mate with you. Having a second shooter not only reduces any risk but it gives you another angle to work with. One of you can be looking at the bride and groom, while the other is focused on the responses from the guests. Some professional wedding photographers keep two cameras around their necks at all times so that at any point they can switch from wide-angle to close-up.

Another good tip is to make sure you’re using the fastest memory card you can. There will inevitably be a few special moments when you want to fire off some burst shots (such as when the confetti is thrown) – the faster your camera can write all this info to storage, the sooner you’ll be able to get the next shot, that’s why a fast memory card is a good idea. Sony and Nikon’s XQD card format is blisteringly fast but even if you’re using SD cards, it pays to get the fastest your camera can handle.

One more tip that can’t be over-emphasised: check and check again your settings before you start. Make absolutely certain you’re shooting at the best possible resolution and that your ISO is in roughly the right place. If you have a camera that holds two cards, make sure you’re using the second card as a backup to the first. There are plenty of wedding photographers who’ve arrived home to find their memory card is corrupt or that they shot the entire event in basic JPEG. Don’t be one of them. It’s not pretty explaining to the bride and groom what went wrong.

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