How to Photograph a Wedding: Study The Most Important Shots to Get At a Wedding

This post is a first in a series “How to Photograph a Wedding”. We are covering the most important steps you need to take when preparing to photograph your first wedding. If a friend has asked you to photograph their wedding, consider this a guide to get you ready for the big day. Photographing a wedding is nerve racking for even seasoned professionals. A lot is on the line, and there are no do overs. The best approach is to be well prepared. One of the most important steps you can take to get you ready, so you know how to photograph a wedding, is to study key shots and when to expect them. There are certain part of a wedding that are universal.

Study the Key Shots You Plan to Capture Before the Wedding

This one is a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many newbie photographers forget to do this. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you are going to capture every moment “photo journalistic” and therefore don’t need to prepare yourself. Don’t fall into this trap. If you are not familiar with the ebb and flow of a wedding experience, the emotional high points and what leads up to that, you will not be in the right spot to capture those key moments.

You need to spend time really studying key shots and understanding the high points of a wedding day. There are those big moments-the father hands off his daughter after the processional, the connection between the bride and groom when they first lay eyes on each other, the first dance, etc. And there are the standard type of shots-the dress before it is put on, the cake cutting, the kiss, etc. these shots may or may not be killer moments, but they are the basics you are expected to cover.

Think of a wedding as a play in four acts:

Act I: Getting Ready

Act II Ceremony

Act II Portraits

Act IV Wedding Reception

For each of these parts, what are the key shots you could potentially capture? For the ceremony, for example, you might consider these the main moments of a standard wedding: bride’s entrance, vows, ring exchange, readers, kiss and the exit. How about the reception? If the family doesn't have any idea which portraits they want, will you have an easy “standards” list at the ready?

Besides those emotional filled moments and standard shots, there are a lot of other types of images you can create to help fill in the story of the day. For example, I always take certain shots-a tight shot of the boutonniere and tie, a close up of a bridesmaids bouquet, set against the background of her dress, the invitation, the bride’s shoes, etc. There are many little details that add to the uniqueness of the day, and these types of shots can be captured during a slower time in the day.

When it comes to portraits, you should have a checklist with you to make sure you remember to get the basics such as bride with parents, bride with bridesmaids, etc. You have a lot to think about as it is, and you don’t want to forget a key shot that the bride is expecting (but forgets to mention) such as her with her parents.

By studying the work of a wedding photographer you admire, you will begin to pick up details about composition, which lenses to use for certain types of shots, etc. Don’t worry about your “style” at this point, that will come in time.

Even if you aren't that great in the beginning (most aren't) you can still make a huge improvement to your coverage of the day by adding lots of detail shots. By arriving early, you will have time to capture all the getting ready details such as the dress, shoes, veil, invitation etc. This is a great time to be creative, and allow yourself some time to “play” creatively. Find a unique position for the rings. Where would the shoes look best? How does using different lenses impact the image? You won’t have time during the ceremony to be as creative as you would not want to ruin a key shot, but while the bride is getting ready is a great time to really work on your skills.

What are the key shots you want to capture during a ceremony? The processional hand off, the vows (expression if possible), parents looking on lovingly, the joy that begins to spread across a bride’s face in the seconds before the pronouncement of husband and wife, the readers, the programs being handed out, a couple of wide angle overview shots of the ceremony, a close up on the ring exchange, etc.

If you are familiar with the key shots, you’ll have more time to be creative once you've gotten the safe shots out of the way.  Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below!

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