How to Photograph a Wedding Without Going Crazy


When I was hired to photograph my first wedding last summer, I was thrilled, then terrified… You can almost imagine how many thoughts ran through my mind: “What if I mess everything up? What if the images are only mediocre? What if I become so anxious that the ‘photographer’ part of my brain escapes through my ears?”

Yes, I was scared, and I believe it helped me survive the wedding and create some fantastic images that the couple is proud to have in their album and on their walls.
How did being scared help? It made me plan again, go over my plan, and visualize the day as best I could. I knew I’d be successful if I were organized… which brings me to the main point of this post:

Going into a wedding shoot unprepared is akin to entering a gunfight with a toothpick.

It All Begins With Coffee and Conversation

The consultation with your client is the first step in shooting a wedding, in which you will sit down and discuss exactly what the client is looking for. This covers how they want the wedding photographed (do they want anything posed or only candids… Do they want the reception or just the ceremony covered?) This gives you an idea of what you’ll cover and how you’ll cover it. You will also discuss ‘the package,’ which you will deliver to the client. This can and will include the album and its design, the number of prints in the album, larger prints and frames, a CD/DVD of images, and any other deliverables that the client may desire (for example, a lovely anniversary or thank you card to the catering and floral companies).

The ‘tell me about you’ portion of this conversation should come before you start discussing packages, styles, and rates. Vivid Moments Weddings recently advised me to let your clients do 99% of the talking, get them talking about how they met, their interests, and so on. This will give you an understanding of the couple as people, not just clients, and will help you pre-visualize how you will shoot their wedding.

Stan, make a plan.

Getting a printout of the day’s schedule was one of my first steps toward shooting this wedding. We had already worked out the details for all posed shots, so this was scheduled into their day. How did this assist you? I knew precisely when the bride would arrive on location and how much time I had to shoot details like shoes, rings, and dresses before I had to shoot her getting ready and pre-ceremony portraits. I knew I had 30 minutes after the ceremony until the bride and groom portraits. This time was spent loading a CF card into my laptop, going to the restroom, and getting my gear ready for those shots. Things would have crept up on me and smacked me upside down if I hadn’t had this schedule… “OK! It’s time for our pictures!”

“What??!!!?? I haven’t changed the batteries in my flash, I haven’t set up the softbox, and I need to pee!!!”

This schedule, along with another thing, saved my life.

A shooting list

A shot list helped me keep my wits about me. I knew what stuff I needed to shoot, who I needed to shoot, and what details I needed to capture. Without this list, downtime could easily have been spent wondering what to shoot… got 30 minutes? Let’s photograph the house, the table settings, the guestbook, and some entertaining shots of the guests… The list is significant because the day can get hectic, and it is easy to forget something the couple wanted. You can check your inventory, say, “got that,” and move on to the next item.

Examine Your Crystal Ball

OK, I don’t mean to get all mystical about it, but try to visualize your shots beforehand. Hopefully, you’ve had a chance to scout the location or have received some photos from the couple. I was fortunate to arrive at the site (a large, open field in the middle of summer) when the ceremony was taking place. This gave me an idea of where the sun would be, where there would be shadows, and where I could set up shots. If you don’t have this luxury, arrive early and walk around to get some ideas.

Spend some time considering what you’ll shoot… remember how I mentioned getting to know the couple as people, not just clients?? This is how I decide what kind of shots I will take. I want to highlight these people for who they are rather than what they do that day.

Jordan and Michelle are an incredible couple… wonderful people who are so darn gripping that it’s difficult not to come up with great ideas… but from what I know of them… They are both spiritual people who meditate almost every day. Jordan is indeed a poet and musician in his own right, and the Dacks (along with their friends Nicole and Evan) make a lot of homemade wine. So I set out to photograph these things.

Including these personal elements in the photos gives them more context, not just for the couple but also for the friends and family who view them… I don’t care how good your lighting is; if you don’t put these people in context, your photos will fall flat with the people looking at them, and it’s the people you need to impress, not other photographers.

Know Thy Equipment

I don’t want to get too nerdy with you, but you should know how to use your equipment and how it works in different environments. The last thing you want to do is fiddle with your gear and missing opportunities. If this is your first time using bounce flash from an on-camera speedlite, practice at home first. Understand how much power (and aperture) it takes to get proper exposure if you’re close to the subject instead of lighting someone on the other side of the room. Experiment with balancing available/ambient light with your flash. Examine your camera’s metering modes to see how they handle various situations. Knowing these things will allow you to work not only faster and more effectively but also more creatively. When something is as simple as singing ‘Happy Birthday,’ you can concentrate on creativity, working with your subjects, and taking great pictures.

He’s Making A List, Checking It Twice… (and it wouldn’t hurt to check it a third time)

Make a list of everything you’ll be bringing to the wedding. Pack your bags the night before to save yourself from rushing around on the big day. Recheck your gear list in the morning to ensure you have everything. This includes ensuring that all your batteries are charged, that all CF cards are empty and formatted, and that anything you don’t need is left at home to save you time. Bring plenty of everything!! Extra batteries, cards, cables, flashes, and bodies (oh, I forgot to mention this… but you need two bodies if your camera fails). You want to ensure that your system has no points of failure… if necessary, beg, borrow, or steal (OK, don’t steal) everything you could need for the day… know a friend with the same camera? Request a loan of a spare battery for the day…

Finally, it would be best if you were well-versed in your field. If you’re going to photograph weddings, you should have a certain level of photographic skill. If a friend has asked you to photograph his or her wedding and you are unsure whether you can do it. Don’t. Inform them that they should find someone else. You don’t want to ruin a relationship or face a lawsuit because you weren’t up to the task. However, if you can cover the big day and are asked to do so, just get organized! It will prevent your noodles from becoming fried. I honestly believe that one of the most significant differences between wedding photographers and ‘Uncle Joe’ is organization…oh, and skills…did I mention skills??? Because I’m sure, Uncle Joe has a better camera than I do, but that doesn’t mean he should photograph your wedding.

Read also: Brides To Be Guide To Choosing The Right Wedding Videographer