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Making pictures of the bride as she prepares for the wedding requires spontaneity while catching the decisive moment with a tactful attitude. A wedding day generates tensions on all sides—and as a neutral third party you should be an understanding, positive force for the duration. Be courteous and encouraging to everybody. Most particularly, always applaud the bride—treat her like the princess that she is.
Fitting the gown; applying makeup; styling hair; adjusting the father’s cufflinks and neckties; smiles or embraces caught in the reflections of windows and mirrors—these un-staged moments add personality and emotion to the photo mix. Wedding-related boxes, packages, flowers and other objects can visually capture the special atmosphere of the day. Pay special attention to hands—shaking hands, hands on shoulders, gesturing—hands are very expressive. It’s these memorable images that set the tone for a successful wedding album.
Rule #1: Don’t be late. You should plan on arriving at the bride’s house at least ten minutes early. You’ll be able to catch all the comings and goings, plus the arrival of the limo.
Rule #2: Take up as little room in the home as possible—rely on just using your cameras, and if necessary, a shoe or handle-mounted flashgun with a light modifier, from companies such as Impact, ExpoImaging, Gary Fong, LumiQuest, Pearstone, Sto-Fen and Zeikos. It’s also a good idea to have an off-camera TTL flash cord handy.
Keep things simple by sticking to two or three fast, fixed focal length lenses, such as a 24- or 28mm, a 50mm and a fast 85- or 105mm lens. By using wide apertures, you can make good use of selective focusing as well as maintaining faster shutter speeds, all of which translates into sharper exposures when using only available light. If you prefer zooms, a lens along the lines of a 14-24mm f/2.8 or 16-35mm f/2.8 on a full-frame DSLR would do the trick.
A fast medium-telephoto 85mm f/1.8 or 1.4, or a 100mm or 105mm f/2.0 or 2.8 can also be handy for tight close-ups and details, as will a zoom lens in the 70-200mm f/2.8 range. If your camera or lens features image-stabilization technology, remember to turn it on.
There are a number of fine, wide zooms available for APS-C format DSLRs but, unfortunately, with the exception of a handful of f/2.8 zooms, most of the current models open up no wider than f/3.5 to f/4.0, and they often have variable-aperture diaphragms. Although most of the currently available slower, variable-aperture optics capture sharp pictures, because they’re slower you’ll have to goose the ISO numbers a notch or two or use fill flash in dimmer light.
Using a flash can be distracting and make your nervous subjects self-conscious—a higher ISO setting, using window light, house lights or the light from a make-up mirror delivers better results. A small or mid-size folding reflector for bounce lighting can also be helpful here—an assistant can hold it to open up deep shadows.
Friends and family arriving, informal portraits of the groom with the best man, the bride with her maid of honor, her parents and friends, are all good opportunities to capture touching, emotional photos. Don’t forget the standard pictures of the limo coming up the street, the wedding party boarding, or the newlyweds’ car being dressed up with wedding-related decorations. These are expected. If you need to follow the limo to the wedding location, be sure to communicate with the driver beforehand so that they are aware that you are following them.
On the rare occasion that the contract calls for taking photographs at the groom’s home as well as the bride’s and you need to photograph at both locations, the same rules apply. Make sure to budget in the extra time and added costs of hiring crew and additional equipment when preparing a quote for shooting the assignment.
What's your personal approach to pre-ceremony portraiture and still-life photography? If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to share them in the Comments section below.