People, Get Ready! Pre-Ceremony Photos


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.

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this is a great article.

One question, however. As an enthusiast amateur, why should I bother with f/2.8 fixed-focal-length lenses, when I can have one of the Tamron 17-50 f2.8 or Tamron 28-75 f2.8 lenses? Sure, fixed lenses are better, but I have to buy them, carry them and change them, while the short Tamron zooms are great lenses, just as fast and more flexible (even lighter than 3 ff-lenses) and cheaper than the lot. Anyway, I do not see any reason to buy a lens which is no faster? Sure, I use a 50mm f1.4 lens sometimes, but that's way faster.

Any comment would be appreciated. Thanks.


A fixed  lens has several advantages. First of all it forces you to slow down view the subject and scene as it is with out being distracted by the ability to zoom. Secondly most people actually only use the extreme ends of the zoom lens, your either at 16mm or 35mm not to often will someone take a photograph at 23mm. Fixed lenses are also sharper then zoom lenses. I'll agree that there is a huge convenience factor involved with a zoom lens but I also feel that having a couple of fixed length lenses in your bag is key. Everyone should have at least one fixed medium telephoto for portraits. It's not always about the speed of a lens,  most of your photographs aren't going to be utilizing f2.8 because that'll provide to shallow of depth of field. I try to stick around f5.6 and f4. You don't want to be so shallow you focus on their nose and their eyes look out of focus lol.

Thats just my 2 cents.

A huge advantage of prime lenses is their size, and I don't mean in the context of ease of use. The f/2.8 17-55mm or similar lens is huge, especially once the hood is attached. Getting such a lens close to the action is very distracting and often bungles up a candid opportunity. For candids, I have found that an f/2.8 at 24mm or 35mm is a great focal length for APS-C sensors or 50mm or 85mm for a full frame sensor, and they are far less obtrusive than any zoom, better enabling you to get that candid shot.

I agree with you. I have been shooting weddings for quite some time as a pro primary and although I have all the fixed as well as the zoom lenses (I use Canon L line and the 5D Mark III), I agree with you: zoom is the only way during the wedding!

Gone are the days of slow preparation where you have the time to put on different lenses at any time during the wedding, be that in the preparation or the ceremony. For the romance shots and the reception, yes, things have calmed down and you can even stop the action or have the couple wait until you change lenses but during the preparation and the ceremony: NO. 

With the new lenses and cameras available today, there is really no difference in sharpness between the fixed and the zoom lenses at all. There is a bit of speed difference in some cases but if you have the 85mm f/1.2 for example, it is a prime fixed and the slowest lens I own!  Long prime lenses like that also require room for you to step back a bit if you want more than an eye and a nose in the picture! There isn't always room in the bride's quarters to step back! There is rarely if ever room for the use of the 70-200 in the preparation also. I recommend the 24-70mm f/2.8 as the lens of choice for the preparation of the bride!

As for using the 16-35mm... hmmmm... if I want my bride's head to look like a cone head and distorted (like the picture of the bride above is most certainly distorted a bit), I will use the 16-35... no... don't ever use the 16-35mm inside a tiny room with a person as the focus... if you take the pictures of getting into the dress, do use the 16-35 since the distortion won't matter--the bride's face is in the gown... no one cares. But if her face is out, absolutely no wide angle! Use the 24-70 between 50 and 70mm lengths when you focus on the face of the bride or change to an 85mm!

For the reception I use the 16-35 for the group shots and sweeping romance shots with huge scenery; the 24-70 for smaller group shots and some of the romance shots, the 70-200 for most of the reception and at the 200mm end during the actual ceremony with an occasional 16-35 for the large picture. I may even get to use my 15mm fisheye for the church in the midddle of the ceremony... and use the 85mm (posed) or 70-200mm (candid) for portraits.



Shake the Tamron's just that simple.  Be a professional.


Your comments are one which every shooter must face, whether or not to use fixed or zoom focal length lens. After many years I have returned to fixed lens but will confess, if I were shooting events full time I would prefer a zoom lens. The advantages of a variable focal length lens for unpredictable situations such as a wedding reception far out way in my opinion the sharpness of fixed lens.

As a beginner in wedding photography (although not novice-I am training under a professional) I did invest in a 17-55 f2.8 (Nikkor) and thus far it has proved to be superior to my 50mm prime.  I do not have to worry about lens-changes as much and do have much more versatility. (That's a given!)  In fact, I love it!  IF I do get the chance to really get into wedding photography a lot more, I would like the 70-200.  Still gotta justify that expense...

I have the 70-200 f2.8.  Believe me the cost is justified.  Do whatever you have to do and buy it.  It is THE portrait lens ! 

Great Post!!!



Great article.  I would love to read the same suggestions as they relate to Videography.  There is much overlap in philosophy but video is a different animal.

Great article.  I would love to read the same suggestions as they relate to Videography.  There is much overlap in philosophy but video is a different animal.

Thanks for the article.  You can also use your flash to bounce off of walls when doing the getting ready images.

thx for the info. i liked all of the thoughts about flash. I found out that the more you can use w/o flash, the more natural the photos  appear. i have done both, so thx again for the info.