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If you’re new to the business of wedding photography, here are some suggestions on how to plan your coverage of the great event—what you should check out in advance, conversations that are helpful, and what you should do to ensure that your equipment is in tip-top shape. Experienced wedding photographers will be well aware of many of the suggestions covered here, but it never hurts to refresh your memory, and you may find something new and useful that will help make your wedding shoot go more smoothly or enhance the all-important interaction with your clients.
It always pays to check out key locations in which you’ll be shooting so you’re fully aware of the physical conditions and layout. That includes the house of worship where the ceremony takes place, the venue for the reception, and the home in which the bride and groom will be preparing for their nuptials. If, for example, you discover that the catering establishment has dark ceilings or the ceiling in the church is 40 feet high, you won't be able to use bounce flash as you had planned, and you’ll have time to formulate an alternate lighting strategy. If you’re confronted with a cramped altar space or small rooms, you can pack a wider-angle lens than you had planned. Always arrange a spot where you and your assistant can stand to get the images you need without obscuring the view of participants or drawing undue attention to yourselves. Scope out the location of electrical outlets so there will be no surprises. And by all means, take notes! Drawing a rough floor plan with a lighting diagram will save time and allow you to focus on photography and people, rather than mechanics, when you get there.
If you’re unable to get to any of the above-mentioned locations in advance, make sure you know how to get there. Always leave yourself extra time, plan on arriving early, and make sure your and your assistant’s vehicles are reliable and gassed up. Arrange to be able to park as close as possible to each location—ask to have a space reserved for your vehicles so you can transport equipment more quickly and easily. Decide in advance who is going to carry which equipment and, if possible, break it up so that each vehicle has a complete working outfit. Normally, wedding photographers are only responsible for transporting themselves and their equipment, but asking if you can make yourself useful in other ways is a nice gesture.
It is essential that all key members of the wedding party, especially those who are paying the bill, agree in advance on exactly what will be included in the wedding package. The subject of written contracts is beyond the scope of this article, but it is by far the safest procedure to have a written, legally binding contract, signed by yourself and all relevant parties. An excellent source book: Business And Legal Forms For Photographers.
Offering an engagement session, either in addition to or as part of your wedding package, gives you and the bridal couple a chance to interact in a more informal and relaxed context. If possible, take them to a scenic location and work with them on creating memorable images that express their special relationship and affection, which may well become some of their most treasured memories. Suggested reading: The Best of Wedding Photography, 3rd Edition.
Family interactions begin with the bride and groom, and it’s a good idea to establish a friendly professional relationship with those who are paying for your services. Get to know the bride’s mom and dad, the groom’s parents, grandparents, the maid of honor and the best man by name, and treat every member of the wedding party as your valued customer. For example, if a guest asks you to take a picture of his wife, the best reply is, “Of course.” And make sure to follow through as soon as you can. Make it your business to know who is important in the family (take notes if it’s a large group) and make sure to take pictures of those people and to check them off on your list. The last thing you want is to shoot a wedding and fail to get a picture of the bride’s sister or favorite aunt—saying you didn’t know who they were is not an option. Your assistant can be really helpful in keeping track of people and noting whom you’ve photographed and in what context. It's also helpful to corral a gregarious member of the family who can locate and identify the family members you'll need to include in photos.
For planned group shots, aim to set aside an area to arrange a fixed lighting setup that will let you capture shots of small-to-medium-sized groups quickly and efficiently. For spontaneous group pictures or shooting on the fly, a raised flash on a bracket fitted with a light diffuser and a 24-70mm f/2.8 or equivalent lens on your DSLR is the best way to go. For really large groups, consider using an ultra-wide-angle zoom lens. Tip: When shooting at focal lengths shorter than about 24mm, do not pose people at the edges of the frame—to avoid distortion.
There is a plethora of group shots on every wedding photographer’s list, and they vary with the size of the wedding party and guests, as well as the contractual arrangements. Another traditional wedding staple is shots of the groups seated at their tables at the reception. Be sure to shoot these before food is served or taken, or after the plates have been cleared. You want the table settings to look as presentable as possible.
Some couples hire a wedding planner to coordinate the day, and some catering establishments offer this as an included or optional service, which you should definitely take advantage of if you can. Your assistant can be very helpful as an auxiliary coordinator, especially if they’re not tasked with being a second shooter. Below is a very basic itinerary, which you can break down according to a time schedule, a shot list, or both.
1. The bride getting ready.
2. The groom getting ready (optional).
3. Leaving for the ceremony.
4. Arriving at the ceremony.
5. Location photos at ceremony site.
6. The ceremony (aisle escorts, vows, ring exchange, kiss, etc.)
7. Altar return shots (after ceremony).
8. Coverage of reception—as customs vary from culture to culture, consult with your clients and compose a list of the events that will take place during their celebration. This way, you will know exactly when and what to photograph, and there will be no surprises or missed photo opportunities.
Checking out all your equipment prior to the shoot is essential—especially cameras, lenses and flash units. Taking some actual shots with every piece you’ll be using, and assessing the images, is an excellent idea. Also, make sure your cameras (including the viewfinder eyepiece and LCD), lenses and filters are clean, batteries are fully charged, electrical connections are working and that you have the proper cables and cords for anything you’ll be connecting to or hooking up to a power outlet. Color-coding cables and cords to their specific devices will save time and frustration in the heat of battle. Keeping fully charged, extra batteries for all equipment is mandatory. Suggestions for cleaning items: Lens Cleaning Tissue and Giotto’s Lens Cleaning Kit.
While many wedding photographers use post-production software to correct color balance and achieve color effects, traditional glass filters still have important uses. A UV filter protects your expensive lenses while attenuating bluishness in distant scenes, a circular polarizer can eliminate or minimize reflections on glass and bring out clouds in the sky, and a neutral density (ND) filter can cut the light so you can shoot at wider apertures for striking pictorial effects. Make sure you get filters that fit your widest-diameter lenses; they can be used on smaller-diameter lenses with step-down rings. Example: Tiffen Digital Essentials Filter Kit.
It’s a good idea to make sure your tripods are working correctly, that their locks are locking, legs are not slipping, and heads are not wobbling. These are easy things to check and fix in your studio, but a real annoyance in the field. Make sure your quick-release (QR) platforms are in place—and carry extras. Medium-sized tripods are the wedding photographer’s staple, but small travel tripods and monopods are certainly handy, and can be pressed into service as light stands or boompoles. If you’re shooting video, choose a tripod with an adjustable 3-way fluid head and a panning handle.
We hope these observations and suggestions give you a head start in becoming an organized wedding photographer, and that experienced shooters who’ve read it will come away with at least a few good tips to make their next wedding shoot a little easier. Wedding photography is a demanding and rewarding profession, but it’s a lot easier when you know what to expect.
For more information about equipment and technique, speak with a sales professional at the B&H SuperStore in New York, over the phone at 1-800-606-6969 or via Live Chat.