Shooting your first wedding: all the tips you need


Choice of gear

  • Two camera bodies (mine are the Canon 7D and the Canon 5D Mark iii)
  • Wide angle lens (24-100 mm is enough for me to be used in tight spaces)
  • Telephoto zoom lens (my 70-200mm f/2.8 is a bokeh wonder but you can do similar effects with an f/4 similar zoom)
  • Macro lens to capture the details of the rings, flowers, dress, etc.
  • Two to three flashes 
  • Two light stands
  • Two 5 in 1 reflectors
  • At least 1 assistant (my sons are extremely handy in those situations)

Preparation and planning

So much can go wrong on that day so you have to be prepared. Derive a backup plan and think about roads, traffic and time to get to designated wedding places like the reception area, the church, etc. 

  • Charge your camera batteries and flash batteries
  • Clean your lenses 
  • Have a portfolio of poses and go through it with the couple. Try to understand what is a cliche for them and what is not. Are they the fun type or the classic type, etc.
  • Format all your memory cards and buy extras if you need to. I shoot in RAW so I consume more that the JPEG shooter
  • Agree with the bride and groom about the essential shots list so when they reach this point they are prepared to be photographed (especially at the ceremony)
  • Understand all the detailed arrangements and itinerary of that day so you know what is next
  • Attend the rehearsals if applicable and envision the poses there and then
  • Visit the venues at the time of the itinerary to assess the direction, quality and temperature of light

The pre-wedding photoshoot

This where the fun is and the couple mostly enjoy this session. They are usually relaxed and providing you with their best moments. 

  • Understand what they are expecting; mood, style, genre. Example: crazy shoot with friends or in an old abandoned house
  • Scout for places and send them pictures before the session so that their expectations are managed
  • Be there couple of times to assess the light and the composition / spots
  • During the shoot, take your time and encourage the couple with positive vibes

The bride's house

  • Shoot small details: the rings, the backs of the bride's dress, her shoes, her bouquet, table settings, etc – these help give the end album an extra punch
  • Meter with a grey card once the video guys finish their setup. Video lights will have a huge impact on the white balance and you don't want that to interfere with your color temperature
  • Shoot all guests visiting the bride. Set flash to manual and let the bride be centered in and let every family come in the frame and have her photos taken with the bride
  • Shoot the groom's family when they arrive to visit. Depending  on the customs and where you live, the groom's family visits the groom and accompany her to church. During their visit they offer her gifts and jewelry; so make sure you capture those moments also
  • If there is a party going there before the wedding; understand all the details and requirements. On the last wedding, the bride wanted a manned phtotobooth. Read this article for the setup and tips regarding the booth.

The groom's house

Don't let the groom behind. Arrange for sending a second shooter to the groom's house if you cannot make it at the same time. Ask your second shooter to photograph at least:

  • The groom in front of the mirror preparing for the d-day
  • The groom and his friends gathered in a group shot
  • The best man and the groom
  • The parents and the groom
  • In the car heading to the ceremony

The ceremony

This is when timing is key and timidity won’t get the right shot for you. You need to be everywhere and you need to be present (mindwise) to capture a moment. In the ceremony however, you have to balance between your eagerness to get the shot and you being a distraction. So move but don't move too much. Stay foot during sermons and readings. After the ceremony, be blunt and impose yourself. Ask from the couple and the their invitees poses and provide assertive instructions. You are the show maker at this time.

  • Overexposure by 1 stop the bride and her white dress
  • Underexpose the groom by 1 stop and her dark suit
  • If you don't have a white ceiling, set up an umbrella and / or softboxes
  • Have your second shooter / assistant help you with the lighting and reflectors if needed
  • Compensate exposure by +1 in order to eliminate noise in low lit ceremony venues but keep an eye all the time at the histogram for burnt highlights

Avoid these top mistakes

  • Not charging your gear beforehand / overnight.
  • Not taking a backup of everything: I usually take with me two camera bodies, three flashes, 2 reflectors, 4 pairs of AAA batteries, 3 camera batteries, two swing straps, and 3 lenses (wide, macro, and telephoto)
  • No being realistic about your capabilities and experience before you commit to shooting a wedding – especially if you are paid for it. Come out straight and inform the couple that this is your first time. By doing so the stress level is highly reduced in you and you are at ease and expectations are not as high when you are earning your time.
  • Overexpose all the time to get the real white in the brides groom. It is better to underexpose specially that you can recover shadows easily in post processing however, you cannot do so for burnt highlights.
  • Busy backgrounds are a killer. Avoid small apertures in your mind to capture everything in high sharpness. Blurring the background to reduce clutter has always a wow effect.
  • Posing the couple facing the sun in order to eliminate shadows. They will squint and their faces will come out ugly. Instead use your flash unit to kick in some fill flash and place the sun behind them and shoot through the sun. You can also use a reflector to soften the harsh mid-day sun.
  • Forgetting a shot. Make a checklist and go though it with the couple so that they will remind you during the ceremony in case you forgot. You will know because they will pause and look at you when you do.