April 27, 2012

How to Take Great Photos at a Wedding

A wedding presents a huge number of photographic possibilities ranging from still life images of details such as flowers and buttonholes, photojournalistic images capturing the moment and telling the story of the day, portraits of the bride and groom through to landscape photographs of the locations, buildings and the venue. The wedding photographer has to be immensely versatile, technically proficient and able to work in time pressured conditions and in situations that can often be far from ideal. He/She learns to improvise, go with what is available and make great images from whatever raw material is available.

In this post, our guest contributor Andrew Hind (a wedding photographer from Cambridge, UK) shares some worthy tips and ideas for capturing beautiful wedding moments…

1. Choosing the right camera and lens for the wedding

Primarily, it is important to have the correct equipment. It is very tempting to think that the more equipment, variety of lenses and filters one has the better the chances of coping with the differing challenges of a wedding day but, due to the fast moving nature of events and the need to keep concentration firmly focused on capturing the events of the day, it is often better to go with simple, high quality but versatile kit. The main essential is a DSLR camera body with a reasonable capability to shoot at high ISO ratings followed by a fast versatile middle range lens such as a 24-70mm f2.8. This will cover probably 95% of all eventualities. It is possibly also worth considering a wider lens, a faster prime for low light conditions and a moderate zoom e.g. 70-200mm f2.8 for when it is simply not possible to get in close enough. A flash gun will complete the kit for use in emergencies.

2. Look for the proper lighting

wedding photography lighting

One of the key aspects to getting great wedding images is the quality of light. Always look for good quality directional light, if it is a bright sunny day try to generally shoot into the sun to avoid shadows on faces and people squinting. If it is more overcast then it is important to look for ways of cutting the top light by photographing under trees, archways or canopies. Try photographing in open shade, just where the light gradually tails off and in situations where the light will glance off fabrics and shapes giving your images a beautifully three dimensional and textural feel. Whatever the weather and whatever the situation the ability to “see” beautiful light will be a major contributory factor to the quality of the final images. In a similar vein, I personally try to avoid using flash as a main light source as it can often be harsh and unflattering. It is often possible to photograph a whole wedding without using flash right up until the dancing in the evening. Even here it can be a good idea to use a high ISO and a wide aperture to capture as much of the ambient light as possible in conjunction with the flash gun set to provide a little fill light only just to clean up the details in the image.

3. Framing beautiful shots in time

wedding photography framing

With a wedding being fast moving and often logistically challenging for the photographer it is all too easy for images to lose compositional strength and integrity. Even the quickest “capture the moment” image needs to be beautifully framed, or use the rule of thirds, have a strong sense of depth or have repeated pattern or shape to satisfy the viewer's eye. This is relatively easy to achieve when there is time to consider but the wedding photographer needs to be able to compose instinctively and quickly time after time. This demands constant concentration and looking, waiting and making the elements of the picture fall into place. It is a constant mental exercise in looking for the image, imagining before taking the image and molding, crafting and creating the perfect composition. It is sometimes also possible to find a scenario where the composition works beautifully and all the elements are there to create a great image and all you have to do is wait for something to happen in the frame – often it will not, but sometimes something remarkable will take place and the resulting image will be outstanding.

4. Adjusting Exposure and Color-balance

On a more technical note both exposure and color balance are also vital to achieving great results. Exposure can often be tricky as frequently a wedding photographer is photographing white dresses glaring in sunshine contrasting with very dark suits! Often, when photographing the bride arriving in a white shiny car in a white dress in bright sunshine, it is necessary to photograph with two or more stops of exposure compensation to achieve correct exposure. However, as soon as she walks into shadow this all rapidly changes and adjustments have to be quickly made. Similarly, I have photographed groups of ushers in dark suits and had to under expose by two or more stops to achieve correct exposure. The point is that even the best modern camera will not achieve perfect exposure every time without some human help! Beautiful prints only come from perfect exposure. Quickly bracket if possible, use your histogram (don't rely on your screen, particularly in bright sunlight) and constantly check. Color balance is equally important, it is very lazy to rely on auto color balance and it will only do a reasonably good job most of the time. Again read the light, adjust as necessary, learn how to make a custom white balance for your camera and use it. As a wedding/people photographer I always aim to produce beautiful skin tones and if this can be achieved at the point of capture rather than in post processing all the better.

5. Taking lively shots at the wedding

lively shots wedding

So, you have the correct equipment, understand light, composition, exposure and color balance. What on earth to photograph? Every single image at a wedding should tell part of the story; it might be as simple as recording the bouquets or table decorations, possibly a nice portrait of one of the guests, beautiful portraits of the bride and groom or sweeping landscapes of the venue and location but, as a photographer, one has to find the heart and soul of the wedding and this will only come about by an emotional involvement and empathy on your part. Look for the moment that the Bride's Mum squeezes her hand as she sees her finally ready to leave for the ceremony, moments between the Bride and her Dad as they wait to go up the aisle.

wedding romance

That first glance between the Bride and Groom as they see each other for the first time, tears of joy and hugging after the ceremony is over, bored bridesmaids and grumpy uncles, guests drinking too much , nervous best men practicing speeches, love, emotion and joy! These are the things that breath life into your photographs, make wedding images leap of the page and crackle with meaning. Observe, anticipate and think, imagine the image, go and find the images and make them happen. There are always great photographs to be taken in any situation it is just a matter of imagination, patience and tenacity to find them!

Andrew Hind

About the Guest Author:
Andrew Hind is a Cambridge wedding photographer with ten years of professional experience photographing weddings all over the UK.