Last update: 02/02/2023
How many times, when you start being passionate about photography and have decent equipment allowing you to show nice pictures to your friends and family, do you end up hearing “don’t forget your camera to take pictures of the youngest one / Auntie Jacqueline’s birthday / Uncle Bernard’s funeral”…? Ok, the last one maybe not, fortunately! And one day, horror! You end up being asked to shoot a wedding, for the pure and simple reason that “a professional photographer is expensive, you have equipment and you know how to photograph your dog in the sofa, so you’ll manage”. For your wedding, as the future bride and groom, who would you choose to capture and immortalize this emotional and romantic moment of complicity? A service provider? A friend? Wedding photos don’t happen every day, it must be said… and to perfectly capture this moment of happiness is not so simple… For those wishing to get more tips, we wrote an article summarizing our best tips for portrait photography.
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For a wedding, it is obviously difficult to say “no” when it’s for your relatives or close friends, even if, in reality, that is what you should do. Understand that the goal is not to give work to professional photographers, but if they are wedding pros, there must be a reason. Will they take better pictures? Not necessarily. You can be as talented as them, and even more. But they are used to it, they know which kind of pictures to take, where to place the bride and groom, what equipment and settings to use, what work to do and, moreover, icing on the cake (or rather on the wedding cake): they are not guests, which you will also be if the bride and groom are relatives of yours. This implies that either you will fully enjoy the day as a guest and then inevitably miss a ton of pictures, or you will take on your role as a photographer and spend a painful day interrupted by the other guests – who, in the best of cases, will ask you what you did last weekend, and in the worst of cases will not pay attention to your photographer role and will not do anything you ask them. Moreover, shooting a wedding as a photographer with a suit or a dress (yes, you can be a woman) is not very comfortable.
But if you are reading this, chances are you have already accepted the task (if you have time left, don’t hesitate to withdraw and make them understand that a pro will be more… pro). So, let’s see how to approach this particular day, so that you can prepare yourself serenely. Of course, the following advice will also work for those who want to take on this role and even make it their own job, hoping that it will be useful for them to start their new career.
Wedding photography can include several disciplines of photography, from portraits, photo-reportage, architecture, low light to macro. The equipment has its importance. Nevertheless, what will make the difference will not come so much from the equipment, so you can already be reassured: you don’t need a top-of-the-range camera at several thousands of euros to succeed!
Here are the 3 main things you will, I think, need to succeed.
I’m not talking about equipment here either, which will have its own chapter at the end of this article, but about location and organization. Even if spontaneity is important for a wedding photography report, if you have the possibility, go check out the different places: ceremony places, reception hall… to appreciate the light, the arrangement, where you should stand to make the best shots. Most weddings take place in the same way, so there are “mandatory” pictures which will follow logically (preparations, wine of honor, the wedding dress, arrival of the bride and groom, signatures of the witnesses during the ceremony, exchange of the wedding rings, kissing of the bride and groom, exit of the bride and groom, bouquet in flight, cocktail, wedding decoration…). Every moment counts to shoot the most beautiful photos memories during this wedding day. About the bride and groom, don’t hesitate to talk to them before the wedding about their expectations, if they already have some ideas in mind – for example, if they want group photos, couple photos, family photos… and if you have been able to locate the place before, you may have some suggestions to make about where to make these photos, if they haven’t already thought about it, a place to take original pictures for example.
It could be interesting to plan a shooting with more or less classic shots in a place you’ve fixed in advance.
Following the preparation, once at the reception site, there will be the must-do photos… and the spontaneous ones! Be attentive, especially to the people who are important to the bride and groom, such as parents, witnesses and close friends. It would be a shame to miss the little tear in the eye of the lucky lady’s mother, the laughter of the guests or the ex-girlfriend of the groom taking a sharp knife out of her purse (in this case, once the picture shot: call the police). Anticipation is also a lot about placement, so stay close to the action and be creative, take bold shots and photograph some detail elements when you won’t have important photos to take. However, you’ll need to be careful not to be too intrusive so as not to disrupt the ceremony, hence the last point.
Natural/live action photos are just as important as classic bridal/posed ones.
There’s nothing worse than a photographer who plants himself in the middle of the scenery, other than perhaps colliding with the bride and groom. Don’t forget that, unlike many guests who will pull out their smartphones (usually with their wide-angle lenses), you will probably have equipment allowing you to stand back, so make good use of it. The preparation and anticipation mentioned above will also help you to remain discreet since you will know where to place yourself and what equipment to use so as not to interfere. Remember that having the latest 100% silent mirrorless camera is not enough to be discreet: discretion is above all a matter of attitude. Don’t forget you have been “designated” as the official wedding photographer, but above all think about making this clear to all guests. Indeed, if you manage to be discreet, they may end up forgetting about it, taking out their smartphone and standing right in front of you. The best thing is to warn everyone before the ceremony, and not during as it would be laborious, so that they understand you are on a mission and you won’t be indulgent this day.
This is what I think will be a good start to allow you to arrive on the big day being sure to provide the bride and groom with serious work and beautiful wedding photographs. This combined with the right equipment and settings, which we will finally be able to talk about in the next chapters.
As mentioned in the first sentence of the previous chapter, wedding photography includes several disciplines that will require to adjust settings, but overall, you will often play the portraitist on duty. In general, the A mode (Aperture Priority, Av at Canon) will be preferred to control the aperture and therefore the depth of field, by opening the diaphragm to reduce it and isolate the subjects, or on the contrary by closing it to make several shots clear – although the exposure time will also be important to take into account. You will also have to make sure that the exposure time is sufficient to freeze the action, from 1/90th of a second for slow subjects to 1/250th of a second for fast subjects (for the dances during the party after the ceremony, you will sometimes have to reduce the exposure time even more).
In aperture priority mode, and once the aperture is chosen, the camera will automatically select the exposure time, so you will have to adjust it with the ISO if it is in manual or use the minimum exposure time option (usually found in the menu) if in automatic, so that the camera will increase ISOs and not reduce the exposure time beyond what you have set. Another way to select these settings more easily is to go to M mode with automatic ISO. This way, you will only have to indicate the aperture and the exposure time, and the camera will take care of ensuring the right exposure by adjusting the ISO.
Regarding the autofocus, many rely on the single or one-shot mode: once the focus is done it does not move until the shutter is released. Nevertheless, you will sometimes have to follow the action and despite everything, in portrait photography, we shoot living subjects that will inevitably move. I would therefore be more inclined to recommend a continuous AF mode to ensure that the movements of your subjects will not cause you to miss shots.
If you shoot in JPEG, your images will have a fixed processing by the camera, which will give you less latitude than the RAW format. If you really don’t want to spend time in front of a computer developing images, or if you feel like you don’t have enough practice to do so, you can shoot in JPEG. But if you do, you’ll have to be careful with your image style, white balance as well as optical correction settings. As you will mainly shoot portraits, you can start by selecting the portrait style, adapting it if necessary to your preferences, by pushing a few cursors (see in your manual how to customize the image styles provided by the camera). When you will shoot details or architecture, you can switch to a more contrasted and accentuated style by starting with the standard style, for example, and also by pushing a few cursors. For the white balance, if you are outdoors during the day, the automatic setting will rarely be wrong. However, at night or indoors, you will have to test pre-recorded balances or define yourself a color temperature if none of them satisfy you.
Finally, unless the bride and groom have asked you to provide them with your photos the same evening or the next day, you will have time to select the best ones and perfect them. The RAW format will give you more latitude in processing/editing, although it does require additional software to convert your images into a usable image format that you can share (post-processing required). But remember that this is the format of choice for most wedding photographers, and whether you’re doing this wedding for friends or want to make it your business, you’ll have to go through it at some point to make the most of your camera and its capabilities.
So, have a go now, especially since you won’t necessarily have to buy software like Lightroom, Capture One or Photoshop – there are some great freeware to start with, like Rawtherapee, Darktable or TheGimp.
- Mode: A (Av) or M
- Auto Focus: AF-C or AI-servo
- Aperture: Depending on the subject, but we often prefer large apertures (f/1.2 to f/2.8)
- Exposure time: Also depending on the subject, 1/125th is a good basis in my opinion
- ISO: As low as possible to ensure a good exposure, according to the aperture and the shutter speed
- Image style: most often portrait or standard (adjusting cursors as needed)
- BdB: automatic or to be adapted according to the lighting
Although we are most of the time shooting moving subjects, unless it’s Flash and Supergirl’s wedding, they won’t be moving fast enough to mess with most autofocus, and ceremonies rarely are in the middle of the Amazon so a high-end or even a one-piece construction (such as a Canon 1Dx and Nikon D5) won’t be essential. As there will be many situations where light will be lacking, we will rather prefer cameras with large sensors as well as lenses with a fairly large aperture. This brings us to this list, neither exhaustive nor absolute, of the equipment I would recommend for wedding photography. In the case of natural light, outdoors for example, things will be easier.
From the mFT (Panasonic/Olympus) to Full Frame camera, all ranges included, some photographers take 2 cameras in this situation, but it is not essential – only practical so you have more reactivity and can be able to keep working in case of failure of one of them.
If you bring 2 cameras, prefer cameras of the same brand and sensor mount to be able to swap lenses. Ideally, identical cameras would be perfect to keep a homogeneity in the shooting.
From 24mm (16mm in APS-C, 12mm in mFT) to 200mm (135mm in APS-C, 100mm in mFT), but I would tend to advise, to start, a standard zoom lens with a good aperture such as 24-70mm f/2.8 (17-50mm f/2.8 in APS-C, 12-35mm f/2.8 in mFT), associated with the fixed focal length of choice of many wedding photographers, namely the 50mm f/1.8 (35mm in APS-C, 25mm in mFT).
For telephoto lenses, you can complete with a 70-200 f/2.8 (the 24-70+70-200mm duo is a classic) or 50-140mm f/2.8 in APS-C (only at Fujifilm) or 35-100mm f/2.8 in mFT. If it seems too heavy and too expensive, which is understandable, and if you don’t need to zoom that much, you can limit yourself to a good old 85mm f/1.8 (50mm in APS-C, 42.5mm in mFT), in which case it will sometimes be wiser to accompany it with a 35mm rather than a 50mm (so a 24mm in APS-C or a 17mm in mFT), to keep a certain difference in framing between the 2 focal lengths. For some close-up shots, you can even add a macro lens.
In no particular order, here are some references to consider, depending on the brand of your body (check the mount carefully):
- Tamron : 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 VC, 90mm f/2.8 VC macro,
- Sigma: 17-50mm f/2.8 OS, 105mm f/2.8 macro,
- Nikon: 24mm f/1.8G, 28mm f/1.8G, 35mm f/1.8G, 50mm f/1.8G, 85mm f/1.8G, 105mm f/2.8G VR macro,
- Canon: 24mm f/2.8 IS, 28mm f/2.8 IS, 35mm f/2 IS, 50mm f/1.8 USM, 100mm f/2.8 IS (you will find some similar lenses for Sony APS-C or FF mirrorless cameras),
- For APS-C Nikon/Canon SLRs: Nikon 35mm f/1.8G DX, Nikon 40mm f/2.8 DX micro, Canon 24mm f/2.8 EF-S, Canon 35mm f/2.8 EF-S macro,
- For Fuji mirrorless cameras: 16-55mm and 50-140mm f/2.8, 16mm f/2.8, 23mm f/2, 27mm f/2.8, 35mm f/2, 50mm f/2 and 80mm f/2.8 macro,
- For mTF mirrorless cameras (Panasonic/Olympus):
Obviously, you will find many other references in these focal lengths, some even exceptional lenses like the 105mm f/1.4E from Nikon, the 135mm f/2L from Canon, the 90mm f/2 from Fuji or the 75mm f/1.8 from Olympus.
For APS-C DSLRs from Nikon, Canon and Pentax, you will even find the must-have lenses: the 18-35 and 50-100mm f/1.8 art from Sigma, which are certainly quite heavy and cumbersome, but do replace a whole range of fixed lenses with a very high quality (they are the only zooms opening at f/1.8).
But I am not here to make you buy any equipment, so it will be up to you to know for your format which focal lengths, which apertures and especially which budget will direct your choices.
With sensors of this size and lenses with a fairly large aperture, you generally won’t need anything else, but here are a few accessories that may be useful:
- A flash: the one built into your camera is… well, let’s just say it, a bit “crappy”. A good cobra flash can help you in very low light situations, especially if your budget doesn’t allow you to equip yourself with wide aperture lenses. But be aware that, to use it effectively, a flash requires a special training and a lot of practice. However, you will be able to find affordable compatible flashes from third-party brands (those offered by the manufacturers are often expensive), such as Neewer or Yongnuo,
- A harness: it will be difficult to hold your camera in your hand all day long, even more so if you take 2 cameras. A solid harness to have them quickly at hand could be efficient. The Blackrapid and Cotton Carrier’s ones have proven their worth,
- A grip: as repeatedly said, you will often take portrait pictures, which means that you will often find yourself with the camera tilted vertically, so a grip will greatly facilitate the handling. Just as for flashes, you will find some offered by third party brands such as Neewer and Meike that are less expensive than those of the manufacturers (note that not all cameras have access to a grip). As a small bonus, you can often add an extra battery that will double (or even more) the autonomy of the camera, which will be really appreciated during this intense day of shooting.
Speaking of intense photo shooting, here are some accessories that you must have to last all day long:
- Batteries: and yes, if you take a grip and want to put an extra battery in it, it implies that you have at least two. For batteries, go for the original ones. You should know that wedding photographers usually come back with several thousand shots.
- Memory cards: you have to put those thousands of pictures somewhere, so 2 memory cards are a minimum. Class 10 16GB SD cards from Sandisk or Kingston are efficient and reliable.
- A camera bag: the more equipment you have, the harder it will be to attach everything to your belt, so a bag will be welcome! Lowepro, Manfrotto and Caselogic, among others, offer a wide variety of bags.
For those who also want to shoot video, I would recommend Sony, Panasonic and the latest Fuji mirrorless cameras, which are better in this area than DSLRs.
That’s it, I’m coming to the end of this article. I hope I gave you the desire to start wedding photography. That’s not a simple field at the beginning, but still a very interesting one! Don’t hesitate to read the article on how to shoot in low light or indoors, it could also help you for the wedding!
I would like to personally thank Alex for writing this “guest article”. This is an area he knows much better than I do, and I’m glad to have received this whole set of technical and practical tips. I would also like to thank Morgane and Vincent (my brother) for their wedding pictures shot by Marie Brion.
So, did you like it?
See you soon,