Newbie Guide : Wedding Day Photography

Newbie Guide : Wedding Day Photography

I thought I’d write a simple guide on Wedding Day photography for all the newbies out there who are ever so keen to enter this already saturated field. Better you know something than not, right? Please note that this is different from a Pre-Wedding, which is something this article is not about. I’ll be talking about photographing an actual wedding in progress.

Before I begin

Let me make it clear that I DO NOT market myself as a wedding photographer, I just happen to do wedding photography from time to time for my close friends. I’ve not photographed any Malay or Indian weddings but I believe what I’m sharing here is very general and is applicable to all weddings. You can apply the concepts on wedding dinners as well.

Are You Ready?

The first think you must understand is that owning a camera does not make you a photographer, please read this article if you haven’t. So are you ready to take on a wedding photography assignment? You’re not ready if you……….

do not understand the SLR modes

If you don’t understand the modes, clearly you don’t even know your SLR basics.

do not understand aperture, ISO and shutter speed and how to use it.

These 3 things are the important factors in a camera that makes the exposure. I won’t elaborate them in detail here, you have my other article to refer to. Basically if you don’t understand these and hope to use P mode to get away with it – it’s not a good sign.

are going around asking opinion on what lens to use

If you’re asking people what lens they use to understand their style, that I understand. If you’re asking people what lenses they use because you have no idea on what to use or have no confidence in what you have, then clearly you do not know enough of the technical basics, your style nor your preference. A good sign to stay away.

don’t know how to operate a flash and / or unsure of how to use it.

Flash is an essential part of event photography, a wedding day is like an event. You’ll never know when the situation will be so dark that a flash is required. Don’t know how to use flash? I suggest you stay away from such assignments. You could just use TTL and flash the subjects head on but how does that help? *No, I’m not explaining what’s TTL here* If you think wide aperture lens is a low-light problem solver then it’s clear that you’re deluded and should stay even further away from such assignments

Newbie Guide : Wedding Day Photography

The above is just to knock some sense to the eager individuals out there to shoot for their friends’ big day. 🙂 It’s not that I want to discourage people but I’m just stating the fact, we wouldn’t want to ruin someone’s BIG DAY. Doing it for free is not a ground for you to foul up. It just makes the occasional mistakes more tolerable.

Still with me? Good, I like people who are willing to learn.

The Uncle Bob

We’ll just go with the simple explanation that Uncle Bob one of the guests at the wedding, usually with a camera (could often be better than what the official photographer has) who has decided to become an un-official photographer for the day. Uncle Bob of the opposite gender is often called Auntie Sue (some say Jane). It is possible to start learning by being an Uncle Bob if you have skin thicker than an elephant but my take is that it is best you NOT be an Uncle Bob. You must know what is an Uncle Bob in order not to be one. 🙂

If you ever did event photography, you’ll know that attention gets divided (badly) when there’s more than 1 camera pointing at them. Even a flash from the other room is enough to cause a blink at the wrong time or distract the eye from looking where it’s suppose to. The OP could oblige you on your request because any idiot would know that you’re obviously a close friend or relative since you’re there. That doesn’t mean the OP likes it, no reason to offend the people who’s paying for the service by rejecting the request of their favorite nephew, right?

Uncle Bobs, experienced or not, are basically a nuisance the OP. An inexperienced Uncle Bob makes the shooting time longer because the lack of experience means he’ll take more time to get the shot right, not counting the time taken to fiddle around the menu and setting. An experience Uncle Bob on the other hand puts the OP on pressure to perform.

What can you do then? Guess what, without a camera on your neck you’re no longer an Uncle Bob – you’re just a happy guest on a joyous occasion! Hooray! Observe the photographer, how he / she poses the the couple, how he anticipates the moment. You can learn quite a fair bit just by observing.

If They Insist

So you’ve already explained to them clearly that you’re a total n00b and that you wouldn’t even trust yourself to shoot your own wedding photos, and have tried to turn down their request but they still insist that you be their official photographer. Looks like they really like you, either that or they just want to keep the cost low and don’t mind crappy photos – What should you do? Just go ahead! At least in my opinion it’s fine to go ahead as long as you made everything clear, any thing else it’s their call so you shouldn’t be carrying any blame even if you really screw up every single photo. I don’t think anyone is capable of screwing up that badly, furthermore the camera is smart enough to help you figure out the technical stuff.

What Do I Usually Do?

Wahhh write so long already now only coming to the interesting bits. 😀 Thank you for your patience, I think the above points are important to set everything in the correct direction. I’ll make it really simple on what I usually do for my wedding day shoot.

The Night Before

Planning stage – what body to use, which lens to bring, how many flash to bring (I have more than 1), make sure batteries are charged and make sure the memory cards are emptied and packed with everything else.

I’ve tried out many configurations before, with lenses ranging from ultra wides, to primes, to wide constant aperture zooms and so on so forth. It all works for me since I’m comfortable with practically any range, it just depends on what I feel like producing that day. The most recent wedding I took was with a Canon EF-S 18-135 IS.

In my case I shoot for my friends, they’re very cooperative in providing me their plans for the day so I have a basic idea on what’s to come makes the decision on lens of choice easier. You could just bring everything, I’ll talk about recommended minimum gear stuff later. 🙂

Newbie Guide : Wedding Day Photography
Not mine laaaaa.

Set Out Early

On the big day, it’s best if you leave early. Arriving early could mean lesser sleep but it offers peace of mind. Creativity is best when not rushed.

On my buddy Wesley’s wedding I arrived at his place really early, even before the make-up artist. This gave me time to rest, relax. I don’t know about you guys but I’m the type that likes to observe, so I what I did was just sit around the living room and observe the details such as decoration, lighting and space to get some ideas on the possible compositions.

I took time to take photos of the bride having make-up done, and also the dresses, and the decorations in the condo unit. Little things around mean nothing to us but since the couple put it that way, surely some of it could hold meaning to them. In fact it could help you understand the couple better.

Oh and do remember to have breakfast because you shouldn’t run out of battery before your camera. Don’t overload yourself with water because frequent toilet visits aren’t a good thing but keep yourself hydrated with the occasional sip of water. 🙂

On My Toes

Always be on alert, especially when there are more people around. Take photo candid photo of people’s expressions, as many of the guests as possible. The people around the couple are obviously the ones closer to heart, so it’ll be good if these people appear on the photos. Pose them if you like.

If the day involves the arrival of bride, groom or anyone important – take note of that.

Newbie Guide : Wedding Day Photography

Keep an eye out for other details, like the wedding rings or the bride’s gown, shoes, accessories and such. They all could contribute to the photo set.

Newbie Guide : Wedding Day Photography

Be Part Of Them

If you’re doing it for a friend then it’s very likely that you’ll have friends in common there. Just be one of them instead of carrying the “Oh I’m the photographer” air. If you’re surrounded by more strangers than friends then just be a ninja. That’s not to say you dress in black and going around with plastic knives and shurikens 😛 It just means you go around on a subtle note.

Newbie Guide : Wedding Day Photography

One thing I love being an OP at friends’ weddings is that I’m excused from being part of the “heng dai chi mui” or whatever you call that nonsense thing the Chinese love to practice (above), where the girl gang would make the guy gang do funny and often torturing “acts of love”. These acts commonly involve devouring elements that are not meant for human digestion, or acts that only some sick fetish would enjoy. Sadistic, I know. It’s a good time to not be part of them. 😀

Newbie Guide : Wedding Day Photography

The Last To Leave

It’s good if you can stay until everything ends, you’ll never know what interesting moments could pop-up. For friends who are close to me, I usually end my day by following them to their humble abode or hotel room to have a quick portrait session.

Newbie Guide : Wedding Day Photography

Gear Matters

To me, a simple camera like the Canon EOS 1000D works fine ( the above photos were taken with EOS 350D ). Paired with the EF-S 18-55 (IS or not) and a simple flash that supports TTL like the Nissin Di622 and you’re good to go. That’s a bare minimum for me, generally a better body lens and flash would help achieve better success rate. Camera aside, sometimes a laptop or some device to backup the memory card would come in handy. Always have spare batteries for your camera and flash, and have a spare memory card too.

Back to the camera – better gear could give better success rate (in technical sense) but it means nothing in the end if you’re missing the moments and lacking the composition. Shooting on a wedding day is not just about capturing events as it happens, it’s involves anticipating the future and being able to react quickly to changes.

Zoom lenses or Primes lenses? I’d go for Zoom lenses as they’re more versatile, there’s really no time to change lenses should your range be too tight or too wide. Basics like understanding focal lengths and understanding how to utilize your flash helps a lot.

It’s really not a good sign if you don’t know how to set your camera but should you be put on a spot by the couple, the safest bet is P mode with flash set to AUTO (TTL) and if possible, set ISO to auto. In some camera models you can even set a minimum shutter speed, so I’d go with numbers like 1/100. 1/100 makes it pretty steady for the usual 18-55 range, whether the lens is stabilized or not.

When You’re Ready

You know you’re ready when you are confident to take on the assignment. You have the confidence that you’ll be able to produce decent photographs that the couple will love.

Let’s face it, even I have plenty of photos that I wasn’t happy about. There were events that I felt that I have not done well in capturing the moments, whether I failed to anticipate or I just failed in getting the settings right. We all start from somewhere but let’s just not start by ruining people’s special day. 🙂

I hope this sharing is good enough. That’s all I have for now but I hope to improve this article.

Oh by the way, CreativeAsia 2011 is coming soon so make yourself free that period and come meet the experts and make new friends too!

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  1. Author

    odd lor. i tested earlier it was all fine.

    i was using ../ for my img src root. usually i put full url. i’ve now set it to full url again.

  2. Great one goldfries! 😀

    I also still noob but trying my besto 🙂

  3. An earlier arrival does not mean lesser sleep, just make sure you sleep earlier the night before! Being well rested in very important, because shooting actual day is very, very tiring.

    As for the gears, I would say get the best you can afford. Keyword being affordability. 🙂 If you have enough cash for a 5D Mark 2, go ahead. There is no such thing as a camera that is too advanced for a beginner 🙂

    Good article here, and like you said, if you doubt what you can do, then just tell your friends so. Wedding, for many, is a once in a lifetime thing 🙂

    My dua sens.

  4. Author

    Yeah i just say “it could mean” because some days start really early and at night you may have other things to do.

    Yes to that best you can afford part but my point is that even the basic gears will do but the better you have is always an advantage.

    Nicholas – thanks, your post mean a lot because you’re an experienced wedding photographer. 😀 you say good i say “phew!”.

  5. Great article goldfries. =)
    Right before my brother’s wedding day on next month! Of course I am not the OP, just one who likes to take photos. Thanks for the tips. 😀

  6. Besides the confidence, I’d say is having the right mindset. Or, some call it; passion.

    You’re there not for the duty, job, money or favour.

    You should want to be there because you love photography and there’s something about events or in this case, weddings, which you love about. Capture and communicate that. 🙂

    P.S.: I’m just a passionate photographer. 😛

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