Photographing Your First Wedding

A couple of months ago I was fortunate enough to photograph the wedding of Nigel and Carmen Smith, and thanks to both of them for a wonderful (if extremely challenging) day!

I thought I’d detail my experiences here, for anyone thinking of shooting their first wedding – hopefully this will outline some of the things to look out and prepare  for, as well as any pitfalls that may arise during the day.

Prepare, prepare and prepare some more

I really can’t emphasise this enough. Two people have entrusted you to capture their special day – it doesn’t matter whether they’re paying you a small fortune to do so, or whether it’s a favour to help them out at the last minute. Either way, their expectations will be high, and they’ll be counting on you to capture some wonderful images of the day.

I met with Nigel and Carmen a month before the big day. Ideally I’d have met them a few months before that, but time being of the essence meant that I had around four to five weeks to prepare, which was just about enough time. We discussed timings, including:

  • What time was Carmen arriving?
  • When would Nigel arrive?
  • What time was the service?
  • What time was the reception commencing?
  • Was flash photography allowed during the service?
  • What group photographs would they like?
  • What photos would they consider “essential” (picture of the dress / shoes / cake etc)

And lots of other questions to boot – the more info you can garner at this stage the better.

Learn how to use your equipment

A bit of a no-brainer this one, but the last thing you want to happen while the bride is walking down the aisle is trying to figure out how to change the aperture or ISO.

For example, I bought a Nissin flash unit to help out with the shots during the speeches, and had relatively little experience regarding how to use it. I’d taken some shots using studio lighting, but a small flash unit is a different kettle of fish. For example, would I shoot using manual flash or E-TTL? How would I balance ambient light and flash to obtain a natural looking exposure? So I bought a copy of On-Camera Flash Techniques for Wedding and Portrait Photography and devoured the information within it, while taking various test shots over the next couple of weeks until I felt comfortable using it.

I also hired a Canon 5D Mkii and a couple of Canon lenses (24-70 2.8 and 70-200 2.8 IS, both wonderful and flipping heavy lenses…!) The 5D has a different menu system to my 400D, so I spent a couple of days using it, ensuring I knew exactly how to quickly change the aperture, ISO and shutter speed at a moments notice.

Scout the venue

This is something I didn’t have time to do unfortunately, but something that I thoroughly recommend. It’s incredibly helpful to know where everything is taking place, especially as a lot of wedding venues tend to be fairly dim places and lacking in natural light.

For example, Nigel and Carmen were married underneath one of the towers at Leez Priory, and although it was a beautiful location it was lacking in natural light (okay, not strictly true – there was plenty of natural light, but they were facing away from it). As it was, I had to make a snap decision to bump the ISO up to ensure a fast enough shutter speed. Not a massive decision the grand scheme of things, but something extra to think about when you’re under a lot of pressure.

Take food and drink

I was lucky enough to attend the wedding as a guest, although I have to admit I didn’t really feel like one due to the pressure of capturing the wedding. Saying that, I ate with everyone else during the reception, but foolishly didn’t take any water with me (a huge thanks to Steve and Kirstean for buying me a couple of orange juices during the day…lifesavers!) It was a hot day, I was on my feet for pretty much ten hours, and those two lenses were heavy. Take some liquids at least.

Overall, the experience was an amazing one, but I haven’t felt that knackered for a long time. Wedding photography is hard but ultimately rewarding, especially processing the images and discovering that a fair few of them were pretty good after all. If you’re thinking of shooting your first wedding, prepare all you can – meet the couple, look at the venue, know your equipment inside out and most of all stay calm during the day. I had a few moments of panic and there are things I’d do differently next time (try and relax a bit more would have been nice), but once the clients see the shots and are thrilled with them, it makes it all worthwhile.

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