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    Wedding Photography 101
    by fotomann_forever

    First off, I'd like to thank idnic, Niten, marksimms, Mast, kudzu, skylen, enigmania, alanfreed, and nsoroma79 for contributions to this tutorial.

    Photo by Neil McCann (makka)


    Shooting weddings has long been a source of the working photographer's income. As such, very nice incomes can come from shooting weddings alone. However, brides can be ferocious animals and the photographer must be confident in his or her skills. Also, doing a good job insures more work for you, not only in that it builds your portfolio, but increases your word-of-mouth advertising.

    There are a few tricks to producing nice wedding photos. Some of the tricks are technical, some are artistic and some just come from pure instinct. All come with practice.

    In the beginning

    To get jobs as a wedding photographer, one usually has to show a bride that he/she processes the skill to shoot the wedding. For the experienced wedding photographer, this is where a good portfolio comes into play. However, for the newcomer, a portfolio may not have sufficient evidence to show that you can do what you say you can do. Catch 22, you need to have shot a wedding before you can shoot a wedding.

    Some ideas:

    Photo by Leroy Dickson (fotomann_forever)

    If you are a competent photographer, shoot a friend's or relative's wedding or a friend of a friend. You get the point. Also, you may want to volunteer for someone that can't afford a wedding photographer.

    Also, shooting other types of events will get you some experience. Shooting birthday parties of your nephew, for example, will help you learn to shoot indoors in changing conditions. Remember also, there will be several showers and such before the wedding date that you might attend to get even more practice.


    Look at the web sites of well-established wedding photographers, see what they are shooting. Flip through the pages of bridal magazines. Take a peek at DPC's Wedding gallery. Keep in mind this tutorial is intended only as a starting point in your studies.

    Got one to shoot, what now?

    I cannot over emphasize the importance of the rehearsal for the new-comer or even the seasoned professional. While you'll want to take good photos at the rehearsal, they are not as critical as the wedding itself. So, take this time to practice. As a working photographer, you will often find me at the rehearsal, especially if it is in a place I've never shot before. I play with the light, experiment with settings and importantly know (and can direct) the flow of the wedding. It's also a good time to get to know your client and is a great jesture.

    Ask who the wedding director is (normally the person contacting you). This will be your first clue as to how organized the event will be. Get phone numbers that you may need later. Go over the schedule and what time you expect everyone to be there. Emphasize that you expect everyone to be on time. Delays can lead to guests becoming restless or leaving. In case there is no wedding director, it is often your job to control event flow. A word of advice is to have the maid of honor step up and help you with having people organized.

    Be Prepared

    The Kiss captured with fill-flash against a dusk sky.
    Photo by Leroy Dickson (fotomann_forever)

    Her wedding is not the time for dead batteries, running out of memory, or technical problems. At a bare minimum, you should have spare batteries (for both camera and flash) and plenty of memory. If at all available, you should have a spare camera body, spare flash unit and more memory than you could possibly shoot. Also, some backup method is recommended, such as a notebook computer or dedicated hard drive. Remember, this is a non-repeatable event. You must be ready.

    As eluded to earlier, you should know what camera settings you will be using. Especially during the wedding ceremony itself, you have little time for adjusting your camera settings. And, while you could try to "wing it" with auto settings, this is not your best option. So, give yourself ample time to get set up and get some light readings. You don't want to be deciding which aperture to use when the wedding march starts.

    Don't take gigs that are outside of your experience level or that of your available equipment. For example, don't take a wedding gig in low light, if the bride insists on no flash, unless you have a wide aperture lens and experience shooting in low light. You will both be happier with the outcome if you just turn it down.

    Sacred yet? Don't be. You can do it.


    RAW or JPEG?

    This will be debated forever, so this part is merely my opinion. RAW is your best bet for producing quality wedding photos. You must, however, make your own decision on which works best for you.


    • RAW offers flexibility in White Balance, Tonal Curves, Sharpening, Compression, etc that are not available in JPEG.

    • RAW offers you the full 12-bits of data that your sensor sees. This gives you a bit of advantage in dynamic range compared to the 8-bit JPEG file.

    • Multiple conversions.

    • No cumulative damage from multiple JPEG saves

    RAW does however have it's disadvantages:

    • RAW files must be converted and processed before they can be outputted. This adds time and complexity to your work flow.

    • RAW files require more storage space both in-camera and once downloaded from the camera

    • Most importantly, RAW files fill up camera buffers faster and require more time to clear. If you shoot RAW during the wedding you must keep this in mind, as you do not want to miss an important shot, such as the kiss.

    I do suggest that if you are comfortable with RAW and have never shot a wedding that you use RAW for your first weddings. The white balance flexibility alone can save you a very big headache. Moving along...


    Mixed bounced flash and ambient lighting produce a natural looking photo that preserves the atmosphere of the occassion.
    Photo by Neil McCann (makka)

    The most repeated mistake made by newcomers is unbalanced, direct flash. By this I mean that the flash over-powers the shot, making it look like a snapshot from your grandmother's Polaroid.

    To produce wedding portraits the bride will love, your photos should keep a bit of the ambiance of the surroundings. You don't want the background to be overly dark, nor do you want the bride to look like a "deer in the headlights".

    Unless you are using a soft box or some other diffuser, indoors, you will almost always want to bounce the flash off some surface (preferably white) such as a ceiling. This will diffuse the light and create less harsh shadows. While, not needed, I highly suggest the Gary Fong Lightsphere II, which when used in bounce mode helps provide soft light from above and from the front and produces nice catch lights (the specular highlights in a subject's eye from a light source). You can also use a white card (often built into the flash) with bounced flash to produce catch lights. Of course you can go for more elaborate lighting schemes, but during the ceremony itself, shooting with bounced on camera flash is quite fine.

    Dragging the shutter to control ambiance

    It often seems easy with flash to set it into TTL mode and set the camera in aperture priority mode and shoot. However, you should learn a bit about controlling ambient light (often called available light) balance by using your camera in manual mode.

    Balancing ambient light with flash so that the mood of the setting is retained or so the ambient light still adds to the image is important to your wedding photos. What you need to understand is that shutter speed has no effect on flash exposure. By bringing the shutter speed low enough that ambient light registers on the image (dragging the shutter), you can retain most of the ambiance of a setting by not over-powering it with flash.

    With this, you'd use your camera's light meter like you normal, but instead you use it as a guideline as to how much ambient light you would like. Somewhere around 1 to 2 stops under-exposure will still give you enough detail in the background. Then you use flash as your main light source. You can either use TTL to get proper exposure of the subject or you can use a combination of manual flash and aperture setting to get proper exposure on the subject.

    Remember to keep shutter speed adequate enough to freeze any motion or for creative effect use rear curtain sync (if available on your camera). Some cameras offer the ability to fire the flash sync when the shutter is at the end of its peak opening. This is called rear curtain sync, and it is used to freeze motion at the end of the exposure. When making long exposures while firing a flash, rear curtain sync creates the effect of motion blur leading up to the subject as opposed to front curtain sync that creates an effect where the motion blur appears to leave the subject behind.

    Remember to get all the details of the wedding you can.
    Photo by Lorrie Beard (nsoroma79)

    If shooting outdoors, knowing how to use fill-flash and/or reflectors will help ensure you have great photos. Also, keep a watch out for squinting and don't face your subjects directly into the sun.


    Two things to know about ISO:

    1. The higher the ISO the more noise that will be in your image.

    2. Noise is manageable in post-processing, under-exposure and blurry shots aren't

    Knowing these two things, choose your ISO to fit the situation. You'll want to use as low of ISO as possible (to avoid noise), but also have it high enough to allow you ample shutter speed and acceptable flash range. Most of the time indoors, I shoot between 200-400 ISO with flash. This gives me acceptable noise levels and decent flash range. Correcting under-exposure in RAW conversion or in Photoshop will produce more noise than high ISO.


    Aperture settings should not be wide open. There are two reasons for this:

    1. Lenses are not as sharp wide open as they are closed just a bit. Stopped down you will get a sharper image.

    2. You want to nail the focus on the shots. Often the participants are moving. If you are using too shallow Depth of Field, you may miss focus on the bride walking down the aisle or the bride's maids jumping for the bouquet.

    On line DoF Calculator: http://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html

    You will see that at f/5.6 a 50mm lens on a Canon EOS 20D 10 feet from the subject will give you roughly 2.6 feet of acceptable focus, while the same settings will give you nearly 10 feet at 28mm. Learn the DoF of your lenses at various settings and (if available on your camera) use the DoF preview occasionally, to get a feel for your lenses.


    Which lenses should you use? Many things can determine the lens you choose. However, I believe some simple guidelines can help:

    • While prime lenses are sharper, zoom lenses will give you more flexibility. That flexibility is important in shooting weddings. I suggest zooms over primes. A simple medium telephoto zoom (what some call a walk-around lens, for example a 28-80mm) is quite often all you need. Wide angle zooms come in quite handy in close quarters, such as dressing rooms, too.

    • The faster (wider maximum aperture) the lens the better. This is not necessarily because you'll want to use it at its widest, but because it will be sharper stopped down.

    • I'm not fond of long zooms (like a 300mm lens) at weddings for a few reasons:

      • DoF is often too shallow
      • Zooms tend to flatten features of the subject
      • The tend put you out of acceptable flash range
      • Long distance zoomed shots feel impersonal.

    But, for some they do serve their purpose.


    Let's review the three simple rules of good photography:

    1. A good photograph has a clear subject.

    2. Focus attention on that subject.

    3. Simplify. Include only those elements essential to the photograph.

    Keeping those rules in mind, you can experiment at will. Get a good variety of different shots and different angles and crops. Your client may prefer the tight crops or she may prefer the wider ones. Give her that choice.

    Do be mindful of the aspect ratios of the finals. An 8x10, for example, will cut quite a bit of the photo off compared to a 4x6. Leave yourself a little wiggle room.


    "People tend to look at B&W work as more professional and more artsy because it isn't something they see much of." - Cindi Penrod (idnic)
    Photo by Neil McCann (makka)

    You're shooting digital, so give the bride a choice of B&W, Color or both. Many brides are wanting the B&W images.

    According to Cindi Penrod (idnic), "People tend to look at B&W work as more professional and more artsy because it isn't something they see much of. When they get their family snaps printed at the Walmart they're always in color. They spend most of their lives seeing only color (and terrible) pics of themselves. A B&W shot, by a pro even, strikes them as stunning and unique in their experience."

    Give the bride the choice to make that decision though. Also, remember that B&W is not just gray. Warm duotones are generally more appealing than straight grays.

    Whether color or B&W, your post-processing should make the images seem light and airy rather than dark or gloomy. Try to keep mid tones light and colors warm.

    Do NOT over Neat Image your photos. We want to see a bride, not Bridal Barbie. Noise is better than plastic. Download and install the proper noise profiles for your camera. These will produce superior results to the auto profiles.

    A little bit of soft focus goes a long way. A tendency to go overboard with the soft-focus should be avoided. A little soft-focus is nice. Too much will make the prints not so good.

    Don't try to get rid of every single blemish on the bride's face. A big zit, sure clone it out. But if she has a few wrinkles or a mole she's had all her life, leave them. They are part of who she is. You might think that it's a kind gesture, but it could end up making her look like someone completely different.

    If I could recommend one filter for Photoshop, I would recommend Alien Skins Exposure. It is a film simulator for both color and B&W films. For the professional, it can be a major time saver and add classic impact to your photos.

    What to Shoot?

    Shoot EVERYTHING. Here's a standard list:


    • Bride in mirror
    • Bride / Maid of Honor in mirror
    • Bride / Mother in mirror

    Bride / Mother:

    • Full length
    • Close-up

    Bride / Father:

    • Full length
    • Close-up
    • Boutonnière

    Bride / Mother & Father:

    • Full length
    • Close-up


    • Bride / Maid of Honor
    • Bride / Attendants
    • Placing on garter
    • Family portrait
    • Leaving home
    • Entering limo


    • Groom / Mother & Father
    • Groom / Mother
    • Groom / Father
    • Groom / Best Man
    • Groom / Attendants


    • Groom alone
    • Groom / Best Man
    • Bride / Father limo

    Aisle Shots:

    • Bride's Mother / Escort
    • Groom's Mother / Escort
    • Ushers / carpet roll out
    • Bridesmaids
    • Ushers
    • Ring Bearer
    • Flower Girl
    • Maid of Honor
    • Bride / Father
    • Giving away

    Altar Shots:

    • Center aisle
    • Lectors
    • Ring Exchange
    • First kiss
    • Presentation of gifts
    • Sign of Peace
    • Balcony
    • Recessional


    • Bride / Groom Church steps
    • Bride / Groom greeting guest
    • Receiving line
    • Toast
    • Inside limo



    • Full length
    • Close-up
    • Maid of Honor
    • Female attendants
    • Male attendants
    • Bride's family


    • Full length
    • Close-up
    • Best Man
    • Male attendants
    • Female attendants
    • Groom's family

    Bride & Groom:

    • Full length
    • Close-up
    • Bride's parents
    • Groom's parents
    • Maid of Honor / Beat Man
    • Flower girl
    • Ring bearer
    • Wedding party
    • Family


    • Cake
    • Guest candids
    • Receiving line
    • Misc. family
    • Introductions
    • Blessing
    • Toast
    • First dance
    • Wedding Party dance
    • Bride / Father dance
    • Groom / Mother dance
    • Garter ceremony
    • Throwing bouquet
    • Table shots
    • Dance candids
    • Misc. specialty dances
    • Going away dance
    • Circle of Love greeting
    • Leaving reception hall

    Rule of thumb about arrangements, setting, etc if it cost money or time to make, take a photo of it. Also, ask the Bride and Groom of any must-have shots and photograph "important people" during the ceremony.

    Other helpful tips:

    Have fun with your photos and give the bride an event to remember
    Photo by Lorrie Beard (nsoroma79)

    • Tell the bride to tease her friends by faking the garter toss before she throws it for real. The helps you to get a shot of her, a shot of her friends' reactions, and not miss the actual toss.
    • Stay ready after the cake cutting in case the B&G decide to smear cake on each other.

    • Be polite to guests who ask you to take shots you don't want.

    • Start with the shots with the most people and finish with the B&G and then the bride alone. This lets everyone else escape to the reception and stop whining. :)

    • Talk to the bride beforehand and ask her to walk slowly. Some get nervous and practically run in. Same goes for others in the wedding party.

    • For the formals, take a few of each, this will help ensure you get good shots with less chance of someone blinking. If blinking is a problem, either tell the party you are going to count to three (and shoot on two) or have them close their eyes until you say three.

    • A shot of the couple's rings is symbolic of committment.
      Photo by Leroy Dickson (fotomann_forever)

      When shooting the bride and groom together, err on the side of keeping detail in the bride's dress rather than the groom's black tux. Don't blow the highlight's on her dress.
    • Be courteous during the ceremony. Don't become the center of attention. Find a good vantage point and stay there and shoot as unobtrusively as possible. This is their day, not yours.

    • Have an assistant! They can assist you with the checklist, holding equipment, helping fix dresses or hair, or anything else or a much needed hug if things get stressful.

    • Keep a mini bride kit in your camera bag. Carry a needle and thread, safety pins, spray deodorant, hair spray, wet wipes, Tylenol, etc etc. Sometimes brides are so rushed and out of it, that they don't have them on hand. And someone almost always needs one of these items!

    • Make sure you wear comfy clothes that day.

    • Be sure to be assertive, NOT rude when telling people how to pose, or when it's time to do a certain group. Don't be afraid to yell or use your outside voice!

    • Just remember - YOU are in control! You tell people where to stand and how to pose. Don't be afraid to touch people and "push" them into position. If you don't take control, it will become chaos!

    • Most importantly... HAVE FUN! Talk to people, dance a little, joke and enjoy yourself. If other people see you having fun... they may want to hire you as well! Oh, and have tons of business cards with you! You never know when someone will ask you for 1 or 20! :)


    The way you present the finished product to your client will have much to do with how many prints you sell. The album you present will be the catalog the client uses to order prints. Throw out bad shots (being glad you took so many). Youd did take a lot of shots didn't you? You may have walked away from the event with 60-700 photos or more. Now is the time to put it together.

    You'll want to have your best photos presented in a professional manner. Pick a nice wedding album and spend time placing the prints in chronological order. Most of these will be 4x6 prints (available at most labs), although 4x5 works best for presenting what the final crops for most enlargements will appear. Wehn you contract the wedding specify how many proofs you will supply. Usually 150-300 works. And, specify a time limit on processing and stick to it. I generally go for two weeks.

    Many photographers allow the couple to keep the album and include it in the cost of the wedding along with a number of enlargements.

    Also, DVD presentations are nice additions. A photo montage set to the music the bride chose for the wedding is often well recieved.

    From Cindi Penrod idnic :

    Presenting proofs and building the album:

    When I contract with my wedding parties, the contract dictates that they will receive a certain number of proofs (100 - 250 depending on package) within 2 weeks of the wedding date. Those proofs are offered as 4X6 prints (all chosen by me and processed) in a rather inexpensive album - these are proofs. The bride and groom then have 4 weeks to select their choosen images for the final produced album.

    I meet with the B&G a second time to take from them the 4X6 images they've chosen (those will be returned later, but I need them to ensure I get exactally what they want) and to discuss how the album layout will flow and what specific album they want (I show them 2 choices from Bay Photo, one from Asuka and one MPix/Artleather do-it-myself version). Then I go to work with the layout of the pages, PhotoFusion is my buddy! I upload the collaged/finished pages to the printer of choice and wait for the album. About 3 weeks later I call the B&G to pick up the album (or I could mail it if they live far away). When they arrive, I have the slideshow version of the album set to music playing in my office to greet them. So far... the slideshow has brought tears every time. The B&G leave happy with their album and for a few extra bucks, they can have the DVD of the slideshow too!


    Your Portfolio

    Now comes the time to build your portfolio. For this, you'll want to choose the best of the bunch, only a few. Have these made into 8x10 and place them into a portfolio. You want to present only the best of the best, quality rules over quantity in your portfolio. As you shoot more weddings your portfolio will grow, but keep it managable by weeding out shots as you build it. Your entire portfolio likely should not exceed 40-50 shots.

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