While the possibilities for capturing memories at weddings are endless, certain must-have photos are a staple for any couple’s album.
Photographing a wedding is a great honor for a photographer, but it also comes with a big responsibility. It’s understandable that some photographers may feel intimidated by this task, but with the right mindset and focus on capturing the essential shots, weddings can be both rewarding and enjoyable to photograph.
Wedding photographers will tell you that each wedding is unique, and this is certainly true. Every couple has their own preferences and ideas for their special day. However, the general schedule and flow of the day is usually consistent across weddings.
With experience, you will become more familiar with the typical flow of events at weddings and be able to anticipate key moments. The key to successful wedding photography is thorough planning and communication with the couple. It is important to schedule a meeting with them to discuss the schedule, desired group shots, and any special requests so that you are aware of when and where key events will take place and can plan accordingly.
Establishing a good rapport with the couple before the wedding, such as through a pre-wedding photoshoot, can help to ease any nerves they may have about being photographed. On the wedding day, it is important to not overthink it and let the day unfold naturally. Instead of trying to control the events, capture them as they happen, which will give your images a more authentic and relaxed feel.
This guide is perfect for photographers who are new to shooting weddings, or for those who have been asked to assist as a second shooter, or for those who have agreed to take some shots at a wedding for family or friends. It provides the necessary advice, tips, and equipment insights to help you capture the essential shots and make the most of this special occasion.
10 must-have photos to capture at weddings
- Hairstyling and makeup
As a wedding photographer, the day usually begins with a visit to the bride. It’s important to determine the best time to arrive and give yourself enough time to get into the flow of things. This might take around 30 minutes to set up camera settings and establish a comfortable relationship with the subject, allowing for more natural-looking shots.
Hair and makeup artists typically prefer natural light, so they often work near windows. As a photographer, it’s important not to stay in one spot for too long and to move around to capture different angles. Avoid interrupting the hair and makeup artists for extended periods of time, as it can cause delays and last-minute stress.
A fast prime lens with a focal length between 85-105mm is ideal for capturing close-up shots of hair styling, eyelash curling, and accessory placement. Experiment with different angles by using a chair or stepladder to shoot from a higher perspective, which can be particularly effective for capturing the details of long hair.
As a photographer, it is important to capture the fun, laughter, and overall joyful atmosphere of the room. One way to do this is by suggesting group shots of the bridal party gathered on the bed in their robes, or by encouraging the bridesmaids to share a humorous story about the bride. However, it is also important to respect the bride’s privacy during appropriate times.
- The bridal attire
A bride’s wedding dress is an important aspect of her special day, as it often represents a significant investment of time and money. It is essential to take striking images of the dress. The best time to photograph the dress before it is worn is while the bride is getting her hair and makeup done. It is important to ask the bride’s permission and to have a bridesmaid or family member assist in hanging the dress out of its garment bag for the photo session.
This will provide an opportunity to take full-length shots of the dress. You can also include the bride’s shoes in the shot by positioning them near or beside the dress. If the dress has intricate beadwork or lace details, it’s also important to capture close-up shots of those features. Once the bride is ready to put on her dress, step out of the room and ask a bridesmaid to let you know when she is about to put it on, so you can take a few more shots before the dress is fully put on.
Another important moment to capture is the reaction of the bride’s parents when they first see their daughter in her wedding dress. A technique that works well for this is to position yourself behind the bride and use a 70-200mm lens. This allows you to capture the emotional response as they enter the room at the long end of the zoom, and also the hug that usually follows by pulling back and shooting at the widest point in the zoom range.
Pro Tip: If you have some extra time after the bride has put on her dress, you can ask her to hold her bouquet in both hands and stand near a window for some elegant shots of her last moments before the ceremony. This will provide a great opportunity to capture her in natural light.
- Prepping of the groom
Prior to the wedding, it is important to discuss with the couple if they would like photos of the groom getting ready. If the answer is yes, you may need to consider hiring a second shooter to take these photos while you focus on capturing the bride’s preparations.
If the groom is getting ready at the same venue or nearby, you may choose to shoot both preparations yourself rather than hiring a second shooter. However, this does come with the risk of missing important shots as it’s impossible to be in two places at once. While you’re photographing the groom’s preparations, try to engage in conversation in between shots to make him feel more comfortable with your presence.
Also, be on the lookout for small details to photograph like shiny shoes and wedding rings, which the best man should have safekeeping. Some grooms may also choose to go for a drink at a nearby pub to calm any nerves before the ceremony. This can be a great opportunity to capture relaxed shots of the groom and groomsmen and it saves time by doing it before the ceremony.
One of the shots I enjoy capturing is the groom’s walk to the ceremony venue with his groomsmen. To increase the chances of getting this shot, position yourself ahead of the group and set your camera to burst mode with continuous autofocus. Keep in mind that sometimes couples may have specific requests for this moment.
I remember once, I was asked to photograph all the groomsmen with theirmatching trousers on the street, so that the couple could have a picture of them all wearing matching trousers. Being a wedding photographer, one should be prepared for any kind of requests from the couple.
- The leaving photo
Similar to the first kiss, the exit shot of the couple leaving the ceremony venue can be challenging as you only have a few seconds to capture it. As a photographer, it’s important to be able to capture the moment without needing to ask for it to be repeated. A great exit shot requires proper planning and organization.
Politely ask the couple to wait out of sight for a few minutes while you organize family and guests to form an aisle for them to walk through. If you are not comfortable directing people into position, ask the best man or ushers for assistance. If confetti is planned, ensure that everyone has a good amount and instruct guests to throw it high as the couple exits.
The slower the couple walks down the aisle, the more opportunities you’ll have to take striking shots. Remember to remind the couple to take their time before giving them the signal to start walking towards you. As you walk backwards, be mindful of your surroundings and any potential hazards that could cause tripping. Keep shooting until you reach the end of the aisle.
Another great shot to capture is by asking the couple to briefly pause at the end of the aisle and look back at their guests while raising their hands. There isn’t a specific lens that is required for the exit shot, but many photographers prefer to use a 24-70mm standard lens as it allows for quick control of the angle of view by adjusting the zoom ring.
Pro Tip: To freeze confetti in mid-air and reduce the risk of camera shake, it’s best to use a shutter speed of no slower than 1/500sec when capturing exit shots.
- Location, Setting, Hall
Proper planning and research should give you an understanding of the best locations to shoot at the venue. In case you are running out of ideas, try searching the venue on Instagram to see how other wedding photographers have approached it and get some inspiration.
Couples often spend a significant amount of time and effort on the details of their wedding to make it unique and personal. As a photographer, it’s important to take the time to capture these small details. Additionally, capturing wider shots of the rooms and overall setup can showcase the venue in its best light.
The details that the couple will want to look back on and remember in the future include things like signage, the wedding arch, the room layout, place settings, flower arrangements, and any memorial table or candle. After capturing these details inside, consider stepping outside to capture outdoor shots.
Scenic shots of the surroundings, gardens and other noteworthy features such as signs or wildlife can add variety to an album or online gallery filled with people shots. As you take photos of the venue, look for interesting backgrounds, pathways, walls, staircases and other elements that can be used for the couple and group shots later in the day.
- Initial kiss
Capturing the first kiss can be challenging, but being prepared and in the right position can ensure you don’t miss it. Obtain permission from the officiant, such as a vicar, registrar, or celebrant, to be close to the couple during the ceremony. Make sure to not be intrusive or disruptive.
It’s a good idea to set your camera to silent mode as soon as you enter the venue. This is a common request from couples. One good position to capture the bride walking down the aisle is to crouch down in the first row of seating. Quickly follow this with a shot of the groom’s expression. Then, find a location that provides a clear view of the couple and their guests while they exchange vows.
Be prepared to capture the first kiss by keeping your camera raised and ready to shoot as the ceremony concludes. The phrase “you may now kiss the bride” is not always used, so be vigilant for the moment. Using burst mode on your camera increases the chances of getting the perfect shot.
Avoid the temptation to immediately review your shots after capturing them. Instead, focus on capturing the couple’s natural expressions and emotions as they pull away from the kiss. The composition of the shot, such as how wide the frame is, is a personal choice, but shots where the couple takes up a larger portion of the frame tend to be more impactful.
- Pictures of the couple
It’s important to schedule some time to take pictures of the newlyweds together after the ceremony. When starting out as a wedding photographer, creating a visual reference of different poses and shots can be helpful. This can be a scrapbook of pictures you want to replicate with future couples, which will soon become ingrained in your memory.
As a photographer, my approach to couple pictures has become more relaxed over the years. I prefer to keep them natural and unscripted. Encourage the couple to interact and be themselves as you take a leisurely stroll through the garden or grounds of the venue. Take advantage of the locations you previously identified as potential spots for photos.
Experiment with different angles and poses, such as the couple walking towards the camera, standing still while holding hands or embracing closely. Offer guidance on positioning and direct where you’d like them to stand or look. Remember that the couple may not be professional models and may need some direction to achieve the desired results. Provide positive encouragement to help them feel comfortable and relaxed during the photo session.
If the couple requests to view some of the shots, show them a few, but don’t make it a habit as it takes away from valuable shooting time. Typically, after 30 minutes or so, the couple will want to rejoin their guests and enjoy the reception. Use this time to capture as many shots as possible, but don’t stress if some opportunities were missed.
Inform the couple that you would like to take a few more shots later, such as during a break between meal courses or when the lighting is ideal. Most couples will be willing to cooperate if it means getting a special and unique shot of them.
Pro-tip: On a sunny day, suggest taking the couple into the shade to avoid squinting and harsh shadows in the photos. Also, try capturing a few frames with the couple facing the light, but be sure to set your camera’s metering mode to spot metering and adjust the exposure compensation as needed.
- Group portraits
Group photos are crucial to capture on a wedding day. They may not be the most thrilling to take, but they are cherished by the couple and often used as gifts for family members. Prioritize these shots by having a list of groupings to work through.
A few weeks before the wedding, ask the couple to provide a list of desired group shots, including the names of those who will be in the picture. Try to limit the number of group shots to around ten, as it can take a significant amount of time to gather everyone and you don’t want to disrupt the couple’s day by prolonging the process.
For a smooth process, enlist the help of the best man to gather the people needed for each group shot. As soon as one group is finished, bring in the next one. Aim to complete all group shots within 30 minutes. Sometimes this may not be possible, but strive for efficiency.
Keep in mind that the best group shots are often the ones where people are having fun. Encourage them to be close to each other, laugh, and enjoy themselves. Don’t worry if some people are not looking directly at the camera, it can make the shots look more natural. For group shots of 4 to 10 people, don’t hesitate to take close-up shots that cut off at knee level.
Pay little attention to shoes in group shots. When capturing large group shots, the key to success is to get a higher angle. Shooting from above allows you to see everyone’s faces. Inquire with the venue where the best spot to take the shot is, they will direct you in the right direction. Some venues might even have a ladder ready for you to use.
Pro-tip: A 50mm prime lens with a fast aperture is well-suited for small group shots. When capturing large group shots, set the aperture between f/5.6 and f/8 to ensure sharpness across the entire frame. This aperture will likely be narrower than what you used for previous shots.
- Addresses, talks, or presentations
Speeches are usually a significant and memorable part of a wedding. It’s an opportunity to learn more about the couple and capture candid reactions to the humorous anecdotes and jokes shared. They can occur at various times during the day, but most commonly they take place before or after the meal.
Some couples choose to have speeches during breaks between meal courses. Confirm the timing and location of the speeches by referring to the schedule. It’s essential to have this information in advance and access it on the wedding day to know if the speeches are on schedule or running behind.
While it is essential to capture some shots of the main speakers, the primary focus should be on the reactions and emotions of the guests. If you have the benefit of a second shooter, decide who will focus on capturing the couple’s reactions and who will photograph the guests.
To photograph speeches, use a fast shutter speed of 1/250 sec or higher. Instead of waiting for a moment to happen and potentially missing it, have the viewfinder ready and scan through the crowd, ready to capture the shot at the right time. Similar to the preparation shots earlier in the day, vary your position and try different angles. Move around, such as shooting from high or low angles, and take multiple shots.
Pro-tip: Use a long lens such as a 70-200mm to zoom in on the speakers from the edge of the room. To emphasize the person you are photographing and minimize distracting backgrounds, use a wide aperture between f/2.8 and f/4.
- Dancing and energetic behavior on the dance floor
The dance floor is a crucial element of a successful wedding reception as it is where the party typically starts and where the couple often has their first dance as a married couple. This can be difficult to photograph, especially in low-light conditions that make it hard to use fast shutter speeds without increasing ISO excessively. Consider using flash or multiple flashes to freeze fast movements and brighten the scene.
Consider positioning yourself on the opposite side of the guests during the first dance, using them as a backdrop to create a dynamic image. If the DJ’s lighting setup is colorful, it can enhance the first dance shot, but don’t rely on it. Experiment with different angles, such as shooting from a stepladder to get a higher perspective.
The 10-20 minutes following the first dance are an excellent opportunity to capture guests enjoying themselves on the dance floor. Don’t hesitate to join the crowd and get close to the action. Some of the most impactful dance floor shots are taken with a wide-angle lens in the middle of the action. To add a sense of movement and energy to your dance floor images, try using slow sync flash. This technique results in vibrant and dynamic shots that are more visually appealing than the frozen look achieved with standard flash.
Make an effort to take photos of different groups of people on the dance floor as well. Approaching guests and asking them to gather together for a quick shot is often successful, and soon other people will also want to be photographed.
Pro-tip: Photographing a wedding is a long and tiring day, but don’t rush to leave immediately after the first dance. Ask the couple to get you a drink and in return, stay a bit longer to capture more lively shots. Before leaving, make sure to say goodbye to the couple and let them know when they can expect to receive the images.