Things I Learned as a Wedding Photographer

When a friend asked me if I could be the photographer for her wedding, I was a little nervous. I wouldn’t mind being a photographer, I told her, but being the photographer was a different story altogether. There’s a reason the pros are expensive, and for something like your wedding you want to be confident the person with the camera knows what she’s doing.

Hell, I haven’t even been to that many weddings. I’ve never even watched a pro with any sort of critical eye.

But, assured that expectations were set reasonably, I agreed to haul the camera out for the ceremony and snap some pics. I did okay, I guess, but I could have done a lot better. Along the way, I learned a few things.

Lesson 1: Be aggressive. I didn’t want to interfere in the proceedings, I merely wanted to record them. I tried not to put myself in positions where the guests would be looking at me, rather than the ceremony. Because of that I missed some good moments (one where the wedding participants had their backs to the audience — just the sort of moment you most want to catch so people can see it later. The thing is, to get the shot, I needed to move furniture and stand where I’d be in everyone else’s pictures. I ended up getting in there late and only half-assedly, and not getting a shot that captured the moment.
Also, there were behind-the-scenes moments that I probably should have tried to get, but I didn’t want to push in on the participant’s special day.

Lesson 2: Be pushy. Tell people where to stand. Make them stand there until you get the shot. The couple wanted some group shots, as is done at weddings. I intended to get them, but suddenly a relative was lining up the usual suspects, arranging them, and the assorted camera-bearers fired away. It was chaotic and I didn’t get good shots of some of the groups. I should have stepped up there, told people to wait, and made sure I got what I needed.

Lesson 3: Look at the whole picture. This was especially an issue with the posed shots — I look at them now and see a chair here, the back of a head there, all things that we filter out with our memory, but are there forever in a photograph. Many of the standing shots I had to crop the feet off the subjects, despite interesting shadows and reflections on the floor, because of extraneous clutter that distracted from the subjects. This is partly to do with Lesson 2 above; I rushed shots because I didn’t take charge.

Lesson 4: Have the right equipment. I got to the scene of the wedding and discovered that the ceremony was going to take place in front of a wall of glass. The view behind was beautiful, the setting fantastic. But it was hell for photography. I simply was not equipped to provide fill flash to properly light the subjects. My camera doesn’t even have a crappy little built-in flash. So I adjusted exposures and hoped for the best. I didn’t get the best. I’m not sure, in that situation, what I could have done differently except buy a speedlight ahead of time, possibly some gels to match the color temperature, along with a radio trigger, and rig it with a little umbrella reflector at the back of the room, or, if I was pushy, on one of the tables where the guests were sitting.

Overall, I got some shots I’m very happy with, but when I look through the results I see more misses than hits. As I mentioned before, there were a lot of other folks with cameras, and I’m glad I wasn’t the photographer. I have a new respect for the professional wedding photographers, who have learned to stay out of the way — unless it’s to capture a moment people will want to remember forever.

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