In this blog series, How to Shoot a Wedding, we’ll be exploring, one by one, all of the “must haves” that need to be captured throughout the wedding day to create a well-rounded shoot. We’ll discuss the reasons each is important, examine some common challenges wedding photographers face in these situations (and how to overcome them), and provide a few insider tips for how to shoot like a professional. So grab your camera bag and let’s dive in…
In part one of this series, we likened the “scene setter” to an establishing shot in a movie. And if the scene setter is an establishing shot, then the getting ready photos are the first act. This is where we set up the story of the wedding day and introduce many of the key players.
This can be a fun part of the day to shoot, but it can also be a very difficult part of the day to shoot. You’re going into a loud, crowded, cluttered room where you’re tasked with making a series of compelling images out of virtually nothing. People doing hair and makeup, putting on clothes and talking to one another doesn’t exactly scream hard hitting photojournalism, but it’s your job to make it look interesting. So how do you do that?
First and foremost, you need to have a calming presence in the room. It can be a giant pyramid of stress and anxiety here and it’s on you to make everyone feel comfortable in front of the camera. So even if everything is running 30 minutes late and your already small window for portraits is shrinking by the second, you have to maintain a stolid exterior and be the one to say, “everything’s going to be alright.”
A Second Shooter
This will be a lot easier if you’re working with a second shooter. “The girls” and “the guys” almost always get ready in separate locations, sometimes miles apart, so if you’re flying solo, you’ll pretty much have to choose one or the other. Even if they’re in the same hotel, you’ll miss a ton of good photo ops if you’re running back and forth between the two.
On a side note, before Moira and I shoot a wedding, I make sure to sync up our cameras’ clocks to the exact second, so that after the wedding is over, I can pool all of our images together and sort them chronologically to see exactly what she was shooting while I was shooting in a separate location. Our brides and grooms love this too because they get to see what their significant other was doing as they were going through their own getting ready process.
One last argument for working with a second shooter: if you’re a male photographer, you might not have access to one of the most important photos ops of the entire day: the bride getting into her dress.
Another thing to keep in mind here is that the girls always take longer than the guys. So after the groom and groomsmen suit up in five minutes flat, you’re going to have to get creative. Capture candid moments of them drinking at the bar or pull them outside for a portrait session. You also have to be proficient at capturing the “in between” moments. Some of the best photos happen when you’re just waiting around for the next thing to happen.
This is also a great time to capture some details. And I’m not talking about the obvious details like the dress, the rings, the flowers and the shoes (we’ll be covering those is a later installment). I’m talking about getting up close and personal for a whole new perspective on how to shoot this stuff.
Remember what I said earlier about the room being crowded and cluttered? You’re going to have 10-15 people in a relatively small space that’s been littered with room service dishes, food wrappers, empty water bottles, Starbucks cups, makeup utensils, hairdryers, towels, dress (or tux) bags and a thousand other things. Your movement is going to be restricted and when a moment presents itself, you might need to squeeze your way into a tight space to get the shot. Be polite and say “excuse me,” but don’t be afraid to assert your will. The fourth bridesmaid’s view of the bride having her veil put on will last a few seconds, but your photo will last a lifetime.
Another challenge you’ll run into in these situations is mixed lighting. It’s almost always a combination of incandescent light (yellow) and window light (blue). The human eye can adjust for both simultaneously, but cameras can’t. There are several workarounds, the most ideal of which would be to turn off all the lights in the room and just work with the window light.
Not everyone is thrilled with this option, though, so your next go-to is flash. You can bounce if the ceiling/walls are white (or at least white-ish), but the more creative solution is off-camera flash. Either way, this will cancel out the incandescent light and balance well with the daylight coming in through the windows.
By far the most important thing here is to think outside the box and get creative. As I mentioned before, a bride having her makeup done or putting her shoes on isn’t the most intrinsically compelling event in the world to shoot. But if you turn it into a silhouette, it suddenly becomes a heck of a lot more visually appealing.
Keep your eyes peeled for interesting ways in which the light is playing in the room. For example, mirrors tend to provide just the right amount of “kicker” light if you position yourself just so.
Another good tactic is to not always have your camera trained on the most obvious thing. For example, if the bride’s getting into her dress, the best shot could actually be across the room, from where her bridesmaids are watching.
It can be difficult to anticipate these moments, but from experience comes observation and from observation comes preconception. You always have to be looking around to see how things are coming together. You’re like a sponge, soaking everything in from all directions at once.
There are a million different options when shooting the “getting ready” photos, but it’s all about taking the commonplace and finding some way to make it interesting. Keep your eyes open and try to look at the scene in a way nobody else would have considered. The Nobel Prize-winning physiologist, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, once said, “Discovery is seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought.” This should be your mantra when shooting a wedding.
Or, just shoot Hindu weddings, because that shit is interesting as fuck.
So after the guys are all suited up and the girls finish the last of the finishing touches, the next order of business is to get the bride and the groom together for their first look. Next time on How to Shoot a Wedding.