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…
There’s a multitude of different ways to light a wedding reception, and which you choose will depend mainly on the venue itself. For example, if it’s an outdoor reception in the middle of summer, you’ll probably be fine shooting ambient. If it’s indoors with a white(ish) ceiling and walls, bounce flash will generally be your best bet. But if it’s a dark venue with a dark and/or angled ceiling, you’re going to have to get creative with off-camera flash. Which is a good thing!
Off-camera flash can be tricky, but once you get it down, it will open up a whole new world of possibilities. When I shoot a wedding reception, I set up two or three Speedlights in the corners of the room, pointed toward the areas in which I know the action will be happening. For example, I make sure to touch base with the wedding coordinator before the introduction of the wedding party and bride and groom, so I know where specifically they’ll be entering.
What to do During Dinner?
Once the newlyweds have taken their seats, dinner usually commences. We’ve found that nobody’s thrilled about having their picture taken while they’re putting food into their faces, so this is the best time in the wedding day to take a break and have a bite to eat yourself (low blood sugar is a bitch.)
Some venues have arbitrary rules about vendors eating after the guests, but this is illogical because as soon as the bride and groom finish dinner it’s back to work for you. As a result, you really have to eat toward the beginning of dinner. This might mean (politely) jumping in the buffet line right after the wedding party and parents and so forth have gotten their food. If it’s plated, make friends with a member of the wait staff and explain the situation.
So now that you’ve eaten your meal in three minutes flat, it’s time to grab your camera and catch up with the bride and groom. They’re probably mingling with guests and transitioning into party mode at this point.
Once everyone’s finished eating and the newlyweds have said hello to all their guests, it’s time for toasts. If there’s a DJ, I like to ask where he’s going to have the toasters stand and, most of the time, he’ll ask me where would be the best place, which is even better. Now I can compose my scene and light it the way I see fit.
If you’re using OCF, I recommend pointing one flash at the person giving the speech and the other at the bride and groom. This way you can make your way around the room, changing angles and compositions, while keeping your lighting consistent. If it’s an active speech with a lot of movement, you can use a human light stand (your second shooter) to move the light as needed.
The most important thing here is to not only capture the individuals giving the speeches, but also the reactions of the bride and groom. You can’t capture what’s being said while shooting stills, but the couple’s facial expressions are where you really feel the emotion of the moment.
After toasts, it’s time to cut the cake. Sometimes, the venue will have the table set up such that the couple has to face the wall. If this is the case, have someone help you move the table out from the wall, so the bride and groom can stand behind the cake, facing the crowd.
The three shots I like to capture here are 1) a close-up of the couple’s hands holding the knife, 2) a close-up of them smiling, laughing, etc. and 3) a wider shot of the whole scene.
Also be sure to keep your eye on those kiddos in the crowd. They’ve been furtively eyeballing that cake for the past two hours and will take advantage of the situation if they think nobody’s paying attention!
This is one of my favorite parts of the wedding day to photograph. There are so many different types of first dances, you really get to see the personality of the couple shine through. Also, at this point they’re totally into one another and not really paying attention to what’s happening around them, so it’s easy to capture the candid emotion of this moment.
My mantra “get low, get high, get close, get far” is never more relevant than it is here. You’re going to have 3-5 minutes or so to do whatever you want, so make sure to capture a good variety of images. Get a close shot of the couple, then pull out to show the whole context of the scene. Put your camera on the dance floor for a dramatic low angle, then stand on a chair for a bird’s eye view. Light the couple from the front, then position your light behind them for a silhouette. And so on and so on…
*See last paragraph.
Once the “formal” dances are finished, the DJ will announce that the dance floor is, in fact, open. Time to party! Well, time to take photos of other people partying, which can be fun too.
Next time on How to Shoot a Wedding.