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 provide a few insider tips for how to shoot like a professional. So grab your camera bag and let’s dive in…
Up until now, we’ve been going through the wedding day chronologically (i.e. getting ready, then the first look, then portraits, then the ceremony, etc.) But details will be shot throughout the wedding day from beginning to end, so I’m going to break this unit up into three parts: getting ready details, ceremony details and reception details.
Just a quick disclaimer before we start: we here at J. La Plante Photo aren’t super heavy on detail photos. We tend to focus more on people and moments and creative portraits. However, I do believe it’s important to capture at least a handful of good detail shots at each wedding because 1) it pays tribute to some of the other vendors who worked their tails off to make the wedding a success, 2) it’s a nice complement to the scene setting photos that we discussed in part one, and 3) as a photographer, detail photos help you get published.
Okay. Onward and upward…
Getting Ready Details
This can be the most hectic part of the day to shoot (see part two), but it’s also the most convenient time to capture details of important items such as the dress, the rings, the groom’s attire, etc. You’re probably not going to have a ton of time to shoot these photos, so it helps to ask the bride and groom to have all of the items they’d like photographed in one place, ready to go, when you arrive. Otherwise, you’ll be running around the venue trying to find the best man (bonus tip: he’s probably at the bar) so you can get all the rings together. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Certainly not wedding photographers.
So now that you have everything in one place, how do you shoot it? For the dress, the default is to stick it in a window and blow out the background. Personally, I try to do something a little different whenever possible. What I ask myself is, “what makes this venue unique?” Once you figure that out, and utilize it, your dress shot will be that much more interesting.
For the rings and other small items, it helps tremendously to use a macro lens. This allows you to focus at very close distances to capture fine detail. I’d also recommend focusing manually; especially for the rings because the translucent nature of gem stones can be tricky for your auto-focus system. If you’re still finding it hard to nail focus, stop your lens down a bit. Shooting at f4 or f5.6 will give you a bit of leeway so you don’t have to be absolutely perfect.
Depending on how much time you have, you should try to shoot the ceremony details before the guests begin arriving. This is easier said than done because getting ready usually runs late and you’ll be scrambling to finish portraits and get the bride and groom over to the ceremony site in time to tie the knot. If that’s the case, you can still shoot a lot of this stuff while the ceremony is in progress. If you wait until later in the day, you’ll almost certainly miss the shots, as wedding venue staff and coordinators generally tear everything down immediately following the ceremony.
So what’s important here? Obviously the flowers and the programs and the seating signs and so forth. But every wedding is a little different, so be sure to keep an eye out for other decorations/items that are involved directly in the ceremony itself. For a Catholic ceremony, this might be the unity candle. For a Jewish ceremony, it would be the wine glass (mozel tov!). For a Hindu ceremony, it would be the 74 things laid out on the stage, 72 of which you have no idea what they are. Or maybe it’s a simple ceremony without a bunch of details. Try incorporating some of the natural elements around you.
Your only real chance to capture the reception details without a bunch of people in the room is during cocktail hour. This can be a challenge because that’s generally when you’re finishing up any last-minute portraits you didn’t have time to capture before the ceremony. But if you do have time, I’d recommend having your second shooter hang out at cocktail hour, capturing guests mingling with the bride and groom, while you knock out the reception details.
My biggest piece of advice here is to use natural light whenever possible. But if you’re in a dark room with no windows, try bouncing off of the ceiling or the walls. If the walls and ceiling are too dark and/or too far away, you’ll have to use off-camera flash. In this case, be sure to attach a modifier to soften the light, such as a soft box or a MagBounce, etc.
When shooting the cake, be sure to get one good shot of the entire cake then a handful of closer shots of the finer details. When shooting glass wear, try focusing manually and/or using a smaller aperture. Much like the gem stones in rings, it can be difficult to auto focus on transparent objects. If there’s up lighting in the venue, you can use it to put a halo behind your subjects, giving your photos a more three-dimensional quality. Other than that, just get creative. Get low, get high. Be mindful of your compositions and try to fill the frame.
Okay. Here’s a bonus section. When I say “found details,” I mean any detail photo that wasn’t set up or posed. Found details are everywhere and they go a long way toward telling the story of the wedding day. And to me, they feel a bit more memorable because they depict a real moment in time that will most likely never be repeated. Remember what I’ve been preaching about getting low, getting high, getting close, getting far? Well, this is the “getting close” part.
So once you’ve nailed all of the great reception details, you should have a spare four seconds or so to get into position for the introduction of the bride and groom into the reception.