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…
While the dance party is technically part of the reception, it very much feels like its own thing and, furthermore, presents its own array of technical challenges. Therefore, I’ve broken it off into its own post.
So after the formal dances come to an end (i.e. first dance, father/daughter dance, mother/son dance, etc.), the DJ will call everyone to the dance floor and dim the house lights. If you’ve been shooting ambient up until now, you’ll have to break out your flashes for the home stretch.
As the saying goes, there are a lot of ways to skin a cat, and there are no “right” answers when lighting the dance party, other than to always be creative. My favorite approach is to set up two or three Speedlights in the corners of the room (depending on the space), pointed toward the dance floor. As I move about the room, I do my best to not stand under the lights while shooting. This way, I get a nicer directional light than if the light source was positioned near the camera.
A couple more tips on OCF: be sure to raise your light stands as high as they go (I prefer at least 12 feet). If the lights are too low, people around the outside of the dance floor will block the light from hitting people toward the middle of the dance floor and you’ll get some nasty shadows. Alternatively, you can point your lights at the ceiling, which will create a nice, even spread around the room, but will require a lot more power to maintain the same exposure. Also, be sure to gel your lights to match the ambient color temperature in the room. The lighting in wedding venues is almost always warmer than flash, so you’ll want to go with some degree of CTO gels.
If you’d rather not go to the trouble of setting up multiple light stands, you can always pop a strobe directly onto your camera body. But be sure not to point your light straight at your subjects. This is called “direct flash” and it looks terrible. If the ceiling is white(ish) and relatively horizontal, point your flash straight up and bounce. If the ceiling is very dark and/or angled, you’ll want to attach a modifier to your light, such as a MagMod MagBounce or some variation thereof.
When I shoot on-camera flash, I generally like to have another light set up somewhere in the room to use as a rim. This helps complement the “key light” on-camera and separate the subjects from the background.
So once you’ve gotten a bunch of great dance party photos, what do you do next? This party’s going to last for hours and if you’re staying until the end, you’ll have to come up with some ideas to keep busy. I like to read the crowd and when I feel a lull in the party, I take the newlyweds outside for some cool nighttime bride and groom portraits, as discussed in part four. I also like to get a least a handful of photos of the vendors responsible for the music (i.e. the DJ, the band, etc.)
Also, be sure to pay attention to special dances that are related to the theme of the wedding. For example, the Hora at a Jewish wedding, the Mexican Line Dance, etc. Anything that is unique to this individual wedding.
Generally-speaking, at some point during the dance party, the DJ will announce that it’s time for “all the single ladies” to make their way to the dance floor. This means you need to get into position to shoot the bouquet (and then the garter) being tossed. I recommend shooting on continuous mode for this because it will happen very quickly. If you have a second shooter, ask him or her shoot the crowd while you capture the bride throwing the flowers (or vice versa). Do the same for the groom as he flings the garter.
Tip: the more alcohol that’s involved, the better these photos will be.
Once the party winds down, it’s time for the last shot of the night: the send-off. The send-off comes in many shapes and colors, but the general idea remains the same. The bride and groom will walk through all of their guests who will either hold sparklers or throw aspen leaves or blow bubbles, etc. I generally like to walk backwards in front of the bride and groom to capture their expressions while my second shooter captures whichever secondary angle she deems best.
There are a lot of ways to light this. You can jack your ISO and go full ambient, you can shoot off-camera flash, or you can shoot on camera flash with a modifier. Whichever method you choose, just be sure that your auto focus assist beam is on because it will probably be pretty dark and you don’t want your AF “searching” too much, as this whole thing will be over and done within a matter of seconds. Such as it is when shooting a wedding.
So that’s it! Once the bride and groom have taken off in their getaway vehicle, it’s time to pack up your equipment, go home to an adult beverage (or two) and start sorting through your images. Just be sure to take some Advil and get some rest because you’ll be doing it all over again in just a few days.
Thanks very much for taking the time to read this blog series. I know it’s a ton of information, but once you shoot a few weddings, you’ll get the hang of it and start to figure out what does and doesn’t work for your shooting style. And hey, you’ll even pick up some tips and tricks of your own along the way. Best of luck and happy shooting!