Wedding photography: Avoid the pitfalls
July 6, 2011
Professional wedding photographers can charge a small fortune for what on the surface appears to be just a few hours work.
However, they spend many more hours working on a wedding than most amateurs can afford to. A lot of preparation goes into photographing each wedding, and many hours afterwards editing images so that each photograph is perfect.
Most photographers, at some point in their life, are asked to photograph a wedding, be it as the main photographer or merely to document the day’s events.
The task can seem a bit daunting at first, but even if you are not a professional photographer, there is no reason why your images can’t be as good as a pro’s.
However, there are certain pitfalls and tricky areas that professionals have spent much of their careers learning and avoiding.
By following AP’s guide to avoiding the pitfalls of wedding photography, you will be able to take top-class wedding pictures whenever the bride and groom make that request.
Wedding photography – Payment
Although you may not be the official wedding photographer, the happy couple may still offer you
a small payment, or at least cover your expenses. Many unofficial photographers offer to take the images as their gift to the bride and groom.
Whatever you have decided, it is best to make sure that all the necessary arrangements are sorted out with the couple beforehand. This ensures that everyone knows exactly what the deal is and avoids any unnecessary problems and confusion after the event.
Wedding photography – Preparation
Professional wedding photographers spend a lot of time preparing for the big day and there are a number of tips that you can learn from them.
- Speak to the bride and groom about the type of images they want.
- Find out if there are any particular family or friends who need to be photographed and make a list of these people.
- If possible, visit the venue beforehand to scout for locations to take pictures.
- Try and speak to the people hosting the ceremony to find out whether they have any restrictions on photography. Some venues will not allow you to use flash during the service itself.
- Look at the seating plan and make sure that you have noted where all of the important guests are sitting.
Wedding photography – Equipment preparation
Besides the obvious camera and lenses there are other items that are a must if you are photographing a wedding. If you are taking a landscape image and you have forgotten something, or the image hasn’t turned out quite how you want, you can always go back and re-photograph it on a different day. However, a wedding is a one-off event, so it is important to make sure you are covered for any eventuality.
- It’s essential to bring spare batteries for both your camera and flashguns. Remember to make sure that they are fully charged.
- Take as many memory cards as you have available
- Format memory cards rather than just deleting all of the images. This helps prevent them becoming corrupted
- Clean all of your lenses and your camera’s image sensor beforehand, and take a lens cleaning cloth with you
- Take a grey card and a white balance card to ensure that you get good exposures and that the bride’s dress comes out the correct colour.
Wedding photography – Using flash
Most weddings take place in summer, and in strong sun, so images taken outside can suffer harsh shadows.
Shooting with your subjects facing the sun could cause them to squint their eyes, creating unflattering facial expressions. However, having the sun behind them can create equally problematic backlighting, as the bright light can fool a camera’s metering system, causing incorrect exposures.
Fill-in flash can help soften shadows caused by bright sun and can add light to the front of a backlit image.
Even the relatively weak power of a camera’s built-in flash can be suitable for fill-in flash at close range. For a slightly better effect, use an off-camera flash bracket, or wireless flash mounted on a stand or tripod. While an elaborate set-up is impractical for documentary-style images, it may be useful for group shots.
Another tip is to avoid the bright sunlight altogether by shooting in a slightly shaded area, using a hint of flash to brighten the subjects’ faces.
When shooting indoors, flash is almost essential, even where there is bright natural light. If the people you are photographing are giving speeches or cutting a wedding cake, in front of a window, then fill-in flash can help even out the backlit scene.
Image: Fill-in flash is essential if a scene is backlit
To avoid the harsh shadows caused by an on-camera flash gun try angling the flash head and bouncing the light off of the ceiling. The light will reflect down on to the subject, which is more natural and less harsh than using direct flash.
If the ceiling is too high for this to work, try a diffuser, such as the Sto-Fen Omni Bounce, or try attaching a bounce card to your flashgun. These soften the harsh direct light from the flash, and can be used inside and out.
Should your flash fail, or if it doesn’t recycle its charge in time, you can use Adobe Camera Raw’s Fill Light feature to brighten shadows.
Wedding photography: The first dance
The first dance is one of the trickiest moments to capture. There is usually little light, and it can be difficult to evoke any atmosphere.
Using direct flash can kill what atmosphere there is, as will bouncing it, as it can flatten the final image.
One way to get a nice image is to close in on the faces of the bride and groom, as they will be happy and laughing or in an embrace.
Better yet, use a slow-sync flash technique to capture some of the movement of the dance.
Handhold the camera and set the exposure so the shutter speed is around 1/30sec or less, and so that the image is underexposed by around 1EV.
With the flash set to rear curtain, use the flash to freeze the movement of the bride and groom.
The ambient light will cause a slight blur as the couple dance, creating a sense of movement, but with faces of the bride and groom remaing sharp.
Wedding photography: Confetti
One of the classic wedding shots is the throwing of the confetti. Yet it can be quite a tricky shot to get right. We have found that the best shots can be found when taking a slightly alternative angle of the scene. Try crouching down and shooting up towards the bride and grooms’ faces to show the confetti falling. Alternatively, take a higher vantage point and try to capture the crowd of confetti-throwing guests.
Most of time the situation is completely out of the hands of the photographer. One little tip is to ask everybody to throw the confetti on the count of three. However, confetti can end up obscuring the bride and groom’s faces, or the sun can cast shadows from the confetti across them. You can try to reduce this by using a soft fill-in flash technique, but if you set the flash too high it will itself cause harsh shadows.
Often the bride and grooms’ best facial expressions come just after most of the confetti has been thrown; their faces will be less obscured and they won’t be squinting trying to avoid getting confetti in their eyes and mouth. However, the obvious problem with this is that there will now be little confetti in the image. Thankfully, you can add it in using image-editing software.
Add more confetti
Step 1. Select the Marquee tool and create a selection around a single piece of confetti. Select more random pieces by holding the shift when you make the next selection.
Step 2. Select Layer>New>Layer via Copy, which copies the selected pieces of the confetti to a new layer. Repeat this a few times. Now select the original background layer again and repeat step 1, this time selecting different random pieces of confetti.
Step 3. Once again copy the selected confetti to a number of new layers. Now, select each layer in turn, and use the Move tool to shift the confetti around the image to make it look as if more was thrown. Try to vary how far you shift each layer to avoid repetitive patterns.
Wedding photography: Get the details
Weddings can cost thousands and thousands of pounds with the bride and groom spending hours planning everything down to the finest detail.
With this in mind, make sure you take images of the little details that help make the day special.
Details on the bride’s dress, the cake, table decorations, gifts, cards and the wedding rings are amongst the obvious items to photograph.
Not only does it give you the chance to be artistic in the way you present images of these items, but it also serves as a reminder of the day for the bride and groom for years to come.
Image: There are many small details that have gone into making the day perfect – try to capture as many as possible as they make great images for a wedding album.