A Guide to Shooting Your Friend’s Wedding

Your friend has asked you to shoot her wedding as a favor. Or, maybe you’re a bride yourself and know “a friend” who loves to take photos who can shoot your wedding. Now what? What do you do to prepare for shooting a wedding? What special things do you need to plan on?

While I’m generally not in favor of it, if it’s going to happen anyway there’s no point in destroying a friendship with disappointing photos (and that’s actually very common). So, let me offer a few tips to those thinking about shooting a friend’s wedding as a favor.

Know the risks.

Just know that doing your friend this favor comes with serious risks. The number one disappointment reported by newlyweds is dissatisfaction with the quality of their photos. Everyone thinks they can take good wedding photos but it’s actually MUCH harder than anyone can imagine. It is very common for friendships to come to a nasty end because of this.

Understand, you’re not going to take part in the party. If you take on the serious responsibility of photographing a wedding, you’re there to work, not to have fun. You won’t have time to dance. You won’t have time to join in the receiving line. You won’t even be able to sit down all day. Be ready for stress and sore muscles.

Wedding photos are memories that are meant to last a lifetime. They are important – the first heirlooms of a newly formed family. Just be sure that you understand how serious a task you are taking on and don’t undertake it lightly. You should lose sleep over this.

Throw away everything you think you know about photography!

Honestly, even if you take gallery quality vacation photos and well exposed images of the kids saying “cheese” to the camera, none of this will help you!

Vacation and landscape photography is generally done in good light, outdoors and with subjects that don’t move too much. Weddings, by contrast are dark, dark, dark. You need fast (read expensive) lenses and a pro level focus system to even try.

Family portraits let you stop the subject and take time to compose. If you don’t like the first photo, you can try it again until you get it right. Weddings require you to compose the perfect photo in the blink of an eye and get it right the first time, every time. There are no do-overs. If you miss it you can’t reset the shot, those moments are gone forever.

Finally, I’ll just flat out say it… “Say Cheese” poses SUCK as wedding photos. If you want to shoot a wedding, you’ll need to have a good eye for capturing REAL emotions and candid moments, not static shots of the subject looking at the camera.

Develop an eye.

Developing an eye means more than just avoiding “Say Cheese” photos. You want a good variety as well. Balance closeups with wide, establishing shots. Capture both fun moments and tender, emotional images. And DON’T shoot everything from eye level. You need to expend the energy to squat down low to the floor and stand on a chair, climb up on a ledge, whatever it takes.

Have adequate equipment and know it blindfolded.

In case you missed it the three dozen times I said so already: weddings are DARK. Cameras don’t like the dark. Not only do you need far above average equipment, you also need to know how to use it. If you’re using any kind of auto mode regularly (portrait/landscape/sports) then you don’t have the photographic knowledge to shoot a wedding.

At VERY least, you need:

• TWO mid-level to pro-level camera bodies. Oversimplification: if your camera bodies didn’t cost around $1500 each when new then your auto focus system just won’t cut it.

• Fast lenses. The kit lens that came with your Canon Rebel or Nikon D3100 WILL NOT DO! I’m talking about expensive, professional lenses. At a minimum you’ll need a 28-75mm f/2.8 ($700-$1600) and a 70-200mm f/2.8 ($1000 – $2500).

• Top-of-the-line flash (for each body). I don’t care how popular available light photography is, you need a good flash on each camera. I consider myself an available light photographer, yet use the flash almost 100% of the time during the reception and formals. You need the best you can get because nothing is more frustrating than missing photo after photo because you’re waiting for a less expensive flash to power back up.

Backup, backup, backup! Backup camera body. Backup lenses. Backup batteries. Backup flash. A bride doesn’t cut you any slack because your camera conked out as she was walking down the aisle, she’s just devastated that she doesn’t have any photos.

Including batteries, backups, bags and all the other do-dads you need, you’re likely carrying $10,000 worth of photography equipment throughout the day. That’s what it takes, so don’t think you’ll do the job with an entry level DSLR and a kit lens.

(By the way, I also carry an ultra-wide angle lens,dedicated ring lens, dedicated portrait lens, flash bracket, colored filters for the flash, a third camera body, a custom holster system, a large diffusion disk and enough spare batteries to light a small town.)

Practice!

You need LOTS of it, and in the kind of dark, fast paced conditions you’ll find at a wedding. It takes dozens of actual weddings as a serious, dedicated photographer (NOT a guest with a camera) to become even remotely proficient at it. Don’t underestimate this.

Just because you can make a nice meal at home does not mean you are ready to be the head chef at a five star restaurant. That is the sort of responsibility you take on shooting a wedding.

So, if you are absolutely set on photographing your friend’s wedding (or if you are a bride who is determined to have a friend photograph the wedding) just understand what you’re getting yourself into. It is a serious responsibility that takes real skill, expensive equipment and loads of practice. So don’t screw it up!

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