Wedding photography is a responsibility. You are tasked to produce a photo essay telling the story of the event.
Like anything else, wedding photography is evolving. Clients are expecting a more relaxed presentation, which is fine. However, the basic requirements have not changed. Changes in the photography are additive. make sure you get the required shots, and then take your time and duplicate them with a less formal approach. Spread the groups out. Use non-standard compositions. Play with poses, or let the subjects play. Just make sure that you don’t miss the basic photography by doing so. You should also keep in mind that they are there to get married, not to spend the day being your models. If you have developed a working rapport with the bride and groom and have planned your shooting (both essential for wedding coverage), you can use a photojournalistic approach with minimal or no direction on the general coverage.
Advocates of the Spray and Pray method of doing weddings, like David Jay, do the industry a disservice. While it is true that digital technology allows us to shoot many more pictures than film allowed, creating meaningful images for the bride and groom is still the raison d’etre of the wedding photographer. I have heard of photographers who shot 2000 to 5000 photos during a wedding. I have heard about them because they were a nuisance and detracted from the event with their intrusions. I have heard of them because they failed to produce many acceptable shots. I have heard of them because people were disappointed.
There is nothing wrong with taking lots of photographs, but the idea is to do several exposures of groups, vary the shots as much as possible, and work to create a definitive collection of images that will please and surprise the clients. Treat each exposure as a fresh concept, and work to make it the best. Do not try to recover a poor job with volume!
Your job as the primary photographer is to pay attention to what is happening around the bride and groom. Don’t miss an opportunity because you are off trying to capture candids of the guests. If you have an assistant, let them carry another camera and do the roaming candid shots when they are not helping you. If you are mentoring them, give them a short shot list, and see what they can come up with.
One problem photographers face, particularly during the reception, is guests who think they can get a cheap professional portrait because there is a pro taking pictures. They want to piggyback the work on the bride and groom’s contract. In the days of film, we could politely refuse saying that the film was limited and we didn’t have enough to do the work. The real reason remains that you are working for the bride and groom, and not for the guests.
Today this is generally handled by settng up a photo booth service at the reception. Your assistant can man the booth which consists of a tripod-mounted camera and a flash bounced from an umbrella, using a plain background. The guests can come singly or in small groups, and your assistant can take 4-6 shots of each. Guests can pose any way they wish, and the shots can be burned onto a CD as part of the wedding package. (Shoot them as medium resolution jpeg so you can fit all the photos on a single CD or DVD.)
The photo booth can be added as an extra service, and the charge allows you to pay for an assistant to man the booth. The CD can be mass produced ($5 to $10 each) and can be marketed as a favor to be included in the thank you cards to be sent out to the guests.
This will allow you to sidestep any requests for your professional services during the reception (tell them to go to the photo booth), and will allow you to concentrate on the task of covering the event.
Trash the Dress
Wedding dresses are seldom re-used, although an industry has evolved to clean dresses and to package them for storage. Increasingly, brides are opting for a trash-the-dress session weeks or months after the wedding. These sessions are conducted like a fashion or glamour shoot, contrasting the formal attire with the shooting environment, which might be anything from a construction site to a beach. Plan the session to progress toward the gritty, as the dress might be the worse for wear after the session.
Two overriding rules for these sessions are:
Keep it fun!
Keep it safe!
Brides have drowned doing this in fast-flowing water. No matter how willing she might be, minimize the risk in your shoots.
If you offer video coverage of the day, use professional video equipment, a separate videographer whose responsibility it is to shoot the video, and have proper post-production facilities to edit the coverage. If you can discretely wire the bride and groom for sound, do so. It will improve the audio track considerably. Don’t try to shoot stills and videos using your camera. That might be fine for vacation shots of your family. It has no place in any professional coverage of an event, particularly a wedding.
If you are just starting, do not try to take on the responsibility of a wedding. At the very least, work as a second camera and assistant to an experienced mentor to help you to understand the flow of events, and the personal interactions necessary to accomplish the work.
While I have tried to outline what to expect in these articles, there is no substitute for first-hand experience. Wedding photography is, perhaps, the most stressful type of photo work there is. You have to get it right the first time.