Whilst perusing my favorite photography forums I have noticed there are a lot of questions coming up asking for tips and advice on how to shoot a wedding. Now then, if the questions were being asked by photographers who had already shot a few weddings and were asking for something specific, such as a lens for a particular scenario, how to light specific situations or advice on how best to compose a group etc. it wouldn’t concern me. The thing is though, the questions were open ended and generic simply asking “How do I shoot a wedding?” or “Advice needed on shooting a wedding”.
Those of you who have read some of my blog posts will know my opinion on open ended and non-specific questions posted to forums, and how much they irritate me but I find these “How do I shoot a wedding?” types questions shocking.
If someone has to post an open ended “How do I shoot a wedding?” question on a photography forum it is obvious they have never done wedding photography before, in which case they shouldn’t be shooting the wedding if there is no professional or experienced wedding photographer present also taking photos.
A wedding is a big day and the happy couple only get one shot at it so it is crucial the photography taking the wedding photos is not only technically competent, has the ability to change settings as the conditions change, knows how to compose portrait shots and has an artistic eye but is also experienced. Basically, you mess up the wedding photos and the happy couple have lost visual memories of their day, and this isn’t on. I mean, do you want to be responsible for messing up some wedding photos knowing that the happy couple will be cursing you for the rest of their married life? Hmmmmmm…… something to think about.
If you have never shot a wedding and have to ask the generic question “How do I shoot a wedding?” you shouldn’t do the shoot. The skills used in wedding photography are pretty much the skills used in portrait photography (there are of course some differences) and if you can’t see this and have to ask the question “How do I shoot a wedding?” you clearly don’t have the skills and knowledge required for such an important occasion.
Wedding photographers have to start somewhere and do their “first” wedding shoot at some point however before taking on that first solo wedding shoot you need some experience shooting weddings beforehand. The best way to learn to shoot weddings is to take your camera to every wedding you are invited to, obviously you have to get permission from the bride and groom in the first instance, although I have yet to come across a couple refusing to let their wedding guests take a camera.
When you take photos as a wedding guest it is important you let the official photographer do what they are there to do and don’t get in the way. By all means observe the official wedding photographer, soak up what they are doing and take notes, but don’t shadow them and try to replicate their photos. All (good) wedding photographers have their own style and, if you want to make it in the world of wedding photography you need to establish your own style yourself.
Rather than following the official wedding photographer around like a lost puppy and replicating the photos I suggest you take your own photos that are totally unique. Don’t be afraid to ask the bride and groom to pose for a couple of photos (although don’t expect to have too much of their time as they will be all “photographed out” and will also have to go around and mingle with the rest of the wedding guests). Similarly, you should ask other members of the official wedding party to pose and try to capture ‘unique and different’ photos. This is your chance to shine and show off what you can do without any pressure whatsoever. If the photos don’t work it doesn’t matter since no-one has to see them. If your photos do work then you have the chance to show them off and even try and make a bit of money from them by selling them on.
Some wedding photographers get to shoot weddings on their own by starting out working with an established wedding photographer and being a “go for” and secondary shooter. Finding a wedding photographer willing to take you on is going to be tough as the wedding photography market is very competitive (which is not surprising given how lucrative it can be) and there are plenty of potential second shooters looking to get in the wedding photography scene.
If you can get the task of being a secondary wedding shooter (more often than not it is a “go for” and lighting assistant (i.e. holding the flashes and strobes in place) as opposed to a second shooter) you will learn a lot and get a lot of real life experience. The problem is that you will learn to shoot just like the primary wedding shooter, which isn’t always a good thing. No matter how good the wedding photographer is you want to develop your own style don’t you? Being taught by other photographers will stifle your creative flow and restrict the freedom you need to sort out your own style.
If you want to be a wedding photographer I wouldn’t bother trying to be a second wedding shooter at all. I suggest you attend every wedding you can, take as many shots as you can to develop your own style and learn yourself. When you are not shooting weddings you need to practice your portrait photography skills, practice your flash photography skills and practice your editing skills since you will use all of these photographing weddings.
Only once you are confident shooting people in a variety of situations and lighting conditions should you contemplate taking on a wedding as the sole photographer, and when you reach this point you will know the skills you need, you will know the techniques you need and you won’t have to go on a forum and post the generic “How do I shoot a wedding?” question.
If you want some wedding photography tips to read up on and try at a wedding you are attending as a guest below are some articles you may find interesting useful.
“Wedding photography equipment” is an article focusing on the essential equipment you need to capture awesome wedding photos.
“Bridal portraits you have to take” is an article detailing the “standard” bridal shots you have to capture when shooting a weeding.
“Pre-wedding photography sessions” is an article focusing on pre-wedding photography and details the reasons why they are a service all wedding photographers should offer.
“Wedding lighting tips and techniques” is an article focusing on lighting and full of lighting tips to capture great weeding photos.
“Low light wedding tips” is an article giving advice for lighting in low light scenarios that are typical when photographing weddings.
“The best lens for wedding photography” is an article listing the must have lenses for wedding photography.
“Why you need to visit the venue before a wedding” is an article focusing on the reasons why you have to visit the wedding venues (church/chapel, reception venue etc.) ahead of the big day.
“The responsibilities of being a wedding photographer” is an article you have to read if you want to be a wedding photographer.
“Taking group wedding shots” is an article focusing on taking group wedding shots – always useful.