11 Odd But Essential Wedding Photography Tips
Wedding photography is about much more than knowing shutter speed from ISO—but some of the best wedding photography tips are the oddest ones that you don’t find in many places. Jonathan Elderfield took his photojournalism experience into the wedding industry, photographing around 100 weddings with his documentary style—and he’s sharing wedding photography tips that go beyond the technical aspects to end up with both great photos and a great experience.
Here’s some unusual but essential tips from why you should keep the family from the bar to why you shouldn’t cut time for budget weddings.
1. Know your equipment—but have two of everything.
Sure, knowing how to use your gear certainly isn’t an odd photography tip, but wedding photographers need to take that one step further—and know not just one but two sets of gear.
Having a backup camera is essential, Elderfield says. If one breaks, you have a camera to switch to. While that doesn’t happen often, sometimes a setting will be inadvertently switched and in the rush of the day, you can’t figure out why. (That happened to me once, when I accidentally discovered that I could lock my single focus point).
Along with having two bodies, wedding photographers should have at least two lenses: a standard zoom lens (28-70mm or 35-70mm) and a long zoom lens (70-200mm). If one lens malfunctions, you can usually still shoot everything with the other, so there’s no need for duplicate lenses.
Instead of shooting with two zooms, Elderfield shoots with five prime lenses (and a third body to compensate for needing to swap lenses more often). Why? Prime lenses offer larger apertures and tend to produce sharper images, but whether you use primes, zooms or a combination of the two is often more personal preference than necessity.
One more thing to be sure to have two of: hot shoe flashes.
2. Give your couple realistic expectations.
New wedding photographers tend to make too many promises in an attempt to land the gig in the first place, but it’s important to set realistic expectations from the start, Elderfield says. Over-promising is a good way to ensure the couple isn’t happy with their final product. Especially when shooting without a second photographer, you can’t guarantee that every moment, nor every single guest, will be caught on camera.
3. Allow time for the little moments.
When Elderfield meets a couple that’s on a limited budget, he strays away from cutting back on the time spent at the wedding to meet the budget. Why? It’s the little moments that often make some of the best shots, and when you don’t have any time to spare, you rush right past them without noticing.
Instead, when a client needs to work with a smaller budget, Elderfield adjusts the print products so he doesn’t rush through those little moments.
4. Always think ahead.
Shooting the ceremony is a bit like shooting a sports game in that you always have to be planning for the next moment. “Make sure you get the pictures, whatever that means,” Elderfield said, “whether that’s standing in the aisle or moving around. Be creative to get lots of different types of pictures, but be in position for key moments like the rings and the kiss, and be prepared to move quickly after that kiss for the recessional.”
5. Let the candid moments happen, but take charge for the formals.
Elderfield embraces a documentary style of wedding photography that focuses on the candid moments of the day—and largely without him getting in the way. But, the formal and family portraits aren’t the time to step back. Take charge and speak up. Most brides and grooms are nervous when it comes to posing, which is when you’ll need to come in with your own ideas for directing the couple.
6. Don’t let family members get to the bar before formals.
Once Uncle Bob gets to the open bar, it’s tough to gather everyone for that formal picture. Weddings are a time for celebrating, but get the essential family groups right away—and then let the celebrating begin.
Elderfield suggests having the bride designate another family member to help get everyone where they need to be. After all, when you don’t know who Uncle Bob is, you don’t know that’s he’s missing from the photo.
7. Be patient and respectful.
Part of shooting a wedding is getting paid—and while it’s best to get the payment before the busyness of the day gets under way, be patient and respectful when that doesn’t happen. If you can, get the payment the day before or suggest the couple leaves a check with the best man. But if that didn’t happen, don’t be rude at the end of the night. Be willing to wait several minutes until you can bring them to the side without discussing payment in front of their guests.
8. Part of the job is selecting the right photos.
With the right know-how and some creativity and effort, you’ll get great photos. But every photographer will also wind up with at least a few duds.
Elderfield goes through three rounds of selecting images to edit and present to the client, and the first round is dedicated entirely to putting aside photos that won’t see the light of day—like half blinks or shots that ended up slightly out of focus. They’re never deleted (in case the bride later asks if there is a specific shot of a certain person), but they aren’t delivered to the bride and groom either.
That partially goes back to setting realistic expectations—never promise to deliver all of the images that you take.
9. The bride is your client.
“Who’s your boss at the wedding? The bride. It’s not the bride and groom, it’s the bride,” Elderfield says. While ideally, you want everyone to look their best, always make sure the bride is at her best, adjusting the pose and train placement when possible and eliminating the ones that don’t flatter her afterwards.
The same concept applies for pushy moms and other family members. If you can get the shots requested by family, great, but the shots requested by the bride are the priority.
10. Maintain your energy level.
Elderfield says at the end of the day, he feels like he’s just ran a marathon. Weddings are long shoots, so it’s important to keep your energy level up. Pack some snacks and water bottles so hunger doesn’t squelch your creativity.
Avoid starting the day too early as well—Elderfield says an hour is usually plenty for the getting ready shots, arriving four hours early is going to make for an even longer day (plus, he added, lots of fun stuff seems to happen at the very end that you’ll want to stay for).
11. Personality is big.
The wedding photographer is the vendor that’s with the client the longest, well before the band or DJ arrives and staying well past the clergy. Couples don’t want to spend the day with a dud—embrace the parts of your personality that will help a wedding to run smoother, like a sense of humor or a sweet demeanor.
If you’re shy, work on stepping out of that comfort zone—an awkward silence during the traditional posing will create some equally awkward expressions. Overall, remember it’s the couple’s day, and while your main job is to capture images, the best way that you can do that is to be both respectful and enjoyable to be around.
Wedding photography is a challenging, but rewarding shoot—if you do it right.
Shooting a wedding goes well beyond understanding the technical aspects. Keeping up the energy to be creative for several hours straight, helping the couple to relax during formal pictures and understanding how to meet challenges like pushy mother-in-laws and drunk uncles may be unusual wedding photography tips, but they’re the ones that are going to help you not only take great photos, but enjoy it enough to shoot a second, and a third.
Taking it further
Want to hear more tips from Jonathan Elderfield? Project Basho is hosting a wedding photography class that includes real hands-on experience at an actual wedding, as well as class time covering topics from working with clients to post processing. Learn more about the stress-free way to shoot your first wedding while picking up essential skills at the class page.