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What I learned from shooting my first wedding

Over the years I've done family portraits, PR headshots, business groups, product photography, events, interiors, you name it . . . . but nothing quite prepares you for a wedding! In this instance, it was a fairly casual affair for a 'friend of a friend', and I was shooting in a team of two - but none of that made it any easier. I had to call on every one of those skills mentioned above, and switch between them seamlessly at the drop of a hat, in order to capture a set of shots from the day that really told the story.

Happily, the bride and groom were delighted with the images we submitted, shot over nine hours from guest arrivals at the church (in the rain!) through to the first dance - sending us this lovely review afterwards:

"My partner and I wanted a mixture of both formal and informal shots, our overall aim being to capture memories of the day. We initially met with Gill and Helen to discuss all aspects, and found them professional, helpful and friendly - offering many suggestions we had not considered. They later visited the church and the reception venue with us, so they could familiarise themselves with layouts, lighting etc. Throughout 'the day' they were friendly, smiley and discreet - our guests later commenting on how nice they both were!

The end results were fabulous, we were absolutely thrilled and delighted with the photographs they provided. I would highly recommend these ladies for any special event you wish captured on 'film'."

We were of course delighted ourselves to get this feedback, but what did we learn along the way? Firstly, shooting in a 16th Century church by not much more than candlelight, on a grey and rainy morning, is a serious challenge. A combination of low light and moving subjects are two of the hardest things for any photographer to deal with, which is why the lighting test the day before was so essential.

I was shooting the service as I use mirrorless cameras which have a silent shutter, so most of this responsibility fell to me. I know that the results would not have been as good as they were without great planning, both in terms of positioning within the venue, and also the best settings to use to balance light levels and shutter speed, so everything stayed sharp. There were still some compromises, but knowing I got the best images possible on the day is satisfying from a professional perspective.

Staying with planning for a moment, the fact that Helen and I worked out in advance exactly who would be responsible for what also made a huge difference. We split the workload based on who had the most appropriate kit for each element - making key decisions in advance on when to split up and shoot different aspects of the event, and when to work together to back each other up, or capture the same scenes from different angles. And it's clear from the final results how well this worked, in terms of telling a story throughout the day.

One of the key requests from the bride and groom was that we captured 'memories' rather than just formally posed shots - though of course we still did some of those too. So we made a point of shooting scenes which they may not even have been aware of, giving them visibility of elements of the day that they had never seen before. Which is of course all part of the service!

Meeting (and exceeding) the client brief is something I've learned from many years in the marketing industry - and it's certainly no different in the photography world. But beyond some of these wider factors, what else did we learn? Here's a quick random snapshot . . .

  • If it looks like it could be rainy, have a couple of new plain white brollies to hand for outdoor 'bride and groom' shots. We managed to lay our hands on two at the last minute, but they didn't quite match and that will always slightly frustrate me.

  • Sticking with brollies for the moment, I now know that I should have posed the bride and groom with the dangly ties behind their heads out of sight! That's a mistake I won't make again - even though it wasn't too hard to clone them out.

  • Find out beforehand if there is a loo at the church, especially if it's in the middle of nowhere. Needless to say with this one, there wasn't - and we hadn't really planned ahead!

  • However much you feel under pressure to make the formal shots as fast as possible, don't miss basic portrait rules such as straightening ties and jackets, and taking phones out of trouser pockets. I do know better, honestly . . .

  • Don't be afraid to be a little bossy (in a nice way) when it comes to posing the group shots - getting the right result is vital, even if it means shouting quite loudly from time to time and asking 'the lady in the purple dress' or the 'gentleman in the sunglasses' to do what you need them to.

  • Accept the fact that you may never manage a single group shot where absolutely everyone is looking at the camera at the same time - especially when that involves small children and a poodle!

  • Move the dog bowl on the grass in the background, so it doesn't look like a halo on someone's head - I got very tired of cloning it out by the end of the processing.

  • And on that note, allow far longer for image selection and processing than you think it will take!

I think those were some of the key points that stand out - but for anyone looking to shoot their first wedding, here are some other tips which we did plan for in advance, thanks to advice from other wedding photographers which we gathered beforehand . . .

  • If you're shooting with more than one body (and this is vital in my opinion, to save so much lens changing) or more than one photographer, make sure you synchronise the clocks on all cameras beforehand, which makes things much easier afterwards when creating a single timeline of images.

  • Take a battery charger with you, as well as spare batteries, and find somewhere at the reception venue to charge them.

  • Take a laptop if you can and back up regularly throughout the day when you have gaps - even if you have two SD card slots in your camera.

  • Take a full set of spare SD cards, just in case.

  • Don't be tempted to under expose in low light to increase your shutter speed - the grain will be horrible when you lift the shadows later. Much better to shoot at the correct exposure, even if it means a higher ISO.

  • Wear comfy shoes! Sit down when you can. Use lightweight equipment if you possibly can - I shoot with a micro four thirds system and my 70-200mm f2.8 equivalent lens is a fraction of the weight of a similar APS-C lens, let alone a full frame one.

  • Don't leave your tripod or camera bag in the background of a group shot by mistake.

  • Find out in advance when, or if, you will get fed - and plan accordingly if you need to. Happily in this case we were very well looked after.

  • And lastly, don't be tempted to down a glass or two of fizz during the day, however much you are invited to do so (and however tempting it might look!) - you need to be 100% sharp and on the ball, from the very beginning to the very end.

So the key question is - would I do it again? And the answer is probably yes, absolutely. It was great fun and I really enjoyed it, though I would be sure to let any potential client know that I'm still relatively new to wedding photography, even though I've been a photographer for many years. And charge on that basis of course, for a while at least!


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