Many weddings follow a traditional standard format. You can ask the planner or the wedding couple in advance of the wedding if they will have traditional elements like bouquet and garter toss, cake cutting, and the first dance. Knowing these items in advance will help prepare you to have the best lenses, the lighting in mind, and a beautiful composition.
Images of getting ready, when done right, can be some of the most stunning photographs of the wedding day. Hair and makeup preparation can be lengthy. Budget an hour more than the hair and makeup people suggest.
How early is early enough to start photographing? Two hours before the ceremony should be enough time to photograph the couple as they get ready; the attire details; the wedding venue; and some of the portraits. The following order is helpful when photographing a traditional wedding ceremony:
Photographing the couple together for romantic and group photos before the ceremony has become a common theme in the past decade. This is a very popular trend in wedding photography now, and it is really for the benefit of the photographer, and not the benefit of the couple. However, if the couple wants elaborate imagery then it is essential to encourage them to plan ahead. The benefit of photographing the first look during the wedding is the sincere smiles and expressions that you see from the couple and their guests. You can never get that first moment back again and carefully considering what is best for the couple, rather than your own agenda or lack of timing, is so important.
The second most important image that you will capture is the exchange of rings. If you are watching the ceremony you will notice that the officiant will ask for the rings, and then you will only have a few seconds to capture the shot. Often the person on the right’s hand will obstruct the person on the left’s fingers while they are placing the ring, but you can typically take an image of the person on the left placing the ring on the person to the right of the officiant, so be ready for that shot! Use your long lens here as well.
The most important image will be the kiss. Everyone loves the kiss! This typically comes a few minutes after the exchange of rings, so don’t try to change lenses, just stand by, wait, and be prepared.
Once the ceremony is finished, the couple and attendants (flower girls, etc.) will adjourn to a separate area for photographs. Remember that the longer you take for this process, the longer the couple is away from their guests. Efficiency is key, and managing expectations is a fine art. If you can talk about the shot list with the bride prior to the wedding you will have a much higher rate of success for getting things done in a timely manner. Remember that every group photo takes a minimum of 5 minutes to organize and shoot, and usually more like 7 to 10. Plan accordingly. If you have duplicate members, then see if you can combine groups for more efficiency. Also, a group larger than 25 people isn’t the best for an image unless you plan to have it printed to wall size. Faces become tiny dots and get lost in the crowd.
Always have a helper if you can! What you really need is a guest - not the mother of father of the couple - who knows most of the key people who will be in the group photos. If this person has a loud voice, and isn’t afraid to ask people to put down drinks, come back from the bathroom, and stop talking for a few minutes, then you have your perfect person! It is not always easy to quickly identify guests by name, particularly if you are not familiar with their faces, so this person will help to expedite the organization and allow for more efficient photo taking. Ask the couple to identify this person in advance of the wedding and have them introduced to you at the start of the day. Remind them how much you appreciate their assistance and that their function is so crucial to you getting everyone quickly to the party.
If you know you are going to photograph a family group and have the opportunity to discuss their clothing choices ahead of time, try to find items that might be the most flattering to them. Too much pattern in an outfit is distracting, and very often the casual look is not a good idea because it can appear sloppy. Family portraits are prettiest outside in a park with trees in the background, or on the steps of a house or a wedding site.
This is the best time to photograph the reception details while they are fresh and intact. Photograph the cake, the flower arrangements, the stemware, plates, seating cards, etc.
It is difficult to take stunning photographs if everyone is packed into the reception unless you can get some height on the room by going up a staircase or getting on a small stage where you can shoot down into the group. The couple will probably want an image of every guest at the wedding, so do your best to keep track of whom you have and have not photographed. You may have to look in the coat closet to see if grandma is hiding and take her photo. This is often a big concern of the couple and will guarantee happy results when the images are delivered. Remember that if someone was invited to attend the wedding then they hold significance in the couple’s life. If you can capture at least one image of that person smiling, laughing, or loving, then that is a memory of them for years and years to come.
Nobody likes to have a photo taken while food is in his or her mouth. The meal is best photographed while the plates are still on the tables and the food is either not out yet, or just served. This is always the best time to plan to eat. When you are discussing the day’s timeline with the planner/ coordinator/ or couple, be sure to remind them that you will not only need a meal but that your meal should come first so that you are finished when the guests are ready for toasts. You don’t want to miss those important moments if you are in a different room eating. A few things to note: If you are getting paid for the wedding, then be sure to include a “vendor meal” and any food restrictions into your agreement. Most often you will not end up with the same food as the guests. Vendor meals are typically served in another room away from the wedding (which is best because you are NOT a guest), and are often box lunches with loads of carb products, or some sort of pasta buffet. If this doesn’t work for you just plan ahead and bring your own food. Also, weddings are physically taxing and it is always good to have an energy bar and a bottle of water tucked into your bag for a low-energy moment. Taking care of yourself will help you to take care of everyone else. After the first images of the meal, people begin chatting and eating and this is a perfect time to take a break until the plates have been cleared. After the plates have been removed from the table, you can circulate from table to table taking smaller group photos.
The DJ will control this timing. Be sure they are your allies on this so you have enough time to have gear ready! Let them know how important it is that you know a few minutes before speeches.
This is a good time to pull out your long lens (to capture emotion) and if you are indoors you will probably want use your flash. If you are standing under a tent, or indoors, try angling your flash upwards and bouncing it off the ceiling to diffuse the light and make the image appear more natural. Typically, the Maid of Honor, the Best Man, the parent of the couple and the couple will give a speech. Try to focus on crowd reactions as well. You can get some of the most sincere emotions during the speeches. Know when the speeches are scheduled on the timeline and ask the coordinator to group them in order to give you at least twenty minutes to eat, freshen up in the restroom, and change your lens.
The first dance is a good time to use a wide-angle lens to capture the couple and the setting. Once you have gotten those images then a zoom lens or a 200mm lens is fantastic for detailed facial expressions on the couple and the guests. Reactions during the first dance are usually a combination of teary eyes and laughs. Get some of these moments and your couple will be thrilled. If there is enough light in the room, the first dance is a good time to use your widest f-stop (like 2.8) to capture some mood images of the setting. After you have gotten a few mood photos then you can put your flash on and stop the action. (Fun fact: Weddings are filled with traditions, some dating back hundreds of years. The bouquet and garter toss doesn’t happen at every wedding, but it happens at most of them. The bouquet toss dates back to the 14th century France, where guests believed that the bride was incredibly lucky on the day of her wedding. Guests would rush the bride after the ceremony to take pieces of her dress for their good fortune. Naturally, over the course of time this semi-dangerous tradition led way to the easy throwing of the bouquet.)
The best way to photograph the bouquet and garter toss is to be relatively close to the bride and groom and to be on their level. Use a very wide lens so that you can capture all of the action in the scene. If you use a flash, you can stop the garter in mid air as it soars into a young man’s grasp for a prefect photo finish. (Fun fact: Dating back to the Roman era, the cake was actually once a loaf of wheat bread, meant to symbolize fertility. The loaf was broken over the head of the bride by the groom, and the happy guests would then eat the morsels for good luck. As time progressed so did the loaf and during the middle ages the tradition involved sweet buns, which symbolized wealth. The more buns the couple had stacked on top of one another the more prosperous they would become. A French chef in the 1600s began the tradition of stuffing the insides of these buns, and the modern cake took way.)
Cake cutting has certainly changed during the course of the last few hundred years. The wedding cake is a standard feature of the reception and the couple will want this photographed. The best place to stand for cake cutting is in front of the cake across from the couple. Position the cake in between you and the bride/groom. Have them face you and the audience and then have them both hold on to the cutting knife as one. After then make a slice in the cake they will take turns feeding each other. Be sure to get a photograph of them toasting champagne, and taking their first bite of matrimonial dessert. They probably won’t know where to stand or how to cut for photos, because people never practice this part of the reception, so you may end up recreating the shot after the actual moment. Do your best not to block the view of other guests; this can be a difficult feat, but everyone will appreciate you much more if you give them a view of the big event.
You can stage the cake cutting earlier in the night if you are on a tight timeline and the wedding couple doesn’t have the budget to keep you until the end of the event. Cake cutting really signals to guests that the night is over and doing a photo with the couple on the sly will help the momentum of the party to continue while letting you leave at your arranged time.
Keep this short and sweet. Many of these images will look the same, and it can be unflattering to photograph people gyrating on the dance floor. Makeup isn’t fresh, libations have kicked in, and people generally do not look their most attractive at this point in a wedding.
The wedding couple leaving the reception is often celebrated with a send-off of sparklers, thrown rice, etc. If your rate includes enough hours to cover this event, then be sure to know where to stand for best coverage of the joyful faces as they leave for their life together.
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