Tip No. 1
Stay out of the way of the professional photographer.
Chances are the couple getting married has spent lots of money to hire a reputable professional. The photographer has a big job to do and a big responsibility to do it right and get all the important shots – in a limited time. So don’t get in the professional’s way and hamper his or her activities.
For example, if the photographer is taking posed portraits of the bride, the groom, or their family members, don’t try to also take a photo of each pose the photographer sets up. He or she is doing a job. You and your camera will certainly be in the way,even if you try to be unobtrusive. Also, the pro wants to sell a print of each pose to the couple. Chances are, with the equipment he or she is using, the results will be great, and the couple will still buy a photo from the pro even though you took the same shot. But if you offer the same shot free to the couple – based on the pose and lighting the pro set up – the pro could lose a sale. This isn’t fair. It’s his pose. It’s his lighting. It should be his print!
In addition, if you’re taking pictures off to one side of the pro, you’ll distract some members of the wedding party and slow down the whole process. So don’t interfere with the pro’s posed pictures. Don’t worry, there will be lots of other opportunities, many of which the pro probably won’t be able to take.
Tip No. 2
If you want to take pictures in the church, sit in an aisle seat.
Most likely, you won’t take many pictures before the ceremony – after all, you’re a guest (or perhaps a member of the wedding party). So you’ll be plenty busy before the ceremony socializing, finding a seat, and waiting for the ceremony to get underway. Let’s assume, however, you have your camera and want to take some pictures during the ceremony. Then take an aisle seat.
Don’t start firing away until you know what is permitted and what is not permitted in that particular house of worship. Some ministers, priests, and rabbis don’t care about cameras and flashes. They expect the pro and the guests to blaze away during the ceremony. Others permit pictures but not flash. Some don’t allow any photos to be taken.
How to know? Watch the pro. The pro will know the rules of the house. If he or she is moving freely about the church and using a flash, then most likely you can take some flash pictures, too. If the pro takes pictures but doesn’t use a flash, you can probably do the same. If other guests start to take pictures as the bride goes down the aisle and the presiding cleric doesn’t say something at the start of the ceremony, then you may as well join in.
Assuming it’s appropriate to take pictures, take a seat along the center aisle. Obviously, if in the middle of a row, most of the pictures taken will show the backs of pews and heads, but not much of the bride and groom. Seated on the aisle, however, a nice tight frame of the couple is possible.
Tip No. 3
Actually, this “tip” offers two tips concerning the important shots to take “at the church.” Obviously, these tips are relevant only if you are permitted to use a camera at the church.
A. Should you try to photograph during the cherished moments of the ceremony, such as the “I do’s,” the exchanging of the rings, the first kiss, the blessing, or (at Jewish weddings) the breaking of the glass? This really depends upon how close you are to the action. A good picture should pretty much fill the frame with the action. If you’re seated way back and not using a telephoto lens, it is likely the bride and groom will be mere specks in the picture. If this is the case, either forego taking any shots during the ceremony (no law says you can’t just sit back and enjoy the moment) or take a shot or two “for memory.” If, on the other hand, it’s a small wedding and you can get close to the action to fill the frame, by all means take the shots!
B. While you may photograph them coming down the aisle before the ceremony, the best shots will be when the couple comes back up the aisle after the ceremony. Here’s why: First, the bride and the groom traditionally come down the aisle separately before the ceremony. While there’s nothing wrong with taking pictures of them individually as they enter, remember the back of the church will be the background. Second, don’t bother to take pictures after they pass you. You want to capture the expressions on their faces, not the backs of their heads. You definitely want to capture the couple coming up the aisle after the ceremony. You’ll capture their happy expressions. You’ll have the altar as a background. And the “Happy Couple” will undoubtedly look less nervous and more radiant.
Many of the best pictures taken at weddings are portraits.
In fast-paced society today, there are only a few events causing families to gather together – mainly weddings and funerals. Without discussing funerals, it is safe to assume most weddings are joyous occasions and offer lots of opportunities to take pictures of distant family and friends.
People make the wedding and the party that follows. And when it comes to “people pictures,” there are great opportunities. Earlier it was stated you’d be able to take great photos at the event that the pro won’t; among these opportunities are portraits of friends and family. After all, you know them, you know who's near-and-dear to you, and the pro doesn’t. So here’s your chance to shine. They’re all dressed up and having a good time, and nearly unlimited photo opportunities are available.
Most of these opportunities occur at the reception after the wedding. A few words of advice:
First, if you want to photograph a couple dancing, have them stop and pose for a second.
Second, when photographing a person or small group, give them a moment to get composed.
Third, if photographing a group at a table (more on this below), wait until they finish chewing and take the glasses and cutlery out of their hands; watch out for clutter in the foreground, and use your flash.
Fourth, whenever you photograph two or more people together, try to show a relationship between them. Get them close together. If taking a picture of a parent and child, have one put an arm around the other. Have family members show affection for each other
Fifth, whenever taking a portrait of a person or group, get up close and fill the frame with your subjects.
Tip No. 5
Set up “table shots” the way the pros do.
Our resident wedding photography expert, New York Institute of Photography Dean Chuck DeLaney, author of the comprehensive consumer guide to wedding photography, “Wedding Photography and Video: The Bride and Groom’s Guide” (Allworth Press), points out professional “table shots” – the shots of each tableful of guests seated at the reception meal – are rarely purchased by the “Happy Couple.” In fact, most pros don’t even bother taking those pictures unless the couple specifically requests them.
Here’s another opportunity for you and your camera. Chances are you know some or all of the people with whom you’re seated. So why not take a picture of them? Here’s how to handle it like a pro: Ask about half of the guests seated at the table to leave their seats and stand behind the other half of the guests. In other words, clear one side of the table and have the people from that side stand behind the people on other side, who remain seated. If there are elderly guests at the table, allow them to remain seated and move the younger guests behind them.
By moving half of the people out of their seats, you’ll be able to fill your horizontal frame with two rows of people. But be careful here. Avoid showing the entire table in the foreground – it’s probably a mess! Instead, concentrate on filling the frame of the photo with people, and eliminate the clutter on the table by not showing the tablecloth, dirty dishes, smudged napkins, etc.
Don’t be bashful. Use the disposable camera at your table.
The past decade ushered in the era of the “disposable camera” – the type of camera that can be purchased at supermarkets and drugstores. Last year, about 170 million of them were sold in the United States alone! Digital camera sales haven’t affected the popularity of these cameras.
It has become commonplace to put a disposable (one-time-use) camera, usually the type including a built-in flash unit, on each table at the reception; the hope is the guests at that table will use the 27 frames of film to take photos in and around their table, and the bride and groom will develop the film and have these spontaneous photos to enjoy and possibly augment their wedding album.
The problem at many weddings is no one gets the ball rolling, or the guest who uses the camera doesn’t know how to take good pictures with it. Since you know what to do, take command. Show the other interested people at the table how to charge the flash and advance the film; take a few pictures yourself, and then pass the camera to someone else.
Encourage the other users to get close and fill the frame with the subject. Warn them, however, the disposable cameras probably can’t focus closer than 4 feet and the flash is only good to about 12 feet; alert them to stay in that range when using the camera. You’ll be doing the bride and groom a real service, and they’ll be grateful – even if they never know the effort you made.
Tip No. 7
While you may want to capture the “scripted” moments, such as the toasts, the cake cutting, and the bouquet toss, you may be better off turning away from the action and capturing “reaction” shots on the faces of guests.
A wedding reception is a party. There’s lots of food, music, and dancing. Most of the action is hard to photograph, so we have suggested you concentrate on portraits. What about those “scripted” moments like the best man’s toast, the cake cutting, or the bride’s bouquet toss? At these moments, you have two choices: You can, if you like, try to capture them with your camera. But your pictures are likely to be duplicates of what the pro captures. A better idea might be to concentrate on the faces of family members and friends during these important moments. Aim to capture “reaction shots” – that is, candid portrait photos of people feeling strong emotion as they watch their loved ones at this important moment. Again, the pro is not going to get these pictures. He or she is concentrating on the action. Here’s a perfect opportunity for you to capture some great shots the pro can’t get!
If you follow these seven tips, you’ll get great results at the weddings you attend. So bring along your camera ... and enjoy. Prepared by the New York Institute of Photography. For more tips, visit www.nyip.com.
Editor’s Note: This article is intended to provide some tips on how to take better pictures at a wedding you might attend as a guest. It is not intended as a complete lesson on wedding photography for the professional wedding photographer.