Are you starting out as a wedding photographer? Maybe you're looking to improve the quality of what you deliver. Here are my top 10 must-have shots, when they will happen during the day, and key information to consider when setting them up, finessing, and completing them.
Bridal and Groom Preparation
The Dress Shot
This is all about getting something other than just the dress in the shot. If you're still shooting just the dress, then you lose all the personal emotion that this item of clothing brings, its relationship to the bride is the important thing. Its place in the day is one part of a big jigsaw, and how they fit together starts by showing its emotional impact on the bride.
Groom and Groomsmen Getting Ready
For me, this is all about capturing the nerves and excitement of getting ready and the bromance between the best man, the groom, and the groomsmen. Maybe they are making breakfast in the morning, getting the car ready, tying their ties, or doing whiskey shots. The beauty of this shot is in the connection between friends and family.
Dad Sees the Bride in Her Dress for the First Time
This is an important shot, as it creates two special moments. Firstly, if the dad hasn't seen his daughter in her wedding dress yet, then it's a lovely emotionally important moment. Secondly, it's an opportunity for the dad to impart some last-minute words of wisdom and begin to prepare to walk his daughter down the aisle. Setup for this normally requires you to get dad ready outside the door to the room and then ask him to wait while you get inside and position yourself behind the bride, looking at his reaction or to the side of her to catch both of the reactions. This all depends on the room, of course, so you should remove as much clutter as possible prior to dad entering the room. This shot could also be done with mom, grandparents, godfather, or friends, depending on circumstances. It captures a very special moment of the day.
The Bride and Groom See Each Other for the First Time
There is a specific way to capture this. First, you need an associate photographer's assistance to be able to get both of these shots at the same wedding. Your associate photographer stands at the end of the aisle, and when the bride arrives, they photograph the groom's face, as he turns around, over the shoulder of the bride. The main photographer has to brief the groom to keep looking forward until they give the thumbs-up sign to the associate photographer when the bride arrives. The groom then turns around and the main photographer captures the bride from the front as she comes down the aisle and sees the groom. A beautiful fleeting moment of the day captured forever.
The Kiss Shot
While at first, this seems like quite a simple shot, it can be a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment. To ensure you don't, first, be prepared for it. Some ceremonies or couples' preference is not to kiss after the marriage vows, so be aware and ask the question. Settings-wise, set your camera to burst mode and make sure you're to the left or right of the couple so that your associate photographer can also get a full-length alternative shot down the aisle without having you in the shot. The contingency option is normally after the kiss, when they'll sign the register and you can either ask them to kiss then, while sitting, or ask them to stop at the end of the aisle, turn into each other, and kiss when walking out of the ceremony room.
The Group Shots
The Everyone Shot
I used to complete this shot using a monopod with a wide-angle lens, setting everyone in place and the camera on a timer, hoping for the best and then holding the monopod up as far as I could. The trouble with that is you're not really seeing what you're getting until after the fact, you can't identify people chatting at the back and tell them to look up, can't move closer, and the shots look static and frankly unemotional. My associate photographer, Mark, used to call this the "who's dead" shot, as the only time a couple would look at this would be to work out who was still alive and who'd eloped with whom many years from now. The secret to getting this shot spot on every time is to use a drone. People instantly look up at the drone ("oooh, look it's a drone!"). You can see exactly what you're getting and make real-time adjustments. Plus, it captures a different perspective of the venue and creates a shot with a lot more life and interest.
The Family Portraits
I would recommend this is kept to around 15 images, as it takes more time than you might think to get all the relevant people in the right place at the right time, particularly when you're probably competing with the distraction of the bar and canapés! In my pre-wedding planning document, I always ask the bride and groom which groups they want to be photographed on the day, along with any family politics that I should be aware of. It helps to avoid the potential awkwardness of asking people who do not get along to stand next to each other! On the day, your associate photographer, with help from the best man or bridesmaids, can get the next group together while you are setting up your shot. Encourage the bride and groom to be intentional with the list of group shots that they want, as while it captures the memories, it also takes time away from enjoying their day with their nearest and dearest.
Portraits of the Bride and Groom
Obviously, this is an important one, and I prepare for it in advance by having a complimentary engagement shoot with the couple. It creates a great opportunity to get to know them, show them a few posing tips, and get them to feel generally more comfortable in front of the camera. I use humor to calm the nerves and create funny, interesting portraits. It's also a good idea to visit the venue beforehand if possible, particularly if it's a new one for you, to find the best spots. On the wedding day itself, find somewhere away from the main group if possible and look for somewhere with great light. Stay away from dappled light (nothing worse than a tiger-striped pattern on the bride's face from branches on a low-hanging tree). Get some 3/4 and full-length shots, and use your associate photographer for a great veil shot if they have a long veil.
Father of the Bride Speech
This is a key moment. Most likely, you'll hear great stories and emotionally valuable moments bringing tears to the eyes, which make for great shots. People don't just see photos of what was going on but remember how they felt when those pictures were taken, so capturing emotionally key moments will make you a better photographer. The trick to this is to stick on the bride's dad and just wait. Yep. Don't look around for another shot, that's what your associate photographer is for. Stick with your subject and be prepared to look at who he's speaking to for the reaction to what he's saying. It's not just him likely to get emotional, but the bride too.
The Evening Events
The First Dance
The first dance the couple takes together is incredibly important. Get this wrong, and this is all that people will remember. It requires forethought, planning, and getting people up from their seats and around the dance floor. There's nothing worse than seeing the couple on the dance floor alone. My method involves asking all the couples and family there to turn on the flashlight on their mobile phones and stand around the edges of the dance floor, asking them to help illuminate the couple. In truth, it's just decorative, as we always set up a couple of Rotolights to illuminate the couple, but it does create a lovely effect behind the couple.
Those are my 10 essential shots and how I capture them. Honestly, I could have made this a list of twenty! There were so many more to include, like the cake cutting, the best man's speech, the flowers and shoes shot during bridal prep, and the sparklers shot. You get the idea. I'll save those for another article. I'd really like to hear your comments, so please feel free to leave them. If you'd like to see more of my wedding work, then please visit me at here. Thanks for reading.
I was a wedding photographer for almost 15 years and every once in a while I would still forget to get one of these super important shots. I should have probably carried a checklist.