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Wedding Photography Tips for Amateur Photographers
By Christopher Maxwell

So – you love photography and have been asked by a friend to take pictures at their wedding. Why is it that it seems like every professional photographer will recommend you don’t do it? Are they a bit biased? Maybe they don’t want to be blamed for encouraging you to take the photos if you make mistakes and ruin the wedding photos…

I’m a wedding photographer that realizes every professional started out by photographing a “first wedding” at some point. While I will still recommend you give the couple a monetary gift so they can hire a professional photographer, if you are going to go ahead and do the photography yourself, I want to help you do the best job possible!

I remember spending more than a hundred hours working HARD to prepare for my first wedding. Learning as much as I could online. Buying wedding photography books. Taking practice photos (indoors and outdoors). Visiting the church and reception site. Taking more practice photos. Begging people (family members, relatives, friends) to pose for me so I could practice arranging…

IT IS possible for an amateur to successfully photograph a wedding – but you have to be willing to work really, really hard. And be willing to dedicate a lot of time to preparing for the wedding! And make sure the couple knows it is your first wedding so that they have low expectations. Then you can blow them away with your good results!

LEARN ABOUT LIGHTING

Do you know how to take well-lit photos in a variety of settings? Can you take nicely-lit photos that primarily use natural light while indoors? Or do you use “blast-flash” on all your subjects?

There are three basic settings on the camera that control exposure. Do you know what those three are? If you are a student of photography you should immediately know the three I am referring and should know how they interact!

#1 - Do you know what ISO refers to and what settings work best for various lighting conditions? If you stepped outside for some photos at a wedding, what would you move your ISO to? If you are indoors, what ISO setting will give you a good mixture of quality and light capture? At what ISO setting does your camera begin to take grainy photos? On my Nikon D1x I will shoot indoors at ISO 400 all day and end up with beautiful, grain-free results. If needed, I can go up to ISO 520 or 640. I try to avoid ISO 800 – but will do it if needed (there are tons of Photoshop plug-ins, free and paid, that can be used to lessen the grain).

#2 - Do you know what shutter speed you can comfortably shoot at without taking blurred photos? The first bit of advice is to hold the camera as still as possible while taking photos. Sound simple, but it’s important! Don’t jam the button down, press it gently.

Second bit of advice is to use a tripod whenever possible. I almost always use a tripod during wedding ceremonies that are indoors. Most of the time it is the only way I am able to get natural-lit shots of the wedding ceremony (due to the slow shutter speeds and dim lighting).

Third bit of advice is that, if you can’t use a tripod, try to brace yourself on whatever is handy. Lean against a wall. Set the camera on the back of a pew as a stabilizer.

The fourth bit of advice is the industry-wide rule of thumb regarding shutter speeds: you generally shouldn’t shoot at a shutter speed “faster” than the zoom of your lens. If you have a 50mm lens (don’t forget about digital magnification factors) you would want to shoot at 1/50th or faster. A 200mm zoom would be best shot with 1/200th of a second or faster. But this is why PRACTICE is so important: over the years I have found I can shoot with a slower shutter speed if I am using flash (to find out about my flash lighting techniques, visit my web site which I link to below). I’ve successfully taken non-blurred images while indoors with extremely dim lighting using ISO 520, f2.8, 1/30th of a second exposure with a 70mm lens and some bounce flash.

#3 - Do you know what aperture setting is best for indoor photos? For outdoor photos? For achieving a blurred-background effect (yes, shooting “wide open” – which means a low-numbered aperture - with a zoom lens is all that is needed)? For having as much of the photo in focus as possible?

This is the first in a series of articles that are designed to help amateurs as they prepare to photograph their first wedding. I have a significant amount of additional information on my web site, and also link to other web sites that have information to help you out!

Christopher Maxwell is a photographer in the Kansas City area. He has a web site that includes Wedding Photography Tips for amateurs. He shares practical advice and information that he has learned while photographing weddings.

Additional Wedding Photography Tips:

Part 2, Preparing your equipment

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