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Photographing a friend's wedding

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Help, I’ve been asked to take the photos at my friend’s wedding!

If you are a good photographer, be it professional or amateur, you have probably been asked more than once to take the photographs at a friend or family member’s wedding. “We want you to do it, as we know you”, “You take great pictures!”, “We don’t want the typical wedding photos that everyone else has”…

There are many things to consider before deciding whether to accept, and planning how to go about the job.

What would you be letting yourself in for?

Whether you decide to accept or not depends on several things:

  • Do you doubt your abilities? Remember that even though you may have won prizes for your shot of a rare bird or for a travel reportage, as a wedding photographer you will need to take hundreds of perfectly framed and posed photos of people, with relatively little time for each shot, in varying light conditions, and with a whole range of things that could go awry. There is no going back the next day if things go wrong.

  • Are your computer photo editing skills limited? Most wedding photographers now do extensive work on the computer to edit photos and put together albums, so unless your friends specifically say that they don’t want the photos editing, be sure you are able to do the editing work without difficulties.

  • Will your ideas clash? If you are into more artistic photography and feel that you would be restricted by taking traditional, posed wedding photos, then perhaps the couple would be advised to seek a photographer who better meets their needs.

  • Will you hate every minute of it? If you genuinely feel that you won’t enjoy the experience for any reason (maybe the bride is your friend but you secretly don’t like her husband-to-be), then let them down gently.

  • Would you rather enjoy the wedding as a guest? If you love weddings and haven’t been to a good party in years, maybe you’d rather not spend the day on the other side of the lens.

  • Are you afraid of the responsibility? Taking photos for a client is one thing, but taking wedding pictures for someone who is also a friend may make you feel like you have a rather large weight on your shoulders.

If you decide to say no for whatever reason, be honest with your friends. One way you could help is to offer to help the couple find the right photographer for them amongst your contacts.

Things to bear in mind

  • wedding-photographer

    Speak to your friends. One thing is that they trust you and another is that you don't take into account their opinions on the photos you are going to take. Meet up with them, find out more about their wedding plans, and talk about your suggestions for shots. Insist on visiting the venues where the ceremony and reception are to take place so that you can take a few trial shots (how about some engagement portraits? This is a good way of finding out if you are suited to working together). Ask them in which formats they want the final copies. Even though you are friends, we recommend writing everything down with a copy for each party. Misunderstandings can ruin friendships.

  • Don’t lose out financially. Now for that dirty word that always rears its ugly head: money. Even if you are not charging your friends for your services (we recommend you only work for free if you genuinely want to as you may feel some resentment later), you don’t want to lose out financially. Make sure they understand how much prints, DVDs, film (if you use it), etc. will cost them, and if they pay you some of the money in advance, all the better to save embarrassment later (having to ask friends for money can be very uncomfortable).

  • Shoot your photos in RAW format, never in Jpeg. This will save your life as it is easier to make color or exposure correction later on the more important photos that did not come out technically perfect. That said, don’t go crazy with your editing software, and stick to necessary changes only.

  • Ideally, your pictures should provide a faithful record of what happened on the day. Choose the best and analyze them, thinking about which work well together. It is important that the photos look esthetically the same, and not with each photo in a different style or tone. Remember that you are telling the story of your friend’s wedding day.

  • Be discreet. Although you are going to a wedding, try to dress comfortably in clothes that allow you to bend down easily, and wear comfortable shoes. And even though your photos are the most important for the bride and groom, remember that you are not the star of the show, so respect other guests who also wish to take photos. If they get in your way, politely request they wait until you have finished the shot.

  • Choose the best photo printing service you can. Even if you have your own photo printer, get copies of the photos made at a professional laboratory. Your friends will thank you for it.

  • More than one person is going to want copies of your work, so put it on the Internet. Upload some of the photos to Flickr so that the guests can order copies themselves. Give the newlyweds a DVD with the edited photos in Jpeg format so that they can order more copies in the future. You could also present them with an album of some 15 or 20 photos.

Have I got the right equipment for the job?

You don’t need the fanciest kit in the world to take wedding photos, but there are certain items which are essential:

  • At the very least, you will need a good digital SLR body and lens equipped with a stabilizer. Most professional photographers would recommend either a Canon or Nikon digital SLR.

  • Lenses with a large maximum aperture of f/2.8 or more will be useful for photographing a wedding. It is possible to cover every focal length with lenses ranging from 15-300mm, but a set of three zoom lenses will cover all possibilities: wide-angle zoon, wide-to-telephoto zoom, and image-stabilized zoom. You could also include 2 or 3 fast prime lenses for greater depth of field or fast shutter speed, for example 28/1.8, 50/1.8, and 85/1.8. Prime lenses are small, light, and not expensive.

  • Flashes and accessories, such as monolight heads, TTL flashes, light stands, umbrellas, softboxes, handheld flash meter and flash triggers. Use available light as much as possible to avoid the use of flash, which is sometimes prohibited in certain venues or the bride may request that flash not be used. Flash photography does not give the most romantic look anyway, so make the most of natural light.

  • You will need a memory card of at least 8 Gb for the whole reportage. Some photographers might take up to 600 photos of a wedding, especially if you use the burst function that takes multiple shots in a second, as at least one of the shots will hopefully be “the one”. Don’t be lulled into thinking that this function will find the photo for you, however. You need to anticipate the action (such as rice throwing) and press the shutter just as it begins to happen.

  • You probably won’t need reminding to make sure that your batteries are fully charged. Many photographers find they do not need a second battery, but it is a good idea to carry a spare.

  • Pack everything in two bags (many photographers prefer backpacks as they are so much lighter to carry), with your main equipment in one and spare body, lenses, etc. in the second.

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