Digital Photography Techniques

Tips for Wedding and Group Photography

So, you’ve managed to get yourself hooked into photographing a wedding. If you can’t feign illness, get yourself imprisoned, or skip out of the country, it looks like you are going to have to do it! Fear not, because although weddings are hard work and stressful to photograph, with a little planning and following a few simple rules, I’m sure it will be a success. I wrote this article for two of my photography workshop attendees who had agreed to shoot a wedding for a friend. It contains the advice I gave them. Please feel free to add your own tips in the comments section.

Photographing a Wedding or Group of People

Planning is important, because it will put you at ease and allow you to concentrate on the photography on the day, instead of worrying whether you have everything covered.

Two photographers can shoot most events including weddings. If you have only one photographer, be sure to have an assistant to marshall the guests and arrange the bride's dress.

Before the day:

  • Meet with the client to discuss what they want. Take notes and send them an email of what your understanding is of the event. This should include: 
    • How long you’ll be at the event

    • What parts of the event you’ll cover

    • List of formal shots they ask for

    • How proofs and prints will be dealt with

    • Contract and payment information (if you’re being paid)

  • Before the day, visit the location at the same time of day as the event will be held. You can scout some of the best areas to shoot depending on where the sun is. Also, take your camera and take some location shots as you might be able to use them in the wedding album.

  • Make a checklist of all the equipment you need to take. If there are two of you, backups are taken care of, but if I shoot on my own I always have a spare camera body with me.
  • Make a shot list. From your client meeting, you can prepare a shot list. Try to organize the shots into a list where you are adding people to the shot and then taking them away again to minimize the number of times you call someone to the camera. You can find a general shot list on the internet. Use this as a start and arrange to your needs.

  • If there are two of you, decide who is going to be “lead” photographer. All people photography is an interaction of photographer and subject. You must engage your subjects, win their confidence, tell them what you want, and get them to relax. It’s therefore important that only one photographer appears as the lead so that no confusion or contradiction occurs.

TIP: Be confident at all meeting with clients. It’s important to appear to know what you’re doing. Even if they are a friend, they will relax if they know you have it under control.

A typical division of labor for the roles of lead and second photographer could be:

Lead Photographer

  • Follows bride during time she gets ready and takes pictures of her dressing etc.

  • Takes bride’s arrival at place of ceremony (getting out of car)

  • Takes pictures of ceremony

  • Takes formal group pictures

Second Photographer

  • Arrives first to church and takes pictures of flowers, etc.

  • Takes portraits of groom’s party as they wait for bride

  • Shoots guest arrivals and guest candid photos prior to ceremony

  • Sets up in gallery to do wide shot of congregation

  • Assists with formal group pictures by wrangling guests according to shot list

  • Arranges bride’s dress during formal pictures

  • Keeps bride’s mother calm!

Both Photographers

  • Shoots candid photos during reception

  • Takes guest table photos

On the Day

Balboa Park Wedding PartyHere are some tips for making the shoot a success on the day:

  • Arrive early so client isn’t stressed wondering if you’ll show up.

  • Dress nicely – if you want to make a career out of this type of photography first impressions count and you never know if your next client isn’t one of the guests.

  • A photographer cannot make a wedding, but they sure can ruin it! Do not turn the wedding into a photo shoot. You are there to document and stay in the background as much as possible.

  • Keep the atmosphere fun, festive, and light and don’t get too bossy.

  • Try to limit after-ceremony formals to 20 minutes by working fast and efficiently.

  • Wedding photos are difficult, because the groom is usually in black and bride in white. Do not blow out her dress! Check your histogram regularly. Bracket if you are nervous about it. Shoot RAW or RAW and JPEG.

  • Steps, such as those to a church are useful for shooting big groups as you can get everybody’s face in the photo. You can also try shooting from a balcony with everyone looking up at you or bring a step ladder.

  • Watch for people hiding behind someone else. It doesn’t matter if you are covering most of their body, but all their face MUST be in the shot. Some idiot always wants to hide or do bunny ears over someone’s head.

  • Turn on fast burst mode and take several shots when you have a group or crowd. Without this, someone is sure to have their eyes closed.

  • Watch for hands on shoulders. It doesn’t look good.

  • Check your backgrounds! It is such a pain trying to photoshop out a telegraph pole from a lot of photos.

  • Vary poses. For large groups get the kids sitting in front, or split the group into three and have each group face the bride and groom in the center.

  • Tell the crowd not to photograph while you are taking pictures so you have the subject’s attention, but if you like tell them you’ll keep the pose for a few seconds when you’ve done so they can take pictures. Don’t do this if you are selling the photos.

  • For small groups have everyone turn in sideways towards bride and groom and partially cover people of ample proportions with someone else.

TIP: Buy a book on wedding photography to get some idea of bride and groom poses.

  • Keep lighting simple unless you are really experienced. Make sure the lighting is even across the group and that part of the group isn't in shadow.

  • Don’t turn up with any piece of equipment unless you have used it and practiced with it frequently!

  • Try to find time during the reception when you can take the bride and groom off to a quiet place for 20 or 30 minutes to do some poses together.

  • Shoot formals with a tripod. It allows you to get a view of the crowd without having to be looking through the viewfinder. Make sure people are looking into the camera though!

TIP: A professional photographer’s secret is that nobody really cares what the guys look like in photos! As long as their eyes are open, their hair is combed, and clothes are straight; you’re pretty much on to a winner. The guys are just there as props for the bride. Remember the female head tilt and check you haven’t got the groom in that pose.

Post Processing

Chances are you now have over 600 images to post-process. I'm not going to say much about post-processing as it's a whole other article, but here are a few tips for making it easier:

  • Take a first cut and move out all the obvious bad shots, don’t do any post-processing on them.

  • Use a package like Lightroom or Aperture that allows you to select groups of images and make global changes to brightness, contrast, color, and exposure.

  • You can select similar images and change them all in one go.

  • Show the client only those photos you like.You can post-process further once the client chooses the ones they want.

  • Don’t photoshop them to death! If you look at a picture and can see it’s obviously photoshopped, then it is bad! Black and whites with just the flowers left in color is passé. Avoid doing tricks like that. Also avoid fancy borders.

  • A little glamour glow works well, as does soft focus, and selected Gaussian blur.

TIP: Research by Smugmug claims that you will sell more pictures online if you have nice big thumbnails for galleries you show to the wedding party, but small thumbnails for wedding guests. This is because the wedding party really want to buy prints, so want a clear view of what they're getting. The wedding guests will simply satisfy themselves with passing around the gallery link and viewing pictures online if you make the preview shots too big.