Photographing a Friend's Wedding

It is in combined anticipation that the special day arrives. Preparations have been made, schedules reorganized, outfits devised and fit, and travel plans finalized. It is on this day that two people will join into a union as one. It is on this day in which all the ingredients come together that make up a wedding, provided somebody did not forget to pick-up the bride.

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The purpose of this article is to provide an introduction to wedding photography. I cannot stress enough, however, the importance of a seasoned wedding photographer being used for the wedding. The main reason for this is simply that this is a very special day in the lives of several people, especially two, and most importantly the bride, who will cherish this day more than anybody. This is a photography assignment which must be done right the first time, as there are no re-shoots.

Not everyone, however, can afford everything they would like for their wedding, and should not be expected to do such. For some people getting married, a friend or an acquaintance who is a photographer may be a more affordable option. This article is written to those photographers.

It is up to you, but for many photographers doing a wedding for the first time for a friend, it is often customary to do it for free. This provides a wedding gift for the bride and groom plus it gives you the opportunity to get valuable experience and to have a selection of photos to use in a portfolio for future clients, if that is a direction you wish to take.

Take Two… Action!

Regardless how well you may know someone, just showing up on the wedding day is not the best course, but is on occasion the only option in the case of short notice. The wedding rehearsal is invaluable to familiarize oneself with the course of events as they shall pass, as being caught off guard can cost you an important shot, and is particularly important for the novice wedding photographer who may not be familiar with weddings enough to anticipate shots or differences in ceremonies.


Providing a list of equipment you will need is not going to do much good as you most likely have your camera outfit, and, unless you are looking to do wedding photography regularly, buying additional equipment for a wedding can be an expense you do not necessarily need to incur.

CAMERA: Although a 35mm SLR is most ideal for shooting a wedding for a novice, a 35mm rangefinder works well too, it just does not offer the flexibility of an SLR. An auto focus SLR, as many photographers have, will work well, provided that you have the utmost faith in your auto focus system. My preference would be to shoot in manual focus mode, but that is your decision. I will just keep reminding you throughout this article that this is a one time event, without the possibility of a re-shoot, so use your most reliable equipment and settings.

LENSES: The most used lens in wedding photography is the normal lens, around 50mm, which provides the sharpest image with the least distortion of any lens. When needing a wide-angle lens, a 35mm lens, not 28mm, is ideal as it will provide you with coverage in tight spaces, and group shots when necessary, while minimizing the degree of distortion that is common to wide angle lenses. Being, however, that the 35mm lens is a rare puppy these days, and that zoom lenses are the norm for 35mm, a short zoom, emphasis on short, in the range of 28-70, 35-70, 35-105, or one which falls within those ranges, will do the job. Just remember to get used to your focal lengths on the zoom so you can shoot at 50mm as much as possible and go no wider than 35mm.

The occasion will arrive when you need to use a longer lens. I use a 100mm lens for telephoto shots but a 135mm lens or tele-zoom in the range of 70-210mm will do fine, as the telephoto is primarily used for ceremonial shots from the back of the church, or a balcony. Although this is a handy option to have, it is not a necessity as you can use your normal lens or the long end of your short zoom. If you are working solo, I would not recommend spending much time in the balcony anyway. Where you do have the option of a balcony and use it, the key shot is the kiss, at which you abandon your camera and move downstairs for an aisle shot. Obviously, if you do not have two cameras, the balcony is out if you are working solo.

FLASH: The flash unit which you use, well, will be whatever flash unit you own. I use a Vivitar 283 which offers a guide number of 120, a bounce head, and 4 auto ranges. I use a Stroboframe bracket which allows me to position the flash several inches above the camera and directly above the lens, in horizontal and vertical positions. Using the bracket helps to reduce shadows and redeye. Providing this is just a guideline for options you may want to incorporate, but it is ideal to have a flash unit with a guide number of 80 or better. If you use the flash mounted directly to the hot shoe of your camera, be aware of redeye problems, particularly in dimly lit sanctuaries and at receptions.

TRIPOD: A tripod is an essential at weddings. When using a telephoto lens or during available light shots, as most churches do not allow flash photography during the ceremony, a tripod is not an option but a necessity. Having a tripod with a quick release head is handy when having to dismount the camera quickly, but do not get too comfortable with the quick release plate being secure when moving the tripod with the camera attached, as I have seen cameras fall off and hit the floor doing this.

FILM: The choice of film is simple; 400 speed. Most color films will do but moderate contrast film offering normal colors, like Kodak Portra 400NC, is ideal. A good 400 speed film will provide adequate exposure latitude indoors while allowing flexibility outdoors.

Since the most important aspect of shooting a wedding is making certain that you are prepared for any eventuality, carrying lots of film is a must. Consider ten rolls to be a minimum. I have listed in the photography sessions section over seventy shots to take, and consider that a minimum. You will, not most likely, but will shoot more than that. It is a good idea to have twice the film you expect to need.

A SECOND CAMERA: Having a second camera is not an option but a requirement. When used as a backup for the primary camera to take backup shots just in case something went wrong with the primary camera, it serves a very important and necessary function. No photographer should ever do a wedding with only one camera. The event is too important to blindly put your entire faith in one piece of equipment.

Any camera will work as a second camera. If you do not have two SLRs, or a rangefinder, an inexpensive single-focal length point & shoot camera will do the job and, due to its compact size, can be used to take a second shot of crucial moments like the father walking the bride down the aisle. This will give you a backup shot just in case.

ADDITIONAL EQUIPMENT: Additional equipment that may come in handy is a polarizing filter if you are going to be doing outdoor shots. A skylight, not UV, filter can come in handy during indoor shots under fluorescent lights as it does not affect your f-stop like an FLD filter will and your flash will correct most of the effects of fluorescent lighting on your subject.

Batteries are an essential. Even if you use rechargeables with your equipment, carry backup alkaline batteries; at least four sets for your equipment.

If you carry one of those inexpensive folding stools that can be purchased at a department store, please be advised that most of these stools have a weight limit of 200 lbs. This is not a suggestion but the limit. Never let someone sit on such a stool if they are over this weight limit (and guess, do not ask them their weight). If you do, the stool can collapse and they can be injured. Most of these stools list the maximum weight limit on the underside of the seat.

It has been said before and I will say it again; a wedding is a one-time event which cannot be re-shot. Carry a backup camera, flash, and lens, period.

Continue on to Photographing a Friend’s Wedding: Part II