Incense

by Bart Arondson

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I guess this comes up for most of us that are known by friends as "the photographer"... I've been asked to be the official photographer at a wedding.

I think I have the equipment sorted. I have my DSLR, and am hiring a flash and an L-series lens. I have a list of "formal" pictures that the bride and groom want.

What am I missing? Do you have any tips for how to "manage" all the guests without getting in the way? Are there any indispensable gadgets that I should consider?

Maybe also relevant:

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This should probably be community wiki. –  Stephen Darlington Nov 16 '10 at 12:39
    
..and now it is... –  Rowland Shaw Nov 16 '10 at 12:40
    
If you have the time, and live in a moderately populated area, I highly suggest putting yourself out for being a wedding photographer's assistant for one wedding. You can find requests for assistants on craigslist or photography forums, they usually pay $200-400 for a big wedding (at least in SF, so maybe 10%) and you get a lot of experience. Who knows, you might even like it :) –  Shizam Nov 16 '10 at 15:25
    
Another question with answers covering the same area - photo.stackexchange.com/questions/3467/… –  Hamish Downer Nov 16 '10 at 18:12
    
Great suggestions everyone, thanks for your answers. –  Stephen Darlington Nov 18 '10 at 14:14

4 Answers 4

There's a difference in "doing it as a wedding present" (for friends/family) and "doing it return for money". The "must have"s stay the same, but I would expect a professional to cover most of the "should have"s too.

Having the right equipment

There are three main groups of kit, the "must", the "should" and the "nice to":

Must have

  • Camera
  • Lens (Something like a standard or wide zoom would work; I've seen a lot of pros using Canon's 17-40/f4)
  • Spare batteries
  • About 4 times as many memory cards as you think you'll need

Should have

  • Spare camera
  • Long lens (this is a stylistic point though, but good at getting natural shots of people enjoying themselves without being too "in your face")
  • Neutral (and without pattern) golf umbrella just in case it rains.
  • Separate flash (ideally one that can be angled and rotated to bounce off convenient surfaces
  • Step stool/ladder to get that little bit of extra height.

Nice to have

  • Eyes in the back of your head (or a second photographer) to pick up on some of the more informal details that the bride and groom might appreciate.
  • Some kind of portable bench to provide somewhere for the bride and groom to sit and sip their champagne, whilst having their photo taken (etc).

Regarding crowd control

If there are ushers, make them earn their keep and try and get them to assist -- they generally will know who is family, who are friends, and whether they're on the bride or groom's side, and can usually be coaxed into helping (even if it's a gentle nudge along the lines of "the sooner you help get these done, the sooner the bar can prop you up")

Be assertive; Generally, guests are used to being corralled at weddings and are understanding that you're just doing you job.

Make sure you look around and pay attention to those that aren't aware of the camera - for example, children picking up confetti or the ushers chatting up the bridesmaids...

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The only thing I'd add would be "monopod" to the should have list! –  Matt Grum Nov 16 '10 at 16:08
    
@Matt I almost put tripod, but I've not seen one used at a wedding in almost ten years; Maybe it's just nice to have? –  Rowland Shaw Nov 16 '10 at 17:35
    
Tripods not so much (there's rarely time to set one up), but a monopod is more widely used - if you're going to shoot at 200mm in a dimly lit church (which is sometimes necessary) the monopod makes life so much easier! –  Matt Grum Nov 16 '10 at 19:34
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I thing that if you're going to be the main photographer, spare camera is a must. It's not that expensive to rent a second body, and you definitely don't want to see a photoless bride. –  che Nov 17 '10 at 9:41
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Don't worry about it -- you won't see a photoless bride, ever. You'll see a firey beast with fangs and claws, and you'll only see that for the brief time it takes for your body to lose consciousness. (Worst moment ever? Paying more than twice what I was going to be paid to print large custom-balanced Cibachromes because I'd left a roll of tungsten slide film in my camera bag among the VPS. Of course, all of the outdoor group formals were on that roll -- it's a quantum thing I can't quite wrap my head around, but the equation is elegant.) –  user2719 Apr 6 '11 at 20:00

If I were in your position I would have all of that plus a written agreement stating that the couple understand that you are not a professional wedding photographer, you are doing this as a favour (and in the process saving them hundreds of dollars), and thus they cannot complain (or sue you) if the results are in any way not as good as they are expecting. Not that you can't get as good results as a pro or shouldn't try, it's just nice to have that piece of paper...

  • Regarding equipment, a monopod is very handy in church if you can't get close to the couple (some ministers make you stand at the back) and have to use a telephoto. I'd also add a telephoto lens to the list. Regarding lenses you should he able to cover 24 - 200mm equiv. I've never shot a wedding where I needed to shoot outside this range, sometimes it's nice to have the ability.

  • Regarding gadgets they don't have to high tech, I have a neck tie with a lens cloth sewn into the back for easy lens cleaning (pat pending). I also always carry: tissues, electrical tape, duck tape, cash, local taxi numbers, a swiss army knife. You never know when they might be useful (at one welding I had to fix the radiator in a 1930s Mercedes Benz in order to actually get the bride to the ceremony!)

  • Regarding managing people, you need to look and act like the official photographer. Wear a suit and tie, use a battery grip if you have one to make you camera look bigger (everyone at a wedding has a DSLR these days, but most are rebels with the kit lens, you need to stand out). Order people around, but be polite.

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The necktie with lens cleaner is awesome. –  jfklein13 Nov 16 '10 at 18:27
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I like the "look like a photographer" thing. A lens hood can also serve that purpose :) –  Bossykena Nov 17 '10 at 21:15

Make sure the couple's expectations are realistic.

We asked a friend to photograph our wedding as a gift, and were delighted with the result, because we had very low expectations (mostly because I'm an amateur myself, and know how hard it is to get the perfect shot every time). Our friend did a great job, and we got several pro-quality pictures. But not for every critical moment (for instance, we don't have a good picture of the bouquet throwing, and our ceremony pictures needed a lot of post-processing because the lighting was suboptimal).

Also, do not forget to photograph a lot of the background elements and details. Table settings, rings, placecards, etc... And expecially anything homemade. These are easy to photograph beforehand, you can take your time composing a really good picture, and they make good album fillers.

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I would

  • talk to the couple about expectations - it being your first time you're bound to miss a few key shots, stuff up a few other ones etc, so if they really want all the key moments caught, getting a professional who is experienced is the only way to do it.
  • find someone to be your partner for the day. They don't have to be a photographer, but someone who is up for arranging people for group shots and is good at thinking ahead and being aware of the space and what will be coming up. And your partner should be someone who really will prioritise being with you for the whole day, even when they are missing out on other things because of that.
  • talk through what shots the couple really want so you can prioritise them. Have a list of common wedding shots with you to cover the shots they may not have thought of. Ideally have your partner with you for the conversation.
  • go to all the venues before the day of the wedding to scope out the light, the seating, where people will be moving through and think about where you'll have to be to get the shots. Think about what lens you'll need attached.
  • reading a few articles there seems to be a theme of getting spares of everything - body, batteries, CF card etc. You may want to rent extra kit, and if you do get it the day before so you know how it works.

Some good articles for further reading:

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