Complete Guide to Wedding Photography – Tips and Tricks for Better Photos
Wedding photography is one of the most common and most lucrative forms of professional photography. While demographics and social trends may fluctuate over time, the need for preserving the memories from weddings is a universal concept that knows no borders.
As a celebration of love and family, wedding photography can provide fun, exciting, and rewarding opportunities to exercise your technical and creative abilities. However, since weddings are a once-in-a-lifetime event, the experience can also be stressful and difficult, especially without the right knowledge, experience and preparation. The goal for this guide is to go beyond a haphazard list of wedding photography tips and give you a full guide for concept mastery.
Wedding Photography Guide Outline
- Wedding Photography Cameras, Lenses And Equipment
- Tips for Planning For Wedding Photography
- Groom Photography Tips
- Bride Photography Tips
- How To Photograph Groomsmen
- How To Photograph Bridesmaids
- Tips For Wedding Photojournalism
- Learn Symmetrical Group Posing
- Tips For Editorial Wedding Party Posing
- How To Capture The First Look
- Photographing Wedding Ceremony and Wedding Reception Details
- Tips For Flash Photography For Small Rooms
- Tips For Flash Photography For Large Rooms
- Natural Light Wedding Photography Tips In Harsh Sunlight
- Tips For Photographing The Ceremony
- Learn Night Time Couples Photography
- Wedding Reception Tips
- Wedding Sparkler Exit Tips
1. Wedding Photography Cameras, Lenses And Equipment
Wedding photographers should start with purchasing just what they need and upgrade along the way with more experience and income.
Wedding Photography Cameras – The ideal camera for wedding photography is a full frame camera with great low light performance, such as a Canon 5D Mark IV, Nikon D850, or Sony A7R. If you can’t afford one of these bodies, consider purchasing used or the previous generation of these bodies.
Wedding Photography Lenses – The ideal lenses for wedding photography are “fast lenses,” i.e. lenses that drop down to a low aperture number. Most wedding photographers have a 24-70mm F/2.8 lens, a 70-200mm F/2.8 lens and a prime lens or two. For more information, see our 6 must have lenses for wedding photography.
Wedding Photography Equipment – Besides cameras and lenses, you’ll need a set of bags, flashes, flash stands, flash modifiers, a reflector, and a tripod. For more information, see our Wedding Photography Gear Guide.
2. Tips for Planning For Wedding Photography
Proper planning and communication prior to showing up at a wedding can prevent issues and help create a positive client experience. Here are some wedding photography planning tips.
The Moodboard – A wedding moodboard is a Pinterest board or other visual document that displays images that the clients like and appreciate. Moodboards are not “shots lists,” but rather a visual representation of style and preferences.
Timeline Review – Understand, backwards and forwards, the entire Wedding Photography Timeline. As a wedding photographer, you’re responsible for ensuring that the day doesn’t run behind. Not staying on time can result in issues with the wedding coordinator, shortened timeframes to execute critical shots, and unhappy clients.
Scout the Location – Scouting the location with the timeline in hand is critical for a successful shoot. Since lighting is so important in photography, understanding what areas of the wedding venue has the best light at every part of the day can ensure that you are using the right locations and the right times. Use an app like Sun Seeker to track the sun’s movement.
See more wedding planning tips here.
3. Groom Photography Tips
While many photographers focus primarily on the bride, make sure you give yourself enough time and creative energy to tell the groom’s side of the wedding day story. Focus on the following photos for the groom:
Wedding Groom Details – Try to budget enough time to capture the details of the groom’s outfit and other wedding items before they go on his body.
Photojournalism of the Groom – As the groom and his groomsmen get ready, capture different angles of the moments. For a stronger sense of storytelling, ensure that you’re getting a good mix of wide, medium and tight shots.
Classic and Creative Portraits of the Groom – Get a variety of poses for the groom, from classic smiles into the camera to sitting poses with no smiles. Most hotel rooms will have great window light, so most of the time, just keep it simple with available light. After you have a nice set of classic portraits of the groom, try your hand at a few creative portraits. Look for silhouettes, reflections, and creative off=camera flash opportunities.
For more information, read our article on How to Master Groom Prep.
4. Bride Photography Tips
The bride is undoubtedly the star of the show on her wedding day, but her must-have shot list does not differ much from the groom. Focus on the following photos for the bride:
Bride Details – In addition to the dress, shoes, and rings, a bride’s details often include a large array of accessories like bracelets, earrings, and necklaces. To allow enough time to photograph these details, request in advance that the bride gather all of her details into one convenient location. While brides typically want an image of the dress by itself, that’s not always the case with the smaller details. If the bride opts to have the details photographed while she’s wearing them, then you won’t have to waste time setting up product-style shots of the details that she really won’t care about.
Photojournalism of the Bride – Your visual storytelling will only benefit from capturing wide, medium, and tight angles, so keep this in mind while photographing the bride and her bridesmaids as they’re getting ready. Photojournalistic bride prep shots usually include the following:
- The make-up artist putting the finishing touches on the bride’s hair & makeup
- A gift exchange between the bride and her bridesmaids
- A champagne toast
- The bridesmaids or family members helping the bride into her dress and shoes
Classic and Creative Portraits of the Bride – Must-have bridal portraits can include details, usually of the bride’s face, dress, or flowers, as well as full length (front & back) portraits, and images of the bride getting ready on her own. To capture more images in less time, use the same lighting and location for both formal and bridal prep portraits. After getting your classic portraits, look for reflections or shoot through objects to use for capturing creative shots.
For more information, read our article on How to Master Bride Prep.
5. How To Photograph Groomsmen
Groomsman portraits can make for some of the most fun and interesting images from the day. Just remember, whether they’re posing like GQ editorial models or goofing around, use lighting, posing, framing, or other means to ensure that the groom doesn’t get lost in the group.
Here are some tips for photographing the groom and his groomsmen.
Indoor and/or Outdoor Portraits – For indoor portraits, choose a location with great lighting, possibly near a large window (or several), and make sure that the background is clean. Having great lighting and a clean background is also ideal when shooting outdoors, so be sure to scout ahead of time and use apps like Sun Seeker to ensure the lighting will be optimal in the location you’ve chosen.
Candid and/or Posed Portraits – Candid and posed portraits are not always exclusive of one another. When the action is slow, create shots of the groom and groomsmen by directing the scene and prompting the action (gift exchanges, toasts, card games, etc).
Dramatic vs. Soft Lighting – While you could go the “standard” route and use an umbrella or big soft box to get soft, diffused light over the entire group, you might also consider capturing an image or two using dramatic lighting, especially if you’re using editorial-style posing.
See three ways to photograph groups with flash here.
Individual Portraits of the Groom with Each Groomsman – In addition to photographing the groom with his group of groomsmen, be sure to capture images of the groom with each individual groomsmen. Generally, try to capture at least one standard pose and one funny pose (see images below).
You can find specific posing cues for grooms and groomsmen here.
6. How To Photograph Bridesmaids
While there are many similarities between photographing the groomsmen and bridesmaids, there are some distinct differences, too. Follow these tips for photographing the bride and her bridesmaids.
Feminine Posing – The poses for bridal parties should highlight femininity, curves, and softness. Here are some key points to help guide you toward creating a flattering, feminine, pose for all of the bridesmaids.
- Narrow stance
- One knee crosses center to create more of an hourglass figure
- Hip kicked to one side
- Hands posed with purpose or at rest
- Relaxed joints
- Neck extended (slightly)
- Chin down/eyes up (softness)
- Chin up/eyes down (power)
- Walk heel over toe
Soft Lighting – Soft light is light that has been diffused through a light modifier (such as a soft box or sheer curtain), either on or off camera, and it generally produces fewer (or softer, less contrasty) shadows. For more information on off-camera light modification, check out our fifteen favorite off-camera flash light modifiers in this article!
Group Placement – When placing the bride and bridesmaids into position for a group portrait, place the VIPs closer to the bride (Maid of Honor, family members, etc.) and watch for contact points between the bridal party.
Touchpoints – Make sure that the bridal party is connected, but they should not overlap one another by more than 20% unless instructed to do so for a particular pose (such as a group hug).
Multiple Expressions – Once the bridal party is in position, mix up the poses and expressions by making micro-adjustments. This is as simple as asking the bridal party to look at the camera, look at the bride and lean into her, or just start laughing out loud, which usually results in genuine laughter.
7. Tips For Wedding Photojournalism
The goal in photojournalism is to limit interference with events as they unfold and to capture the actual emotion and atmosphere of the scene. The key ingredient in photojournalism is the storytelling, which sets it apart from otherwise capturing candid, unposed photos. Here are some tips for capturing better photojournalistic wedding images.
You can read more about wedding photojournalism in this article.
Composition – Frame your subjects in an interesting way (even something as simple as using the rule of thirds is often more interesting than always placing your subjects dead center in the photo) and use light and focus to draw attention to the intended subject whenever possible. If possible, include relevant subjects in the foreground that will help tell the story.
Lens Choice – A wide angle 35mm or 24mm prime lens will allow you to get journalistic images and environmental portraits. To create a nice story-telling format (tight, medium, wide), start close to the action and then work backwards until you’re able to capture the scene as a whole. You should also keep a 70-200mm zoom lens (or something similar) handy to capture scenes from a distance when necessary to avoid disrupting the action as it unfolds (such as an intimate moment during the first look, for example).
Anticipation – The best photojournalists seem to always be in the right place at the right time, ready to capture the shot. You can do this by listening to your subjects’ conversations (not in a creepy way) so that you can anticipate reactions and have your camera ready to capture them. For example, if it seems like a conversation is going to lead to a smile or a laugh, be ready, as most people smile right after they finish a sentence.
8. Learn Symmetrical Group Posing
Symmetrical posing is quick, relatively simple, effective for safely capturing group portraits, and works well with both small groups of six or fewer and large groups of 20 or more. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown for symmetrical group posing.
- Set your exposure settings and test your flashes before bringing in subjects
- Place the bride & groom in the center (v-up pose)
- Balance the number of subjects on each side
- Point the chest of the outer subjects toward the center
- Allow a slight overlap of the subjects (not more than 20-30%)
- Create touchpoints (such as placing one subject’s hand on another subject’s shoulder)
- Watch for height/balance across the group
- Adjust positions/re-balance
- Direct for look, shoot
- Change look/repeat
You can learn more about capturing group portraits in our article on How to Master Group Portraits.
9. Tips For Editorial Wedding Party Posing
Editorial poses can take longer to set up than standard symmetrical poses, but they’re worth the time and effort for many reasons, including wowing your clients with a higher production value and getting more shares on social media.
Here are some tips for editorial posing.
Four Primary Editorial Shots – When it comes to the editorial images that you will want to capture, there are four primary shots that you will create in the editorial style:
- Wedding party
- Bride’s immediate family
- Groom’s immediate family
- Both immediate sides of the family together
Lighting and Objects – Set the exposure for your scene (bright and airy vs. dramatic, etc.) and place the posing objects (mainly chairs) to establish the scene. It’s okay if the chairs are not ideal as they’ll be covered by the subjects.
Posing – Start with your couple and then work your way out with VIPs and wedding party members. Place everyone in approximate groupings and then analyze each side for balance. Refine the poses and move your subjects around as needed to get the perfect shot.
10. How To Capture The First Look
Not every couple will agree to participating in a first look before the ceremony, but there are many benefits to doing first looks. For one, they provide more opportunities to photograph the couple before they’re swept up in the whirlwind of the wedding day.
For more information, read our article on How to Master the Bride and Groom’s First Look.
11. Photographing Wedding Ceremony and Wedding Reception Details
While images of details/decor may not seem as important as couples portraits, photographing them serves many purposes, including capturing memories for the bride and groom who rarely have time to appreciate them during the wedding and reception. These images can also be used to build relationships with vendors and bring more exposure to your brand.
The Best Angles – Do your due diligence and walk through the site to find the best angles before you begin snapping pictures. The resulting images can be dramatically different from the same scene.
Focal Length Vs. the Timeline – Often times, when you’re photographing wedding ceremony or reception site details, the scene will be busy with vendors putting the final touches for decor until the last minute. In order to stick to the timeline, you can start by photographing all of your tight shots (close-ups of flowers on or in front of the altar, programs, etc.) and work your way toward the wider shot of the entire scene. You might consult with the coordinator or planner to help clear people from the site so that you can get a wide shot before the guests start to filter in.
Vendor Relationships – Be sure to properly tag the other vendors from the wedding in your social media and blog posts. It will not only help build relationships with vendors but also encourage them to share your images and increase your online presence. Also, send high-resolution images to the venues/vendors so that they can share the photos in their own original posts.
To learn more about this topic, read our article on How to Master Wedding Ceremony & Reception Site Details.
12. Tips For Flash Photography For Small Rooms
When shooting in a small room, presumably one that is dimly lit, your best means of adding light will be via bounced on-camera flash.
Gear – Your options for on-camera flashes will vary depending on your camera body and budget, but a basic 50-60 watt-second pocket strobe like the Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT or Yongnuo’s budget-friendly version of the flash should do the trick. We also recommend adding a modifier to soften and help spread the light, such as a “Fong Dong” or MagMod‘s MagSphere.
Surfaces – While using a bounce flash requires a minimal setup time of under a minute, it also requires a neutral-color ceiling/wall. If the ceiling/wall does not have a neutral color, you may need to use a reflector or consider using direct flash (although this less likely in a small room).
Rim lighting – Rim lighting can be added with additional off-camera flashes if using the on-camera bounce flash as a master, but setting up the rim lights and stands will add a minute or two to the overall setup.
Limited movement – Because your light source is on-camera, your range of movement is limited. If you back away from your subjects, for example, then less light will reach them. At the same time, the subjects closest to the light source will be brighter than those in the background. Get your flash settings dialed in at an established distance and then keep it consistent thereafter.
13. Tips For Flash Photography For Large Rooms
Sometimes, shooting in a large dimly lit room can feel a lot like shooting outdoors at night. You’ll have to modify your setup based on the color and availability of the ceiling and walls, but here are some basic tips for using flash in large rooms.
Gear – You’re likely going to use an on-camera bounce flash and modifier (like those mentioned in the section above) as well as off-camera flashes for rim lights, especially if the ceiling/walls are not a neutral color or are otherwise vaulted or unusable.
Setup – Place two to four off-camera flashes in the corners of the room, each aimed to the center of the room and zoomed all the way out. The flashes should be on inconspicuous stands and kept out of the guests’ way. We recommend placing them next to speakers near the DJ booth if possible, or partially hiding them with curtains (again, whenever possible).
Surfaces – In a large room, the ceiling and walls are less likely going to help bounce light, which means you may need to use a reflector (such as an Fstoppers Flash Disc or a basic 5-in-1, etc.). The 5-in-1 will require help from an assistant. When an assistant is not available, another option involves placing an off-camera flash with an umbrella (or Magsphere) on a light stand and carrying that around.
14. Natural Light Wedding Photography Tips In Harsh Sunlight
During the daylight hours, outdoor wedding photography can pose a number of lighting challenges for those shooting with natural light, especially when the site offers only harsh sunlight. Here are some tips for shooting natural light wedding images in harsh sunlight.
RAW Format – You may need to fix some lighting issues in post, so be sure to set your camera to capture RAW images (instead of jpegs) to maximize your editing capabilities.
Dynamic Range – When you’re shooting in harsh sunlight, you likely won’t be able to use the LCD screen on your camera to gauge your exposure and ensure you’re getting the maximum dynamic range possible on your camera. To combat this, enable the highlight alert and check your histogram. That way, you’ll know whether or not you’re retaining your highlights and shadows.
Read our Ultimate Guide to Using Your Camera’s Histogram article for more information.
Light Direction – Light direction is important for creating dimension in your subjects’ faces. Midday sunlight, however, shines almost directly top down, leaving very little light direction. While you would normally seek shade under these conditions, sometimes it’s not an option. Your best course of action at this point is to place your subjects’ backs to the light and use a flash or reflector. If that is not an option, try to choose a location with a bright surface nearby (ground, building walls, etc.) to kick more light back up on to your subjects.
LCD Brightness – For more consistency, set your LCD brightness to a constant setting rather than leaving it on auto.
Strobes – If at all possible, consider using strobes. Check out this article to see what you can do with a strobe to overpower bright sunlight.
15. Tips For Photographing The Ceremony
A typical wedding ceremony lasts only 20-30 minutes, which limits the time you have to creatively capture all of the important moments and people as the ceremony unfolds. Here are some tips for making sure you don’t miss a moment.
Details – You can read more about how to photograph wedding and reception details here.
Nuances – Cultural nuances and the couple’s unique preference will impact the traditions observed (or avoided) during the wedding ceremony, so it’s important to study up ahead of time. Discuss the ceremony timeline and/or plans with the bride an groom well in advance so that you don’t miss an important moment.
Team movement – Wedding photography teams vary in size, but they generally range from an individual photographer to three shooters depending on the guest count. The more shooters you have on your team, the more coordinated the movement must be. During the ceremony, all shooters should rotate through three basic positions: Center aisle, outside the left side of the seating area, and outside the right side of the seating area (see the image below).
Team lens synergy – In addition to watching other shooters’ angles, it is important to be aware of the focal length they’re using to capture the action. If the lead is shooting down the aisle on a wide angle lens, the second shooter should be shooting the ceremony with a tighter focal length, such as a 70-200mm lens.
Read our full article on How to Master the Ceremony for more information.
16. Learn Night Time Couples Photography
It’s not uncommon to steal the bride and groom from the wedding reception for a quick night time session. They usually don’t want to be away from their friends and family long, so it’s important to make your time with the bride and groom worth it. Here are some tips for capturing night time couples portraits.
Scouting – Because your time with the couple is limited, it is imperative that you scout for the location before pulling the bride and groom away of the reception. Also, it helps to have a concept for your photo in mind when choosing a location. If you’re looking to do a whip pan, for example (pictured above), you’ll need to find a spot with adequate background lights.
Lighting – Lighting will vary, depending on the type of shot you want to capture, but some common lighting techniques for night time couples photography include the following:
- Backlighting plus a front light
- Whip pan
- Shutter drag
Watch this video for 5 Night Time Photography Tips in 5 Minutes.
Posing – Night time couples photographs usually lean more toward the romantic side, so you’ll probably go with some variation of the closed pose with or without a kiss. It helps to know all our foundation posing framework, however, so that you can direct the couple with confidence in any given situation.
Creativity – Put in the work for night time portraits long before you actually capture the photo. Practice your techniques and seek inspiration from others if necessary, and then bring your creative A-game to these portraits as they can make a profound impact on your portfolio and help draw future clients.
17. Wedding Reception Tips
Wedding receptions are loaded with fast-paced activities that require photographers to be keenly aware of the timeline. Here are some tips for effectively covering a wedding reception.
Interesting angles – Use medium to wide angles to show the environment as well as tight or close-up angles to highlight the emotions shown in the subjects’ expressions. Also, look for objects to shoot through to add a creative element to the image, and be mindful of negative space. Sometimes, the objects you use to create a shoot through can also be used to obscure unwanted elements in the background.
Storytelling – Involve guests and other elements to add to the story when photographing various elements of the wedding reception, such as the grand entrance, first dances, speeches, and other activities like cake cutting and dancing.
Get even more information in our article on How To Master The Reception | Wedding Photography Guide, Pt. 8.
18. Wedding Sparkler Exit Tips
A wedding photography staple, sparkler exits are both exciting and beautiful, not to mention stressful. There are plenty of things to keep in mind while coordinating and capturing these exits.
Long sparklers – Make sure you’re using long-lasting sparklers (typically 36″) so that you’ll have enough time to get everyone in position and get the shot.
Safety – Your first priority is the safety of the property and guests. Keep a bucket of water on hand to use for putting the sparklers out after the exit. In addition, warn the guests who are holding the sparklers to keep their distance from the couple as well as one another.
Exposure – Lighting is usually minimal during a sparkler exit, so adjust your camera settings to include high ISO and wide apertures. If the couple is moving, you’ll need a higher shutter speed, which will likely push your ISO up to 3200 and your aperture closer to wide open.
Lighting – You have several options to choose from when it comes to lighting a sparkler exit. The benefits of using a constant light include instantly seeing your actual exposure in the viewfinder as well as never missing a moment because the flash didn’t fire. Using flashes, however, will help freeze the action and they work perfectly for pin lighting (with shoots or grids) and backlighting the couple. Sticking with natural light is more a stylistic choice and is usually only recommended if you also have a second shooter who is using flash.
Read our article on How to Take Sparkler Pictures for more information.
What are some other tips we may have overlooked in this article?