Shooting your first wedding

Last year a mate of mine (the inimitable Tim Arch) asked if I would be interested in shooting a wedding. I thought that this would be a good opportunity to work with someone who knows what they’re doing and to learn a few tricks of the trade, so I said ‘Sure.’ But a few days later I re-read his message and suddenly realised that he hadn’t actually said that I would be assisting him, and after a flurry of DMs on Twitter I came to realise that in fact Tim would be attending the wedding…and I would be shooting it by myself. So I explained that while I felt happy with the way my photography was progressing…I didn’t really feel comfortable being the ‘be-all and end-all’ for someone’s wedding day. So Tim said he would explain this to the Bride and Groom, and a few days later he let me know that they were still happy to have me shoot their wedding. So it was time to HTFU and shoot my first wedding!
Was it terrifying? Yes. Were there things I could have done better? Yes. Did I learn more in about 4 hours than I had in the previous year? Yes. Will I ever shoot another wedding? I don’t know…but at least it’s not a definite ‘No!’.
So I’m no expert on wedding photography…but here’s what I learnt.


Admittedly this is not going to come as a massive surprise…but the more prep you do, the easier the day will be. I had a few meetings with the groom before hand and a meeting with the bride and groom about a week out from the wedding. This was invaluable for making sure we were all on the same page in terms of what I was going to shoot.
I also headed over to the venue the day before at about the same time as the wedding was going to be to make sure I had a few good ideas for where I could shoot the group shots. While I was there I also roped a friend into walking towards me so that I could work out what shutter speed I would need to get shots of the bride walking towards me.
You may not use any of the the info that you glean from this preparation  (Lord knows I certainly did!), but you will be able to carry yourself with the confidence that comes with being prepared.

I discovered this location on a walk a few months earlier and thought it would make for a great shot.
I discovered this location on a walk a few months earlier and thought it would make for a great shot.


Preparation is great…right up until that moment you when the spot you had in mind for the group shots suddenly isn’t available and you have to come up with another option. Or when the bridal party is crossing the road to get from one location to another and you see a chance to shoot them with an iconic Melbourne tram in the background (admittedly this shot didn’t work…but at least I got it!) So keep your eyes open for opportunities, and don’t freak out if you have make a last minute change.

Make sure you get a few shots that 'tell the story' of the day. This one serves as a good introduction.
Make sure you get a few shots that ‘tell the story’ of the day. This one serves as a good introduction.

Carry a shot list and ideas for shots

I’m sure that once you’ve done a couple of weddings you will know what shots you need and how to get them. But for me, having a list on my phone of the shots I needed to get and a few ideas for setups was invaluable. If you’re shooting the wedding by yourself you’re going to be flat out trying to keep people happy for the camera, taking the shots and making sure that they are working. You won’t have a whole lot of time to think about where you should be shooting next, or what would be a good set up. So if you’ve got a list, you can just refer to that and know that at the end of the day you’ve got what you needed to get.

I hadn't intended to take a shot here, but the light was great and the grey background really made the bride and groom pop...also the bride suggested the photo and I'm too smart to refuse.
I hadn’t intended to take a shot here, but the light was great and the grey background really made the bride and groom pop…also the bride suggested the photo and I’m too smart to refuse.


Go with what you know

I spend a lot of time taking photos of my kids, so I know the importance of waiting for a shot to happen, rather than trying to manufacture it. I’m also more comfortable shooting people with available light than with a flash. So there were moments like these where I knew I had nice light and I knew I could get a good shot if I waited for the right moment

Future bride and groom
Future bride and groom

And there was a moment where the bridal party wanted a photo in front of the fountain with late afternoon sun behind them. I thought that with about half an hour of mucking around with the flash I could get a good shot…but I also knew that I didn’t have that sort of time, so I had to just say ‘I’ll take the shot, but I think the sun is going to be too bright behind you.’ They were happy that I took the shot, and in the end the shot was too blown out…but I’m glad I didn’t waste precious time trying to make a shot that my skill level was unlikely to achieve. Because two minutes later I got these shots that I wouldn’t have got otherwise.

Natural light

Group shot

The Gear

Going into this, I think I was more concerned about the gear side of things than actually taking the shots! Will I need two cameras? Will I need a full-frame camera? How will I go shooting on a different camera when the pressure’s on? What lenses should I pack? Should I take a prime or zoom? How do I carry it all? AAAGGHHHH!!!!!
In the end I was very lucky and got to borrow a Canon 7D and a 70-200mm f4 lens. I also took my 550D with a 17-55mm f2.8 lens and a 50mm f1.4 lens. I had one camera on a sling and the other camera just on a strap and so carried them everywhere. I also had a tripod, flash and reflector.
So, did I need two camera bodies? Yep. There’s no way I could have changed lenses quick enough to get both this shot on the 70-200mm lens and then this one on the 17-55mm.

Bride and Father of the bride

Perfect...apart from that creepy photographer in the background.
Perfect…apart from that creepy photographer in the background.

Did I need a full-frame camera? No, I’m happy with the shots I got on the 550D and 7D. How did I go shooting on a different camera when the pressure was on? Fortunately the navigation on the 550D and 7D are pretty similar, so I didn’t have any issues. But had I been shooting on a 5Dmk3 or different brand of camera, I think it would have ended in tears.
Should I take a prime or zoom? Given that so much of this was just running and gunning I definitely could have left the 50mm prime at home. I toyed with the idea of borrowing an 85mm for the portrait shots, but I’m glad I didn’t as I don’t think I would have had the time to change lenses and it would have just been another thing to carry.

One of the few shots on the 50mm
One of the few shots on the 50mm

How did I carry it all? Well…I just carried it all. It was freaking hard work. My shoulders were cactus by the end of the day, and there was one awesome situation where I had a camera set up on a tripod in preparation for the group shot, and then was asked to take some photos 100m away in another part of the park. So I was left getting people to pose for some photos, while desperately checking over my shoulder to make sure no one was running off with the camera and tripod I’d left set up. This was not in any way, shape or form relaxing, and if I was doing it again I would definitely rope someone in to assist me.

Eating and drinking

If you’re someone who likes to eat (and I am) then you should definitely try to get some food into your system before the ceremony begins, as there will be very little chance for you to eat anything other than snacks for the next couple of hours. Fortunately I was pretty much running on adrenaline for 4 hours straight, and it wasn’t until I stopped that I realised just how hungry and tired I was.

I would also recommend taking a water bottle with you if you can. I was shooting in the late afternoon of a warm Summer’s day (about 30 degrees) and knew I would get pretty dehydrated if I didn’t drink a fair bit of water before the ceremony. So I drank plenty of water in the lead up to the ceremony and carried a water bottle with me. While I certainly didn’t get dehydrated, spending the next 2 hours with a full bladder and standing next to a fountain was not ideal.


What I don’t know about photography could fill a library…but fortunately what I do know about myself could fill a small self-help pamphlet. I know that I achieve the most when I push myself out of my comfort zone. So while I was terrified about taking on the job of photographing someone’s wedding, I just told myself that it was like any other photography gig and went for it…although admittedly it is ‘like any other photography gig’ except for the fact that it’s one of the biggest days in most people’s lives…and you only really get one shot at getting the photos…and people are almost definitely going to print the photos and look back at them over the years…in hindsight, I should never have done this.

But I was also really lucky to have a really lovely couple to work with. They said from the outset that they were going to be relaxed and easy going…and they were. I think that if they had been a high-maintenance couple then this would probably have been my last wedding…but as it stands…if the right couple came along…I reckon I’d do it all again.

How to deal with pesky onlookers telling you how to do photography.
How to deal with pesky onlookers telling you how to do photography.