Capture the special day in a way that’s respectful to the official photographer and to the couple. Matt Golowczynski explains
All images by Matt Golowczynski
If you're off to a wedding or civil ceremony soon you may well want to capture a handful of images.
Naturally there’ll be a hired photographer to focus on the more formal shots, and as a guest, your job is to enjoy the day rather than to photograph it in its entirety.
Still, everyone will want to come away from the day with something they've taken themselves, be it a few casual snaps from a smartphone or compact, or something more considered from a more advanced interchangeable-lens camera. Read on to find out how to come away with a selection of great shots.
A wide aperture is your friend
Full-frame cameras and constant-aperture zoom lenses may be ideal from a technical point of view, but for more causal use at a wedding they’re likely to be too bulky and cumbersome. Whatever setup you choose, making sure you have as wide an aperture as possible at your disposal is particularly important at a wedding.
Not only do wedding and reception areas vary in terms of quality of lighting, but you may want to shoot into the evening as light levels fall. Add to this people moving around and you’ll soon appreciate the need for equipment that will allow for at least a moderately fast shutter speed.
Perhaps the best balance between size, performance and suitability would be an interchangeable-lens camera paired with a lightweight, wide-aperture prime lens, or alternatively a compact camera with either the same type of optic or a wide-aperture zoom.
While a prime lens may seem limiting, it can offer the advantage of allowing you to use high ISO settings while keeping your equipment to a minimum. The difference in practice between using a 50mm f/1.8 lens and a standard 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens is considerable.
Don't neglect detail and establishing shots
Anyone who has planned a wedding will understand just how much there is consider, from the key choices of venue, food and entertainment right down to the smallest details like the design of place cards.
It’s easy to focus on people shots, and the majority of your images will no doubt be of action and enjoyment. Yet, by focusing on the smaller details too, you not only stand to end up with a more diverse collection of images. Furthermore, if you're planning on sharing these with the couple, it will show those smaller details being appreciated – something often forgotten about after the day.
If you know the couple being married especially well, you may notice smaller details that point towards a shared passion or an aspect of one of their personalities. Ask yourself – what makes this wedding special?
If you're in a particularly unusual venue, images that show this off can also be a great introduction to a wider series of images from the day.
Use access to your advantage
Many couples will only hire a single photographer to photograph the whole day, and so there may be a range of situations that would otherwise be left uncaptured.
When travelling between the wedding and the reception, for example, it’s not usual for a hired photographer to be present with the bride and groom, or other immediate members of the family. If you belong to the latter group you’re in luck, as you may have the opportunity to capture more candid shots that the main photographer wouldn't be around for.
Even if you’re traveling with everyone else, this could still be a key moment for images, particularly if the couple has hired a special form of transport, such as a Routemaster or a boat where there may be space to move around. People may be more relaxed here too, which you would want to come across in your images.
Given that the hired photographer will typically be required to capture key moments of the day (arrival at the venue, leaving it under a shower of confetti, etc.), you can also use this as an opportunity to capture the same thing from a different perspective. This might not be possible in every situation – during the service itself, for example – but you should still have an opportunity to create something different.
The importance of keeping highlights from a bride’s dress in check is something every wedding photographer understands, but it's particularly worth remembering if you’re photographing as a guest.
The reason? Most people will be using either a smartphone or compact camera that may struggle to hold on to these details as well as more advanced cameras, and this can be difficult, if not impossible, to recover in post processing. Fortunately, there are a number of things that can help.
If using a smartphone you may wish to key the brighter part of the scene with your finger so that the camera doesn't overexpose these areas, and then bring up the shadows in post processing. On a compact or interchangeable-lens camera, enabling an option that’s designed to retain highlight detail – Canon’s Highlight Tone Priority option, or Nikon’s Highlight Weighted Metering option – can help here. Bracketing is also an option.
Bear in mind that blown highlights aren't simply a concern when photographing a bright white dress. White shirts, flowers and ribbons, for example, can all lose their details easily, particularly outside on a sunny day when contrast is high.
Discretion is key
One thing you’re likely to hear at any wedding is the sound of smartphones constantly taking images, and there’s always the odd flash to bring attention where it's not required. During quieter moments this can be very unwelcome, so it's a good idea to set your phone or camera to a more discreet option. Of course, shooting discreetly also gives you more freedom to stand a better chance of capturing the image you’re intending.
If you’re using a smartphone, the two main things are to put the phone onto its silent mode and to disable the flash. This will usually be enough to allow you to shoot discreetly.
Compact and mirrorless cameras may also have the option of silencing the shutter as well as other operational sounds. This might be done with a single silent option that will take care of everything, or you may need to disable each thing one by one (shutter, AF beeping, operational sound, etc).
You should also make sure that the flash won't automatically pop up, and it’s also a good idea to disable the AF assist lamp as this is also likely to spring into action in sub-optimum conditions.
Watch for greetings and goodbyes
The typical wedding day is filled with many happy moments, but two to look out for are when people are greeting each other and saying goodbye.
There’s plenty of action in these images that sums up the excitement of the occasion, from hugs and other embraces to joyful facial expressions. Just remember to be discreet in such a situation if you do choose to capture it.
About the Author
Matt Golowczynski is a London-based photographer and technical journalist who has written for a range of print and online magazines. For more information and to see more of his work visit his website.