How To Take Wedding Photos: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

You may already be a great portrait or hobby photographer, and you’re now thinking you want to take on wedding photography.

Well being a great wedding photographer takes more than just a camera!

If you are considering shooting your first wedding, you can handle it like a seasoned professional with the right guidance!

Be prepared, follow a schedule, use the right settings at the right moment, capture the must-have photos, and avoid common mistakes. Read on for our wedding photography tips! 

How To Take Wedding Photos

Be Prepared

Knowing how to take wedding photos begins before the wedding even starts. A great wedding photographer prepares well in advance!

Your gear needs to be clean, charged, and packed up. Make a checklist that you can use to prepare for every wedding you shoot.

Here is an example:

  • Charge all batteries for cameras and flashes.
  • Clean each lens and check for scratches.
  • Format memory cards and pack in case.
  • Pack camera bodies, lenses, batteries, and memory cards in your bag.

You can make this more effective if you put the individual names of your gear on the list.

In addition to photography gear, it does not hurt to bring some other helpful stuff just in case. If rain happens unexpectedly, you can still take some pretty photos of the couple outside if you’ve packed a clear umbrella!

A nice wooden hanger also helps for the detail photo of a wedding dress or suit.

Follow a Schedule

Every wedding photographer needs a schedule to follow. The schedule will also act as your checklist for moments to capture throughout the day.

Work with the couple and get the timing for the ceremony and reception. From there, you can plan your schedule backward.

Give yourself ample time to shoot all the details before anything begins. Know if the bride and groom will do a “first look” or if they will take portraits together before the reception.

You will also need a list of formal family photos needed and any other must-have photos from your couple. Schedule those into your time. 

Use the Right Settings in the Right Moment

Knowing how to take wedding photos requires you to know how to use your camera and how to use it quickly!

Your settings will change as you move around the venue and as the weather changes. Also, keep in mind that the photos you want to take may change. This is not like taking portraits in a studio!

This guide for how to take wedding photos assumes you can shoot with your DSLR in manual mode.

If you are completely new to photography, wedding photography is not the place to start. Don’t be discouraged though, you can start learning now! Find a good guide to DSLR photography online or in a book and start practicing.

Here are some basic tips for how to take wedding photos throughout a typical wedding day:

Portrait Settings

A big part of knowing how to take wedding photos is taking great wedding portraits.

Portraits of the bride and groom must be flawless so you need sharp, perfectly-exposed photos of them both alone before the ceremony.

When taking a portrait of a single subject, you can shoot with a wider aperture of 1.8 (or wider) if you are comfortable. Adjust your shutter speed and ISO accordingly.

Now, the key to a sharp portrait is where to put your focus. Always focus on the subject’s eyes. You want the sharpest point in any portrait to be the eye closest to your lens.

When you put the bride and groom together, focus on the eyes of the person closest to you. Focusing on the person farther from you will back focus the image. This means the person closer will actually be out of focus.

Movement

You will take a lot of photos where the subjects are moving; do not have a slow shutter speed! During the wedding ceremony, make sure your shutter speed is set to at least 1/250 sec.

Even if it is a little darker during the ceremony, you still need the shutter speed set to handle motion. Crank up your ISO to deal with the lighting if you must. A slow shutter speed during a ceremony will result in blurry photos thanks to motion drag.

Lighting Changes

To know how to take wedding photos, you need to know how to work with all kinds of lighting. You will need to work with whatever lighting you encounter during a wedding day.

Full sun

Crank the ISO down and use a higher shutter speed. This lets in less light. Also remember if you have your aperture wide open, you could still be overexposing your shots in full sun.

Another tip for shooting in full sun is to hunt for shady areas. You can’t do this with the ceremony location but for portraits, go find a shady spot. Shoot in the open shade.

Indoors

Shooting inside is tricky. Since this guide is for beginners, it will not address flash photography. Flash is another subject for another day. Inside you will need a higher ISO and a shutter speed that still accounts for movement.

Backlighting

Use backlighting to your advantage!

During a wedding day, you can end up with backlighting as the sun sets. Backlight your couple with the sun setting behind them. With your camera’s focal point on your couple, you can get a gorgeous sunset photo that they will love.

Sparkler Exits

Sparkler exits are a challenge but you can take awesome photos of this moment!

Ask your couple to walk through SLOWLY. As they walk through remind them to stop and smile at you, then stop and kiss. 

Put your ISO up to 3200+ and don’t make your shutter speed too slow. Try around 1/250. Since you are focusing on the couple, set your aperture to 2.0. This should give you pretty good exposure for these photos. Check after your first couple of snaps and adjust though!

Group Size

Knowing how to take wedding photos of different group sizes requires you to know how to adjust your aperture for each group.

One trick for choosing your aperture with group photos is to use a one-to-one. So, if there are two people in the photo, set your aperture to 2.0. Five people in the photo; set it to 5.6.

However, it is a pretty safe bet to not go any higher than 5.6 with your aperture, even when taking a huge group shot. Just aim for the person in the middle and front of the large grouping and you will nail the shot every time.

Another trick for group photos is to line people up wider instead of stacker them deeper. Two or three rows of people are as deep as you should go to get a good group shot where everyone is in focus.

This keeps you from having too many focal planes in your image. One row of people is one focal plane. When you have more rows of people (more focal planes) adjust your aperture. For example, for three people deep or more, set your aperture at 5.6.

When You Get Stuck

If all else fails and you freak out, flip to aperture priority mode. Assuming you usually shoot in manual, aperture priority mode is called AV mode on a Canon and A mode on a Nikon.

In AV/A Mode you can quickly pick your aperture and your camera will control the shutter speed and the ISO. This is not ideal. Don’t do this for an entire wedding, but, if you get in a bind in a difficult moment, AV Mode is better than nothing!

Capture the Must-Have Photos

Wedding photographers take photos to tell the story of the wedding and there are certain big moments that you should be sure to capture!

Always talk to your couple about what photos they want (and do not want) and work from that list. Use your schedule as a checklist. It is a good way to stay on top of the day and ensure you have photographed everything you needed to photograph.

Getting Ready Photos

Getting ready photos are staged photos of the final touches of getting ready.

Get photos of the bride having her dressed zipped or buttoned. Capture her putting on her earrings or fastening the buckle on her shoes. Bride getting ready photos also usually include the mother of the bride and bridesmaids helping her.

For prettier photos, move to a spot with nice lighting. You do not have to stay in the room the bride got ready in. Go outside if that works.

The groom’s photos are similar. Capture the groom putting on his shoes or cufflinks. A groomsman or dad helping with the tie is also a nice shot. 

Details of the Day

Detail photos capture all the things planned for the day including decorations, bouquets, attire, and more.

Take photos of the bride’s dress, shoes, and accessories before she puts them on. Take a similar style shot with the groom’s outfit and accessories.

Close-up shots of centerpieces and floral arrangements are also a must, as well as the all-important wedding cake

Get creative with your detail photos and remember you’re telling a story of the day so think about creating images that the bride and groom will love looking back over in their wedding album!

Ceremony Moments

The ceremony is the most stressful part of the wedding for a photographer. There is no going back. Once you miss a key moment, you missed it, so work quickly but confidently.

Take photos as things happen to ensure you don’t miss anything. The moment the groom sees the bride is always huge, so make sure you have a perfect shot of the bride walking down the aisle.

On the way out of the ceremony, you can ask the couple to stop and kiss halfway down the aisle. Give them a heads up that you will direct this shot before the ceremony.

Portraits

Before the ceremony, you can take individual portraits of the bride and the groom. After the ceremony but before the reception, you will take portraits of the happy couple together.

These first photos together as a married couple are incredibly important! You want to capture all the emotions they are feeling as well as the scene and their gorgeous attire from the day. Try to keep things as relaxed as possible and make this fun for the couple.

Formal Family Shots

These are the shots of family members posed with the bride and groom and are usually taken after the ceremony.

Use your list of all the different family groupings requested by the bride and groom and check each one off as you take it.

Be sure to address everyone by their names when calling people in and out of the photos!

Reception Moments

Your feet might be tired but the reception is not the time to slow down!

From the bride and groom being introduced to the room, right up until their splendid exit, you have a lot more to capture.

The cake will be cut. The first dance will happen. The toasts will be toasted. A lot happens during the wedding reception!

Lots of Candid Moments

Wedding photography does include a lot of posed shots, so make sure to always take candid shots throughout the day.

Those natural smiles and unplanned moments are the best!

Mistakes to Avoid

Taking Too Many Photos

Don’t click your shutter non-stop! You may think it will ensure you get at least one photo to work with, but all this will do is give you way too many photos to cull through afterward. Be deliberate with your shots.

Forgetting to Change Your Settings

You might be used to setting and forgetting your camera, but do not forget to change your settings as the situation changes during the wedding. This would be a big mistake! You are going to adjust your camera constantly. Do not forget!

Being Afraid to Be Bossy

Sometimes the wedding photographer has to be a little bossy. You have to direct people into places to get the images you need. Without direction from the photographer, a lot of wedding photos would never happen!

Speak up professionally if you need to move Aunt Karen out of a group shot. Remind your bride and groom that they are going to walk slowly when they exit the reception. It is ok to do this nicely!

If you have your first wedding as a photographer on your schedule, start practicing now!

Take your camera around and make yourself change your settings as quickly as you can. Ask friends and family to pose for portraits and get used to directing them for those photos.

Study wedding photos you love online. If possible, visit the venue for the wedding ahead of time.

Have a plan with your bride and groom and write out the schedule and the photos that are most important to them. If you have not taken engagement pictures of the couple, set that session up right away too!

Most importantly, believe in yourself and know that you can do this! Stay calm and you will get the shots.

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