With summer in full swing, one of the most common reasons to break out the old camera (or buy a new one) is for wedding season.
Taking pictures at a wedding isn't exactly like taking snapshots down at the beach or out on the town with friends, though. When you're a guest at a wedding there are some important matters of technique and etiquette to take into account to make sure that you, and the bride and groom, get the best pictures possible.
Mind the Professional
Just about every wedding these days will retain a professional photographer to make sure those once-in-a-lifetime moments are captured at the highest quality. Many amateur photographers get excited at the prospect of also breaking out their shiny new dSLRs and matching up with the professional.
But it's important to remember that the professional is just that—a professional. He or she is there to do a job, and while you should take plenty of pictures with your camera, give the professional plenty of space. Don't stand behind them taking the same picture that they are. When the professional takes the wedding party to go do the usual posed shots, don't follow and copy those photos.
Most professionals are too nice to tell you, but nothing irritates a pro more than when someone stands right behind them, copying the shot they worked hard to line up. This is their livelihood. If you want the picture, ask for their card and buy a print. Your camera's flash can ruin the pro's light. A dSLR can accidentally set off wireless flashes, or simply distract the wedding party's eyes, potentially ruining a great photo. At the worst, you're copying their work. It's worse than going to a stand-up comedy show and then telling all the jokes to your friends the next day like they were your own.
Ask the Professional for Advice
Some professionals are nicer about this than others, but if you give a pro some space and respect, they'll often offer you advice on taking better photos. Show them the nice candid shots you got and how you lined up the shot. Ask them for ways to improve the photo.
Again, they're there to do a job and have their own photos to take, but try to find interesting angles and subjects and moments the professional isn't getting and then ask for ways to improve. Most professionals, if you respect the job they're there to do, can really be a great source of information on how to improve your photography.
Many people go into a wedding and think about the different group shots they want to get. This person's mother with that person's mother. That family long, lost member. This group of college friends.
That's well and good, but if you go in just thinking about quantity over quality, that's all you're going to get. Quantity. To capture photos that are not only going to mean a lot to you, but look great as well, concern yourself with the timing of your photographs. Weddings are often in beautiful places and are set up to be idyllic moments, often ending close to sunset. Rather than rushing to get all the group photos right away, wait for the right light. The quality of your photographs can improve ten-fold.
Get the Photos That the Pro Can't Get
Professional wedding photographers do phenomenal work, but they work within a limited area and set of situations. They'll get the candid reception shots, the wedding cake being cut, the posed shots of the wedding party. Don't worry much about that.
But the unforgettable night of the wedding rehearsal? That hilarious night out with past friends before the wedding? The bachelor and bachelorette parties? Okay, maybe you want to stow the camera for that last one. But you get the idea.
As a guest and perhaps close friend of the bride and groom, you'll have access to a host of moments that the professional never will. Focus on shooting those moments, because weddings go beyond the ceremony and reception. In the end, you might be the only person in a position to get that perfect photo.
Don't Offer to Photograph The Wedding
This is a rare mistake, but a big one. Unless you've shot a wedding professionally before, don't jump at the chance to shoot a friend's wedding.
Weddings are tough work. You're responsible for getting an incredible amount of quality shots in a very, very limited time-frame. It goes far beyond equipment and even talent with a camera. Wedding photographers have to do work well beyond shooting including posing, lighting properly, post-processing, printing, and putting together albums and online links.
The last thing you want to do is strain a friendship because you didn't get the quality shots you thought you might or because you've got a big month at work and just can't get around to getting the albums printed up.
That's before we even talk about compensation, which always gets hairy between friends. Take my advice: Unless you're a working, professional photographer who understands the workload, don't offer to shoot. Enjoy the wedding as a guest, not as a professional.