Photographing weddings is exhilarating! The rush of adrenaline alone gives me enough energy to get through the day. I realized after photographing my first traditional wedding that wedding photographers really need to think on their feet. Wedding photographers need to have the skill and knowledge to be ready for a wide variety of photography genres. You need to have posing ideas for individual portraits, couple portraits, and group portraits. You need to be stealth like a ninja to transition from being all up in the action to stepping back for those candid moments. You need to do landscape portraits, be a master of off-camera-flash, and have eyes like a hawk to capture all the tiny details. If there is a problem with your gear, you need to be able to troubleshoot quickly while maintaining your composure with elegance and grace.
One of my favorite parts about documenting a wedding is photographing the small details. Months, sometimes years, worth of planning and attention to detail went into making the wedding perfect. It is your job as the wedding photographer to take gorgeous pictures of all of the special details for the bride and groom to cherish forever. When the bride and groom look back at your pictures decades from now, you want their hearts to flutter with joy at the memories of their perfect day and all of the planning that went into making it come true.
While you need to think on your feet, it is not a good idea to just "wing-it" when it comes to what detail shots you need to take. You need to arrive for the job prepared, and you need to have a shot list that has been reviewed and approved by the bride and groom. In addition to the portrait must-have shot list, I also keep a must-have detail shot list. Your clients may not think about the detail shots or know which ones are important. Here is my list of must-have detail shots that I always bring with me when photographing a wedding.
If time permits, I ask my bride to gather all of the accessories that both the bride and groom will be wearing. Sometime during the getting-ready time frame, I grab the pile of accessories to photograph. Wedding days aren't just about the bride; the groom will have some details you'll want to capture as well. His tie, cuff links, watch, cologne and boutonniere. Keeping up with the trends, you'll notice that it is pretty common these days for the groom and groomsmen to have fun matching socks or super hero shirts underneath their suit. Ask ahead of time if the wedding party is planning anything like this so you can be sure to take fun pictures!
The bride will probably have a lot more fun accessories to photograph. In addition to the dress, veil and/or hair piece, I also like to take photos of the other jewelry the bride may wear. Get a picture of the bride putting on her earrings and her mother or bridesmaids helping her put on a necklace. Ask if there are any family heirlooms that are being worn and photograph those as well. Finally, ask the bride about what she is doing for her something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. Sometimes this may be her underwear and/or garter.
Communication with the bride and groom prior to the day of the wedding is essential so that you aren't missing something important. If the bride is wearing her deceased grandmother's necklace or borrowing her mother's pearls, you need to know in order to capture those intimate details.
Think about all of the accessories mentioned above, and photograph the act of them being put on. Photograph the groom's father helping the groom put on his cuff links or the bride's mother helping put on a bracelet. In addition to photographing all of the accessories and the bride and groom putting on their accessories, there are other getting-ready shots you'll want to have on your list. Photograph the bride getting her hair and makeup done. You can use off-camera flash to back light hairspray or to back light the groom spraying on cologne. Get closeups of the makeup artist applying the bride's makeup.
I ask the mother-of-the-bride and all of the bridesmaids to get dressed before the bride gets in her dress. That way, everyone is dressed and ready for me to photograph them helping the bride into her dress. Capture the mother-of-the-bride and/or bridesmaids zipping up the bride’s dress. Don't be too shy to tell them ahead of time that you will be taking pictures to capture this memory and that they should zip up the dress slowly. Now, after the bride is in her dress, photograph her putting on her garter. Finally, take a close-up and a full length shot of the bride in her wedding gown looking at herself in the mirror.
These are something that the bride and groom can easily keep a copy of forever, but I always like to photograph the invitations and programs anyway. An invitation or program is actually a great prop to use when photographing the other accessories. You can use them as a background for flowers or accessories like earrings. Of course, one of my favorites -- a background for ring shots!
Dresses and/or veil details
Photograph the dress by itself. You'll want to get some closeups of the details of the dress, as well as some full dress shots. You can get creative with this and hang the dress in a location that makes it unique to the the location the bride is getting ready. I’ve seen some pretty awesome shots of dresses hanging from chandeliers or in trees.
Here's a lesson I learned the hard way: recruit a bridesmaid to handle the dress so you have one less thing to worry about. During one of the weddings I photographed, the bride noticed a dirty spot on her dress after I got pictures of the wedding dress outside. Upon closer inspection, it clearly was a pen mark and had nothing to do with me moving it. Phew! But, my heart stopped and I was convinced that everyone was blaming me. Save yourself the anxiety and give a bridesmaid the job of moving the dress.
The first time I did ring shots, I was so nervous! It was a backyard wedding, and I was in the bride's bedroom while she was getting ready. I just bought my fancy new 100mm L series macro lens. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty badass with that lens and was confident I would be getting some killer ring shots. However, my nerves got the best of me. I dropped the rings about 3 times! The bride and her daughter kept looking over at me -- I'm sure wondering what the heck they got into hiring me as a photographer. I took a deep breath and reminded myself to relax. Luckily, everything was smooth sailing after that.
Now ring shots are my favorite part about a wedding day! I prefer to do ring shots when the bride is getting ready. I tell the bride ahead of time that I plan on doing this, that way she can have all of the rings and accessories together to be photographed. If you haven’t set aside time for ring shots when the bride is getting ready, then another option is to do it is at the reception when everyone is eating. There is no need to take pictures of people chewing their food, and you can get some nice quiet time being creative with ring shots. Bonus, everyone will be eating and you won't have people looking over your shoulder making you nervous!
You will want to photograph the engagement ring alone, the engagement ring with the wedding band, both wedding bands together, and each wedding band separately. Shooting wide open is so much fun because you can get really creative with the creamy bokeh. But make sure you also shoot with a narrow aperture so that all of the rings are in focus, just in case the bride and groom prefer that look.
A lot of the details can be kept to last forever, such as the dress, rings and invitations. The flowers, however, won't last very long. Flowers will look their best on the wedding day. Then, they will quickly start to wilt before eventually dying. Some people may dry them out and keep forever, but they still won't look as amazing as they did on their wedding day. A picture will last long after those flowers have wilted away.
I like to take a variety of pictures of the bouquets. Some pictures with just the bride bouquet, then some of the bride and bridal party bouquets. I also tak ring shots with the bouquets. Then, to add a human element to it, I like to take pictures of the bride alone holding the bouquet as well as pictures of the bride and bridal party holding their bouquets. Now, don't forget about the groom and groomsmen and their boutonnieres. It's nice to get a picture of the boutonnieres alone as well as a close up of them being put on.
Moving on to the ceremony and reception, you'll want to get photographs of the floral arrangements that decorate both of the venues. I like to get some close ups of the center pieces at the reception and then some wider shots to include the entire table.
Take pictures of the venues. It seems obvious, but being caught up in the wedding day you may forget to take a moment to photograph the venues. There may be just one location for everything or there may be several. Don't forget the location where the bride and/or groom are getting ready. Photography the church or set-up for the ceremony and then the reception location. Sometimes, the timeline is tight and you can’t physically be two places at once. This is when a second shooter can swoop in and save the day! A second-shooter can get pictures of the ceremony and reception set-ups before they have been touched by guests.
In addition to getting pictures of the venues themselves, you can also incorporate the venue's architectural elements into portraits.
Think about putting together a wedding album. The wedding album is a story of their wedding day. I don't know about you, but I want my story to be as descriptive as possible. Take notice of all of the small details around the room that decorate the reception and make the atmosphere beautiful, intimate, and unique. Photograph all of the details that tell their unique story. The little signs, flowers on the table, guest favors, gifts for the wedding party, people signing the guest book.
Photograph the hors d'oeuvres and signature cocktails, the menus and the table set-up before the guests arrive.
If you have a second shooter, you can send them to the reception hall directly after the ceremony while you stay back for family portraits. That will give the second shooter time at the reception area before all of the guests arrive.
If you see a memorial of deceased family members, take a picture. Call me sentimental, but this kind of stuff makes me tear up a bit! Those family or friends that aren't able to physically be at the wedding are there in spirit. The bride and groom are most definitely thinking about them on their special day. If they made the time and effort to set up a memorial for someone, then they will want that in their wedding album.
Cake and topper
A lot of thought from the bride and groom went into the design of the wedding cake. The baker worked hard for all of those details in preparing a delicious and gorgeous cake. The cake, like the flowers, is another thing that is not going to last. Sure, some people will freeze the top layer and eat on their anniversary, but it just won't be the same. All those special details of the cake help tell your bride and groom's unique story.
Make It Personal
While this is my usual go-to shot list, I also get to know the bride and groom to ensure that their wedding day is unique to them. It is imperative that you make the extra time to get to know your bride and groom prior to the wedding. You can do this several ways. You can offer a complimentary engagement session when they select a wedding package. You can meet for coffee or some beers to go over the timeline and shot lists. Or you can even get to know them through e-mail exchanges or phone calls.
I always like to ask about the proposal story, which will reveal what kind of couple they are (i.e., romantic, silly, relaxed). One wedding that I photographed, the bride told me that her fiance, who is a Lego collector, proposed by building a Lego set and putting the ring inside. I told her she had to bring the Lego set to the wedding so that I could get some ring shots in the Lego set. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the Lego set to be a Ghostbusters Ecto!
It may not be the most epic ring shot. Some people will see it and wonder why the heck there is a picture of rings on a Lego Ghostbusters Ecto. However, it is unique to my clients and they loved it!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Erika Sneeringer is a litigation paralegal and hobbyist photographer living in Baltimore, Maryland USA. Outside of photography, her favorite activities are hiking and exploring the outdoors with her family. You can view Erika’s portfolio here or follow her on Instagram at esneer1.