So you want to shoot a wedding? You better bring your ‘A’ game. Weddings are work. A lot of work. Typically I advise people that the equipment is secondary to being able to create good compositions and understanding light. Well, much like astrophotography, weddings are a different breed. If you’re lucky, the wedding you want to photograph will be outside on a nice overcast day, but if your wedding is inside, or both inside and outside, you better have the appropriate gear.
I highly recommend having a full frame camera, or even a medium format camera if you can afford it. Although crop sensor cameras and micro four thirds cameras are getting better and better with low light photography, they simply can’t compare to the light gathering capabilities of a full frame sensor. Can you still get decent images with a micro four thirds or a crop sensor camera at a wedding? Sure, but you better have good glass. A wedding is not the time to discover you cannot get good images because of the lack of decent equipment.
Most photographers that do weddings on a regular basis will typically carry two camera bodies and at least 3 lenses. A good macro lens is crucial for those detail shots, like the wedding rings or details on the cake. A good fixed focal length lens such as a 50mm or 85mm are good choices as well for some portrait type shots. For wedding venues that aren’t all that large, a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens is going to be your workhorse. If your venue is larger and you want to get good close-up images from a distance, I would strongly recommend something like a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens.
I was recently asked by a very good friend to be the photographer for his daughter’s wedding. Weddings are not my first choice for a fun weekend shoot, but as anyone that follows me knows, I love a challenge and I try my best to stay outside of my comfort zone. Shooting this wedding was the furthest out of my comfort zone I have ever been. Since I did not have a decent constant aperture lens, I rented the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. I am hoping to do a separate review of this lens but long story short, it’s amazing! I knew this lens would give me the reach I needed because I visited the venue about a month before the wedding. DO THIS!! If you are going to shoot a wedding, especially indoors, go look at the venue before the wedding so you know exactly what you will need. Besides the 24-70mm zoom, I already had a prime 50mm lens and a macro lens as well. Roughly 90% of the wedding I shot with the 24-70mm lens, and almost exclusively closer to the 2.8 aperture.
After having the fastest lens you can get, you’re left with two options to get the correct exposure; ISO and shutter speed. To avoid motion blur for moving subjects, you need to set your shutter speed to at least 1/125 of a second or faster. Even with a fast lens, this is a relatively short exposure time. You will have no choice but to bump up your ISO. This is where a full frame camera will pay dividends. The higher you set your ISO, the more noise you will start getting in your images. A crop sensor camera and a micro four thirds camera will have to bump up their ISO much higher to get the same exposure as a full frame camera at a lower ISO setting. At this point, you will simply have to experiment with your ISO and shutter speed to capture the best images possible.
For an indoor reception, there is simply no getting around the need for a flash, either on camera or off. I know some photographers that will carry the flash in one hand and the camera in another to avoid those flat looking images you get with an on-camera flash. If you are going to use an on-camera flash, try every angle for bouncing the flash off of other surfaces before aiming the flash right at your subject. If you must aim the flash at your subject, at the very least, get some type of diffuser to aid in eliminating harsh shadows.
Aside from equipment, a wedding is very demanding. It is a long day constantly on your feet and moving around. If you are thinking about shooting a wedding, volunteer as a second camera for a wedding or two before you go as the primary photographer. Do this not so much to learn how to get great images, but more for understanding the flow of a wedding and how fast they actually progress. By being a second camera for a few weddings before your own, you will learn some posing techniques and how other photographers lead couples and crowds, but the biggest benefit is seeing the flow of an entire wedding from the perspective of a photographer from beginning to end.
I am honestly on the fence as to whether or not I will do more weddings, but if you are thinking about doing a wedding, properly prepare yourself – both mentally and with the proper equipment. Find a wedding photographer that doesn’t mind having a second camera helping out and get that experience. You never know. Simply volunteering for a wedding may help you make up your mind if it is something you really want to do. I can honestly say that, besides the chaos of the wedding itself, I found myself smiling far more during editing than I have with any other shoot. There are some really tender, touching, and funny moments during a wedding. Capturing those moments of time forever in an image is very rewarding. Read as many blogs as you want and watch as many videos as you can, but nothing beats personal experience. If you want to experience a wedding behind the camera, do it! Just be prepared. There are no do-overs!
Keep the interesting parts of life in focus.