In August, I photographed my first wedding. A beautiful outdoor event in a very familiar part of Cornwall. I knew the bride, groom and many of the guests which made the otherwise daunting experience much more relaxed and enjoyable. By contrast, the wedding I recently photographed in Winchester Cathedral was based indoors, allowed for very little preparation and familiar faces were few and far between.
That is not to say the latter was any less breathtaking. The vaulted ceiling of the cathedral allowed for endless bright, natural luminosity and the guests clothes draped in sparkles gave me countless opportunities to play with the available light.
So what did I learn?
Be prepared to look after yourself and each other.
As I said before, at wedding number one I knew the bride and groom and was therefore treated like a guest. I was on the seating plan and could allow time to relax, get to know the guests and eat fantastic food. Wedding two also served fantastic food, however it was eaten with the wonderful venue staff in about three minutes, tops.
We were fed, but time did not really allow for it. As usual nothing went to plan and by the time everything was back on schedule, that small amount of spare time for us to eat was gone. You and your fellow photographers/videographers are not guests, you are working. Stash cereal bars and water in every available space in your camera bag. Share it out, and if your meal is served, make sure you quickly let those working with you know.
Do not be afraid to step back.
This is more for second shooters. If you are not the lead photographer, let them get ‘the shot’. Leave your pride at home, and step aside when they need to get that shot of the bride walking down the aisle. Be creative, find a different view point and capture something else spectacular. What are the bridesmaids doing? How are the guests reacting? This could be your chance to get the shot of the groom seeing his bride for the first time!
You (probably) need a flashgun & get to know your equipment.
During the reception of my first wedding job, I was flashlight-less. I simply did not have the equipment. My little (yet very, very trusty) Nikon D90 struggled but thankfully my software knowledge saved the day later on. For wedding number two, I was prepared and the results showed it. It doesn’t need to be expensive, just get to know what you have and use it well. Knowing you can rely on your equipment takes the pressure off during a long, long night of shooting. Enjoy it and get involved. The reception is the perfect time for those treasured candid photographs.
Communicate with everyone.
The couple, the best man, the venue staff and any other photographers/videographers. You are a team and the stronger you are, the better the results.
Nothing goes to plan, times change and demands vary. Communication for wedding number one was easy. We had all met up beforehand, discussed the plan of the day and the only person I had to be aware of was the videographer, who was my brother. I was the only photographer so only I had to know what was required.
However, the immense team brought in to make wedding number two happen was a challenge. I was second shooter, and I hadn’t even met the lead photographer yet. Little did I know before I started that throughout the day I would be working with four other photographers and two videographers. Many weddings will have a ‘Master of Ceremonies’. Get to know this person, they will help organise guests for group shots and hopefully let you know when any big event is going to happen. You don’t want to miss the first dance because you took a toilet break!
Every wedding will be unique.
These two contrasting experiences have gone towards confirming how I have felt about photography all along. You never truly know what you’re doing, it’s just a case of learning to be adaptable. Bring in skills from other jobs – Did you work as a nightclub photographer during university? Great news, you’ll need that during the reception. That family album you photographed once? Remember how you asked them to pose, what worked and what didn’t. All of this comes together to make you the most versatile photographer you can be.
Of course I am no expert, but we all start somewhere. Keep learning, be flexible and get to know your equipment. You may not know it at the time, but a small problem you overcame in a past shoot might just get you out of a sticky situation in the future!