Apr 17, 2005

Photographing Weddings For Fun And Profit

By Scott Bourne
I am semi-retired now. But when I was active, I was a generalist. I would photograph different subjects and work on many photo-related projects. While I aggressively pursued my fine art and stock career, the bills were often paid by my wedding business.

Fellow photographers who know me often ask for advice before shooting their first wedding. Here is a compilation of that advice specifically aimed at the wedding newbie.


It looks easy. All you have to do is show up and point your camera at the bride. Everything else will take care of itself -- right? Well not exactly. Great wedding photos are no different than any other kind of photo. They don't happen by accident. They require careful planning and execution.


Brings lots of it and bring lots of back ups. Spare batteries, flash cords, digital memory and film should also be high on your list. (Don't forget the duct tape!) Your range of lenses should include a wide angle for large group shots e.g. 24mm, a short zoom 28-70mm can be used for everything from small group portraits to interior shots of the church and reception hall. Long telephotos in the 200 to 300 mm range are great for portraits and ceremony shots. They also help you make great candids. Use good quality lenses. Chances are you will work in low light so fast lenses (f/2.8 to f4) are a must.

A tripod is usually required for anything that you will want to shoot with strobe. It also helps you establish your turf. Handholding is okay at the reception for table shots and fun stuff but serious portraiture requires a tripod.

Besides the camera, I think the reflector is probably the one piece of equipment that I rely on most. In nearly any situation, the reflector can improve the quality, direction or amount of light that falls on your subject. If you don't have an assistant to hold the reflector, several companies make adjustable arms that clip on to the reflector and fit on top of standard light stands.

I prefer not to use flash at weddings. If I do use flash, it is usually at the reception or as fill during portraiture. Many churches will not allow flash so be sure to check the rules for every wedding location that you work at. If you do use flash, be sure to "drag the shutter." This means you expose the picture for ambient light and then just add enough flash to capture the subject. On most modern ETTL or TTL flash systems, this can be automatically set. For instance, using the Canon system, you just have to shoot in aperture priority mode and set the Canon 550EX or 580 EX flash to ETTL mode. It will do the rest. I like just a kiss of light in the eyes so I tend to set flash compensation at about two stops below the recommended exposure.

I shot my last 20 weddings digitally and that's the way most pros like it. But you can still use film if you prefer. If you are shooting film, try Kodak's Portra line. It scans well and is balanced in such a way that whether you are working with 160, 400 or 800 speed, it looks like it goes together when printed. Kodak also has a B&W version of Portra that is very contrast tolerant and extremely smooth. Fuji's NPS should also give you good results. Stay away from slide film since it has less exposure latitude.


Unlike many other photography jobs, wedding photography requires that you work very closely with your client. There is an emotional component to wedding photography that won't be denied. Often your success as a photographer will be gauged not only by the quality of the shots you get, but also by whether or not the client likes you.

I usually try to stay in frequent e-mail or telephone contact with my brides to reassure them that I am prepared for their wedding. I also like to make sure that I know what kind of coverage they are looking for. Some brides will want lots of formal portraits while others will prefer a photojournalistic approach. Managing expectations is the key; so make sure that you and your client are in agreement.


At least some of your success or failure on the big day will depend on how well you can use your location. Does the church have much natural light? Is the reception being held somewhere like a country club and if so, do they have a golf course you could use for a backdrop? Finding out what the location looks like in advance will save you time and frustration on the wedding day. If it's not possible to scout the location in advance, try to arrive early enough to check things out beforehand.


On the wedding day, I try to arrive around 20 minutes before I am expected. This way I have plenty of time to get my gear ready. I also don't have to worry about traffic. My female assistant goes directly to the dressing room to photograph the bride and all her attendants. This allows us some special getting ready shots.

When the bride is dressed, I sequester her in a private place so that I can arrange a special moment where the groom sees her for the first time. I photograph this moment, and it is usually grand. Also, I use this to diffuse any argument that the bride might have about being seen in her dress before the ceremony. In the Seattle area, brides are used to this. In your part of the world it may not be possible. Shooting the portraits before the wedding will always yield the best results. If you wait until after the wedding to photograph, the bride will be tired. You'll also be under more pressure to work quickly because the bride will be anxious to spend time with her friends and family.

After we shoot the "moment alone," we move right to the portrait sessions. This includes the bride and groom separately and together, the bride and groom with their respective attendants, parents, siblings and other significant friends and family. You can make these images in the church but go outdoors if you can, because you will usually have better light and more creative opportunities. In the end, it is the bride's decision. But explain your creative ideas and she might be more open to getting out of the church, and into the light.

Allow at least an hour for the pre-ceremony shots, and two hours is better, especially if the bride has lots of friends and family.

I try to reserve as much time for photographing the bride, and then the bride and groom together as I can. Those pictures sell the best. One of my favorite shots involves getting the bride and groom to go for a walk together. I follow them with a 300 or 400mm lens and since I am so far away, they tend to relax and act natural with each other. If the location favors it, find some interesting feature like a line of trees, body of water, stairway or columns. Watch for good light and shoot away.

Ceremony shots are toughest because many churches won't allow flash. I focus on the big moments, including the bride walking the aisle, the bride and groom in front of the minister, the exchange of rings and the pronouncement of man and wife. Use a fast film or high ISO on your digital camera and photograph wide open.

After the ceremony, I try to get a shot of the bride and groom entering and exiting the limo. I also work closely with the wedding coordinator or DJ to set the photographic agenda for events like the first dance, toast, cake cutting and garter toss.


Wedding photography is an art. It offers similar challenges to an African safari or traditional photojournalism assignment. If you concentrate on the striking possibilities for great images, you will get great images.

Article Copyright 2005, Scott Bourne - Photofocus Magazine



Scott Bourne is a professional photographer, author, teacher and pioneer in the digital imaging field. His career started in the early 70s as a stringer covering motor sports for Associated Press in Indiana. Since then, he has shot commercial, portrait, wedding, magazine and fine art assignments. His new passion is wildlife photography.

Scott is the author of "88 Secrets to Selling & Publishing Your Photography" and "88 Secrets to Photoshop for Photographers." Both are available from Olympic Mountain School Press, http://www.mountainschoolpress.com. His work has also appeared in books, magazines, galleries, calendars, on greeting cards, web sites and on posters.

Scott regularly lectures on a variety of photo and media-related subjects. He's appeared on national television and radio programs and has written columns for several national magazines. He is the publisher of Photofocus.com, an online magazine for serious photographers and also serves as the executive director of the Olympic Mountain School of Photography in Gig Harbor, WA.

Enjoy Photographing Weddings For Fun And Profit