Against all advice, you’ve decided to hire Uncle Tommy to record your big day. While free wedding photography sounds tempting, using unprofessional photographers can be a roll of the dice. There are, however, a few tricks of the trade to make sure that you get the best from even the most amateur cameras and photographers. Read the following tips (and be sure to send them to Uncle Tommy, too).
Preparing the Camera
With the current generation of digital cameras, you’re in luck. Even point-and-shoot cameras on full auto-mode are still capable of taking some pretty gorgeous photos that wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago.
If your camera has a “high resolution” or “fine quality” setting, choose it. This will help your photos look more true-to-life. If you decide to get any favorite photographs enlarged and framed, you’ll be glad you gave yourself the extra resolution so your large prints won’t look pixilated.
Be aware that using this option will create larger picture files, though, so you’ll need to prepare ahead of time by buying a larger memory card. A small card will limit how many pictures you can store before uploading them to a computer.
Since you’ll want to be snapping away the whole day, buy the largest memory card you can afford, or even better, buy two, so if one card fails you can continue snapping away.
Unless you’re pretty confident about your selection of white-balance, focus, and aperture, it’s safest to leave your camera on full-automatic. In most situations that take place under normal lighting, your camera will be able to easily detect the proper settings.
There are exceptions to this rule (such as shooting subjects in front of a bright window, or trying to focus on the bride’s face through a gauzy veil), but for the most part, if you doubt your own abilities, it’s safest to let your camera do the thinking.
Lighting Your Shot
The number one factor that makes a picture look professional is great lighting. And you don’t have to own your own professional lights or light stands, either.
Take as many photos as you can under the best light of all: the sun. If you’re photographing an outdoor, daytime wedding, your job will be easy. If you’re photographing indoors, try to catch people while they’re standing by bright windows.
The more light that’s available to your camera, the easier time it will have focusing and giving you a sharp image. Be sure to grab your camera for the “magic hours,” when the angle of early-morning and late-afternoon sunlight makes especially vivid and flattering photos.
Even if you’re snapping pictures outside, you may still decide that you like the way the flash looks. Most cameras have a “forced flash on” setting that you can select to ensure the flash goes off even in the brightest sunshine.
This will give people’s faces a little more clarity and definition without that “washed-out” look that flashes can create in darker settings. Most flashes only work for a radius of about 10 feet, so don’t stand too far away.
If you have to take a picture in a dim room, don’t try to do it hand-held. Put the camera on a tripod. If you don’t own a tripod, a table or any stable surface will do–even a small beanbag.
Since dim lighting makes the camera very susceptible to taking blurry pictures, you’ll have to go to great lengths to avoid shaking the camera at all during the shot.
Even the motion of your finger pressing the button can wobble the camera enough to blur the shot. For this reason, it’s safest to set your camera on its “timer” mode so you can press the button and take your finger away before the photo snaps.
Sometimes there’s no time to set up a timer shot. Maybe the flower girl is leaning in to kiss the ring bearer on his cheek. If you have to take a spur-of-the-moment shot and you want it to be as steady as possible, it’s time to become your own tripod. Brace both of your elbows against your ribs and hold the camera with one hand.
Grab that hand’s wrist with your other hand and press your arms as firmly together as possible (without straining so hard you make yourself shake!). Brace your back against a wall or your hip against a table if there’s one nearby. Try to take a series of photos so you’ll have a better chance of catching that perfect moment.
Composing Your Shot
As you lift the camera to capture the beautiful scene before you, your first thought should be, “Is the lens clear?” Countless otherwise-perfect shots have been ruined by an errant thumb or by (gasp) leaving the lens cap on. No bride wants to compete for center stage with the “fuzzy finger monster.”
Look for camera straps cutting across the shot, as well as specks of dust on the lens itself. If your lens gets cloudy or dirty, use only a soft lens cloth to gently wipe it away.
Keep an eye out for strange objects in the background of your shot. All too often, photographers are so taken with the joyful couple in front of them that they neglect to notice a lamppost sprouting from the bride’s head or a fountain gushing from the groom’s nose. When your pictures are printed, the background will be every bit as important as the foreground.
You may want to follow the “Rule of Thirds” as an easy way to compose a balanced shot. With this rule, you visually cut your photo into thirds and try to place the subject along one of these lines. Avoid lines (such as the horizon or vertical walls) that come down directly through the middle of your composition.
Work with the benefits that come along with your environment. Look for features that naturally break up the light, such as slanting sunshine through window blinds. These can make dramatic shots when coupled with more traditional shots in the album.
Look for unusual angles. In addition to capturing people at face-height, try climbing a staircase and shooting the party from above. You may even want to stand on a chair. Shooting from above is a great technique for including the little details in a scene, like the pre-wedding clutter of makeup and bridesmaids’ shoes in the bride’s dressing room.
Be careful of shooting from extreme low angles, though, since this position can highlight chins and result in unflattering portraits.
If you want to pose the wedding party in all their finery, go ahead. But make sure you get a good number of un-posed shots, as well. If you suspect that people are mugging for your camera, take a “throwaway” photo and take another photo a few seconds later, when they have gone back to acting normally. This works especially well with capturing children as they are absorbed in the wedding excitement.
No one wants to see a wedding album of mug shots staring straight ahead. You can play with the amount of eye contact in each shot to give the album a more varied and vibrant feeling. Ask your subjects to look off-screen in a few shots.
Capturing a couple looking into each other’s eyes will result in a much more emotional shot than the same couple looking into the camera.
Keep Post-Production to a Minimum
You may be tempted to upload your photos to your computer and start getting artistic. What bride wouldn’t enjoy a negative-color photo of herself tossing the bouquet, with embossed edges and a “Finally!” speech bubble coming out of her mouth? But don’t overwork your images, unless you’re extremely confident in your use of Photoshop or other image-processing software.
It’s easy to get carried away using some of the high-tech features and end up with images whose special effects completely outshine the subjects you were trying to capture in the first place! Ideally, the only post-production work you should have to do on your photos is to increase the contrast and sharpness a little and to boost the saturation so the images really pop.
If you do plan on doctoring your images, make sure you have the original photo saved somewhere else on your computer–just in case.
Don’t Forget to Enjoy the Wedding
Remember, you’re a guest at the wedding as well as a photographer. Just because you’re shooting photos, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have fun. Hand your camera to a few other trusted guests to give yourself time to socialize. Be sure to get a few shots of yourself, too–after all, you’re a valued part of the wedding you’ve been asked to capture!
Lisa is a special needs teacher and a hugger. She always makes time for everyone and lightens up everybody’s lives with her presence. When she is not chasing her students around the yard, she finds time to write about what she truly loves, and you guessed it, its people and relationships.