Wedding Photography Tips to Get You Started

Camera Settings
Set your camera knowing they will be used solely for weddings. Here are some settings with a Canon camera. - your camera may have slightly different names for these settings):

1. Date/Time - Make sure your cameras have the exact date and times down to the second. There is no easy way to reorder photos in most photo software applications so this is a huge timesaver if you plan on posting the photos online as it simply looks better if everything is in order. It also saves time when you arrange the final wedding album.

2. Auto Focus Area - Many cameras have sophisticated systems to choose the best focal point for the shot. When shooting weddings, shooting between close objects to get the shot you want might cause the camera to choose that object as the focal point. Also in low light it can be difficult for cameras to choose the correct focal point. If the camera chooses the wrong focal point and you need to change it, you may have just missed your shot. As such, set your cameras for single point autofocus and set the focal point to the center point. Then focus using this center focal point by pressing the shutter button half way and then compose your shot. This provides a consistent method for taking shots quickly as you are not composing your shot around varying focal points in the viewfinder and you can easily focus exactly where needed.

3. AF Servo Mode - This mode selects if the camera will keep a constant focus once you depress the shutter button halfway or if it will refocus if it detects the object is moving. Since many times during the procession, subjects may be moving toward or away from you. This is a nice feature to leverage which is why you need to set this to AI Focus mode (Canon). In AI Focus mode the camera will focus on still subjects as normal and notify you that focus has been achieved yet if the subject begins to move it will change to AI Servo mode which will attempt to keep your moving subject in focus until you take the photo.

4. Drive modes - Most cameras have various shooting speed selections from single shot mode, which is one frame per shutter button depress, to high speed continuous mode, which typically will take anywhere from 4-8 fps depending on the camera’s fastest shooting speed. Set your cameras at low speed continuous for weddings. That way you can take several shots quickly without making too much noise and without taking an excessive amount of photographs which can quickly fill up a memory card and add to your post production time.

5. Metering Mode - Now that you have focus set to single point, you might also want to tell the camera to look at the center of the image when setting exposure This is done by setting the metering mode to center weighted average. The camera then gives higher priority to what is in the middle of the image and less to what is at the edges when it sets exposure. Set your flashes to meter in the center, since you will be using flashes mostly for portrait shots, which can typically be done right on the camera when the flash is attached or on the flash itself.

6. Rear curtain sync -  This tells the flash to go off at the end of the exposure as opposed to the beginning. This will make low light shots, such as during dancing look more realistic as any motion blur will be behind the subject instead of in front of it. This setting can also be made on the camera with the flash attached or on the flash itself.

7. Highlight Warning - Most cameras will have this setting which will flash areas of the image on the LCD that are blown out in the highlights. This is a must since the last thing you want to do is blow out the bride’s dress causing you to lose all of the detail so have this set to enable all of the time. If you take a shot and notice areas of the image are flashing on your LCD screen you need to lower your exposure or turn down the flash using the flash exposure compensation setting.

8. White Balance - Leave this set at auto. Photojournalistic photographers take lots of photos and are thus moving around too much to be setting white balance continually. White balance settings often change even during a ceremony as the bride and groom move around so do your adjustments in post-production using the bride’s dress to set the white balance which gives a consistent and accurate white balance to the images.

Shooting the event

Getting Ready - Typically the day starts off taking photos of the bride and groom. Always attempt to use existing light sources - using the flash is often a necessity, especially indoors. During this time, use diffusers on your flash and angle the flash upright at approximately a 45 degree angle. This gives a nice diffused light source and cuts down on shadows which are easy to come by in small rooms where people are often getting ready. For shooting modes, use shutter priority mode and set your shutter speed to 1/60 or faster to get nice sharp stills since the subjects tend to be moving around as they prepare for the day. Manual mode is also used if you find yourself stationary for a period of time to give the photos a more consistent look. Aperture priority may be used for detail shots of the rings, shoes, and other accessories to provide nice bokeh or to increase depth of field as needed. If you are using flash, also practice with lowering the camera exposure to darken the background to give your subject more presence.

The Procession - Always attempt to practice this shot ahead of time during the rehearsal if you are in a church. It’s important to know where to stand which the church’s event planner should instruct you on ahead of time. Always shoot a full length portrait shot keeping in mind the camera should be at about the midway point of the subject. 

This is a great opportunity to use manual mode since you will take all the procession shots from the same spot. This will give your photos the consistent look you will want if they are going into an album. Again make sure to check that shutter speed is at least 1/60 sec. if not faster. Try 1/100 of a second or faster when you know people will be moving. A typical setting for this shot would be 1/100 sec., F4.0, and ISO 400. Keep in mind there may be a wall behind your subjects so this a shot where you will want to use a flash bracket to keep the flash over your camera so as to minimize shadows showing on the back wall of the church. Have a flash diffuser on your flash and keep in mind that they are not effective much past 10 feet so if the shot is longer than that, remove the diffuser.

The Ceremony - This is the time to be creative but aware of lighting conditions. Since you move around a lot, you will typically put your cameras in shutter priority mode to prevent low shutter speeds which might cause blur. Set the camera to 1/60 or 1/80 of a second depending on available light but go lower if needed so as to not go above ISO 1600 keeping noise at a minimum. You might find your aperture maxed out at F2.8 which is fine. The depth of field at F2.8 is typically more than enough to have both the bride and groom in focus with a minimal amount of bokeh which always looks great. ISO may go up to 1600 or 3200 in some situations for which later use software such as Imagenomic’s Noiseware to remove the noise during post processing. Having a zoom lens is important to get in close from the back of the church.

The Portraits
For the formal portraits after the ceremony, always use a tripod and set the camera to manual mode. The tripod helps maximizes sharpness of the photo and make it easier to move around to pose and direct. For indoor weddings, always use a flash. A typical setting for the portraits would be: 1/60 second shutter speed, F5.6 (or higher you need more light), and ISO 400. Keep in mind you are setting the exposure for the background so one thing you must always think about is how much of the background do you really want to see? If it’s a beautiful background, set the exposure to normal. If the background has nothing going for it, set the exposure down to -2 stops to darken it a bit and make your subjects stand out more. This is done by raising the shutter speed. 

Take some test shots to verify the look you want. Use your flash in TTL mode and take it off camera using a sync cord or wireless. Your entire setup time is just a few minutes and do not use a light meter. Remember, when using a flash, exposure becomes your friend, just like bokeh, to handle difficult backgrounds.

The Reception
Set your cameras back to shutter speed mode so you can take candid shots quickly without the need to change settings. If the reception is outdoors you may use aperture priority mode since available light is plentiful so you can choose the depth of field. 
Any outdoor portraits of the bride and groom would also be taken in aperture mode with the flash turned on for fill flash if needed. Flash exposure may need to be set to -1 or lower to make the flash blend nicely and always verify it on the LCD. Aperture settings would be F4.0 or lower for more depth of field if you want to show the background otherwise you might raise aperture to blur the background to draw more focus to your subjects.

Cake cutting and toasts is another time when a flash bracket is handy as often the couple will be standing near walls so keeping the flash over the camera for these portrait shots is essential. If you don’t have a flash bracket you are better off taking the shot in landscape and then making it a portrait image during post processing to help minimize shadows.

Finally for the dance, continue to take flash photos with your diffusers attached bouncing the light off the ceiling when possible. If you need more light take off the flash diffusers. Lower your shutter speeds down to 1/10 sec. or lower to bring in more background light. This works fine since the flash freezes the motion of your subjects so blur is limited and it keeps the background from being overly dark with no detail.

Reception photos are a great time to experiment with different settings on your camera and trying out new ideas. Get on chairs to try a different perspective or you can also utilize live mode, if your camera has it, to take the shot leveraging the back LCD monitor which allows you to raise the camera above the action and still see your composition.

Final Thoughts
Use aperture priority mode outdoors, shutter priority mode indoors, and use manual mode for portraits leveraging a tripod and flash. It will certainly help you to have a high level game plan in place which you can build from as your experience grows. The worst feeling is getting into a situation where you aren’t ready to take the shot when it occurs. You'll come to enjoy using manual mode because it doesn't only give the images a consistent look, it also slows you down and makes you “think” more about your composition and your camera settings before you press the button.

Your techniques will continue to evolve over time. It’s that continual learning process which makes photography so rewarding. Each and every wedding you'll do will prepare you for the next and this evolution will be your best learning tool and confidence builder.

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