Wedding photography

A wedding is a happy and emotional event which only happens once in a lifetime… Well, sometimes twice, not more than three times. Of course, there are some record holders such as the actress Elizabeth Taylor who married 8 times.

Wedding photography is an extremely popular genre across the world. Perhaps the term ‘genre’ is hardly appropriate in this case because it includes many different photography genres – portrait, still life, reportage and even landscape photography. The role of the wedding photographer is a very delicate and responsible one, especially when the bride and groom rely on high-quality photography and professional attitude. Being a time machine on such a day is not an easy task. When you shoot at a studio or for a family session, you can make mistakes which can be corrected later. When you are taking reportage photographs of a public event, any mistakes will only be your loss, because there will be plenty of other photographers there as well. If you are shooting a production process, you could have several repeats of the shoot on different days. Even birthdays happen regularly once a year in more or less the same company. But the wedding between two people is only one day. The bride has been dreaming about this day, sometimes for years, often the atmosphere is tense, people are nervous, you are always short of time and you are the one who should manage to control it, keep it on a tight rein and stop it right when it is needed, as many times as it is needed. This is why a wedding photographer needs to be confident about his skills and his technique, to be a good photographer in all genres, sometimes an animator and quite often a psychologist.

‘Photographing people is 90% psychology and 10% technique’ said one of the most prominent figures in contemporary wedding photography – Annabel Williams, and for a good reason. Photography is 90% psychology, indeed, but let us begin with the other 10%.

  1. Equipment necessary to shoot a wedding reception:бено тържество : 

Although in reality there is an enormous variety of equipment on the market and you can shoot with anything, even your phone, for wedding photography it is a good idea to select more reliable and trust-worthy equipment.

Think security to begin with. There is nothing more important than preserving the memories of the people who trusted you. You must have two cameras and several lenses. Every professional wedding photographer has had the bad luck of having their camera defect right in the middle of a shoot. Do not risk it and never leave it all to chance. As a second aspect of security – your cameras should have two memory card slots and record on both at the same time so that in case of a failure of one of the cards you will have the photos recorded on the other. Almost all modern cameras in the middle and high ranges offer this option. Of course your cameras must have interchangeable lenses – i.e. DSLR or mirrorless models. Over the last 2-3 years wedding photographers have gradually been moving on to mirrorless models for several reasons:

  • They are lighter and take up less space. This is especially important when you have 12 hours of active shooting in a day. 
  • They are less conspicuous and you can be a first person story teller mixing and mingling with the guests at the reception.
  • Shooting with a mirrorless camera saves you the trouble of editing later, because you have precise focus across the entire field of the frame and there is no need to reframe in the editing programme. Do not underestimate the eye detection auto focus and the tracking auto focus. They are flawless in the new mirrorless models. You have precise metering with options for quick adjustment using the electronic viewfinder. In this way there will be no need to make exposure adjustments later on.
  • A tilt display with a touch focus is an excellent tool which helps you obtain a different vision and point of view.
  • Mirrorless cameras are less noisy, the shutter is lighter and has no mechanism for flipping a mirror up and down. Furthermore, they offer the opportunity to work using only the electronic shutter where the camera makes no sound when shooting. This is especially important during the church ritual. You must agree that it is not pleasant to hear the constant clucking of the shutter and the mirror during such a ritual. In most churches the acoustics is excellent and this sound becomes really irritating if heard once too often. There have been cases when priests have started a conflict with photographers shooting with noisy cameras.
  • All mirrorless models have inbuilt stabilisation which works with the whole set of lenses, including lenses with good light power and aperture 1.4 or even 1.2. This allows shooting in very poor light conditions, at low shutter speeds and without a flash. Again, a church is a place where the use of flash is not welcome because it disturbs the people.
  • The last generation electronic viewfinders are so sensitive that through them you can see scenes and objects in the dark which are invisible to the naked eye.
This photograph was taken with a latest generation mirrorless camera Sony A7iii and portrait lens Sony 135/1.8. The tilt display allowed me to place the camera on the ground and shoot unnoticed through the grass.

Single-lens reflex cameras are becoming better and better suited for sports photography, wildlife photography and other situations involving rapid movement, because the optical viewfinder gives you direct contact with the object and there is no element of delay – what you are seeing is happening at the moment you are seeing it. With the electronic viewfinder there is a tiny delay owing to the time it takes to process the image from the sensor and visualise it. In most cases this time lag is negligible, but in some cases, when the movement is very rapid, it could be decisive. Of course, many photographers prefer them for wedding photography as well, also because of the direct visualisation through the lens.

Instant reaction and focus on the flying dove owing to DSLR Canon 1Dxmk2 – the highest class of reportage and sports camera by Canon.

What are the most suitable lenses for wedding photography? You can use absolutely any type of lens – from the ones with the widest angles and fish eye lenses to telephoto ones. Of course, it is not practical to carry around such a set of optics. Realistically speaking, you can cover the entire event with two cameras and two lenses – place a universal zoom lens 24-70/2.8 with good light-gathering power and a portrait lens 85/1.8 or 85/1.4. If the second camera has high resolution – for example 42mp, using a crop button X1.5 your 85/1.4 will easily be made longer up to 130/2 with enough room left for 18mp. You can obtain more interesting results using only prime lenses with good light power. My favourite combination is 24/1.4, 55/1.8, 85/1.4 and a fish-eye 16mm lens. Fish eye lenses are interesting but do not overuse them. You should be well aware when it is appropriate to use them and when not.

Carl Zeiss lens 16-36/2.8 used at 16mm, closed aperture at16 to make the rays of the sun visible. Camera Sony A99
Lens Sony 135/1.8 – portrait telephoto lens creating beautiful lines and compression of the background.
A fish eye lens and a low viewing point. The tilt display of the Sony A7iii camera helped achieve different viewing angles.
Lens Petzval with optical scheme from the middle of 19 century. It produces characteristic lines with soft focus and a swirling background. The additional editing of the colours into light sepia enhances the retro look of the photo.
Tourist zoom lenses with a wide range are not used in professional wedding photography but under good light conditions they can be great solutions for reportage photography because of the rapid change of focus length and viewing angle respectively. Photo taken with Fuji S5pro and zoom lens Nikkor 18-200VR

2. Psychology of wedding photography 

This is a particularly lengthy topic of discussion involving many and varied aspects. Here I will take a look at the main ones while in later chapters I will develop some of the arguments in more detail.

I will start by saying that regardless of what it is that you do for a living, it should bring you pleasure. Money is not a means to an end, it is the result of your growth, attitude and manner of work. Any compromises that you make will be like streams branching off and away from the river of your life. Make too many and sooner or later that river will dry out. As I said earlier, a wedding photographer is not just the man who takes pictures during the wedding. With the help of modern technology, anyone can take photographs with good quality. However, not everyone can be a good story teller. The profession of the ‘scribe’ has long disappeared into oblivion while the profession of the ‘writer’ lives on. In order to survive in this field, you need to be a writer. In order to be a good writer, you should have good general knowledge and be interested in a variety of fields, you should read books, watch movies and visit art galleries… Ansel Adams said that ‘You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.’

In recent years the people who appreciate photography as an art form are the well-educated and intelligent people. Only they would appreciate your skills as a story teller. To be one, you must tell the story from first person singular, to dive into the atmosphere of the event and establish close relations with the people around you and on top of all this to manage to capture all the decisive moments which tell the story in a unique way. The biggest advantage of photography over video is that it can tell stories in less than a second. In a video you need at least 3-4 seconds, sometimes more, in order to show an emotional scene. Viewers will not manage to notice any shorter fragments. Photography freezes 1/100 of the second and in this way it sometimes catches what is impossible to catch. After that viewers can watch that 1/100 sec for hours. ‘Then to the moment I’d dare say: Stay a while! You are so lovely!’ as Goethe’s Faust cried out. You are the wizard who can stop time in the appropriate moment.

Constructing a wedding story is a psychological process with a lot of aspects, similar to the way you construct a literary work – different plot lines, main and supporting characters, symbols and metaphors, action, emotions, plot twists, sad and comic situations… In literature all of the above are the result of the writer’s imagination. When we are talking about an actual event, though, they are real and they need to be found, captured and then presented in an interesting way. Let me illustrate that with some examples:

  • Look for symbols and metaphors. Sometimes they are not part of the main action but they are the spice without which the dish simply does not taste right.
When I took this photograph I first saw the elderly ladies and gentlemen kin to the bride and groom. Then my eyes rested on the beam of sunlight which fell on the church wall. All that was missing to complete the entire story with a single shot – past, present, light, shadow and the road to the temple all coming together, was the bride. I asked her to stand there and I pressed the shutter button. Camera Sony A7iii, lens Sony 24-70/2.8G
While I was taking photographs of the bride getting ready I saw that there were markings on the door frame on the right which she had made to mark her height over the years. I focused on them. ‘Farewell to childhood’ is a suitable name for this short story. Camera Nikon D3s, lens 35/1.8
An accidental encounter with an elderly couple captured during a session in the city can be a short story about life and love. Camera Sony A900, lens Carl Zeiss 135/1.8
An accidental touching of the muzzles of the horses and a kiss between the bride and the groom at the same time creating magic within a single frame. Camera Nikon D3s, lens Nikkor 70-300VR
  • Funny scenes and anecdotes provide a relief within the story and make it more interesting and effective. Children are usually the most common generators of such situations.
While I was shooting the boring civil ritual I saw the little girl breaking free from her father’s arms and tumbling onto the aisle. I reacted quickly. I ran to the aisle and managed to capture the scene. Camera Sony A9, lens Sony 24/1.4G

Imitating the grown-ups is one thing – interesting and fun. Being pushed and dropping your bottle is another. And it is a story of tragic proportions. These captured moments were awarded at the international wedding photography competition organised by WPJA.

Sony A7iii, Sony 24-70/2.8G
Sony A7iii, Sony 24-70/2.8G
  • Do not use the flash during the church ritual. Look for a different point of view, close-ups and wide shots, try to capture the atmosphere, take portraits of the guests but be careful not to miss the main moments of the ritual – the exchange of rings, crowns, sipping from the wine, going around the altar, etc.
An interesting point of view through the burning candles. Camera Sony A7iii, lens Sony 85/1.8
If the church has a balcony, choose a suitable moment to climb up and take a wide shot of the atmosphere from a high viewing point. Camera Sony a99mk2, lens Carl Zeiss 16-35/2.8
Do not miss the main rituals such as the change of crowns. Camera Sony A7iii, lens Sony 24-70/2.8Gктив Sony 24-70/2.8G
Experiment using different photographic techniques – for example, low shutter speed and panning. Camera Panasonic G9, lens Leica 12-60

Here again children can be at the centre of some interesting stories so keep an eye on them. They also bring life to the story. в разказа :

Sometimes a viewing point from the pulpit is not possible because the priest may object to your presence there. Kindly ask to what extent and where he is willing to let you in, but never be too pertinent. If possible, a viewing point from the pulpit would be interesting.

Nikon D500, Nikkor 50/1.8G. I closed the aperture to 5.6 in order to see the faces of the people underneath.
Focus on details in contre-jour. Sony A7iii, Sony 24-70/2.8Gi, Sony 24-70/2.8G
  • The photo session is an almost inevitable part of shooting a wedding. Usually it is the bride who insists more on the staged photography session and wants it to be as long as possible, while the groom often gets bored and wants this ‘torture’ to end quickly so that he could head for the restaurant, the friends and the party. The role of the wedding photographer in this case is to make shooting the session a fun and interesting experience for the couple. The photographer should carefully assess the expectations of the couple and act as a balancing force if there is a disagreement brewing Often the bride wants to include her bridesmaids, the best man, the maid of honour and sometimes even the parents in the photo session. Usually a session lasts not more than an hour and it would be a mistake if you have to pay attention to 10-20 people all the time. Instead, suggest that everyone should participate in the first 15-20 minutes for several shots, while the rest of the time should be reserved for the bride and groom, the best man and the maid of honour. It is a good idea to know the area where the session will take place. Improvisation is fantastic, as long as it is based on prior research. You can take note of a couple of key places – interesting architecture, a place with different reflections, unusual backgrounds, unusual defocus, etc. Do not forget that there is always the chance of a sudden change in the weather – a storm, rain, wind. You should be able to suggest a suitable place for the session under such circumstances. It could be a gallery with free access, a colonnade of a large public building, a subway, an old house, etc. Of course, you should know if shooting is allowed in these places and if yes – under what circumstances. During the preliminary conversation with the bride and groom you must ask them how willing they are to experiment under less favourable weather conditions.
Chateau Copsa. Wide-angle lens – Carl Zeiss 16-35/2.8 at 16mm, closed aperture -11 (to have visible sun rays), low viewing angle. I asked the bride and groom to dance and I chose the best shot.
Natural reserve Water Lilies Ropotamo River Same equipment, high viewing angle. The tilt screen of the Sony A99 camera and the wide-angle lens allowed me to take this shot while holding my camera above my head..
The romantic sunset and the lake are the perfect scene for a fairy tale love story. The sunset is usually very short. Be sure not to miss it – you should know in advance the place and the time when you should be there.
Nikon D3s, Nikkor 85/1.8. Night session in the empty city? Why not! If the bride and groom are still capable after the wedding, you could suggest a short night walk along the empty streets. Use optics with good light power and a camera with high ISO capabilities.
Contre-jour and silhouettes are a very commonly used technique in wedding sessions. Do not be tempted to fill in the faces of the bride and groom with the flash. Its light will not look natural in this situation. Invite the viewer to the charming and mysterious world of shadows and silhouettes. You will have had plenty of photographs with clearly visible faces from the wedding day itself.
Sony A7iii, Sony 24-70/2.8G. Take advantage of what the big city has to offer – architectural lines, reflections, and interesting backgrounds. In this photo the reflection is on a brass plate of a building.
Sony A900, Carl Zeiss 135/1.8. A sudden summer rain may bring forth some genuine emotions as long as the bride is not too preoccupied with her dress and hairdo. Of course, as long as your equipment is weather-sealed.
Sony A99, Carl Zeiss 16-35/2.8. If the bride has a lavish beautiful dress, try to show it in an interesting and different way. In this photograph the camera is under the veil of the dress, the lens is as wide-angle as possible – 16mm. I asked one of the bridesmaids to throw the veil up in the air several times and I shot in series to select the best shot later. The church in the background completes the scene.
Sony A7iii, Sony 85/1.8. An after-wedding photo session in another town or country is a romantic adventure. Venice is a wonderful place for this type of photo session.
Sony A7Riii, Sony 24-70/2.8G. The bride and groom had already taken their seats at the table when I saw the sun break through the clouds right before sunset. I called them quickly because I had only a minute or two..
Sony A99, Calr Zeiss 16-35/2.8. I set the camera and instructed the groom how to take the photograph himself, because I did not want my shadow in the frame.
  • Decisive moments True reportage photography at a wedding is a challenge. It requires fast reactions, a good eye for detail and a sense of what a decisive moment is. Intelligent people today appreciate more and more a captured candid moment. This type of photography is the true time machine which can later bring you back to the day of the wedding. Candid portraits, situations, actions and fragments of the day together create a unique one-of-a-kind story. A staged session will often include a lot of clichés and will not always be associated with the actual day of the wedding. It can be done at a later time. Only quality reportage photography and a well-told story will evoke genuine emotions in the viewer.
Sony A7iii, Sony 24-70/2.8. While shooting the main action, I always observe plot lines to the side – this shot combines the two children playing and the ritual reflected in the glass. The photograph was awarded gold medal at the international competition for reportage wedding photography organised by WPJA.
Sony A99, Carl Zeiss 16-35/2.8. Another photograph with a similar plot and similar emotion. This photo is a combination of a captured moment and technical precision – I used closed aperture so that the rays of the sun could stand out better.
Sony A99, Carl Zeiss 24-70/2.8 Intimate emotional moments are key when telling a story. I waited for a long time at a distance while the bride was talking to her grandmother. At one point their heads came closer, they said something to each other and smiled. I later found out that the veil of the bride was really valuable because it had been passed down from generation to generation and had been her grandmother’s wedding veil.
Sony A7iii, Sony 24-70/2.8, The guests and their reactions are an important addition to the main story.

The preparation of the bride is the perfect time to capture interesting emotions, situations, reflections and angles. It is your introduction to the main story and often you have plenty of moments worth freezing.

It is important to compose and choose your accents so that the viewer can clearly sense the idea and the message behind the image. We can easily call this photo ‘21st century’ – amidst so many beautiful female feet, the boy is playing on his tablet.

Key important moments are the emotions and situations related to certain rituals – kicking a pot of water to tell the future, breaking the first bread, releasing wedding doves, etc. For some it is best to shoot in series because the action takes place really fast.

Do not miss the details. Sometimes they are everywhere around us – gifts, small signs, decoration for the ritual, decoration for the restaurant, etc. You should keep in mind that the bride insisted on those details and paid good money to have them produced. If you have to, speak with the wedding decorator or the wedding agent to find out everything you need to know about the decoration and any peculiar details associated with it.

The wedding day ends with a reception in a restaurant or in the open. It is important to have as much information as possible about the place beforehand. If the reception will be indoors, you need to know what the room looks like, how big it is, what the lighting is, if there will be additional stage lighting, etc. All this will help you select your equipment. If there will be some interesting effective light it is possible to shoot without flash in order to capture the spirit and atmosphere of the place. If, however, the lighting is bad with pointed lights from the ceiling which cast unpleasant shadows, it is a good idea to use additional sources of light – a flash. You can limit your equipment to only one flash if you use additional diffusers and modifiers or if there is a white ceiling which you can direct the flash to. A better option is to place 2 or more flashes in the room in order to have a more three-dimensional lighting.

When shooting in the open you cannot use the reflective surfaces of a wall or a ceiling so when the light is very poor, you can shoot with direct flash or several flashes located around the dancing. Modern cameras have high sensitivity and low noise levels which allows you to shoot under very poor light conditions and even garden lamps will do the work in the open.

Sony A900, Carl Zeiss 24-70/2.8. For this shot I used one flash away from the stage pointed to the side.
Sony A7iii, Carl Zeiss 55/1.8. The light in the room is soft, there are no hard contrasts and it is sufficient for shooting without a flash when we have optics with good light power.
Sony A99, Carl Zeiss 24-70/2.8. Low shutter speed allowing the blurring of the background and direct flash freezing the movement of the people.
Sony A7iii, Sony 28/2. The faces of the bride and groom are illuminated by the burning candle. In this way you have an atmosphere which is as natural as possible.
Sony A7Riii, Sony 85/1.8. Party in the open – the light is interesting. The backlight provides an opportunity for a different vision without the use of flash.
Sony A7iii, Sony 24-70/2.8 Use reflections in mirrors, windows and paintings. They show the events in a different unconventional way.
Sony A7iii, Sony 24-70/2.8. A combination of natural ambient light and camera flash in fill-in mode.
Sony A7Riii, Sony 85/1.8. Party in the open – suddenly there was heavy rain – I shot without flash with high ISO settings.
Sony A7Riii, Sony 28/2, 12800 ISO. The rising moon is a valid call for a couple of night shots by the restaurant.
Sony A7Riii, Sony 28/2, 12800 ISO. The exact moment when the bride shoots the first fireworks herself.
Sony A7Riii, Sony 24-70/2.8, 12800 ISO. When you shoot fireworks you should set your camera with a lot of precision. If the shutter speed is too high, the rockets will not leave trails in the sky. At the same time you should be careful not to blur the foreground. If you have stabilisation 1/15 is a good speed. I took a series of shots in order to select the best ones.

In the 4 photographs below you see the typical garden/beach party both outdoors and indoors with light coming from the electric garland lights. I shot without flash with lenses with good light power and at high ISO settings – 8000 – 16000.

And now, some final words of wisdom. If you want to work in the field of wedding photography, you must first become a good photographer in all the other various different genres. Do not be tempted to take on such work unless you are expertly familiar with the other photography genres, unless you are confident in your equipment, unless you can communicate with people freely and unless you are a good story teller. The time of the scribes is over. Anyone can write. You must be writers!

Wedding photography, like many other commercial genres of photography, requires a lot of marketing and advertising. This is an extensive topic which we will discuss in additional articles on the site later.

In the video below you can see some educational photographs and thoughts on the topic of wedding photography, backstage footage from the shooting process and more. Enjoy!