Are you a hobby photographer thinking about shooting a friend's wedding?
You consider yourself pretty handy with a camera and have taken some shots of family and holidays that you’ll admit you’re pretty proud of. You've shared your artistic eye on Instagram and now your skill has been noticed by family and friends alike. Then one day, you're approached by some close friends about bringing your camera to their big day. The figured they could save some money by asking a friend to photograph their wedding. You don’t feel like you can say no… so, where does that leave you?
Making the Decision
If you decide to accept the task, the most important thing is to be very clear with the couple. You cannot be a wedding guest and do a good job of photography at the same time, so they are essentially uninviting you from the event.
In order to capture as many special moments as possible, you’re literally going to have to remove yourself from the picture so that you can stand behind the camera. What are their expectations? Will they forgive you if their first dance comes out blurry? What if you miss an important moment? Your friendship may well be put on the line here. Consider this carefully before accepting the job.
Important Factors to Consider
The type of wedding your friend is having may be the most important deciding factor. A huge formal wedding at a stately home will require a professional photographer who is used to managing lots of people and getting them in the right places at the right time. There is definitely an art to this.
On the other hand, if the wedding has a more of a festival or Bohemian vibe then the likelihood is that the special couple will want more relaxed shots. Essentially, the more laid-back the affair, the easier it will be.
If you decide to go ahead, here are the 11 most important tips that will help the day go as smoothly as possible.
How to shoot a wedding as an amateur photographer
1. Manage Expectations
Even after you’ve had the initial discussion with your friends, it’s important to manage their expectations. It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver. Warn them that your camera might break, your memory cards might fail and that everything might be out of focus. If the photography is that important to them, this should scare them into hiring a pro.
2. Have a Clear Outline of Events
Know the order of the day and the venue like the back of your hand. Go to the church and reception venue before the wedding day so you can scout out vantage points and framing opportunities. If there’s a rehearsal, attend it.
3. Make a List
Ask the couple for a wedding photo checklist. This should include the combinations of guests they want informal photos, as well as any key moments they would like captured. Think first look, first kiss as a married couple, first dance, cake cutting and any other special or unique moments they have planned.
4. Gather Inspiration + Ideas
Look through other wedding albums and couple’s photography styles to help you come up with your own ideas and shot list. Note that these are usually padded out with “mood” imagery, such as the flower arrangements, rings, venue details, and centerpieces.
5. Make Time to Capture Preparation
Don’t forget pre-ceremony images. Groomsmen might be sharing some beers or enjoying a cigar, while the bride and bridesmaids will be doing hair and makeup, and putting the dress on.
6. Bring Backup
Have a backup of all your equipment. Batteries, memory cards, cameras, picture lists, chargers, etc. Hopefully, you won’t need it, but there’s no second chance if something goes wrong and you don’t have a spare. Make a wedding photography kit list to tick off on the day so you don’t forget anything.
7. Have Adequate Storage/Memory
Seriously, bring more memory cards. You should be shooting RAW files and you can expect to take up to 1000 images. You do the math. You'd hate to miss any key moments while shooting your friend's wedding because of a lack of storage!
8. Borrow or Rent Equipment
If you don’t already have one, rent a flash and a 50mm f/1.8 lens. Practice with these beforehand.
9. Practice Makes Perfect
Practice exposure and white balance adjustment in a range of environments. Putting a big white dress and a dark suit in the same shot (let alone alongside bridesmaid dresses and various skin tones) is going to be tricky. Practice in different lighting conditions to have the best results when shooting your friend's wedding day.
10. Designate a Point Person
Find a key person – preferably someone with presence and authority, but not the bride or groom – and use them as a wrangler. If you have important questions about the event (such as where people will be coming in from, or who is family), they will be your go-to. This person will also be useful when it comes to gathering people together for formal pictures.
11. Put it in Writing
Have a very clear WRITTEN agreement about what you will be delivering after the event and when they can expect it. Do they want all of the pictures? It’s common for photographers to send over a few key images shortly after the event and then have the rest of the album completed within about a month. Remember that viewing, selecting and editing hundreds of photos to make a beautiful album will get boring, even for your friends.
So, should you shoot a friend's wedding? The choice is yours.
Being asked to photograph a friend or relative’s wedding is very flattering, but ultimately, it can often be more stress than it’s worth. The key thing is to clearly communicate with the couple. Emphasize that you’re not a trained professional, so you cannot be expected to do a professional job.
If you do decide to shoot a friend's wedding, we wish you the best of luck! If it goes well, it could turn into a side-gig or you could end up going pro!
Editor's note: Due to the pandemic, some of the general wedding planning advice we share may not be applicable or possible due to restrictions on events. Please adhere to all current regulations and stay safe and healthy! Get more resources for planning a pandemic wedding here.