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Common Wedding Photography Mistakes and How To Avoid Them

wedding photography
Photo by: Tim Simpson

In a wedding day whole the atmosphere becomes electric and surcharged with gravity; there may be many emotionally charged moments for everyone involved.  One person who bears a sizable part of the stress and strain is the official wedding photographer. The constant pressure to produce outstanding pictures in the midst of a stressful atmosphere causes many to make mistakes which could not be rectified; in wedding photography there is no chance for a re-take!

This article is intended for the amateur photographer who has not covered a wedding as the official photographer and is planning to get started in wedding photography. Here's a list of the most common mistakes that photographers make when starting out shooting weddings, along with some tips on how to excel in the profession.

1. Inexperience / Turning Pro without Apprenticeship

Be realistic about your photographic skills, you might own a decent DSLR, some expensive lenses and a speed-light; would have produced some pretty decent pictures at one of your friends / relatives wedding. But these are not enough to be a professional wedding photographer. Making a couple of great shots without any pressure during a wedding is one thing; consistently achieving great results under stress is another.

If got an offer to photograph a wedding, convey a realistic picture of your current skill-level and experience. Let them have a fair idea about your capabilities and keep expectations realistic especially when you are being paid to shoot the wedding event. If not confident enough; better not allow anyone to bully you into taking the assignment with the intention to save costs.

Being the main photographer is too big a step; if it seems difficult; could take the second photographer duties, shooting from alternative angles, getting background shots etc. are good learning opportunities on the road to becoming a full- fledged professional wedding photographer.

2. Not Having the Necessary Equipment for the Job

Before accepting an assignment; make sure you own or could rent / borrow every piece of equipment needed for the job; a soldier without weapons is helpless in a war-field. Never go to photograph a wedding without backup for every essential piece of gear, this includes but not limited to spare camera body, lenses, flashes, memory, tripods, triggers and various other accessories.

When any equipment suddenly stops working panicking is not the answer; have back-ups. Having an additional camera body with a different focal length lens will spare the trouble of frequently changing lenses. The delay caused in changing lenses may cause to miss shots, hurrying it can get lenses dropped; it also lets dust enter in to the camera sensor etc.

3. Not Knowing Your Equipment Inside Out

A wedding is not the time to fiddle with camera settings, it is crucial that you know your equipment inside out; what each buttons and settings are, how to get consistent results in different lighting conditions, how to set the lights, how different modes work etc. Also be aware of the limitations of your equipment so as to get the most out of it.

4. Not Coming Prepared

Preparation is everything, especially for a beginner, preparation for wedding photography involves meeting the bride, groom and their immediate relatives. Communicating effectively with them to get a fair idea about what kind of shots they like and what they don’t. Preparing a shoot list, arranging someone from the bride’s side and another from the groom’s who could help you identify the relatives and coordinate them.

Preparation also involves deciding on what lenses, lights and modifiers you might need, whether to bring a tripod or monopod etc. it also involves pre visualizing the important shots, deciding on shooting angles based on actual locations etc.

5. Incorrect Exposure

The white wedding dress of the bride, dark grey or black dress of the groom etc are all capable of throwing camera’s exposure meter off. Photographing a bride in a white dress in any of the auto / semi auto modes will make the shot underexposed making white dress appear grey. Similarly photographing a groom in black dress in any auto/semi auto modes will cause over exposure rendering the dress as neutral grey and overexposing everything else, even clipping highlights. 

The trick to achieve correct exposure is to set the right amount of exposure compensation and cross checking your exposure by using the histogram to make sure you are not clipping either highlights or shadows.  Having a DSLR camera with a highlight warning feature would be a great idea; as it will warn you about clipping while reviewing your shots.

6. Not paying Attention to Background

Getting the right background is as important as getting the exposure or composition right. Make sure the background in your shots complements your subject, avoid shooting with a cluttered background, and also avoid elements in the background that would compete with the subject for the viewer’s attention.

It is a good idea to scout the wedding venue the day before the shoot so as to identify suitable locations for essential shots of the wedding couple and their families. Find suitable background for your various needs, shooting large groups would require a relative large space and background. The background should not only be un-obtrusive but also contribute to give a context to the image. For example shooting the couple in the doorway of the church gives context as well as creates a frame around them.

7. Forgetting a Shot

As a professional wedding photographer, you are expected to cover everyone and everything important, know what your clients consider important and make sure you have them all covered. Preparing a shoot list will help you accomplish this without fail. Do speak to the bride and groom beforehand and prepare a list of guests and groups that they want. Ask them to delegate one family member from each side who will be responsible for rounding up the relatives for you.

8. Forgetting to Shoot the Details

wedding photography
Photo by: Akshay Charegoankar

It’s not just the people that is important during a wedding,  seemingly small details like the wedding ring, brides shoes, wedding gown, wedding cake, menus, flower arrangements, table decorations,  etc all would have taken months to choose and so will be important for your clients so make sure you dedicate some time to shooting the details, don’t just take record shots but compose as you would for a still life shot and create images that the bride and groom would want to be in their wedding album.

9. Lackluster Group Photos

Getting the group photos right is one of the major challenges faced by wedding photographers. Large group shots are especially difficult to arrange, you can depend on the ushers to get everyone who is supposed to be in each shot.

It is up to the photographer to arrange people, remember to keep important  members towards the center, around the bride and groom, place taller people towards the back, the people in any group could be related and make sure you have some logic in the way you have arranged the group.

Having a tall tripod, a step ladder or a high vantage point is especially helpful when photographing larger groups. Make sure you have all your subjects visible, smiling, looking at the camera and not blinking.

Put your camera into continuous shooting mode and shoot in bursts, do take a few shots of each group so as to get everyone looking as you want in at least one of the shots, but be prepared to do a little post-capture compositing.

10. Not Capturing All the Relatives in Group Shots

This is one of the most common mistakes made by beginners to wedding photography, especially if they have not done their homework well and not cared to prepare shoot lists and all. Remember if you forget to shoot any of the important relatives, you are in big trouble, there is no alternative, and it is not possible to recreate such a shot no matter what.

11. Rushing Through the Shots

You might be forced to rush through the shots; it might not be due to your fault but other things, bride or groom arriving late, or the function taking longer than planned etc. but be cool and never rush through the shots. Hurry and tension will only result in unpolished compositions and sloppy framing thereby ruining amazing opportunities to take wonderful pictures. 

Remember best results are expected from a photographer for the payments they make. While looking at the album no one will remember that you were rushed, they’ll just glance at the pictures and criticize you for not paying enough attention to detail and being sloppy. 

As a professional wedding photographer you do have some authority to get the wedding party reposition itself for your purposes, exercise your rights in a diplomatic way, sure some might rumble but the bride and groom will thank you later for being bold and saving the day.

12. Not Shooting RAW

When shooting such important functions as a wedding; there are a lot of things at stake but there is no excuse to not shooting in RAW. Of course if the camera has the option, feel free to shoot in RAW + JPEG mode but not only in JPEG. RAW files give you tremendous power when editing images to correct exposure or white balance settings.

13. Framing Too Tight

Never frame your subjects too tight, always shoot a little wider, and do remember about aspect ratios; print sizes are a different aspect ratio from that of your camera files. So you’ll have to crop out a bit to make your image fit the desired aspect ratio. When composition is too tight; important details might have to be cropped out.

14. Not Being Professional

Most beginners learnt these in the hard way (only after they lose their clients) and many struggle for work and wonder why their wedding photography business never clicks. One, who wishes to be a professional, should act like one. Not returning phone calls, emails, being late for appointments, missing target delivery dates etc. are not professional.

Each religion, community, caste etc. has its own etiquettes related to the marriage function; and all these change with the passing of time; a photographer should include to his home works tracking the customs and specialties of that community or that sect and act as an enhancer who is well versed in all what has to take place. Simply running around the bride and clicking away like mad is no wedding photography; a photographer should be truly professional and not a voyeur! Wishing many happy weddings!  

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