I believe photographing a wedding, for the most part, should be left to the professional photographer or at the least an advanced amateur that has worked with professionals. After all, this is a once in a lifetime event that cannot be restaged. It must be photographed by the pro within a limited time frame and he or she is expected to deliver top quality images.
Many pros frown upon anyone shooting the setups or poses that they have constructed, some to the point of having it in their contract with the bride that it will not be done.
That said, there is still a place for the amateur photographer and all that you have to do is be alert and ready for the opportunities. These will arise when the pro is occupied in other areas. When the pro is with the bride, you search out the groom and his attendants and take pictures of them and vice versa.
Try to find areas to place subjects that do not have obtrusive backgrounds. Watch for mirrors and glass windows that can reflect your cameras flash, as these will certainly spoil your picture. Be aware of anything that will detract from your subject.
Most consumer and prosumer grade digital cameras have a small built in flash, one that is not very powerful and not suited for flash photography when the subject is more than a few feet away. You should know the limitations of your flash and stay within its range.
The additive method
If the photos are indoors try to arrange your subjects closer together but avoid a bunched up appearance. Take your pictures quickly and use the additive method, i.e. start with a bust type portrait of the bride alone, then for your next shot bring in the maid of honor to sit or stand beside her, then add the other attendants. Working the same way with the groom and groomsmen, you’ll find things go smoother and quicker this way.
If time permits take pictures using the additive method in the front of the sanctuary. Sit the bride on the steps and group her attendants around her and close, have them lean slightly in toward her and do anything you have to in order to get a big smile!
Other pictures to get would be the bride and groom with the flower girl and ring bearer. Have the bride kneel to their level and you move in close to frame your shot. Also, members of the immediate family of both the bride and groom are important and not to be overlooked.
Vary the look of wedding photos
Try hard to vary the “look” of your wedding photos. Avoid lining everyone up in straight lines and shooting from the same position. Use the pews of the church to sit some people while others stand directly behind them.
Have your subjects turn slightly in towards the middle person instead of everyone facing straight toward the camera.
If it is a daytime wedding take your subjects outside and use the “fill flash” feature on your digital camera. Avoid having the sun directly in the eyes of people, squints don’t photograph well.
Again, watch what is behind your subject. Many an otherwise good picture is ruined by having things “grow” out of a brides head such as utility poles and wires.
Try to find a quiet spot with a bench if possible. Don’t forget the bouquets of the bride and attendants, they always make a colorful accent and are expected to be seen in most photos.
If the reception is held in the same building as where the wedding took place, steal away and take a few shots of the cake and decorations before the guests arrive.
Photographing the wedding reception
White wedding cakes are very hard to photograph with a built in flash unit or for that matter any direct flash. Most pros either bounce their flash off the ceiling or detach it from the camera and hold it off to one side. If there is sufficient light and you have a tripod this would be an ideal time to use it.
During the reception is a great time for you to take candid photos so keep your camera handy and your eyes open for possibilities.
One of the last things done at most weddings is the throwing of the bouquet by the bride. This is almost always done by throwing it over the shoulder so get in position and as soon as the brides hand comes up take the picture. Most digital cameras in the prosumer group have a certain amount of shutter lag, the time between when the button is pressed and the shutter fires, so plan for that.
Weddings are joyous occasions so try to capture that in your pictures. The bride and groom will thank you for it!
Related reading: Tips for the guest wedding photographer