Wedding Photography: What You Need to Capture

As a keen photographer there may come a time where you’re asked to shoot a friend or family member’s wedding. For some people, the idea would fill them with dread and it would be too big a responsibility to take on. For others, it’s an exciting opportunity to use your skills to capture one of the happiest days of their lives, and a real honour to be asked. I photographed my first wedding 10 summers ago, and I vividly remember the nerves and anxiety the night before as I went through my rookie shot list. Although I’ve now been entrusted with over a hundred weddings in the past few years I do still have some nerves before the day gets going; the responsibility never shrinks, but with experience your ability to make a success of the day increases. Having a list to refer to definitely helped guide me through my first few weddings, and so I’ve put together my take on what you should be looking to capture from a wedding day.

Within a wedding, there are hundreds of different photographs to be captured. From telling the story of the day through the different events, places and moments, the details including the dress and decor, the family groups, portraits of the bride and groom, and countless candid opportunities of love, laughter and life. And with so much to photograph, having a shot list can really help ensure you don’t miss any key moments that document the day. Approaching the list of shots all at once can be overwhelming, so I find breaking it down into different chapters of the day makes it more manageable. It all begins with the bridal preparations…

The Morning Preparations

Look for interesting compositions during the hair and makeup

Lots of wedding photography begins with shots of the bride and her bridesmaids getting ready. It can last for a few hours and is a great opportunity to create some great candid images of the bride and her friends as they relax before the excitement of the ceremony. Personally I like to try and capture the events as they happen with minimal interference, and I’m always looking for spaces with good light, interesting angles and ways to compose the people in the room creatively. There’s also a selection of details to capture such as the dresses, shoes, jewellery, flowers, and good locations should be sought to photograph these items. While capturing the morning preparations candidly look out for the key moments of emotion, whether it is the father of the bride seeing her for the first time that day, the sharing of gifts and personal letters or any pre-wedding nerves. With dozens of important moments to capture from the morning alone, here are some of the key images that should be on your shot list…

Venue location – set the scene with an exterior shot

Bridal party having their hair and makeup done

Details – dresses, shoes, flowers etc

Final bridal preparations – buttoning the dress etc

Bridal party portraits

Father of the bride seeing his daughter

Heading to the wedding venue – descending the stairs/wedding car

The finishing touches to the hair and make up

The buttoning of the dress is one of the final moments before a bride is ready

Every bride wants a photo of her wedding dress

Don’t forget details like the shoes, and look out for interesting locations or light

Seek out compositions that include everyone in the story

Make sure you photograph the bridal bouquet

And if there’s time a portrait of the bride before the ceremony

The Wedding Ceremony

This is the main event of the day and it is often over very quickly! Once the ceremony is under way you may be restricted on where you can go and what you can photograph, so make sure you know this in advance so you can plan effectively. As different cultures and religions celebrate marriages in their own way, you’ll need to tailor your own shot list to reflect the events of the specific ceremony. But for a traditional Western wedding, these are some of the key photographs you need to capture…

Venue location – interior and exteriors

Venue details – personal touches and decorations

Groom & groomsmen portraits

Wedding rings

Guests arriving and mingling

Bridal party arrival

Bride’s entrance and seeing groom for the first time that day

Ceremony, vows & first kiss

Signing the register

Exiting the ceremony venue

Candid shots of wedding party


Leaving the venue

Be ready to capture the bride arriving at the ceremony venue

Look out for candid shots of the wedding guests

Be in position to capture the bride walking up the aisle

You’ll need to be more discreet during the vows

The first few moments right after the first kiss are bursting with emotion

There’s usually an opportunity created to photograph the signing of the register

After the ceremony be prepared for the confetti

The Drinks Reception

Immediately after most wedding ceremonies the bride and groom and their guests relax with a drinks reception. It’s a time for everyone to congratulate the newlyweds, catch up with family and friends and for guests to mingle. While most people are deep in conversation with a glass of champagne in hand, it can be a hectic time for the photographer! With everyone chatting there’s plenty of scope for great candid shots of the guests enjoying the day, celebrating with the bride and groom and exploring the venue.

During this time you’ll also need to capture any formal group photographs of family and friends as selected by the bride and groom, a photograph of the entire wedding party, and not forgetting a portrait session with the bride and groom themselves. For couple portraits it’s a good idea to plan out a route around the venue taking in a number of pre-selected photo locations. This all takes time, so you need to be working effectively and efficiently to stay on schedule: the bride and groom will be relying on you.

The drinks reception is also a good time to capture the details of where the wedding party will be seated for dinner. This can include table plans, flowers, room decorations and seating details, the wedding cake, any individual details or favours. Once the drinks reception is over the guests will have taken their seats and the opportunity to photograph the details and personal touches as chosen by the bride and groom will be gone! To help you through the busy drinks reception, here’s some of the shots I would be looking to capture…

Reception location, wide shots setting the scene

Candid shots of guests chatting and relaxing

Any games, music or entertainment

Guests congratulating the couple and posing for photos

Formal group photographs of family and friends, this could be a dozen or more different group shots

A group photograph of the entire wedding party, preferably taken from a high vantage point

Portraits of the bride and groom around the venue

Dinner details – table decorations, seating plan, flowers, cake etc

The drinks reception is a great opportunity for plenty of candid shots

Spend some time photographing the guests enjoying the day

You’ll need to set aside some time to photograph the key groups of the wedding party

And find some height to get a shot of everyone

Look out for entertainment or garden games

Take the bride and groom away from their guests for some portraits

Seek out locations and backdrops that make for a good image

Work to keep the bride and groom relaxed for better pictures

Get creative with your portraits by making use of the veil

And make time during the drinks reception to photograph the table details

Dinner and Speeches

Most weddings usually sit down to dinner after the drinks reception, and at some point during the meal the speeches are likely to occur. It’s important to capture a few atmospheric room shots, but during the meal itself there’s usually fewer photos to be taken; after all, nobody is keen on pics of people eating. This is a good opportunity for the photographer to take a short break, have some food or drink, review the shots already captured and prepare for the events to come. If you do take a break, make sure you’re not too far away and know precisely when the speeches are happening or if any surprises are planned!

Guests taking seats

Bride and groom entering the room to applause

Room atmosphere and dinner service

The speeches

Guests emotional reactions to the speeches

After dinner atmosphere and events

Capture the moment the bride and groom enter the room for dinner

Capture the atmosphere before the speeches begin

Be primed to capture the speeches

And don’t forget to photograph the reactions too

Shoot to include the entire top table

The Evening Party

At some point after the dinner the evening turns towards the party, and it all kicks off with the cutting of the cake and the first dance. Check if any special events are planned, such as a tightly choreographed routine, confetti cannons, extra entertainment, live music games, sparklers or fireworks, and plan how you can capture these moments. As the day draws to a close, seek out a particular shot that you can use as a closer to the wedding album. It could be a sparkler send-off, a backlit low light portrait of the bride and groom or a long exposure of the venue under the stars, and this will help you sign off your photos of the wedding in style. For the evening party, here are some of the main events to capture…

The cutting of the wedding cake

The first dance

The bride dancing with the father of the bride

Guests dancing

Evening entertainment

Band and live music

Evening guest arrival

Evening portrait session of bride and groom

A ‘closer’ shot to finish the story of the day

The evening often begins with the cutting of the cake

Followed by the first dance

You can shoot the first dance creatively with off camera flash

Make sure you capture plenty of dance floor action

And perhaps shoot a night time portrait of the bride and groom to finish off the photos

It’s true that every wedding is different and it’s not always possible to capture everything on your shot list. As a wedding photographer it’s important to be prepared and anticipate the key events, and also reacting to capture all the unpredictable little moments of the day that make it truly unique and memorable celebration. You’ll find that some of the best shots you capture weren’t on your shot list as they can’t be planned for, but referring to a list as a guide will help steer you through your early days as a wedding photographer.

I am sure that if you are a wedding photographer, you may have some added ideas to add to this list. If you would like to share those ideas with everyone, please use the comment section below to do so, please!

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A sincere thanks to Digitalrev for producing such a great article and allowing this to be shared.

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