The first one was a little more relaxing since I was a second shooter, focusing entirely on candid moments in a more photojournalism style.
#1. Don’t jump into shooting a wedding on your own without some experience a second shooter first.
Honestly, I really wish that I could have been a second shooter at least a half a dozen times or more before ever doing an entire wedding on my own. There’s a lot more to do than you could imagine from simply watching from the outside. Simply put: come out the other side of the second wedding: I had no idea that I knew so little. There is no other kind of shooting that can sufficiently prepare you for a wedding. Maybe war/battlefield photojournalism?
#2. Lighting. Lighting. Lighting.
If you don’t understand how your flash works and don’t have access to good natural light, you’re going to have problems. My technically best formal shots were done with two 43′ shoot through umbrellas. And I wasn’t as prepared to use them consistently as I should have been. Even single collapsible umbrella ready in my bag would have been a good move. We went through four locations for the bridal party’s formal/fashion-oriented shots. The light changed dramatically from one place to the other. Don’t let your photos in the dark places be ruined by harsh shadows from a bare flash or by excessive noise from too high ISO or by too narrow DOF because you need an f/1.4 aperture in a group shot.
#3. Practice every genre you plan on doing ahead of time
If you’ve never shot formal portraiture, get some practice in. Get some friends together and have them dress up. Everyone likes dressing up every once in a while. Or if you’ve never shot anything in a photojournalism style (e.g. for the reception), go find a friend whose doing a concert and ask if you can shoot it. Find a birthday party and document it. Something. Styles of shooting that you’ve never done before will surprise you and you will make unnecessary mistakes. This is a big day and not just as a significant event. It’s a big day where a lot happens and it happens fast. If you’re not ready for something because you’ve never done it before, it’s going to show in your images.
#4. Choose your lenses ahead of time and do it with clear intent
Yes, you have a dozen primes. You can’t use them all. Keep it down to two lenses per body, if you can. This is especially true for the ceremony and reception where changing lenses too often can mean missing important moments. If you need a more specialized lens for the formal stuff, that’s fine. But generally, the less you need to worry about having ‘the right lens’ the better. As for myself, I had a 35mm and 85mm for my A7 and a 25mm (=50mm-e) and 75mm (=150mm-e) for my E-M5. Generally I tried to make sure that the other body had the opposite (e.g. A7 with 35mm and E-M5 with 75mm). That way I was ready to switch if necessary. And I did have a second back with other lenses in it, but that was back up in case something failed or broke.
#5. I couldn’t have done it without my wife working with me.
Seriously. She saved me so many times. Of the two of us, she’s the better one at directing large groups of people, for one. I’m great one-on-one, but the large group can be a challenge. So making sure the right people were in front the camera at the right time in the right place was thanks to her much of the time. She was also able to dong the bridal party getting ready for me, which unexpectedly ended up being impossible for me to do myself–and that’s probably okay. I’d say she created a more intimate environment for the women as they prepared. So maybe you have the personality to do it alone. I don’t think I do and I wouldn’t want to do this alone.
#6 Bonus thought: A tripod to maintain good framing for family shots isn’t a bad idea
I didn’t bring my tripod. I wish I had. I ended up doing a lot more cropping and straightening adjustments in post on family shots because of it. The people were doing all the moving. I shouldn’t have needed to. So that was a regret. I could have saved myself significant time in Photoshop if I had thought that through. I feel dumb about this, too, because I have an awesome compact, lightweight carbon tripod for backpacking that’s nice and sturdy. Having it ready wouldn’t have hindered me at all for those shots in the church.
I’m really pleased with how things went with both weddings all considering the various unexpected challenges. The images turned out excellent. You’ll note that this list is partially things I’m really glad I did and partially things that I wish I had done. But that’s how it should be. That’s what learning is. Next time I shoot a wedding, I’ll be a little more ready. And next time, there will likely be an entirely new list of things that I learned: things I’m glad I did and things I wish I could have done differently. That’s what it should be like after every shoot, no matter what kind. Always pushing forward. Always learning. Always improving my craft.
Wedding #1 (Second Shooter)