Photographing a Friend's or Relative's Wedding
Part 4:  The Wedding Day!

All images and text Copyright © 2000-2001
by John A. Lind, all rights reserved.
    The Wedding Day! Contents:
    1. It Begins the Day Before
    2. Taking Charge:  When and How
    3. Being Assertive:  If You Have to Be
    4. When to Be There
    5. Coordinating With Others
    6. Keeping on Track and Staying in the Groove
    7. Timing Film and Battery Changes
    8. When Best Laid Plans Go Awry

The Wedding Day!

After all of the planning and practice, this is the big day when it all converges.  This section contains guidelines and tips on how to make carrying out the plans successful.

It Begins the Day Before

The wedding day actually begins with last minute preparations the day beforehand.  This is when you will want to give all your equipment a last check, load film and batteries, and repack your gear to ensure you have everything you will need.  You need to set everything up that can be beforehand.  Doing this the day before gives you a much better opportunity to recover from anything you might find amiss.  The more you prepare your equipment the day before under less pressure, the less likely you will be to make mistakes.  At the very least you should ensure new batteries are in everything and that they are functioning, load the camera(s) with film, double check film speed settings, and walk through the sequence you intend to shoot the "Must Have List."  Then repack all your equipment, make certain everything you need is there, include this list somewhere with your gear, and get a good night's sleep.  The next day will be a long one.

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Taking Charge:  When and How

General Approach
The best way to be in charge is to be there so you can take charge.  This means being places ahead of the bridal party (and sometimes the guests), major events, being ready for them, and knowing exactly what you want to do when they arrive.  If you're already there, set up and ready to shoot as people arrive and events happen, you're in a position to give direct what needs to be done and make it seem like it's the natural flow of events.

Using the Best Man and Maid/Matron of Honor
The traditional role for the Best Man and Maid/Matron of Honor are to assist the Bride and Groom.  Mileage will vary depending on who they are and how much they are up to that role.  You can enlist their aid, especially during the formal shooting, with adjusting the train and veil on the bride's dress as you position her, helping hold the bride's bouquet briefly, and rounding up wayward folks for group portraits.  Remember their role is assisting the Bride and Groom, so they cannot be a "photographer's assistant" full time.  However, judicious use for small, short tasks when they're not doing other important tasks can be a big help.

Coping with Aunt Harriet and Uncle Harry
Among professional wedding photographers these names are used to generically describe family friends or relatives with whom they must cope during the rehearsal, wedding or reception.  Every wedding will have at least one "Aunt Harriet" or "Uncle Harry" in attendance and you will have to cope with them.  Since you are a friend or relative also, you will likely know them!  Depending on your relationship with them, it may make it easier or more difficult.  Regardless of that, you will very likely have to see them again.  Don't let this section scare you.  I had no significant problems, but did hear some anecdotes from those who have, including some professionals.  What I encountered fit right into the general flow of events as if it had been planned that way.  Being prepared for it and having some strategies in advance is much better than being surprised by it.

The most common problem Aunt Harriet or Uncle Harry create for you is their photographic agenda.  If they brought their own camera, they can become so zealous about their own photography they will get in your way (and others' too).  Sometimes they will ask you to shoot special portaits of their relatives or family members who are wedding guests, but not part of the wedding party or their immediate families.  Occasionally, they may even try to take over your sequence of shooting the formal portraiture groupings to arrange and pose their own groupings.  Sometimes they are excellent photographers in their own right.  All three examples are situations in which you can lose control.  Aunt Harriet's and Uncle Harry's photographic agenda and the special requests they make are primarily for themselves.  Although you may make some reprints for yourself, your photographs are primarily for the bride, groom and their families.  Don't lose sight of this!

If they step into your way, politely ask them to move or reposition yourself.  This rarely happens, but it can.  A simple, quick tap on the shoulder with a quiet polite request almost always works.  Special photo requests not involving the wedding party usually happen during the reception.  First, tell them they will have to ask for prints from the bride and groom because that is where all of them are going.  Next, be certain something you need to photograph such as cutting the cake is not imminent.  If necessary, tell them you are busy, but will get back to them later (after garter and bouquet, etc.).  Don't worry, they usually will not forget.  Whatever the request, don't let yourself get into shooting a pile of unplanned on-location portraits.  Shoot a frame or two, certainly not much more than that.  If you are running short of film (heaven forbid; you should have plenty of extra) be honest about it, tell them that, and that you cannot do it.  If a large list of requests piles on, remind them you are there for the wedding and do not have an unlimited supply of film.  Offer to do a simple large group, and get it over with quickly.  I found that by making a couple of simple, impromptu shots as soon as feasible brings closure and ends the requests.  In the grand scheme of things, several shots will only be about one or two percent of what you will shoot.

During the formal portrait shooting, the easiest way to avoid interference with getting portraits and groupings you have planned with the bride and groom is to be there, ready to begin work, at the location where these will be done before the wedding party is.  At the outset, announce that you will go through the poses and groupings that have been pre-arranged, that you get first shot, typically two or three of each one, and that you will step aside for a moment or two between each posing so anyone else who wants to shoot "over your shoulder" can do so.  This almost always satisfies Uncle Harry's or Aunt Harriet's agenda, and leaves you in charge.  If Uncle Harry or Aunt Harriet make some request, defer this to the bride and groom for their decision.  If they say yes, then you set it up and shoot at least one frame of it first to stay in charge (you do have extra film, right?).  Then move on with your "Must Have List," the one you established with the bride and groom when you planned the photography with them.

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Being Assertive:  If You Have to Be

Enlisting the Aid of Bride/Groom, if Required
This is a method of absolutely last resort as it may leave hard feelings, and can often be avoided simply by taking charge.  That and visible support from the bride and groom during the posed, and semi-posed photos are usually all it takes.  If your requests are repeatedly unheeded, ask the bride, groom, or best man to politely and tactfully remind the guest(s) involved you are there to photograph the wedding at the request of the bride and groom, and that their cooperation in leaving you unhindered will be appreciated by them.  A simple, tactful expression of support from the bride and groom almost never fails.  Before doing this, ensure you have exhausted all other peaceful and polite means you can think of first.

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When to Be There

Your "Must Have List" laid out against the specific sequence of events should have already laid out a general timetable of where you need to be and when you need to be there.  The following are a few additional tips and reminders.

Before the Ceremony
Unless your planning calls for you to be there even earlier, be at the location for the ceremony at least 2 hours before it starts even if you are not shooting any "formals" before the wedding ceremony.  This will give you time to park, get your gear out and be ready as the wedding party and their immediate family arrive.  A normal part of photographing a wedding is making candids and semi-formal or semi-posed shots of the wedding party and immediate family preparing for the ceremony.  You want to be among the first to arrive.

During the Ceremony
Presenting the BrideYour "Must Have List" will dictate where you must be to make any photographs you will be doing during the ceremony.  Stay attuned to the flow of events during the ceremony.  If you are photographing various portions of it, leave yourself plenty of time to rearrange your equipment and get into position for any critical shots at (or near) the end.  Typically this means being in place to capture "The Kiss" and the recessional of Bride and Groom.  You'll only get one, maybe two shots at these and you don't want to miss them.

After the Ceremony
If there will be formal photographs following the ceremony, stay put while the guests clear (in an out of the way corner).  You want to be there as the wedding party and immediate families reenter.  This will allow you to start organizing everyone as they come back in so you can begin the formal photography sequence quickly.  As you're waiting, this is a good time to review the "Must Have List" for the formal photographs you need to make.

At the Reception
If at all possible, try to get to the reception location before the Bride and Groom arrive.  If a limousine is not used, usually the Best Man drives them there.  If you can get to the reception before they do (without breaking speed limits or running over pedestrians) you will want to be in position as the bride and groom are formally announced and enter.  Sometimes there is a receiving line.  There isn't usually a need to photograph everyone going through the line.  You will want to get into a good position to photograph at least some of the "VIPs" as they are greeted by the bride and groom.

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Coordinating With Others

Best Man and Maid/Matron of Honor
The Best Man performs certain duties such as the first toast to the Bride and Groom and influences the timing of it.  Asking him to give you a "high sign" just before he does this allows you to "be there"  and be ready before anyone else is.  He may also determine the timing of other events and is one of the people to keep an eye on.  If it looks like the Best Man is getting ready to do something important in the flow of events, it's time to "be there" when it happens.

The videographer's task is both similar in documenting the wedding, but different in how it's done.  The videographer will want some of the same, or similar "camera angles."   This means you can end up working in close proximity during some of the wedding preparations, the wedding itself (if you shoot that part), and the reception.  For both of you to get your jobs done, you must coordinate and cooperate with each other.  Don't wait to be found.  As soon as you see who the videographer is, introduce yourself if you have not met before, and discuss each of your plans.  Depending on the videographer's experience, you may find you have done more planning and know more about camera angles, or vice versa.  The effort should be mutually supportive and not hinder each other.  From the same camera angle, it's usually possible for one to shoot side by side or over the shoulder of the other if you both want the same camera angle.  The videographer will undoubtedly not want you shooting straight into the video camera with your flash.  As far as I know it doesn't damage the video camera, but it will produce a blinding glare on the tape and (if close enough) may take a second or two for the camera's exposure system to recover and open up its lens again.  Avoid it if you can, but don't sacrifice an essential "must have" shot of a critical event.  Like you, the videographer has some responsibility to cooperate also.  Continue coordination through the reception as events unfold, especially with discussion of the camera angles you intend to use for its critical events.

Disc Jockey
Depending on experience, the disc jockey often controls the pace and timing of certain events during the reception, sometimes with prompting from the Best Man.  If you know the general sequence of reception events, you can anticipate what will happen next.  Just as with the Best Man, coordination with the disc jockey should include letting you know just before a critical event during the reception will be announced.  Likewise, if you need a couple minutes to switch equipment, change batteries or reload film, just ask the disc jockey to hold off for a few minutes while you take care of it (if you do that be certain to inform him [her] when you're ready again).  Just remember that you cannot hold things off for a long time (the reason you should have Plan A and Plan B already thought through if something goes awry).

Quite often, the disc jockey also controls the reception hall lighting level.  Coordinate with when the lights will be turned down.  Don't be afraid to ask they stay up, at least part way, through some of the early dances (bride and groom, etc.) that you will want to photograph.  This will help keep the background behind the parties you are photographing from being excessively dark.  If events such as the garter and bouquet occur after the lights are down, don't be afraid to ask for the lighting to come up again temporarily for these events.  (The videographer will probably thank you for this too.)

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Keeping on Track and Staying in the Groove

If you have coordinated with the Maid/Matron of Honor, Best Man and Disc Jockey, they will help keep you on track with advance warning of reception events.  Remain unobtrusively aware of where the Bride and Groom, and other key wedding party members are and what they are doing (includes the Maid/Matron of Honor, Best Man, and Bride's and Groom's parents).  Keeping track of them and their activities will pull you into the flow of events.  The Bride and Groom are the most important ones to remain in tune with.  If you lose track of a couple of the others for short periods, that's OK.

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Timing Film and Battery Changes, and Other Tasks During "Down Time"

There will be periods of "down time" throughout the day.  This is not only a time when you can sit down and take a short "breather," even if only for 5-10 minutes, but also a time to make equipment checks.  Prime opportunities: Perusing the CakeCheck how many frames you have left on the current roll.  If you only have a few frames left and another major event is coming up soon, rewind it as a "short roll" and load another one.  Change batteries in the flash if it's starting to take significantly longer to recover.  Change batteries in camera and/or winder (if you're using a winder) if they're starting to show any "end of life" symptoms.  Watch during these times at the reception for a prime opportunity to photograph the cake (before it's cut) and the gift table.  I try to catch these when someone is looking at them early in the reception.

During these opportunities, perform the following equipment checks (as applicable to your equipment):

Knobs, wheels and buttons can inadvertently get shifted or bumped.  While it won't fix anything already shot if you find something awry, you can prevent more from being made with the wrong settings.

Spool up and unload the last roll of film from your camera after you have left the reception!  There is always some probability that a priceless photo opportunity may arise as you are preparing to leave.  One professional wedding photographer told me he packs up everything except his basic rig and puts that on the car seat next to him, then stops at a well-lit gas station or convenience store after leaving the reception, unloads the film, breaks it down, and packs it away.

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When Best Laid Plans Go Awry

What the weather cannot be controlled.  You can watch the weather forecast and anticipate what it will be.  Obviously, outdoor activities such as exiting the church will be curtailed if it is pouring rain.  If bad weather is forecasted, then use your reconnaisance of the wedding and reception venues to think about where and how you can make equivalent photographs.  If possible, ask someone there how activities typically done outdoors are normally handled in those circumstances.  If it's an outdoor wedding, those planning it and/or hosting it will typically have a "Plan B" for inclement weather that precludes doing things outdoors.

Toddlers and Very Young Children
These two were NOT cranky!There was a time when small children were never taken to weddings or receptions unless they were part of the wedding party (flower girl, ring bearer, etc.).  Times have changed.  Very young cranky children can be a particular problem when trying to make formal photographs of larger wedding party and family groupings.  Problems with very young children can easily be related to heat and humidity (if it's a Summer wedding), not eating at a normal time, lack of a nap at a normal time, and the noise and excitement associated with a wedding and reception.  I try to get all the ones with small children done soonest as part of working from the largest groups down to the smallest ones.  If a toddler becomes cranky and it cannot be resolved relatively quickly, then move on in the sequence of groupings.  This requires some flexibility in rearranging your planned sequence.  If someone takes the toddler somewhere quieter and cooler (if it's hot), things will usually calm down quickly and you can go back to the grouping that included the child.  I suggest going no farther than very tactfully suggesting this in dealing with the situation.  Slightly older children can sometimes be frightened a little by the flash or camera.  Engaging their inherent curiosity for a very short time in showing them how something works is one technique that sometimes helps.  Letting a small 5 or 6 year old trigger the flash at the very beginning can get them accustomed to it and what it does, gives them some individual attention and connects with them a little so you're not a complete stranger ("I need you to help me test something").  [Note:  the brother and sister shown here are adorable, and they were not cranky.]

Equipment Problems
First and foremost, if it's a camera or flash malfunction you did develop a Plan B, right?  If the problem cannot be resolved very quickly, switch to Plan B, Plan C, etc.  Some common problems include
[To be continued . . .]

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