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How to be a good wedding photographer

How to be a good wedding photographer - Here's part 2 of the professional photographers advice on weddings.

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Portraits and People

Photograph by Mark CleghornOnce you have attended a wedding show, had your pictures put in a shop window and shown a potential client your market pack the next thing you need to know is what to do when they have said yes, you can be our wedding photographer.

An important action you must do is take a non-refundable booking fee to safe guard your day and make sure you have insurance  then you can move onto making the day exactly how the couple imagined.

Chris explains: "You need to work on your relationship with them and discuss ideas for how they would like their work presented. Go for simplicity, we have an album package or DVD package plus a reduced rate for midweek. Products wise we offer albums, wall products and digital media."

Annabel believes developing a relationship from the very first meeting is also key to a successful wedding shoot: "The pre-wedding shoot is often the key to the success of this relationship and your understanding of the couple. You must Discuss everything with the client every step of the way, from the first phone call, through to the wedding meeting and pre wedding shoot and ensure all processes are included on all printed materials just to confirm that you are in agreement."

Chris added: "There's lots and lots of rapport building to make sure the client is 100% confident and familiar with us. After all happy people make happy pictures! We want to keep the same family for generations to come too so a good rapport is crucial. We listen carefully to their wishes and ideas and we build  on them together, but the majority are happy for us to shoot freely as its our style that made them book initially."

This is the point where questions will be fired at you and these often come in two stages. At first it will be about how much it costs and what they get for it and at the consultation/ pre-wedding shoot questions develop around the wedding and about ideas and suggestions.

"If they haven't seen us work before then we usually get asked questions you see in the bridal magazines but if they know us and understand how we work the questions become more personal about the day," explained Mark.

"Most people want to know about the packages you have to offer and it is vital you go through this in detail," added Annabel.

Having good organisation skills and a large calender are a must. It may sound silly but make sure you write down the dates and times of the weddings, you don't want to have two weddings on the same day! Setting key dates for a consultation, pre-wedding shoot, invoice reminder dates and a date for the presentation after the wedding will mean you know what you're doing and everyone else will too.

Photograph by Chris Hanley"There is a lot of conversation throughout the entire process always a final call a couple of days before the big day to ensure that everything is on track. Book the time in for the wedding day, pre wedding shoot, sales day and production straight away so that all key commitments are in place from the outset," said Annabel.

Never ever rely on a computer for keeping your dates safe as sods law says the day you need them it will crash. Having a wall calender and a diary as a back-up is a good option. Never think that everything will run smoothly either, always have a plan B. Annabel has a plan C too and she always travels to the venue the night before.

Chris said: "Plan for the worse case scenario. Make a list of what could go wrong and how you would deal with it."

"You can't stick your head in the sand and expect everything to be OK. You have to be ready and prepared for events such as rain," added Mark.

Not often but sometimes things can change at the last minute, usually they're to do with timing issues, but be prepared anyway and if you make a what if list - consult it.

A check list is another useful tool to help you organise your day. Making a list of photographs the bride and groom have requested will make things run effectively, as too does having a method similar to Chris': "We are quite organised kit wise, everything has a place, so we can find it fast. A shoot list is very useful, we use phrases for each style of shot . For example we have a Gerry shot. These specific words mean we can work quickly and effectively, we don't waste time describing to each other what we mean."

Photograph by Chris HanleyOpinion is divided on what to wear on the day. Mark and his team used to wear formal dress but for the last ten years they have opted for polo shirts which have their company logo on them while Chris and Annabel still dress formally.

"I dress as if I was a guest, I take a change of shirt too as it can get hot," explained Chris.

Annabel added: "A smart outfit is a must-whatever is in fashion, it must be practical too."

Mark believes having a schedule on the day is important and Chris agrees: "I have a shoot schedule with about 15 minutes flexibility built in on each side of the shoots. This means if I have to travel from the brides house to the church I have time to factor that in."

Annabel agrees with Mark: "You need a schedule so no key moments are missed."

Making the client aware of your schedule can help, especially during the bridal preparations. They don't need to know every detail but if they are aware of timings things have a chance of running more smoothly.

Chris added: "At the bridal party in the morning is the time I usually first meet some of the guests and I usually have a joke with mum, talk about X factor and strictly come dancing - it helps break the ice."

Arriving in plenty of time is also a good idea. "I arrive half an hour before a ceremony," explained Mark.

"I drive the route and time it the night before to ensure that I arrive early. Visit the church and any other relevant locations to identify the best shooting areas. Leave nothing to chance," added Annabel.

If you're travelling to a location you can arrive the day before and get a good look around the venue and if it's local take some time the week before to familiarise yourself with the location.

Photograph by Mark Cleghorn"If it's a new venue, other sources that work are websites. You can look at other photographers sites to see if they have taken pictures there and Flickr is a great tool too. If you type the name of the place you're taking pictures at you will be surprised to see how many search results pop up!" added Chris.

Another important habit to adopt is introducing yourself to the official. Always speak to them before the ceremony, explain who you are and ask politely about taking photographs. Listen to what they have to say and always act in a polite and professional manner.

These photographers have a set of shots they always take at weddings as they know they work, they know they sell and in the circumstances of something going wrong they have a solid set of pictures to fall back on.

"Safety shots are good. Mum and dad, bride, groom, the guys. I always take good portrait shots in case anything goes wrong. One of the bride just after the make-up people have finished is a good one too." Chris continued, " We will always do a group shot, plus a very limited number of traditional shots, then we have our favourites(e.g. Gerry) plus our shoot to sell format."

Mark added: "I always shoot a selection of shots I know will work. The bride and groom, outside the church door, cake, ¼ length shots and full length shots."

Group shots are requested from all most everyone and the key to this is taking a photograph Uncle Joe can't take. Shaping the group by having them some where elevated or organising them in height patterns will help you create something that doesn't look like your mum squashed everyone in for a picture. You need to be good at directing people but make sure you do it in a positive way, a little humour goes a long way. Get the group shot out of the way early too as it's the photograph everyone hates and once it's over everyone begins to relax.

"Keep it short and sweet so people don't get bored. That goes for the bride and groom too, I usually spend around twenty minutes with them," added Mark.

If the client requests a photograph you know will not work Mark and Chris say take it anyway, but Annabel believes it's much more professional to explain to them why it wont work and suggest a better alternative.

It doesn't matter if you're photographing a group or the brides mum on her own, posing them correctly can make the picture. "Pose them well and understand how they look. Are they fat, thin, tall, short etc," explained Mark.

"It helps that people feel good naturally but twenty-five years of experience, charm and praise can also help," Chris continued, "Depending on your shooting style, the beauty queen stance is great for the mother of the bride, just remember to tone it down slightly."

Taking candid shots as well as formal ones are a good idea. A few images of hats, wine glasses and shoes scattered among the album will always look great.

"Some of the candid shots I do are of hats and shoes. I usually juxtapose the shoes against a handbag which makes a nicPhotograph by Mark Cleghorne quirky shot."

"Be creative and free. Place them in the right light and position accordingly," added Annabel.

Romantic shots are popular and capturing emotion is a relatively simple task, timing is the key.

"You need to think what will capture each individual wedding most effectively-what is special to each couple?" explained Annabel.

Chris believes taking lots of pictures of detail is an important part of wedding photography. He really likes a new form of wedding photography that is taking the US by storm.

"It's where you do creative things with wedding rings. I did a wedding with a couple who were Sunderland supporters and they had little red and white chocolate footballs which I used for one of the ring shots. I sat a ball in the middle of the rings and had the ball just going out of focus. I got in really close on a macro lens and it looked great."

This approach is what makes the work Chris produces unique, something which is a big selling point to clients.

Photograph by Chris Hanley"I try to avoid clichés, I think outside the box and crop creatively. I also develop ideas I have seen and liked."

Instead of photographing the couple signing the register straight on with the flowers and book, think creatively and shoot it through a mirror for example.

"Use your surroundings for inspiration," added Chris.

This works particularly well at this time of year as Christmas trees start going up in hotels and other venues around November. Out of focus highlights of tinsel and Christmas tree lights always work well. Think of the scenes that would shout winter or Christmas to you.

"Snow shouts winter but it takes a lot of post-production work to remove footprints and it takes a lot of time to set-up, a luxury you don't get at weddings," said Chris.

The UK can be wet, particularly in winter but you still need to take pictures even if you can't get outside.

"We work indoors or in covered areas when it rains," said Mark.

"I find a top cover, use natural light and work faster!," added Annabel.

If you have some French doors you can put the bride and groom in front of the open doors and take a picture with the rain falling down behind them. Then when you get to post-production you can crop in to make it look like they were out in the rain.

Photograph by Mark CleghornBe prepared for low light too, and make sure you can use flash correctly and creatively," explained Chris.

Lighting can help with composition, it can draw the attention of the viewer to a particular part of a photograph, it can back light a subject or bring a new look to your photographs.

Mark always takes additional lighting for off camera flash and Chris uses Speedlights and a Lowel video light for when the weather is bad or at twilight. You can also place it behind people or use it as a key light.

"I quite like Contre Jour lighting with 2+ or 3 stops exposure compensation - it looks great," said Chris.

Annabel doesn't use any additional lighting she likes to shoot in natural light. Give all the lighting techniques some thought, you don't know what you like until you try it.

Making the bride the centre of attention and making sure you can't take your eyes off her in the photographs is achieved by creative lighting and composition.

"It's all in the eyes," explained Chris.

The dress needs some attention too and this can be created through exposure and composition: "Look for shapes and texture and composition in lighting. You can get great indoor shots in minimalist hotels. In older hotels you need to pose them," said Chris.

Keep your eye out for interesting shapes, textures and colours, a white dress against a blue door can look ace.

"Keep an open mind, look for what ever inspires," said Annabel.

Photograph by Mark CleghornTo make sure you get the best pictures possible Mark suggests you use the lowest ISO and smallest aperture possible and Chris tends to agree.

"My standard tends to be ISO400, f/4 for single portraits and probably f/5.6 for couples. The ISO varies on the light and need for shutter speed too."

Mark uses a Canon 5D, Annabel shoots with a Canon 1DS Mark 3 and Chris has always used Nikons: "It's important to take a camera you know well," said Mark.

All the photographers take two camera to a wedding and never use a piece of equipment they are unsure about. You must know the camera like the back of your hand. If you don't your technique will be lacking. Take a selection of memory cards with you as if you try to put everything onto one large card you can guarantee it will be lost or broken. Using a tripod is again something the photographs are divided on. Some use them, others don't. Do what you feel comfortable with, that way you will get the best pictures you can. Umbrellas, particularly white ones, material for the bride to sit on (if outdoors) and reflectors are all items a wedding photographer shouldn't be without, neither are lenses.

"I have a 70-200 for standard outdoor shots, a 24/70 for bridal and in door pictures and finally I have a 17/55 for the wide outdoor shots."

Mark takes around 600-700 images but he only shows the couple around 450 after the wedding shoot is over.

"I look at the photographs and convert some to black and white but that's all the post-production work I do, I don't do any cropping or anything like that," said Mark.

Annabel sends her work to her post production expert where all blemishes and double chins are removed.

Chris is different he puts everything through CS3, which shows that no one approach is the right approach to this sort of work.

"Every picture is looked at and if there's a little glare, shiny nose etc it will be tweaked. I save the pictures as colours before converting them to black and white as if you don't you will have to go back to your RAW files and start all over again if you don't like the black and white ones," explained Chris.

Photograph by Mark CleghornIf you want to use your photographs for something other than an album for the couple remember to check that the building you shot at is not property released. The national Trust buildings are usually property released and you must check the legalities of using the building for anything other than giving the pictures to the bride. If you make an AV and use music check the copyright of this too, you don't want any nasty fines coming through your door.

"Also when you're picking your photographs for the album don't get rid of shots of your Jimmy Choos, take your work colleagues out instead. They would have had their own cameras so you can get pictures of them from there," explained Chris.

Mark added: "My final tip would be to go to weddings first before you photograph them. You need to understand how they work before you can take good pictures."

"My final words of advice would be to gain experience wherever you can. Experience is a great confidence builder, it's something everyone needs. Also stay fresh and be inspired!," said Annabel.

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