To be a wedding photographer you need to be able to consistently take good wedding photos. You need to be able to nail everything from the first kiss to the newlywed couple’s sendoff in a way that delights your clients.
What Makes a Good Wedding Photo?
The first question to ask is what makes a good wedding photo? If you asked a bride, the answer might be slightly different than if you ask a photographer. Both answers are probably worth considering.
As photographers, we’re concerned about composition and exposure, which are vitally important for professionals to know. However, if you asked a Bride they would probably care more that the right moments are captured and that their wedding photos remind them of how they felt. So are good wedding photos about being technically perfect or about having your clients love them?
Both. We’re going to talk about taking good wedding photos from both the technical and personal levels. Let’s dive into the how.
Be in the Moment and Look for Moments
If you want to consistently take good wedding photos you need to be present. Be in the moment and look for moments. Notice how your Bride is feeling, immerse yourself in her emotions, and use that to guide your photography.
Some of the best wedding photos capture an important moment in time and tell a story about what is happening. Luckily, many of these are predictable moments such as the moment a bride walks down the aisle. You can’t predict if someone will cry or laugh or smile but the more present you are on the wedding day the more you start to see when memories are being made.
Then, you can be in position to capture those memories and immortalize them in a photograph. Immerse yourself in the scene in order to be prepared to take photos that matter. Otherwise, you’ll spend the day chasing the idea that, “oh, man that would have made a great photo.”
Focus on the People
If you hate people and you hate love, you might want to consider product photography instead of wedding photography. The hardest part about wedding photography is the people and the best part about wedding photography is the people. I always say that if you serve your clients well, it will serve you well.
By focusing on the people you will be aware of what is important to them and thus capture images that make them smile, cry, and tell all their friends to hire you for their wedding. If you care about your couple you will work hard for them. That will result in great photos even if you’re just getting started.
Some of my first weddings were for friends when I was just getting started in wedding photography. Even though I have a lot more experience now and people pay a lot more than my friends did back then, I still love some of those photos because I worked really hard to tell an important story for some incredible people which made for great photos.
Don’t worry, we will talk about technical skills next because they matter. But the reality is that a technically imperfect photo can still be a priceless possession for your couple. Don’t forget that a photo that your couple loves is part of the definition of a good photo.
Start Simple and Build Your Technical Skills
The easiest way to consistently take good photos is to start with what you know. When in doubt, return to the basics. Remember, we’re not talking about taking more creative photos at the moment (maybe in a future article), we’re talking about how to take good photos consistently.
Creative photos require you to push your boundaries and take a risk. Good photos often dwell within your comfort zone. I’m not encouraging laziness but chances are if you’re a wedding photographer you have some basic photography skills that you can rely on to take good photos.
So start simple. Focus on properly exposing your photos, focus on clean composition, and focus on making sure your subject is sharp. Imagine a sharp and properly exposed photo taken with a clean composition and you’ve got yourself a good wedding photo.
Once you can reliably ensure that your subject is sharp you might build on those skills by using light to make your image more dramatic or more professional looking. Or you might learn off-camera flash instead of relying solely on bounce flash. Start simple with what you know, like using the proper camera settings, to get good photos, and then challenge yourself to make them even better.
One of the most important things you can improve on to improve your photos is to understand light. Light is an essential part of photography and will take your photos from amateur to professional just by turning around.
Just last week I was at a venue where people kept wanting me to take their picture in front of a bright view while we were standing under a shade structure. I took the picture they wanted and then I walked to the other side of them and had them turn around to take one more. As you can imagine one of those photos meant either dark faces on a properly exposed background or properly exposed faces on a blown-out background. Meanwhile, the other photo had the people covered in a beautiful soft light that made them look beautiful.
You can do a lot to improve your photography just by understanding light. You can do even more by learning how to add and manipulate light to a scene. Learning light will level up your photography skills and luckily there’s always more to learn.
Take and Deliver the Right Photos
As you’ve probably deduced by now, taking good wedding photos is partly about taking and delivering the right photos. In order to have photos that your couple loves, they need to be photos that are important to your couple.
I previously wrote an article on what photos should be taken on a wedding day. It’s less of a shot list overwhelming you with the responsibility of capturing a million things. It’s more of a process for figuring out what the right things to shoot are.
Shooting the photos isn’t the end of the story. How you cull, edit, and deliver the photos can have an important impact on your clients as well. When I say I want you to consistently take good wedding photos that doesn’t mean you won’t shoot any bad ones.
In fact, shoot the bad ones. Just don’t deliver them. Culling or reducing your photos down to the final gallery will involve choosing to not include bad photos which will result in delivering only good photos to your clients. Be sure to read my article on culling decisions and how many photos to give your clients.
Are you worried you won’t have enough good photos? Most of us overshoot and take more photos than our clients will ever possibly need. You may only need to score 10%, meaning if 1 out of every 10 photos you take needs to be good enough to deliver does that take the pressure off?
Understand the Wedding Formula
Taking and delivering the right photos comes down to one thing, understanding the wedding formula. Weddings are challenging and stressful but they are also predictable. If you know what’s coming you can prepare for it.
Sit down and visualize the wedding day. First, you’ll walk into the getting ready room, what do you need to prepare for there? Then, you’re going to transition to a ceremony so you can mentally prepare for that.
Think ahead to what’s coming and have a game plan. Preparation will help you take good photos and the more you shoot the more you’ll be able to do it consistently.
Next Steps: Turning Good to Great
One of my goals in this article was to encourage you to consistently take good photos. Hopefully I helped reduce your stress and increase your confidence in your abilities. Otherwise, follow my tips to stay in the moment, focus on the people, start simple, build your technical skills, understand light, deliver the right photos, and understand the wedding formula.
Next, I challenge you to turn your expectations from good to great. Once you’re confident in your ability to please your clients you can push yourself to get more creative. Happy shooting!
About the author: Brenda Bergreen is a Colorado wedding photographer, videographer, yoga teacher, and writer who works alongside her husband at Bergreen Photography. With their mission and mantra “love. adventurously.” they are dedicated to telling adventurous stories in beautiful places.