Wedding Photography Book Article – Things to watch out for when shooting

In my new book entitled Balancing the Art and Business of Wedding Photography, I discuss some of the things to be careful to look out for when shooting a wedding. Here’s a quick preview…

About the book: Balancing the Art and Business of Wedding Photography is your guide to efficient and effective of your wedding photography business. Whether you’re just getting started or want to improve your current approach, this reference guide will be an invaluable asset for making your business great.

Many people get excited at the prospect of wedding photography as a career. Why shouldn’t they? It’s exciting and fun. You get to meet and celebrate with hundreds of interesting people throughout the year, and you can get paid to do it. You get the pleasure of making art out of someone’s love story. You can have a profound impact on a couple’s happiness, just by capturing photographs of their wedding day. It is even possible to make a decent living at it if you have the right skills, opportunities, motivation, and persistence. Many eager would-be wedding photographers get excited and jump into the deep end, head-first, without a solid understanding of what is entailed in being a successful wedding photographer. For every experienced and successful wedding photographer out there, you will likely find two or three dozen who did not last more than a year or two. Why? Few people can successfully balance art with business. Over the years I have spent as a full time professional wedding photographer, a significant number of people have asked me to host seminars or give private lessons on the business side of this exciting, challenging, and highly rewarding industry. There are innumerable books available on the techniques of wedding photography as an art form, but few which tell you what to do outside of the camera itself. Many artists are not adept at business. Balancing the Art and Business of Wedding Photography is my attempt to help those artists strike a balance between the performance of wedding photography as an art, and the production of wedding photography as a successful and efficient business.

Things to watch out for when shooting

There are many things to keep in mind when you are about to press the shutter button. Here are just a few about which you must be ever vigilant. The photographs in this section are from my early years of shooting, when I wasn’t as focused on these things as I should have been.

Reflective Surfaces: Dark Wood, Mirrors, Windows


As you shoot, keep an eye on the environment in front of your camera. You will learn how to spot unwanted reflections of light as they occur. Quickly adjust your position and angle. Yes, you could always take out the reflection in post-production, but it is often difficult and time-consuming. It’s easier to just get it right in camera. Whenever you go into a new space, take a quick mental inventory of the potential trouble spots and be aware to angle yourself so reflective surfaces can be avoided. A little trick to help with this problem is using the infrared light projector on your flash. You can foreshadow a reflection of your flash in a window or mirror by looking out for the infrared light when you press your shutter button half-way. You can sometimes use this to spot a potential reflection issue before a photograph is taken, enabling you to move yourself into an angle where the reflective surface won’t affect the photograph.

Weird Vignetting

The first time I experienced this was several years ago, and it took me a while to figure it out. Since it has happened to a couple of my second shooters as well, I’ll let you in on the secret. If you suddenly have strange vignetting in the corners of some of your images, check that your lens hood is on straight. Sometimes they drift.

Fix Things On the Spot – Not in PhotoShop

Sure, it’s easy to say “I’ll just fix that in post.” Those little decisions can add up to a lot of lost time, especially when you have a lot of photographs to process and multiple weddings in the queue. When you are about to take a photograph of someone, give them a quick visual inspection. Does one person have sunglasses on when no one else does? Are ties straight, feet posed in an odd way, or is someone missing their flowers? You want people in your photos to look their best, but you also don’t want to slow everything down. Having a second photographer or assistant inspecting everyone as you shoot is helpful, but don’t depend fully on it. For ladies, check to see if a bra strap or dress hanging strap is showing. Make sure if someone has told you they have a side they favor, that you are allowing them to show that side. You also want to see if any of the “girls” are popping out when the bridesmaids (or bride) is in a low-cut gown. Look for any clothing imperfections and provide quick assistance to address those issues prior to shooting.

There was once a person shooting on behalf of my studio when I was booked for a couple’s date. The couple really wanted to work with my studio, so I offered to have one of my second shooters photograph, and I would do the post-processing. The couple knew the shooter wasn’t very experienced, and I offered them a substantial discount for it. This person did not visually inspect everyone while he was shooting, and when I went to process the photographs later, I nearly swallowed my teeth. The bride spent close to thirty minutes with half of her nipple sticking out of her dress. I had to have an awkward conversation with that photographer and instruct him that part of visually inspecting everyone includes making sure nothing is sticking out that isn’t supposed to.

Distracting Background Elements

I learned the hard way early on to check my background for distracting elements. I have long since discarded the original RAW file, so I cannot show it to you here. But, in my very first full year of shooting weddings as a solo primary shooter, I encountered a rather odd situation. I was photographing a wedding in Central Park on a hot July day. Behind the location where the ceremony was taking place, there were people rowing boats on a pond. One of those rowboating New Yorkers decided to stop and watch the wedding ceremony. Normally this would not have been an issue, but she happened to be topless. I did not notice her until half way through the ceremony. Sure enough, when I went to process the photographs afterward, there she was. I ended up having to remove her entirely with editing software. Thankfully she was completely surrounded by the water, so it didn’t take very long to clone the water and remove her. But, it taught me an important lesson: Always check your background!

Topless women in rowboats are not frequently a problem. What does show up rather often are things like tree branches seemingly growing out of someone’s head, trash cans, exit signs, general debris and clutter, and other things which distract from the subject of the photograph. It’s a lot of work to remove those things in post-processing later, and it’s much easier to just look out for them from the start.

Focus

You must always prioritize one thing: Is the subject of your photograph clearly in focus? If not, nothing else you do is going to matter. That means your focus depth must be set correctly, and your shutter speed must be fast enough to avoid motion blur. This is especially true if you don’t use a flash. With flash, 1/80th of a second is a good rule. Without, 1/125th or faster is usually required. Your focus depth must also achieve your intended outcome. Artistic decisions can be made to purposefully place certain things out of focus, but that should never be on accident.

Don’t Just Take One

If you are taking a picture of people posing for the camera, or of multiple people in any given pose, take more than one shot. If you only take one, and someone is blinking or looking away, it’s ruined. If a large group pose has people blinking or looking away, having 4 or 5 images of them will stand a better chance of getting a shot where everyone is looking at you with open eyes. If not, in post processing, a composite picture can be made from the various versions of the image.
It used to drive me bonkers when one of my second shooters would turn over a set of table shots where they only took one of each. There would be the occasional blinking eye, and that photograph could not be presented to the client. The couple might remember being photographed and ask the couple why their picture isn’t in the online gallery. Shoot multiples!