The hardest thing about learning to shoot weddings

When I started to second shoot weddings for Eva Bradley Photography back in November 2014, the first thing that I realised about wedding photography is that the hardest thing is not necessarily nailing the shots, but it is knowing what is happening next and getting in the right place for those shots.  Let me explain.

I approached Eva about letting me second shoot for her in the 2014/2015 weddings season on the back of a complete lack of experience of shooting people generally, least of all weddings.  And in fact I hadn't been to a wedding for about 7 years, and the only experience of seeing the 'behind the scenes' of a wedding was my own wedding many, many years before that ( it was in the days of film photography, so that did not prepare me for the modern shooting style for weddings ).  I still remember clearly my complete sense of confusion during the whole day, and just trying to keep up with what was happening.

So I was pretty green when it came to weddings. Yeah, I knew the basics ( boys and girls get ready, meet at the church, bit of a ceremony, get photos taken, have a party etc ), but the bits in between that no-one but the immediate family and bridal party get to see were a completely mystery to me.

I immediately realised 3 things about modern wedding photography:

  • the photographer often becomes a default wedding planner, with control of the timing of the wedding, and the responsibility for keeping things on schedule.  I remember at my first wedding shoot people were asking me what was happening next, what time they had to be somewhere etc, and I was struggling to figure out what I was supposed to be doing without worrying about the wedding timeline.
  • the photographer is the person that the bridal party spend most time with during the day.
  • things happen fast at a wedding, then sometimes they stop, then they happen fast again, etc etc.

The bottom line is that you always need to be ready for the next thing that you need to shoot, and you have to get there ahead of when it happens to make sure you get the shot, and you need to be ready for random things to happen as well, just in case. 

I have been lucky to work with Eva who has helpfully tried to educate me over the last 4 years on the finer details of weddings and what to look for / be ready for before it happens.  I remember clearly one wedding we shot where the Maid of Honour was giving her speech, and Eva said to me to get ready to shoot the bride when the speech finished.  I didn't know why, or what happened next at that time, but that moment when the speech is finished is often the most emotional connection between the Bride and Maid of Honour, with hugs and tears, and is a great moment to capture. If I hadn't been prepared for that I would have stopped shooting when the speech was finished and missed that moment, because it only lasts for a few seconds.

That is only one of many little moments that happen throughout the wedding that are hard to see happening but are key to telling the story of the day.  

And the same applies to most forms of photography I guess; it is not the shot itself that is the hard part, it is getting in the right place / time / moment / mood for the shot to happen.