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Taking wedding photos - as a guest

Posted by Teresa Hanafin  July 4, 2012 02:00 AM

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I have weddings to attend this summer (no, none of them mine), and of course the big debate (only in my mind) is whether to bring my bulky Nikon D300 with an equally bulky 70-200mm lens, or the nice, compact Nikon P7000 that I just bought (with a Christmas gift card -- woot!) expressly for this purpose.

Here's my dilemma: Will I be as satisfied with the P7000 images? We'll see.

A bigger question for all of us is how to get great photos without interfering with the professional hired for the occasion or the event itself. I asked Kate Passaro, who shoots weddings and knows other wedding photographers, for some tips.

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By Kate Passaro

How many guests bring a camera to a wedding? These days folks are taking photos with cell phones, cameras, iPads - we've seen it all! Here are a few tips and tricks to improve your wedding imagery as a guest.

If you're reading this article, it probably means you're a photographer who really enjoys it or eventually wants to go professional. So I have one disclaimer before we get to the good stuff: One unspoken rule among photographers is that you shouldn't use images on your website or marketing materials that were taken when you were not the official photographer. You might get yourself in hot water with your local network of photographers. While these folks may be your competition, they may also be some of your most important resources during your career if you decide to "go pro" later.

In the same respect, after you attend a wedding, consider holding back on posting images on social media websites and or sending them through e-mail for a week or two, unless it's okay with the couple. Some like to see guests' photos right away; others like to present their professional images when and how they'd like. Sometimes the "big reveal" has more impact when they are the first images shown.

So here are some tips I've collected from wedding photographers from Boston to Edmonton and beyond!


"Read your camera's manual [to avoid disruptive flashes]. This rule applies even to small point-and-shoots. Learning how to dial up your ISO or turn off your flash can do wonders."


"Do consider putting your camera away during the ceremony. The bride wants you to look at her, not the back of the camera as she walks by to see if you got the shot. Allow the professional photographer to capture the ceremony photographs while you experience the moment with the bride and groom. During the reception, guests will have plenty of opportunities for their own photographs."


The guy with the camera is not the official photographer -- he's a guest!


"The couple has invested time and money into their hired pro so they can document the day and so you can enjoy it. Obstructing the pro's shot, or stepping into it to get the same shot, is not helping the couple.

"Instead of trying to get the same image as their pro photographer, surprise them with something different. Take photos of your friends and family sitting with you during the ceremony, or a photo of them during the ceremony from your point of view, with all the heads in front of you. These are great storytelling images that they will love more than images trying to copy what their hired pro is already doing.

"Think abstract and see what you can find in the landscape and architecture. Get photos of yourselves getting ready and driving to the ceremony and reception, enjoying a cocktail, and any moment when the couple may be in a different place. You're also well dressed, so why not make some fun images of yourselves? Stage a goofy shot that mocks formal wedding formals! Find a location that is fun and out of the way and throw it down! The couple will love seeing that you had fun getting all dressed up for their big day and could show it off in such a way.

"The bottom line is that they will love seeing their wedding day from your unique point of view! Not photos of you trying to get the same image as their pro. Think different and have fun!"


"Remember, some of the best photographs are the ones with you in them."


"Sometimes while the photographer is setting up the next series of images, the bride and groom take these moments to interact, and these real 'newlywed' moments are great to catch on film and may not be caught otherwise. Allow the couple these quiet moments, stay back, but be ready to create these images."


"Shoot for the moments in-between. Getting a photo of a posed, planned moment is one thing, but being ready for the truly natural smiles and emotions that happen in between the planned shots are where the unforgettable photos come from."


"When photographing people, illuminating them with a nice soft light source typically looks best and gives that professional look. Unfortunately, most on-camera flashes blast your subject with very directional, 'harsh' light. There are now many attachments out there that hook right on to your camera's flash and effectively 'softens' the light that falls on your subject. You'll be amazed at the difference it makes!"


"Sometimes the biggest mistake I see people make is outside in bright light. On auto mode, the camera thinks there's enough light and skips using the flash; that's where 'forcing' the flash can come in handy. Using flash outdoors can keep faces from becoming silhouetted by the harsh sun."


"Available on most point-and-shoot or cell phone cameras, 'night shot' mode will help you capture the ambiance of dimly-lit receptions. For best results, brace your camera on a stationary object or use the self-timer."


"Shooting behind or over-the-shoulder of the professional photographer during the family formals is distracting to the people being photographed. They get confused and don't know where to look, which could delay the happy couple's arrival at the reception."


"Watch the professional photographers. They will be anticipating the big moments, and be in the right place. Get a good spot in the back, or outer edge of the seating so when you want to get the shot, you won't be blocking anyone's view."


People even use iPads to take photos these days.


"Placing yourself opposite of the professional photographer in an effort to be 'out of the way' isn't as helpful as it might seem: you'll be in the shot!"


"Feel free to ask the [professional] photographer for a card and e-mail them your questions later. Most of us are happy to help you along your way, but we are focused on doing our job at the wedding and may not have the time to talk shop."


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