Like most amateur photographers I often attend friends’ weddings with my camera and take a lot of pictures. I’ve also been tapped to be wedding photographer for a few friends and family over time, usually as a planned favor or gift but not always with forewarning. From those experiences I’ve learned a few things about taking pictures at weddings that I think make the couples happy while giving you good pictures to share.
Have Fun. The whole point of being at a wedding is to celebrate the couple’s love and coming life together. I’ve gone to weddings where a friend or family member got obsessed with competing with the official photographer or couldn’t accept that the couple didn’t really care about having official pictures. Your job is not to get great pictures, it is to be part of the celebration. If that means you miss a great shot or you end up in the back during the cake cutting talking to a buddy you haven’t seen in ten years, that’s just fine. Enjoy this time your with friends and family first, the pictures take second place to everything else.
Don’t get in the way. Just because you brought a nice camera does not give you permission to be a jerk and push your way to the front of every group. Official wedding photographers can be pretty pushy about getting pictures at the best times from the best angles — it’s literally their job. Your friends are paying good money for their services, so don’t cause them trouble or act like you also can also be that pushy. If you stand next to the photographer you are just duplicating a picture they are already taking, go find a different place to stand. And don’t bother the couple for extra pictures either, they have enough going on and are getting lots of pictures taken of them, they don’t need a friend bugging them to do a few extra.
Focus on informal images. The official photographer will take portraits, family pictures, and other standard formal pictures. But while they are focused on those, all kinds of other things are happening that aren’t on their todo list — focus your energy there. I like to look for the things that are happening when the couple and photographer aren’t paying attention. Pictures of the couple being relaxed together; of friends who are behind the photographer; of the photographers, DJs, and others who are often trying to be unnoticed. If everyone turns to look at something glance back the other way and see if there is a great picture there to be taken.
Take pictures of as many friends and family as possible. The photographers are rightly focused on the couple, their families, and whoever else they were told to focus on. It used to be normal for them to skip nearly the entire reception — after the cake was cut and the bouquet tossed they would bolt — and while that’s changing they still focus on the main action of the dance floors and toasts. But dear Aunt Marge may not be much of a dancer anymore and that pregnant friend from college might be happy to sit the whole time. Try to document for the couple as many people as you can so they have at least one image of everyone on the guest list.
Don’t sweat the editing. Leave the perfectly polished images for the professionals. Sure you might want to color correct or make other tweaks cause you enjoy it, but mostly your friends will be happy with what comes in because it’s part of the celebration. The photographer will provide a perfectly edited set (at least they should), so focus on giving your friends a more complete overview of events.
Share what you take, quickly if possible. It often takes a busy photographer weeks or months to turn around a set of images that are properly edited. Couples often like to start to share images on social media as soon as possible, and pictures from other friends’ cell phones will pile up quickly, so help them enjoy that part of the celebrations and get yours into the mix as soon as you’re able. I tend to give my friends copies of just about everything. Even if I edit some I will often send the original in case they want the version where Aunt Marge was at the edge of frame and I cropped her out.
Be prepared to pinch hit. A few times I’ve been to weddings where the photographer was a no-show and I was the only person around with a nice camera. Take a deep breath, ask the couple what they want from the pictures, scribble a list of the most important images to capture, find a friend to assist in gathering people for group shots, and then do your best from there. While you do now get to push your way to the front of crowds and ask the couple to pose for portraits, your first job is still to make sure the couple — and the guests — are enjoying the day. The union and celebration is still more important then the pictures.