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Taking Your Own Wedding Photographs

All you need is a half decent camera, a good eye, and a friend.

When me and my wife were planning our wedding, one thing we always tried to keep low was cost, whether it was caterers, location, officiants, or accommodation. But one thing we couldn’t find was an affordable photographer to fit within our budget and our idea of having a small elopement-style wedding. So seeing as myself and my now sister-in-law are both photographers, it was a obvious choice to do it ourselves. 

I do just want to mention here that the photographers we saw and inquired about were phenomenal. Their work is incredible and they deserve the money they charge. But if you, like us, are trying to keep your costs low against the norm of a debt inducing wedding, have a read on and see if you can’t do it yourself. 

Equipment

Let's start at the beginning with what you're going to need to take your own photos and talk about them in detail a later. Surprisingly you don't need that much to just take photos, but there are a few things you can do and choose to help you along the way to achieve better looking photos. But anyway here are the basic things you need;

  1. Camera
  2. Tripod
  3. High Capacity and High Speed Memory Card

I said you didn't need much to take the photos. But let's get into a little more depth about each one, and what you can add or use alongside them to help you get better professional looking photos.

The Camera. For this you're going to need at least a digital camera, so you're able to review the photos as you take them, and to be honest you can probably go ahead and make that camera a DSLR, just because of its ability to take better photos with varying depths of field (or amount of blurriness). It will also let you choose a manual focus. Now you don't need to rush out and buy a brand new Nikon D80 and 10 lenses. We used both my DSLRs, my new Nikon D7100 and my old entry level D3100. The D7100 is a very good camera but the D3100 is old and for a DSLR, basic, but it took most of the photos on that day and they turned out brilliantly. You don't need high end equipment for great photos. If you have an old DSLR laying around, use that, or you can rent one, or borrow one from a friend.

A couple things to think about adding to the camera. Filters, and a lower aperture lens, and an essential is spare batteries. If you're pretty camera savvy already, or know someone who is, these things can help you make those photos just that little bit better. A polarizing filter is a great addition to remove some lens flare, bright reflecting light and over exposure in certain areas. They basically work the same way your pair of polarizing sunglasses do, blocking out certain wavelengths and angles of light only leaving the ones you want. A lower aperture lens will allow you to get much better depth of field, i.e. allow the thing you're focusing on to stand out more against a blurred background, it's harder to explain but easy to see.

In this photo you can see the camera has focused on the hand and the ring. With the low aperture number f/2.8 (wide aperture) the depth of field is low and the background, or anything that has not been focused on, is very blurred. To bring the whole scene into focus you need to increase the aperture number (make the aperture smaller) up and above f/7.1.

The Tripod. Having a tripod makes group photos so easy. It also means that no one is missing out on being in any of the photos. It basically becomes your stand in photographer. And along with the DSLR, you can set a timer and/or set a time lapse to take multiple photos over a set period of time. Great for setting it up in a cool position at the party after, or even during the ceremony. Again, you don't need to go out and buy a carbon fiber manfrotto tripod, just get one your camera will sit on and one that will be sturdy and not fall over. Also, you could use a remote trigger to take photos while the camera is on the tripod instead of relying on the timer. Remote triggers are usually cheap and really handy. Even in some cases you can just download an app to your phone and use that, if you're lucky enough to have a wireless enabled camera.

Memory cards. This isn't one you can really skimp on. If you're using a good DSLR, you need a large capacity memory card (I'd say at least 64gb) and one with a high write speed, (how fast it puts the photos onto that card), of at least class 10. I used 3 cards in total, and we filled up 2 of them. 

Taking the Photographs

Now for the fun part. You've got all the equipment ready, now time to start snapping away. But before you get started, here are a few things to bare in mind.

Take some time to learn your camera. The last thing you want to do is get to your big day and find out you have no idea how to use the camera you have chosen. So in the months and weeks leading up to the wedding, take some time to take photos of all different things in all different lighting situations. Get to know the modes, the different settings, and all the main buttons. You only need the basics. I'd recommend, if you're not too familiar with DSLRs and photography, to shoot either on fully auto or at least on Aperture Priority mode. In full auto all the exposure, ISO, and aperture settings are auto selected—super easy. But if you want a little more control, select Aperture Priority (AP), this will allow you to change the aperture size (i.e. how much light the camera lets in) and therefore change the depth of field. I'd also say that if you're using AP use a fairly low number say 2.8 or 3.5, this will give you really good depth of field and keep your shutter speed up to avoid blurred photos (Tip: If you're shooting in AP and in darker conditions and your photos are blurry, increase the ISO to 600 or more, this should help). Or use a flash. I'm not a fan of flashes, but sometimes it's unavoidable.

Choose your style. By this I mean take a look around at other wedding photos, poses, angles, lighting, settings and decide how you want to take them. Assuming you know the location, this will make everything easier. Decide before the day. We (mainly my wife) spent months looking at photographers, different wedding styles, photo styles, poses, angles, scenes, setups locations. It really is worth doing. Think about if you want candid photos, or staged and posed, or both. Close ups of the rings, portraits, you may need props, other people. There is more to a wedding photo than just pushing the button. 

Ask a friend. Find that one, or more, friend(s) who always takes great pictures on IG, or the really arty friend of yours who loves being creative and just ask if they wouldn't mind helping you out and being a part of your big day. Because let's be honest, if you're doing them totally yourself, you might want to try and get some of you and your partner. Ask them to come and play with the camera, or if they have their own—awesome! Using a tripod is an option if you're going super low-key, and it works fine, it just might take a little more set up time, but it can be done with just a tripod. I was taking some photos myself during the day, but our main photographer was my sister-in-law, we shared cameras, and it worked perfectly. It's also worth noting that if the DSLR is on the right settings, almost anyone being trigger happy can take some great candid photos. After all, your friends and family know you better than anyone else. Intimacy is key with Wedding Photos.

A little bit of experience. Yeah, so this is a bit of a deal breaker. You are going to need a little bit of experience with taking portraits, and photos in general. I'm not talking 20+ years professional experience, just the know-how and eye to pick a good composition, tell people how to pose, and to pick a good backdrop. This is where those friends comes in. We were really lucky enough to have a person we trusted, with experience to help take our photos. If you feel you don't have a great deal of experience it makes doing research and practice of your style just that bit more important.

Be trigger happy. Yup, click away, and don't stop clicking. You should have a good couple of decent sized memory cards that should easily fit a couple thousand photos on each, this gives you plenty of time to worry about deleting photos later. Just take photos, it really is the best way to get a good photo, take lots of them. It's also a great way to get people in candid situations, just be click that camera while no one is paying attention to you (or, well, hopefully your friend).

RAW of JPEG. Now if you have looked at that first it and gone "RAW? JPEG? What the hell!" then you can bypass these and let your camera shoot in Jpeg and never worry about this again. But, if you are a little more photo savvy and want to edit your photos after, you should consider shooting in RAW format. It just makes editing easier and gives better results. But, JPEG is fine too.  

Reviewing and Editing

Now this is something you may not choose to do, or may just choose to do basic auto edits. Or you may choose to even hire a professional to do some post processing on your photos. There are a lot of options here, and it is worth considering. A well taken and edited photo is a pure work of art. And if you're not totally confident using high end editing software, then you can consider hiring that professional. Reviewing the photos beforehand can also make this easier, pick your favorites that you want to get retouched, instead pf trying to retouch all 2000 photos. If you want to tackle it yourself, then here are a few programs that are good to use (but may take some learning).

  • Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop - The king, gives great results, but can be complicated past the basics, and can be expensive to use if you’re only using it once.
  • GIMP - Basically a free, open-source version of Lightroom. Not as honed and polished as Lightroom and can be hard to learn, but has a lot of the functionality and best of all, its free.
  • Paint.NET - Like GIMP but less powerful.
  • PhotoScape - Easy for beginners to learn, but obviously less powerful than those above, the interface is a little strange.
  • VSCO/Instagram/Musecam - All these are mobile based photo editors and all are actually really great. Get your photos onto your cloud storage and fire up your phone or tablet and get editing. Easy to use but way less powerful but still give good results.
  • Lightroom mobile - Mobile version of Lightroom but with less functionality. Worth a go.

Again, editing isn't something you NEED to do, and if you're not that fussed you can pass by it or just hit the "auto" edit on your photo viewer and see how it comes out. And if you're shooting in JPEG it may not be worth editing all that much anyway. But if you want to have your photos retouched, (and I would recommend it, it just makes your photos go from good to great), and you don't want to do it yourself, there are people out there who will do it for you, for a fee of course (me included).

Other Ideas

So, what if you want to do something else? Or you want a different way of getting photos? What if you don’t want to do the above but you still don’t want to pay for a professional photographer? Welp, here at some other ways to do it.

  • Disposable film cameras. This is a great way to get surprise candid shots. Buy a bunch of these and just have them layin around. Easy to use and pretty damn cheap.
  • Phone Cameras. Everyone has one, just get everyone to take photos on their phone and then use the magic of social media to create an album, think of an unused hashtag and away you go. There are even apps that are designed specifically to do this, e.g. Eversnap.
  • Set up a “photo booth”. This is another awesome way to get photos. Have an area where you’re partying set aside as a photo booth/area and just have a camera sat there for people to use. Cheap and easy. And it works. And it’s fun.
  • Wear a GoPro on your head the entire time. This is obviously a joke.

Now I am well aware wedding photos are a huge part of everyones days and something everyone wants to get right, and obviously you do because you keep them forever. So I don't want to be the person who tells you to not hire a wedding photographer if you're not totally confident in doing them yourself, and like I said, wedding photographers work hard for the fees they charge, and the more you pay you are more likely to get great wedding photos. A lot of the people we spoke to have incredible portfolios. But having said that, I still do firmly believe that someone with a good DSLR, a bit of time and research, and a little experience can take great wedding photos themselves.

If you want to see more of my work please go to my Instagram or see my Portfolio. To see more of our photographers work see here. And again neither of us a professionals (yet), just keen amateurs its a half decent camera and a good eye.

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