Wedding Photography 101 by Antony Hands

Lesson 5 - Wedding Poses 101

The title for this lesson is a little deceptive, because while I will be going through some tips for poses, and some dos and don'ts for the big day, I won't be giving you a guidebook of different poses to do. Wedding photography can be broken into two parts - the "record of the day" photos, and the "creative" photos. If I tell you exactly what poses to do, where is your creativity getting a chance to develop? Additionally, even experienced wedding photographers are constantly looking for new ideas. You can learn more from other talented photographers, you just need to make the effort to do it.

The best way to do this is to spend some time browsing other photographers work to get some ideas of poses and photographs that you really like. Years ago this was so much harder than it is today, now with the internet we can view photographs from some of the best photographers in the world from the comfort of our homes. Some people might say that to copy someone else's style or poses is wrong, that you should develop your own style. Personally, I think it is perfectly acceptable, as long as you are learning from their work, and not slavishly copying it. After all, artists have been creating in the style of previous artists for lifetimes, or have been influenced by other artists. In fact, every professional photographer who learns under a pro will adopt some of the style of their teacher into their wedding photography. This is one of the reasons why studios develop a distinctive style, even when they have multiple photographers working for them.

When you find images that you really like, make notes about them, and gradually build up a list of images that appeal to you. Then before you shoot your first wedding find a couple, preferably the bride and groom, and shoot a practice session with them. Take the opportunity to practice all of the poses that you have seen and liked, and try other things as well. On this day you are not pressed for time so really look at the poses you set up. Look at the little details, the way the light falls, the positioning of hands, the naturalness of the pose. Make sure you set up some photos where they are interacting with each other, rather than the camera. Get the groom to whisper something cheeky in the bride’s ear while they are embracing and capture her reaction.

When shooting these shots, remember to make sure you do the moving, rather than the couple. What I mean is to walk around the couple, shooting them from a variety of different angles. This helps create a range of different shots without causing too much work for the couple, and without wasting time. One of the things most beginners do is to set up a pose and then shoot ten shots of it, with only very minor differences. This is a waste of time. Once you have a couple of shots move around the couple looking for different aspects of the same pose.

The practice session is very valuable for an inexperienced photographer, as it helps improve your chances of success on the big day in several ways:

  • Practicing with any couple will improve your portraiture. Naturally you can’t expect to improve without actually taking photos, and weddings are not a place to learn on the job. Practicing beforehand will enable you to try all of the poses that you want to use, and learn new ones.
  • If you actually shoot with the bride and groom it gives you a chance to improve your communication with the couple before the day. By having photographed them beforehand they are more likely to know what to do when you describe a pose for them, and you will be able to use time more efficiently on the wedding day.
  • Most people will be photographed more on their wedding day than on any other day. This can be quite intimidating, particularly if people are self-conscious. By photographing them beforehand they will get a little more comfortable with the process, and are more likely to be able to relax on the wedding day, which will help you capture better, more natural shots.
  • By reviewing all of the shots afterwards you will be able to get a better understanding of what looks good and what doesn’t, what works and what just looks forced. Additionally, you can seek feedback from other photographers on websites that host wedding photography forums. Critically look at each shot, and determine what you might have done that could improve it. This review should be taken from both an aesthetic perspective (ie. the attractiveness of the pose) and from a technical perspective (ie. was the aperture sufficient to ensure key elements are in focus, was the fill flash level enough but not overdone etc.).
  • You will see what issues you may have on the day with respect to the appearance of the couple. For example you may get a bride or groom who is much taller than their partner. By shooting beforehand you get an opportunity to look at ways to make them appear more even. On reviewing the shots you may determine that the groom’s eye sockets are quite deep. If this is the case you know you will need a fraction more fill than normally would be the case, or alternatively (and preferably) you will need a reflector.
  • Finally, the bride and groom will get a chance to review your work and show you what shots they like, and what they don’t. It also gives them an understanding of the quality of your work, enabling them to make an informed decision about getting you to shoot their big day.

So as you can see, having a practice shoot is very beneficial and really should be done if at all possible. Once done, print off a page of thumbnails of poses you and the couple really liked to prompt you on the wedding day.

Key photo list and hints for the day

I have listed below a range of photos to act as a guide for the inexperienced photographer on the wedding day. This is one area where everyone will have a difference of opinion, and there will also be likely to be many shots which are not done here in Australia, but are important in other cultures. Accordingly, please consider this as just a suggestion, and add or subtract items as you feel appropriate, or based upon the specifics of your wedding day.

In Australia the bride will normally get prepared at her house or her parents house before being driven to the wedding. Generally I like to arrive when the bride is finalising her make-up, but before the dress has been put on. By having the bridesmaids made up first and dressed it means that photos can be taken of the bride getting ready with all the bridesmaids present. Shots I take at the bride's house before she is fully dressed include:

  • Close-ups of flowers
  • Perfume bottle
  • Jewellery
  • Garter and veil
  • Hanging dress
  • Shoes
  • Bride having makeup applied
  • Bride relaxing, reading a bridal magazine, etc. in a gown.

After the bride gets into her dress the following shots normally get taken.

  • Buttoning up the rear of the dress
  • Putting on jewellery (mother or bridesmaid to put on bracelet/necklace etc.)
  • Applying perfume
  • Putting in earrings
  • Brides portraits - with/without flowers, veil up/down etc.
  • Photos with parents individually, adjusting Dad's tie, pinning on flowers etc.
  • Photos with both parents
  • Popping champagne bottle with parents and bridesmaids
  • Formal portrait of bride with all bridesmaids and bride with each bridesmaid individually (if time permits, particularly if you are going to be pressed for time later in the day)

After this I normally head for the ceremony venue. In Australia shots of the groom and family are normally done at the ceremony location).
  • Groom portraiture
  • Gazing at boxed rings
  • Details of attire, close ups of cufflinks perhaps.
  • Interacting with groomsmen
  • Portrait of groom with groomsmen in the background
  • Formal portrait of groom with each groomsman
  • Groom pinning flowers on groomsmen
  • Mother of groom pinning flower on, brushing lint off groom’s shoulders etc.
  • Groom with mother
  • Groom with father
  • Groom with both parents

This is all done normally in the 20-30 minutes before the arrival of the bride. When the time of the Bride’s arrival is near, leave the groom and head to the front of the venue to capture the bride arriving. I prefer to get one of the bridesmaids to call me when the bride is about 5 minutes away to make sure I get out in front without wasting time standing around doing nothing. This is also a good time to have your assistant (if you have one) positioning themselves in the church to capture the groom’s face as the bride walks down the aisle.

  • Cars arriving
  • Bride and father of bride (assuming they traveled together) in the car from front seat
  • Bride portrait through open car window
  • Bride exiting car assisted by bridesmaids
  • Bridesmaids fussing over bride, getting her ready
  • Photos of each bridesmaid and bride walking down the aisle (don’t hesitate to use flash, this is a moving target in a low light environment and you will need a fast shutter speed and a small aperture to ensure focus. Experienced photographers can often do this with wider apertures giving more ambient light, but for a beginner it is probably better to shoot these shots as described above. If you have two cameras, have one set up with your fast prime for ambient light in the church, and the other set up for the shots where the couple is moving where you will use predominantly flash).
  • Photo after bride passes you of her and father with train down the aisle.
  • Bride being presented to the groom

It is at this point that you will often get a few minutes to check everything. The next key shots you need will be of any people giving readings, or of the exchange of rings and the kiss. Make sure your cameras are set up correctly. You have practiced this before so you probably are on top of it, but just make sure you are set up for the key shots. Check ISO, settings for flash, camera settings etc.

The photos during the ceremony are pretty obvious, with differences based upon the nature of the wedding. Make sure you know what the key parts of the ceremony are if it is an unfamiliar wedding where there may be cultural differences from those you have attended before. The bride and groom can tell you what is important to them if this is the case. In most cases in Australia the key shots are of the ring exchanges and the kiss. If I have an assistant shooting I will normally ask him or her to use a telephoto to try to capture close-ups of the ring exchange. IMPORTANT POINT: Make sure you check your card has room for several photos before these key moments – you don’t want to miss the kiss due to a full CF Card!

There are some important rules when shooting in a ceremony. First of all, you should have spoken to the celebrant/father/pastor before the ceremony to know if there are any specific rules to follow re. where you can stand etc. or the use of flash. Normally this is not the case and you have free reign (within reason). Try to never move in front of the parents of the bride and groom, and move slowly and quietly if you do need to move.

In Australia immediately after the service the bride and groom and witnesses will sign a marriage certificate. It is normal practice to pose for photos of this before leaving the church. If so, try to incorporate plenty of ambient light. If you can set up your tripod quickly and the light is low enough to require it, then use it opposed to just blasting away with flash (normally I leave it set up and ready to go near to the altar in these circumstances).

After these photos the bride and groom will normally greet the parents – this happens quickly and requires similar settings for when the bride is walking down the aisle – a smaller aperture, faster shutter speed (say 1/125 minimum) and more reliance on flash. Capture the bride and groom leaving the church, normally I pose them for a shot immediately outside the door. NOTE: YOU HAVE MOVED OUTSIDE, TURN YOUR ISO DOWN, AND CHECK YOUR CAMERA SETTINGS.

When moving outside, make sure your flash is set to high speed sync, otherwise you will start getting overexposed photos as your flash tries to restrict your camera to your maximum sync speed. The first time this happens to you it can be frustrating as you try to work out why the camera is overexposing. Also ensure you turn down your Flash Exposure Compensation as described in previous lessons.

After the bride and groom leave and are being greeted and congratulated by friends take a breath and gather your equipment together for the next location. I like to shoot some candid shots of the couple being congratulated, and if you have an assistant this is a good time for them to shoot these shots while you prepare for the next stage.

After a few minutes, as previously agreed by you with the bride and groom, remind them of the time and move them to the area where the family formals will take place. You should already know what shots are required due to your preparation, make sure the delegated family members are rounding up those required for the shots. Some tips for the formals are as follows:

  • Always take at least two shots of each group. Someone will always be blinking.
  • Remember to leave room at the sides of the shot for cropping to 8x10 size.
  • Ask people with spectacles to remove them if possible.
  • I personally get men to put their forward hand in their trouser pocket – hands just don’t look good in group photos.
  • Ladies should be asked to put their bags down. If anyone is carrying a camera or anything else like an order of service get them to put it down.
  • Shoot at at least f/5.6 for more depth of field.

Upon completion of your formals, it is time to shoot your wedding portraiture. Get the bridal party away from the guests so they aren’t distracted and take the shots you need to take, including the formal bridal party portrait. Try to ensure that everyone enjoys themselves, and have a bit of fun. When shooting portraits of the bride and groom it is often nice to have the bridal party mingling in the background, out of focus.

Finally, the reception. Normally in Australia the wedding coverage ends at the start of the reception. We do a mock cake cutting, take photos of the room and the little details on the tables, the bride and groom’s place cards etc. I also like to take some dance shots. These can often be done nicely before the actual reception starts by simply shooting with a moderate telephoto at a wide aperture from waist up. Get the bride and groom to be still, enabling you to shoot with only a small amount of bounce flash, if any. The results look surprisingly good, and mean that you can leave and let the bride and groom relax and enjoy their night.

An amateur shooting their first will normally be shooting as a guest, and so you can wait for the actual dance and shoot that then. In this circumstance, remember that they will be moving so if you can’t freeze action due to low light make sure you use flash, preferably bounced off the roof.

As discussed, this portion of the guide is somewhat “Aussie-focused” as the types of shots I take are based upon the nature of most weddings over here, and the cultural settings. In the USA for example, I know the photos at the reception are a vital part of the wedding coverage, including the cake feeding shots etc. As long as you make sure that you are ready for all of these key events you should be fine.

Summary

The main things to take away from the above are the importance of preparation and practice. Shooting the couple before the day can make a real difference and will help you perform better on the day. Doing a list of all of the formal photos needed and getting the bride and groom to organize a family member to round up all of the people in the shots will make the formal shots run smoother and be a lot faster. Having a reminder page of the poses the couple liked or you preferred to refer back to when you need inspiration makes a big difference. Preparation by looking at the photos of photographers you admire and incorporating lessons learned from these into your poses will help you get better results.

About the author

Antony Hands is an experienced professional wedding photographer . He is the principal of Chasing Summer Photography, a studio which specialises in wedding photography and fun stop motion wedding films and services the surrounding districts including Tamworth, Armidale, Port Macquarie, Kempsey, Nambucca Heads, Grafton and as far North as Ballina.

<< Lesson 4 - Planning the day and dealing with change

Lesson 6 - Processing, presentation and review >>