If you’re serious about photography and your friends and family consider you handy with a camera, at some point you’ll be asked, “Can you shoot our wedding?” Here’s my point of view, having been in this situation as a relative/friend with a camera way too often.
First point of advice: Run away! You get the occasional cowboy but your working professional wedding photographer actually earns their keep and I have the utmost respect for what they do day-in, day-out. It’s not just about having expensive cameras, even more expensive lenses, or fancy software, what you should be getting when hiring a pro is years of experience handling a high pressure situation and getting the shots when it matters. You don’t get many second chances at weddings and considering how important the photos are to how it will be remembered, the couple should think carefully of not ascribing the appropriate budget to photography, especially considering the total cost of the wedding.
If possible, convince them to hire a professional photographer, one with experience and with a good track record, especially in being able to produce photos in the style preferred by the bride and groom. Just as a marriage requires matching the right people, it is important to get a photographer who will be appropriate for the occasion. The primary photographer should be responsible for the “money shots”, the ones which are the bread and butter of any photo album. Have the couple draw up a list of shots which they would like, especially the group photos which can be endless in their permutational possibilities. Having a trusted friend of the couple (usually the Best Man) handle the logistics of the group shots is one way of reducing your workload to simply taking care of the photos instead of herd management. The last thing you want to have to worry about is where is Aunt Murtle or nephew Johnny? It’s easier if there is someone familiar with friends and family who can go chasing up on errant guests.
Try to enjoy yourself and let the primary shooter get the primary shots, you do what you can to fill in the gaps. If I can get out of being the primary photog for friends, I usually end up doing street photo/candid shots to give a more informal behind the scenes sort of document to the day. When you don’t have the pressure of being first shooter, you can try for the more artistic or risky shots, most of them will fail but you could end up capturing their favourite shot of the day. This may require getting in close to the other guests, or hang back and observing. It depends on the situation and you have to be adaptable. I find that a wide angle lens and being in the thick of the action is a good way of getting fun and intimate shots.
Even as second shooter, I usually have two bodies to reduce lens swapping. One with a 70-200mm telephoto zoom, the other with a 16-50mm standard zoom. I’ll also have a 35mm/1.8 and 50mm/1.4 large aperture primes for low light situations. It is important to anticipate what camera/lens is required at any given moment and to have it ready. For the official ceremony, you should have a good idea of the sequence of events and what shots are needed. Rehearse following the bride down the aisle and the route when leaving the ceremony. Scout the areas where you will do the formal portraits and groups shots. During the more relaxed and informal moments, you have to keep a good lookout for photo opportunities. Kids are invariably cute, especially all dressed up for the occasion.
Preparation will make things run a lot smoother. Planning the day, where you have to be and when, what equipment is needed for which shots, and even the little things like where to park and how to get all your stuff safely to where it needs to be. A checklist can help prevent you forgetting vital tasks.
It is tempting to use your camera as a machine gun, shooting anything that moves. Afterwards you’ll regret having to go through thousands of images. Certainly take those extra safety shots for the ones which matter (groups shots, formals, portraits), but you should try to be selective about the other shots, making sure that each frame counts. It’ll reduce the amount of backing up, editing, and processing you’ll need to do. There’s no harm in keeping shots varied, just don’t get too focussed on repeated shots of the same subject.
Post wedding, you will need to sort, edit and produce a contact sheet for the couple to have a look at. Even at this stage, you should be ruthless in pruning extraneous shots. Couples always have a tendency of wanting even more shots, magnifying your workload. Particularly if you are doing a wedding as a favour or for reduced rates, you want to restrict the amount of unnecessary effort you have to expend. You need to be strict in the number of agreed final photos to deliver. The final output will determine the degree of post-processing required. A set of 6″x4″ prints to put into an album will require only cursory white-balance, levels and curves. Large portrait prints may require a visit to Photoshop to get rid of blemishes, sweat stains (not a task I relish, especially having to manually touch up a hundred or so photos), to smooth skin, and generally make each shot look its best.