12 Wedding Photography Tips for Timeless Shots

Words and Photos by Melissa Gayle

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Photo of bride and groom taken using wedding photography tips

Of the many elements of a wedding day, the photos taken are perhaps the most meaningful to the couple. These images, captured in the most emotional of moments and kept safe for years to come, are heirlooms to hand down and reminders to hold close. But at heart, they are return tickets to the very best moments of two lives now lived as one.

The couple entrusts the photographer to create these time-capsules, toeing the line between art and archive, elevating and preserving all at once. For the aspiring amateur, it's a balancing act that comes with its own unique learning curve: one that begs skill, experience, and, most of all, a love for the craft.

Here, we highlight that journey, lending an ear to friend and photographer Melissa Gayle. The 12 wedding photography tips below are her words, born from her experiences and written for those chasing their own paths. Our endless gratitude to you, Melissa. Take it away!

A Note From the Photographer

This year's wedding season is like no other. The rules of photography, especially weddings, were not written for pandemics. Give yourself grace for not having a fully booked 2021. This too shall pass — and when it does, people will party harder and love more profoundly than ever before. In the meantime, focus on other work or personal projects that will deepen your love for creativity and your craft. And remember: Sometimes loss is the only way we can truly appreciate what we had.

Tip 01

Set Up Safeguards

Photo of bride and groom kissing in front of artistic backdrop

Weddings can be unforgiving, but you can eliminate some of the high stakes by knowing where you're most vulnerable. Do you forget your belongings? Label all of your gear with your name and phone number. Tend to run late? Get there 20 minutes ahead of time, enjoy a coffee, and get started early. Charge extra batteries the day before and never plug them in at hotels and venues (unless they're right by your gear). Shoot on two memory cards to create redundancy.

Don't worry if you mess up! Mistakes are how we evolve. I've had to learn every lesson the hard way at least once before correcting my course.

Tip 02

Don't Look Over Your Shoulder

Bride looking away from camera at bridge in the background

The best images are made when you put everything else aside and let yourself get caught up in the moment. Try not to stay pinned to inspiration and steer clear of bogging yourself down on Instagram. Doing so may cause you to shoot and edit like everyone else — or, worse yet, make you feel like you're not good enough. There will always be better, more creative people shooting in fantastic, far-away places with those oh-so beautiful clients.

Don't worry if you mess up! Mistakes are how we evolve. I've had to learn every lesson the hard way at least once before correcting my course.

Bride and groom kissing with bridge and city in background

Tip 03

Let Light Paint the Scene

Black and white photo of bride and groom taken through filter

Photography is defined as the art of painting with light. So do just that. Let light be the strokes of your paintbrush. As a wedding photographer, you are continually put into rooms where you have little control of luminosity. Task yourself to find the marvelous light and play in it!

Move your clients into the warm pockets of sunlight. Use the color of the DJ lights on the dance floor to highlight motion. Find that fantastic window of cascading light and pose your subjects within its bounds. Try asking your clients to "look into the sun" or "towards the light source." Search for a source of light in your compositions and direct the image to suit what it's giving you.

Bride standing in front of doorway flooded with golden light

Tip 04

Push for New Perspectives

Zoomed in side profile of bride
Silhouette of bride standing in front of large windows

Get safe coverage of what you're shooting, then cover all of the other angles. Push yourself to see your subject from every perspective. What would this shot look like from other viewpoints? Above? Below? Through a foreground? Often I try to capture a super-wide, mid, and textural close of a favorite image. The one I end up picking in the edit may be different from what I first set out to shoot.

Overhead shot of bride in pool in large sunhat

Close up shot old hands holding young hands

Tip 05

Shoot Off-Camera Flash

Bride and groom kissing in tunnel of guests holding sparklers

What separates the pros from the novice photographers is mastering the tools. In a world full of filters and automatic settings, the one thing that you can't cheat as a professional wedding photographer is to have the technical know-how to shoot in low-light scenarios and capture the action. One of the skills I learned early on was how to use an off-camera flash for the reception/dance party photos. It creates a more flattering light source than a direct, front-facing flash and helps separate the subject from a sometimes busy background.

There are many techniques for doing this. Some involve an assistant shooter, and some do not. YouTube is a great teacher; start there. I would also advise a fair amount of practice at home in a dark room before an actual wedding. Know what kind of batteries you need for your remotes, bring plenty of extras, and make sure that everything is fully charged on the big day.

Man in fedora dancing with cup in hand

Tip 06

Ask for a Family Photo Wishlist

Family of bride and groom walking in a line behind the couple

The purpose of a family or group photo list is actually to help the client (not you) on the wedding day — though both of you will benefit. With so many varieties of what a family looks like or means, it can be hard to know what's essential to shoot for every couple. Asking your couple to think about what "can't miss" family photos they would want from their wedding day is a task that can take some responsibility off of your shoulders.

Assign a close family member or friend of the couple to be the designated "family photo assistant" and get them a copy of the list. Make that person your best friend. They can wrangle pesky missing family from the cocktail hour, call "up next" with a smile, and generally move things along as you and your assistant snap away.

Tip 07

Know Your Blogs

Bridesmaids gathered around bride

Getting published and getting your name out there is important! However, editors inundated with tons of amazing photos on the daily need help choosing you above everyone else. Be sure you understand your favorite wedding blogs' needs and keep that info in your back pocket. Reach out to the editors and ask what upcoming stories and shots they are looking for. Perhaps you like to shoot moody and dark like me at times: This style is not suited for light and airy wedding blogs. Knowing what your targets are can help you capture additional images that work well for getting your name out there in addition to your shots.

Flower girls in flower crowns holding bouquets
Artistic photo of brass bowl of fruit

Tip 08

Dial It In With Engagement Shoots

Couple walking toward each other in shallow coastal waters

Engagement shoots are wonderful practice for all things. You can go to amazing places and ask people to get themselves dirty. The risk is low, and the pressure is off!

When you're getting started, this is key to improvement and portfolio building. Shoot often and have a blast doing it in places you like. It not only gets your posing skills sharp, but also helps you connect with your couples before the wedding. You'll learn which poses work for them and which feel too contrived.

When creating your wedding packages, consider incentivizing them to add an engagement session to get more under your belt. In this current pandemic, it is also a safer way to shoot couples besides a big and crowded wedding day that may lead you to book more elopements.

Couple atop hill with graffiti of love is universal

Couple smiling and holding hands in booth seat

Tip 09

What's the Color Story?

Couple in traditional cultural wedding attire standing in front of artsy brick wall

Early in the wedding, I begin to establish what "the color story" of the day is. The color story is dictated by the florals, landscape of the wedding, or textiles in the room: the many small pieces that set the more prominent mood and tone of the event.

Keep this concept in mind as you shoot throughout the day. Perhaps you are trying to create a warm summer vibe? Watch for textures of color and rich sunlight tones in lazy moments where guests are relaxing. Make this color script come to life through the day by imagining the wedding gallery complete as you shoot.

Engagement ring in apricot

Tip 10

Lock Down the Magic Hour

Couple standing on small island in pond at golden hour

Magic hour, aka golden hour, is the time to shine. You know it well, but are you maximizing your time in that beautiful light? Aim to shoot several different looks within this timeframe and change locations after you know you have something good.

I try to make sure that I capture the most exceptional portraits of the couple during this time. Work with the coordinator to pull the couple away for 30 minutes. The time between two hours before the sun goes down and the 20 minutes after it sets is the best window of time to capture these beautiful moody photos.

Note: Be aware of high canyon walls and realize that the sunset could be earlier than what the internet tells you.

Couple celebrating by the water at golden hour
Bride and groom watching the sun set over the ocean

Tip 11

Clean the Scene

Bride helping groom get ready

I spent too many years wanting to be a true "documentarian" and not touch the scene of a wedding when I walked in. Then, a light came on, and I realized that, as the wedding photographer, I was being hired to art direct the scene a bit — it was my job to insert myself to a certain degree. My improvements to the room's overall cleanliness were necessary, my clients thanked me and showered me with compliments for noticing the small things. Moving plastic water bottles from the frame and asking bridesmaids to take their hair ties off their wrists are the types of minor adjustments that make a big difference in the quality of your images.

Bride sitting on bed in contemplation

Tip 12

Chase the Moment

Party in the pool after the wedding

Climb that rock, stand on that chair, follow that moment and be a quiet observer or take a shot with the party starters! Chasing the moment has brought me to awe-inspiring places and permitted me to capture some of my favorite documentary and epic wedding photos. You can always send a capable second photographer to cover the wedding if you need to sneak away for a few to catch a peak moment.

Groomsmen cracking beers and laughing

Groom riding motorcycle through the desert

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About the Author

Melissa Gayle

A firm believer that having a roof over one's head is overrated, Melissa Gayle is an ambassador for female explorers who agree that rising before dawn is the good stuff in life. As a wedding photographer, she loves adventurous clients who let their hair down, prefer to go barefoot on the dance floor, and aren’t afraid to get a little dirty in the most expensive dress they have ever boughten.