1. Make a "to-do" list for your shoot
If you haven't shot a wedding, remember that it pays to plan. You're first step, of course, should be a consultation with the couple—or at least the bride. Ask her which group shots she wants so you can plan from the largest group down to the immediate family. Making list will help put your client's mind at ease and will make sure that you don't forget any key family members. This also gives them a chance to clue you in on the possible awkward situations that sometimes arise when bringing together family members that may not usually be found in the same room together. Imagine, for example, placing the mother of the bride next to her ex-husband and his third wife. Awkward. Not that you want to launch a formal inquiry into the family's personal life, but asking about groupings gives the couple the perfect opportunity to help you avoid potential social gaffes.
Other types of questions...Ask about the number of bridesmaids and groomsmen. Ask about the schedule: Is there a luncheon, for example, before the reception? Is there a special program? etc. Once you've done a mental walk-through of the day's events, you should make sure you know the priorities: Are there certain must-have shots that you haven't talked about? Does the couple want to focus more on candid or on posed shots? Are there any shots they don't want? You get the idea. At least one pre-wedding consultation is a must.
Next, you should think about your own wish list. Imagine the wedding album you want them to order. Think about the visual narrative. Think about how to construct the story. But remember that your plan is an outline, not a script. You have to become a photo journalist and be ready for whatever story develops. That's always my favorite part.
2. Get that dreaded massive group shot done as quickly as possible.
The big group shots (i.e. entire wedding party, family, friends, and all, often 50+ people) are usually what the parents want, but 9 times out of 10 they only order the smaller groupings. And who would blame them? Too many people = an 8x10 with heads the size of erasers. So channel your inner drill sergeant and herd everyone together, try to make sure everyone is visible, and take enough rapid fire shots to you get one without too many closed eyes. If the young kids behave, count yourself lucky. The main thing is to advise the adults NOT to coach the children—too many coaches just means a lot of turned heads. There's not much room for artistry in most scenarios, so get it done fast and save time for the bride and groom.
3. Critique some poses
Just because a pose is popular doesn't mean you want to use it. Ask yourself, "What does this photo say?" For example (all examples I've seen recently):
- no contact (and yes, eye contact can count) between bride and groom = they don't get along
- piggy back ride when the groom is 10 years older than the bride = creepy
- poorly position arm around bride's neck = extreme fighting choke hold
- "cute" photo of toes poking out from sheets = "we're already sleeping together" (it may be true, but it's not what your aunt Thelma wants to see.)
- holding hands while sitting cross-legged in the middle of the road = "We're oblivious and have lost all common sense but that's OK because we're in love"
Overexposing can kill a good sky (so don't do it if your shot is all about the sky), but it sure is flattering to skin. Practice on a friend. Try some underexposed shots, some properly exposed shots, and some slightly overexposed shots. The overexposed look is more like what people are used to seeing in magazines. And why do the magazines do it? Because it's flattering.
5. Get in close
This is a matter of personal preference, but my favorite photos are often the close-ups. Although the current trends seem to emphasize composition more than faces, I think that nothing competes with the beauty of the eyes.