How to Photograph a Friend's Wedding

by LizM

Photo tips to help you photograph a friend's wedding without losing your sanity or your friendship.

Most of us with a camera have heard it. "Wow, wedding photographers are expensive! Can you just shoot my wedding instead?" Eager brides and grooms wanting storybook photos of their wedding...for free and they think any friend with a camera can take those shots. Because after all, it's the camera that makes the photo right?

That's the perception, no matter how completely erroneous it is, and that perception has led far too many amateur (and some pros) to agree to photograph a friend's wedding when they really had no idea how to photograph the wedding.

Your results won't be the same as a professional wedding photographer who shoots dozens of weddings a year but you can still do a good job for your friends. Know your limits and know your goals. These photo tips will help you learn how to photograph a friend's wedding without loosing your friend...or you sanity.

What Camera Do You Need to Photograph A Wedding

Preparation is 9/10ths of the battle.  With wedding photography the same is true, the more you prepare ahead of time, the better chance of everything working out well.

The first part is making sure you have enough gear that you CAN photograph the wedding.  This doesn't necessarily mean that you own thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment.  It does mean making good decisions about what gear you use and NOT showing up with just a cell phone.  I don't care how many megapixels your cell phone camera has, NEVER try to photograph a wedding with just a cell phone.  It is not going to end well.


You need a camera at least capable of the following:

  • Manual control - Sorry, but the vast majority of the time auto programs will foul up the exposure when faced with a white gown and a black tux.  If you don't understand manual controls (ISO/Shutter Speed/Aperture), don't agree to shoot the wedding.  You won't change the settings a lot except when moving from location to location but you need that level of control.
  • Manual focus - You can use auto-focus when shooting a wedding but you really need the ability to override that and fine tune the focus yourself in difficult situations.  Like when the bride is throwing the bouquet.
  • Hot shoe flash - If you will be using flash you need a hot shoe flash with a tilt head.  Sorry, that's just the way it is if you want to have a hope of the photos looking halfway professional.  These flashes let you reduce flash power, bounce the flash to reduce shadows, and add fill flash without washing out the scene.

The vast majority of cameras on the market today beyond pocket cameras support these needs.  In fact, some of them cost less than your smart phone.


Posed Bride and Groom Photo
Posed Bride and Groom Photo

Scouting the Location

At the very least, your friend needs to provide you with a way to see the wedding venue before the wedding such as photographs on the venue's website or a brochure.   Preferably though, you need to be able to visit the location before the wedding and take test photos in the same conditions under which you'll be shooting the wedding.

For example:

Wedding at 6pm in October in a local church

Visit the local church (call ahead and get permission) at 6pm no more than 2 weeks before the wedding.

This will let you see the lighting conditions, practice flash settings, check the general ballpark of your camera controls, and get a feel for where you can stand without audience in your way.  If possible, visit a local thrift store and pick up a wedding gown for $10 and use it as a stand in for the bride during your practice shots.

This ahead of time practice will make you much more comfortable during the actual wedding which will make your photos better.

Your friend also needs to give you details on the colors of the wedding and types of material so you can be prepared for exposure differences (red next to white for example) and shiny materials (watch those highlights - deliberately underexpose slightly to avoid blow outs).

Get Posing Ideas

Pinterest is your best friend when you are shooting a friend's wedding.  Have your friend pin every wedding photo they like.  This will give you a better idea of the poses and styles they like than 10 hours of conversation with your friend ever could.  Then sit down with your friend (or at least email back and forth) with some discussion of shots you don't think you could get and ones you are more confident in trying.  You are doing your friend a favor by photographing the wedding but that doesn't mean he/she won't have unrealistic expectations.  Make sure they understand what you think you can realistically deliver.

Bride Requested Pose
Bride Requested Pose

Shots You MUST Take

Ok, now that you have posing ideas, here are the shots you REALLY have to take.  Do not miss these shots.  Take multiple exposures of these if possible, you can not miss these.

  • Bride coming down the aisle
  • Groom seeing bride for first time (often staged before ceremony)
  • Flower girl/Ring bearer coming down the aisle
  • Each wedding party couple coming down the aisle
  • Close family members coming down the aisle
  • First kiss
  • Rings together (either on hands or by themselves)
  • Bride with bridesmaids
  • Groom with groomsmen
  • Bride and groom with entire wedding party
  • Bride and groom with moms and dads
  • Groom with groom's family
  • Bride with bride's family
  • Groom with bride's family
  • Bride with groom's family
  • Cutting the cake
  • Feeding each other the cake
  • First dance bride with father
  • First dance bride with groom
  • Bride throwing bouquet
  • The bouquet catch


No matter how well your photos come out of the camera, you'll want to do some editing.  Clean up white balance when needed, erase panty lines on dresses, make sure there is nothing unfortunate in the background, etc.

I know there is a heavy presence of filters and actions for amateur photographers.  And that is ok.  It is ok to use filters and actions.  Everybody likes some of them.  HOWEVER, you need some "clean" shots as well.  Edit your photos clean first and then make variations of them if you like but always have those cleanly edited originals for the bride and groom as well.  The the bride and groom guide you on what type of filters or styles they want applied to photos.  These are their photos after all, edit for their tastes, not yours.

However, please, please, please, do not do selective color unless you are very skilled at selecting the areas and understand how to mute the colors.  Otherwise you'll have the bride looking like a corpse holding florescent flowers.

Updated: 02/26/2013, LizM
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RubyHelenRose on 04/08/2013

Great tips for wedding photography. I appreciate the "shots you must take list." So many people take pictures of weddings now, it is nice to have a professional perspective so that none of the special stuff is missed. I enjoy putting together wedding shots for friends and family even though I am not a professional.

georgettejohn on 03/02/2013

Great article! When my daughter was married, my friend took a couple hundred pictures & many were fantastic but it was also great to get a couple hundred that my uncle (a retired wedding photographer) took. He captured many unique, unexpected shots & casual pictures of the day. When my parents were married, they hired a renowned photographer to "capture" their day. Unfortunately he enjoyed the free beverages a bit too much & at the end of the day all of their wedding films ended up in the punch bowl. One roll of film didn't...there are less then 24 pictures to mark the occasion.My friend was nervous but I honestly meant it when I said I was grateful for any photo she took and looking back at the pictures from the perspective of 2 differerent "photographers" added a great deal of "character" and appeal to her wedding albums.

Sandi on 02/23/2013

Great article, one of the best I have read. You have some great tips and information very helpful to brides and their families about how a wedding should be photographed. Great, thorough information, well deserved reward!!

dustytoes on 02/21/2013

So many times the couple getting married will think they can save money by just having friends take photos - and your page proves that it's just not that easy. It's a once in a lifetime experience (we hope) and the photos will preserve special memories for years to come. Unless the friends are willing to take the time to do the important things you've mentioned here, many wonderful shots will be missed. Such a good page - congrats on the award also!

Mira on 02/21/2013

Oh, I see you got an Editor's Choice award (see top right corner)! That's fabulous! This is a great article, indeed! (How many times have I used the word "great"?:)

Mira on 02/21/2013

These are some really great tips! I particularly liked your idea of having the bride-to-be go through Pinterest images to pick poses. Also, practicing at the location beforehand is a great idea. Great wedding photographers don't do it, but their gear is fabulous, and so is their flexibility based on experience, so they don't need to work as hard each time.

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