Tips + Techniques

Wedding Photography 101: Inside a Wedding Photographer’s Mind

March 7, 2024

By Derrel Ho-Shing

Recently, I was speaking with one of my wedding photography assistants, and he was shocked at how much work and how many roles a wedding photographer plays on the day. It made me realize that many people don’t know what’s going on in a wedding photographer’s mind when we shoot. Many think we just have a fancy camera, nice lenses and beautiful subjects, and BOOM — the magic just happens. Well, I’m going to show you that it’s not as easy as we make it look. So, let me give you a run down of the things that are going through my mind, and the different roles I must play when I’m shooting a wedding.

© Derrel Ho-Shing

Wedding Photography Logistics

The first thing I’m thinking about is the itinerary and timeline. I need to know how much time I have for each portion of the day, i.e., getting ready, formal pics etc. I need to know where I have to be at different times during the day, and I have to make sure I do my best to follow the itinerary. I have to ensure that I capture all the images and moments that the couple has requested. 

Then, I have to assess the lighting in each room and environment and make sure my camera settings are correct. It’s my job not only to capture and document the day, but to do it in a creative and artistic way. That means I have to choose which lenses I’m going to use. Each lens does different things and creates different looks. I have to know these things like the back of my hand. I can’t afford to be fiddling with camera settings, as I may miss an important moment. I also have to think about creative angles and points of view. Do I get higher up? Do I get lower down? Do I stand? Or just do all?

Then, I must decide, do I go for natural light or use photographic lighting? I need to determine when to capture and document the scene and mood as it is, and when to change the mood creatively. 

© Derrel Ho-Shing

[Read: Waterfall Wedding and Portrait Photography Tips]

The Many Roles a Wedding Photographer Takes

Being a wedding photographer means I have to become many different types of photographers. For example, I become a product photographer when photographing the rings, the jewelry, the cake, etc.

I become a portrait and fashion photographer when photographing the bride and groom and bridal party. I become a beauty photographer when photographing the bride’s makeup. I’m an architectural photographer when photographing the decor and venue.

I’m a photojournalist when photographing the ceremony. I’m a landscape photographer when photographing the couple outdoors and including the environment. I become an event photographer when I’m photographing the reception. Possessing the knowledge and skills of various genres of photography is vital for being a successful wedding photographer.

[Read: The Details Matter: Capturing Wedding Detail Shots]

© Derrel Ho-Shing

Create Relationships

One of the main things about my brand is my personality. I’ve always been an outgoing and social kind of guy. I’ve been known as the trouble maker, the class clown, the comedian or the guy with the loud voice. I use that to my advantage when I’m shooting weddings. I enjoy creating relationships and forming bonds with my clients and their friends and families. When I’m able to make people feel good, it shows in the photos.

© Derrel Ho-Shing

I’m able to get genuine reactions, emotions and expressions. The one thing you can’t photoshop is a bad expression. Throughout the day, I interact with the bride, the groom, the bridal party, the parents, the grandparents and guests. I’m cracking jokes, mingling and just having fun with everyone. Sometimes things may get hectic or stressful, but I try to make sure the bride and groom are calm and relaxed and stress free. 

Whether you are more outgoing or more introverted, you can still build genuine relationships as you shoot a wedding.

[Read: First Look Wedding Photos: Capturing the Moments Before ‘I Do’]

Posing and Direction

Weddings usually have the couple and their bridal party. This can be anywhere from 4-20 people. It’s my job to give directions and instructions. That puts me in the role of director. Most of the time, they’ve never been in front of a professional camera, so the first thing they usually ask is “What do I do?”

When I’m shooting the bride and groom or the whole bridal party, I usually have a vision or a look in my head. I have to relay that look and vision to my subjects, so directing is essential in order to get the best images possible. If I don’t give direction, then I’m not achieving the look that I had in mind. 

© Derrel Ho-Shing

Each wedding I shoot is a chance for me to advertise my work, so I’m always thinking of creating amazing stunning shots that will not only impress the couple, but their friends, families and future brides. When I’m creating epic and stunning artwork, I’m thinking how it will look in my portfolio, and how it may attract new business. 

Problem Solving

Not every wedding will run smoothly. You’ll encounter various obstacles, issues and problems. Sometimes there will be a wedding planner, but the bride and groom will usually ask the photographer for a solution, which makes wedding photographers problem solvers. For example, if it rains or an issue comes up with the photo location, the couple won’t ask the wedding planner, they will ask me for a solution. With experience, I’ve noticed the same issues usually happen, so I’m able to handle them efficiently. 

© Derrel Ho-Shing

This is just a behind-the-scenes look at what usually goes on in my mind when I’m shooting a wedding. It requites a lot of hard work and on-the-spot thinking that sometimes people don’t notice or don’t appreciate. After time and experience, most of this just comes naturally. As a wedding photographer, you need to be aware of these things and strive to improve in all these areas. One can take amazing images, but how do you interact with guests? How do you handle issues and problems? Most importantly, how do you make the wedding couple feel on their big day? How you handle all these aspects of wedding photography determines your testimonials and referrals, so keep them in mind as you develop in this challenging and rewarding profession.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared on Derrel Ho-Shing’s blog.

Derrel Ho-Shing is a wedding and portrait photographer based in Toronto, Canada. A Top Pro Ambassador for Westcott Lighting, he is well-known for his use of off camera flash. He recently taught a seminar on the topic at WPPI.

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