Photographing Weddings Using Your Digital SLR - dummies

Photographing Weddings Using Your Digital SLR

By Doug Sahlin

Photographers have two schools of thought on wedding photography: journalistic and traditional styles. You can do both with your digital SLR. Journalistic wedding coverage means you include everything — from the program with the couple’s names and wedding party to the soggy hanky Grandma left on the church pew. A series of traditional wedding photographs concentrates on the bride, the groom, and the wedding party.

Choosing digital SLR camera settings for weddings

When you photograph a wedding, you use an array of settings. In most shots, people are the center of attention, so you need to control depth of field by using Aperture Priority mode. Other suggested settings include:

  • Drive and Focus Modes: Single Shot

  • Aperture: f/4.0 for details and close-ups and the formal spouse-and-spouse photos to f/7.1 for a small group shot of the wedding party to f/8.0 for the church and large groups

  • ISO Setting: 100 for a bright or sunny setting to 800 in a dimly lit church; at a nighttime reception, you may go to 1000 or higher

  • Auto-Focus Point: Single auto-focus point lets you pinpoint specific people

  • Focal Length: 35mm (the whole wedding party and the church or reception setting), 85mm (portraits of wedding party members and guests), and 100mm or macro (details such as the rings sliding onto fingers)

  • Image Stabilization: On; it enables you to capture sharp images at slower shutter speeds than normal.

Use a fill flash to help fill in shadows and try a flash diffuser to help even out lighting.

Taking pictures at weddings

Talk with the couple well in advance of the ceremony and ask them which shots are important to them — a group shot with college friends, pictures with the grandparents, and so on. If you’re going for full coverage, you’ll need a second photographer to get pictures of one soon-to-be-spouse getting dressed while you chronicle the other.

Any picture that includes the bride should show the detail of her dress. The happy couple won’t care that the officiant is in the shade or that the bridesmaid is slightly blurry so long as the newlyweds look good.

Keep your eyes open for everything, but have a list of must-get pictures that includes:

  • The couple’s parents being ushered into the wedding. Use medium telephoto focal lengths (of up to 100mm) and a large aperture (a small f/stop number) to blur the background and foreground so that viewers see the emotions on display and not the background.

  • The betrothed couple walking down the aisle, whether they do it with parents, alone, or with each other. Look for reaction shots of guests and family members.


  • The ceremony itself. The exchange of vows, the giving of rings, the first kiss are all essential wedding photos. And be sure to capture any special rites, such as a candle-lighting ceremony.

  • Formal shots of the wedding party and the newlyweds with their families. These are the pictures the family sends out. Get the entire wedding party, the couple on their own and with their primary attendants and with other special members of the wedding party — flower girl; great-grandfather, and so on.


  • The reception. Get the traditional shots of the first dance, the parents’ dance, cutting the cake, removing and throwing the garter and bouquet, and be prepared to document emotion and enjoyment throughout.


    Most receptions are held in dungeon-like conditions, so you need to use on-camera flash and a high ISO. You may want to try a flash diffuser.