Part II: The What and How
Wedding details! My obsession. The decor, the rings, all of the tiny touches that make your wedding day yours. Welcome to Part II on Photographing Wedding Details! If you missed Part I make sure you check it out (especially if you're a photographer) as it covers the very important where and when to photograph the wedding details. The where and when part is so important, even if it's a bit boring, because you can't make gorgeous, creative images if you don't have time to! Weddings are often planned down to the second, and there is a long list of different "must photograph" moments and events, so squeezing in detail shots can be difficult if nothing is planned out. San Antonio typically as good weather for wedding photography (if you don't mind the heat), but the great thing about details is most of them are photographed indoors, so it doesn't matter where in the world you are!
Anyway, it's time for the fun part! The What and How of photographing wedding details. To start with, the What. Then the How. What are wedding details? ALL THE THINGS! Basically if the bride or groom made a choice on it, it's a detail that needs to be captured. I'm going to go into detail here, sorry if you were hoping for a short blog post. Literally this is the list of what I look for and would love to capture at every wedding, and how to go about getting it all. It's not always possible to complete this whole list, but it's always my goal.
Bride / Groom Prep Details
- Bride's dress, shoes, garter, wedding jewelry, perfume, make-up, etc.
- Groom's suit, shoes, tie, cuff links, cologne, watch, etc.
- Any family heirlooms
- All printed products (invitations, programs, save-the-dates, printed napkins, etc)
- Any gifts to parents / bridal party / future-spouse
- Wedding and Engagement Rings (my favorite <3)
- Flowers - Bouquets, corsages, etc.
Ceremony Venue Details
This will change a lot depending on the location of the ceremony, and the amount of decor present.
- Wide open shot showing whole ceremony area (with no people)
- Flowers / aisle decor
- Any reserved signs
- Any in-memory-of setups (some couples reserve a chair for a family member who has passed away and they place something special on that seat)
- Guestbook / sign-in book, wedding program, any religious objects that are part of the ceremony, sand ceremony, unity candle, etc.
Reception Venue Details
This will also change a lot depending on the location of the reception, and the amount of decor, activities set up, etc.
- Wide open shots of all reception areas (with no people)
- Head table / Sweetheart table (full shot and images of each item on the table)
- A full table setup, and details of each table (centerpiece, candles, all other decor, plate setups, etc.)
- Gift / card table, guestbook, wedding favors, any other decor tables (engagement / bridal photos of couple on display, in-memory-of tables, etc.)
- Place settings / name cards / seating list board, any signs (including at the bar)
- Full Cake table, and detail shots of each element (cake, cake knife set, champagne flutes, cake topper, etc.)
- Candy bar, dessert table, kids table, buffet menu, buffet food, etc.
- Any lawn games, activities, etc.
- Literally anything else that the couple has included in their reception
So, that is a lot to be constantly on the look out for while also constantly looking out for emotional moments, and not missing any important events. Let's move on to how on earth you capture all of that without missing anything else. While photographing the details always keep one ear tuned to what is going on in the room around you, and one eye on the clock. This will help keep you from missing moments. There honestly is no substitute for experience. It's taken me two years and over 50 weddings to develop a routine where this is coming automatically to me. The wedding photographer flow is a real thing, and for couples who have high expectations of their wedding photographs there is NO substitute for an experienced wedding photographer.
- Preparation and planning. This starts with your consultation. Find out what details are most important to them and then go over their timeline. Can you realistically squeeze all the detail shots into 5 minutes? (Hint: the answer is no, but your couples won't know this!) With tight timelines that can't be changed you might need to discuss adding a second shooter. Next, on the wedding day, have a plan of action. When I get to the reception area (assuming everything it set up and fully decorated already) I grab my 28mm lens and my 90mm lens. I typically start with my 28mm lens and get all the wide open shots of everything along with the "full table" shots of each table and "set up area", and then go back through everything again with my 90mm lens. As I'm shooting the wide open shots I'm able to assess what the best angle will be for each detail photo. Typically, this takes anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes depending on the size of the area, the level of detail, etc. The wide open shots are most important to capture when the areas a free of people, and these moments are hard to come by, so always grab them when you can, you might not get another chance. The close up shots of the details can be captured when people are in the room so they aren't quite as time-sensitive in that manner.
- Lighting and location. When you enter the room assess the possible shooting areas in the room (backdrop and lighting). Virtually every time I enter the bridal suite I end up "cleaning up" and moving everyone's stuff to one side of the room so I can get wide open shots that are beautiful and don't contain Jimmy John wrappers! (Of course always talk to the bride / bridesmaids when you're about to do this so they can find their stuff!) This also gives me time to plan how to light the room if natural light just isn't going to do the trick. The great thing about details is you don't need very much good looking space to create beautiful up close photographs. With the exception of the wedding dress, basically all details can be photographed up close on flowers, on a wood floor, on a couch cushion, etc. I've photographed wedding rings on the reflective black surface of my cell phone screen many times when there are no other options! With the wedding dress, you typically are looking for a safe place to hang the dress that is both beautiful and has great lighting. Doorways, staircases, and windows are good places to look at. Be aware of the weight of the dress when looking for a place to hang it! In a lot of situations lighting in the room is not ideal for detail shots, especially in most ceremony and reception situations. Speed lights with light modifiers are your best friends in this situation. Get that speed light off your camera, and create some interesting lighting. My favorite lighting modifier (I use it for small detail shots and dance floor images) is this Octagon Softbox. When you're photographing items as small as jewelry, shoes, and detailed parts of wedding decor it makes the perfectly sized softbox when used close to the objects being photographed.
- Setting the Scene. Mix as many of the details together as you can to help tell a story within each image. I love shooting the rings with the bride's perfume and the bride's dress in a window or doorway of the room where she's getting ready. Incorporating the furniture and atmosphere of the room can be easy with smaller details - wood and tile make great backdrops for invitations, shoes, rings, etc., the bride's bouquet or shoes often look great on a chair, etc. With the reception and ceremony areas the scene is already set for you, but with details you get to mix different parts of their day together to help tell their love story.
My favorite lens for detail shots is my Sony FE 90mm f2.8 macro lens. I know most people don't shoot Sony, but there are Canon / Nikon near equivalents that will get virtually the same results. I love this lens because I can fill the frame with the small wedding details and show each detail in its own glory. I usually only shoot the wedding rings using macro.
Shooting macro can be a bit counter-intuitive when it comes to depth of field. As a wedding photographer, when I shoot details at f2.8 I expect the subject to be in focus and everything else behind and in front of it to be massively out of focus. When shooting macro, you are already setting up your depth of field without even adding your aperture into the mix, so shooting at f2.8 on macro means literally one hair might be in focus, it's not enough depth of field to even have the entire center stone on an engagement ring be in focus. I've found when I'm shooting rings on macro I typically shoot at f8 to get the stones in focus, but still have a pleasingly shallow depth of field. My most valuable purchase for ring shots (besides my baby, er, 90mm lens) has been an adjustable $35 video light. It adds just the right amount of light to make it possible to shoot at f8 in dark reception halls, and being a constant light (not flash) I can move it around and see how it will light the scene so I get the best sparkle out of every stone!