Weddings have changed drastically in the past few years. These days, couples want more from a wedding photographer than rigidly posed shots; they frequently prefer candid wedding photography because it captures the emotions of the couple and the guests enjoying themselves without needing to line everybody up in front of the camera.
But candid photography is so much more than just pointing your camera at people and shooting away. If you want to capture great images, you need to understand the finer nuances involved in the candid approach (and you need to become especially adept at capturing good shots without being noticed).
Below, I share five tips for shooting weddings in an effective yet unobtrusive way. That way, the next time you get booked for a wedding, you’re ready to create an array of stunning candid images!
Let’s dive right in.
1. Always be ready
This is the biggest candid wedding photography tip that I can give you:
No matter what’s going on, always be ready to shoot.
In particular, make sure that you’re always keeping an eye out for interesting moments. You never know what will happen, and if you stop paying attention to the scene around you, there’s a chance that you’ll miss something phenomenal. It’s a good idea to frequently scan the room to check for moments in the making, and even when you have your camera to your eye, make sure you’re hyperaware of the action around you.
Of course, you can’t capture candid moments without equipment, so it’s essential that you always keep that camera ready. Make sure it’s in your hands and prepared to shoot at a moment’s notice. Set your camera according to the lighting conditions, and if necessary, use Aperture Priority mode so exposure decisions are made for you on the fly. You don’t want to be fiddling around with camera settings when the action starts!
Pro tip: Whenever you notice your battery or your memory card getting low, look for a lull in the action, then quickly swap it out. Don’t wait for your camera to die or the memory card to fill up completely; as I said above, you never know what’s going to happen, so it’s important that you’re always ready to photograph.
2. Know your equipment
I touched on this in the previous tip, but it’s so important that it deserves a section of its own. I’ve seen countless photographers miss shots while they are trying to change the camera settings – don’t be that person!
Instead, you must know your equipment like the back of your hand. Semi-automatic modes such as Aperture Priority are helpful and can relieve some of the pressure, but they’re not perfect and can cause problems from time to time, so it’s important you understand exactly how your camera works in case you need to make settings adjustments or take over completely.
Plus, even if you use Aperture Priority mode, you’ll need to select an aperture, an ISO, a metering mode, an autofocus mode, an autofocus area mode, and a white balance. In other words, you’ll need to really know what you are doing!
Here are just a few items to bear in mind:
- The shutter speed must be carefully managed to keep your shots sharp. Make sure that you’re always shooting at 1/100s or higher, and if your subject is moving, you’ll generally need to work at 1/250s, 1/500s, or even at 1/1000s.
- It’s usually a good idea to set a wider aperture to let in more light, though bear in mind that wider apertures will decrease the depth of field, so you’ll need to choose your point of focus carefully.
- When shooting indoors, you’ll generally need a higher ISO to allow for the faster shutter speeds I mentioned above. Don’t be afraid to push your camera’s ISO to 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, and beyond – though also recognize that higher ISOs tend to produce lots of noise, so you don’t want to boost the ISO more than necessary.
- If you’re shooting in RAW (which I highly recommend!), it often helps to set your camera’s white balance to Auto, then make tweaks in post-processing. You won’t sacrifice any flexibility by using such an approach – the RAW files can be effectively adjusted in a program like Lightroom – and it’ll save you from needing to adjust the WB setting as the lighting scenarios change.
By the way, you should also be able to change settings without consulting the manual or fiddling around in the menus. It can help to practice making settings adjustments while relaxing on the couch, watching a movie, talking on the phone, etc.
3. Use a telephoto zoom lens
Candid wedding photography is all about taking pictures of the bride, groom, guests, etc., without being noticed. You won’t capture beautiful candid moments if you’re hovering a few inches from the bride with a camera pointed in her face!
That’s why I highly recommend working with a telephoto zoom lens. I regularly shoot weddings with 70-200mm or even 100-400mm lenses if capturing candid moments is the priority. These longer lenses may seem unwieldy at first, but you’ll soon be impressed by how they can help you capture the action and emotions without actively distracting the people involved.
Additionally, a long zoom will help maintain a level of intimacy, which is essential in wedding photography. Try dialing in a wide aperture to really emphasize that shallow depth of field effect; it’s a great technique if you’re hoping to make the bride and groom look as if they’re in their own little world!
Of course, it’s also handy to keep a shorter lens around for wider candid scenes and other key shots. Many wedding photographers carry two cameras, each with a different lens, and I recommend you do the same. That way, you can capture plenty of powerful images – no matter your distance from the subject.
4. Don’t use flash
Plenty of wedding photographers like to use flash, especially for posed photos – but when it comes to candid wedding photoshoots, carrying a flash is a very bad idea.
Why? One surefire way to get noticed by your subjects is to fire that flash, whether it’s a dedicated flash gun or the pop-up flash on your camera. As soon as you’ve been noticed, your subjects will become self-conscious, and you’ll lose the beautiful candid effect.
And I’ll be honest: Light from a flash tends to be rather unflattering and boring. Yes, a flash can brighten things up, but if there’s a lack of light, I’d recommend boosting the exposure rather than adding flash. You might try widening the aperture, increasing the ISO, or slowing the shutter speed (if you have room). You can also shoot in areas of the room with more illumination, though don’t make this a habit; you don’t want to miss shots in the middle of the dance floor because you’re always hanging out by a window!
5. Make sure you plan ahead
As a candid wedding photographer, it is your job to predict what is going to happen before it does (or, at least, take a calculated guess!). If you can, I’d suggest visiting the location before the wedding and really getting a feel for the space and the lighting. While you’re there, see if you can identify potential backgrounds for photos; even if you don’t end up using them, it helps to have a few ideas in your back pocket, just in case.
If you’re unable to visit the location beforehand, then at least arrive at the venue well before the function is to start. Walk around, think about possible photo ideas, and identify any potential obstacles (such as unusually dark rooms or strong backlighting).
Then, when it’s time for the wedding to start, don’t get so caught up in the flow of the proceedings that you forget all about your careful planning and scouting. Be sure to remember your photo ideas and keep a cool head. A little bit of planning goes a long way in getting some great shots!
Candid wedding photography tips: final words
Candid wedding photos look amazing, and they’re a great way to capture the unique emotions of the day.
Hopefully, now that you’ve finished this article, you’re ready to confidently photograph your next wedding! Just be sure you do some scouting and planning in advance, make sure you know your equipment well, and don’t use that flash; that way, you come away with some breathtaking shots!
Now over to you:
Do you have any candid wedding photo tips that I missed? Which of these tips do you plan to use first? Share your thoughts in the comments below!