NB: This is now a fairly old thread, and most of the advice is pretty outdated as i've learned, but it might still be useful to some people. See links to the wedding FAQ and recommended books in my sig.
To help others doing their first wedding in the future, here are the lessons I learned from mine. I wrote these down for myself, and i'm sharing them to help others who're doing their first wedding soon.
First, a brief description of the wedding. It was done for a friend of a friend, who offered payment, which I turned down. I said they can pay my expenses, and if they like the photos they can make a "donation". I did as much organisation as I could leading up to the wedding, but they weren't at all organised, so for most things I had to wing it and work it out on the day.
The wedding was done in a large old house, the wedding was meant to be outside, but it was raining so it had to be done inside. The room the ceremony was in was so small that some people couldn't make it in, I was in the front row about 1 meter from the wedding party, along with a few other people with cameras. Formals were in a community theatre, under stage lighting.
I'll post some photos in a few days once i've done all my processing.
Ok, so here's my lessons learned, in approximate order of importance to me. If you don't like them or don't agree, tough, I wrote them for myself and it's what i'll do next time.
1) SHOOT RAW. The pace on a wedding day can be frantic, you might not have time to get everything perfect, at least not during your first attempt at a wedding. RAW let me rescue shots that would have been lost if i'd been shooting JPG.
2) Organisation is key. The pace, as I said, is frantic, and you might not have time to eat, drink, or think. Key things about this:
- Have shot lists for all shots the bride and groom want.
- Have a drink and easy to eat food in your camera bag/vest. Assume there won't be any other food around on the day.
- There's often no time for monopods or tripods except during formal shots, use IS lenses or high ISO.
3) Wear comfortable shoes. You'll probably be warm and running around a lot so dress appropriately.
4) Review the histogram regularly, even if you think you got the shot.
5) Posing people well is hard. Read books before hand, look at other peoples pictures, and PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE! If you've never given instructions to an inexperienced model before you'll be in trouble. Even with all i'd read and a practice session I wasn't prepared enough.
6) Take a minimum of 3 pictures of each posed shot, checking the histogram after each, and at least 5 shots of each group pose.
7) Use a custom white balance if possible, especially under mixed light conditions. I'll cut a LOT of time off your post processing workflow.
8) Don't use partial metering if you're in a hurry, unless you have something like a bright background and a dark subject.
9) Be careful to get horizons level, especially for formal shots. If you have a line of people, make sure you're equidistant from the people at either end, otherwise the shot will look slanted.
10) Don't cut off hands, feet, or anything else in formals.
11) If you're using a diffuser, bring twice as many batteries as you think you'll need, or a high capacity battery pack.
12) Don't underestimate how long post processing will take. Better to take one good photo that you get everything right in than five quick ones that need 15 minutes post processing. You have to balance that with getting the shot though.
13) Dress like you're a guest, or at least tidily. If you wear jeans you may get less respect and co-operation from guests, which you need to get shots.
14) Have the biggest camera at the wedding, that way people will be in no doubt who the official photographer is. I had to move people with smaller cameras out of the way for some of the shots, and since I was polite they didn't seem to mind.
15) Use a flash at the reception if it's dark. ISO 1600's acceptable (just) if you get the exposure right on, but with random lights around spoiling the exposure you'll end up with a lot of noise, which means a poor image or lots of post processing.
16) Flash brakets are essential, diffusers are slightly less so.
Here's a couple of books I found useful:
- The Best of Wedding Photojournalism: Techniques and Images from the Pros, by Bill Hurter. Link.
- Digital Wedding Photography by Paul Gero. Link.
Edit, 5 years later
7) I never do a CWB any more.
8) I always use partial metering, or manual.
14) I still think this matters if you're a guest, but if you do everything else right it doesn't much matter. People are usually very impressed with radio triggers, and slightly puzzled about why you need them.
15) How I photograph wedding receptions has massively changed. See that link.
16) Flash brackets are a PITA, heavy and awkward, I haven't used one in three years. I don't shoot direct flash so they're pointless.