Your friends have invited you to their destination wedding in Hawaii – awesome! To help them save some money and in lieu of a gift, they have asked you to photograph the event (after all, weddings can be expensive, duh). But what if you have never shot an event professionally before, let alone a wedding?
To help you capture the moments that the wedding couple and their friends and family will remember forever, we spoke with photographer Sara Kauss, who specializes in destination weddings, concert photography, and musician sessions. Although Kauss suggests hiring a professional wedding photographer, we also recognize that budget is a concern for those getting hitched. So if you’re playing photographer at your friends’ wedding – whether it’s a faraway destination or a short car ride to city hall – Kauss has a few more tips to share.
“Being able to tell an entire story in one frame is our job as a photographer. But, how do you do that? Be patient! Anticipate moments. It’s important to capture the emotion as it happens,” Kauss says. “When you’re watching an infomercial on television and you sense that person talking about a weight-loss pill is being fed a script and paid to be on TV, the same feeling comes across when you look at an image that has been re-staged. At a wedding it’s important to be there when it actually happens and to do that by anticipating the moment before it occurs,” she adds.
In this black and white image, Kauss waited outside a hallway door for the dad and daughter to come out together, right before walking down the isle. “Not knowing exactly what interaction would take place but knowing that this father was about to give his daughter away. Also, shooting through the doorway gives the feeling that I’m spying on something secret. Which is exactly what I was doing! Be, discreet and aware of what is about to happen.”
Kauss says that if you are shooting on your own, have one camera with a 70-200mm 2.8 lens attached and another with a wide angle zoom, such as the Canon 24-70mm 2.8 or 16-35mm she uses. “This is a great setup if you’re shooting alone for the ceremony, just to make sure you get everything covered. (In the case of destination weddings), the ceremony is a quick 10-15 minutes, ‘I love you,’ ‘I do,’ ‘kiss the bride,’ so be prepared to have multiple different image options available quickly, by using the two cameras with two different lenses.”
Use a “creative” tripod
“This New York Engagement image was shot in Grand Central Station, using a made-up tripod. As a still photographer of people, I find very little use for a bulky tripod, and placed my camera on a ledge to stabilize it enough to create this shutter-drag photo.” (When she carries a tripod, it’s a Joby GorillaPod that’s easy to stash and carry.)
The image was created using a Canon 14mm lens at f22, manually setting the shutter speed at 1.3 seconds and ISO 1,250. “The neat thing is that by having my camera hang out on the ledge for so long, another passerby took a snapshot of something in the meantime, creating that neat flash to the left of the engaged couple in the photo.”
What to pack
Kauss says to bring as minimal equipment as possible when shooting a wedding, especially if it involves flying a long distance or to another country. “Lots of countries have restrictions as to how much camera equipment you can bring into the country without needing to get a work visa. Make sure to research this before leaving.”
Kauss like to travel with ThinkTank travel bags. “They will keep your camera equipment protected with awesome locking systems and the Airport International V 2.0 is guaranteed to fit in the cabin’s overhead bin. Bring enough cards to not need to re-use them while traveling. This serves as an image backup plan.”
Think outside the box
“During the wedding day, shoot through the palm trees, through a window in the ancient cobblestone building, or, if you’re like me, find a peacock. The image here was shot with a 135mm lens at f2.2, 1/2500th, and ISO 640.”
“The reason the couple chose their wedding at the location they did is because it means something to them. Take lots of images that reflect where they are. Also, don’t be afraid to shoot into the light. Find something to block the sun from coming directly into your camera, but remember that the huge sun makes an awesome light source. I love this Rembrandt lighting effect in this image that was captured by placing the couple directly in front of the setting sun, between the cacti,” she says.
Kauss adds that this image was shot with a 24mm lens at f4.0, 1/800th, ISO 800, no flash, directly into the sun, blocked by the cacti.
Shoot a post wedding session
After the wedding, “Take the couple to the beach such as this one in Maui and let them run in the sunset light along the waters’ edge, laughing and playing and not worrying about their clothes getting wet or brides hair disheveled. Recommend the best light for their post wedding session, shoot at sunrise or sunset, pick a different time than you were able to photograph the bride and groom photos on the wedding day.”
Back up your shots
“It’s important to shoot in RAW plus JPG for multiple reasons, my own wedding photographer, Derek Smith with Sunshine Photographics taught me this. First, if your card gets corrupted for whatever reason, you are typically able to recover JPG files easier than RAW files,” she says.
“The biggest reason while traveling, is I shoot in medium JPG in addition to RAW and upload all my medium JPG files after a wedding to my Zenfolio gallery account. This way, should I lose my other three forms of backup – my CF Cards get lost in a snow bank, my backup hard drive gets put in a piece of luggage that never is found and my computer crashes – at the very least have the medium JPG files uploaded off site to a reliable server. Don’t lose your images!”
The client is special
“If you have been hired to shoot a destination wedding, photography is really important to the bride and groom. Remember, there are plenty of resort photographers available anywhere in the world who could capture their wedding for them with a Canon Rebel camera and kit lens. But, no, your client reached out to you and is paying your fees because they want their wedding memories preserved in the highest quality possible, in a creative way, not just a point and shoot,” Kauss says.
“Maintain professionalism, but have fun. Be honored that you have been chosen to be on the best vacation of this couple’s life with them. Treat your clients with the most gracious respect and thank them for bringing you along on their wedding week adventure. You’ve been given the most important job of their wedding day, appreciate this and you will not only capture great expressions but have hopefully made an impression with everyone else at the wedding. The best compliment you can get is, ‘I already know I’m going to love your photos, without even seeing them.’ People pay attention to you at a wedding, make that attention positive.”
Whether it’s an A-list celebrity headlining a show or that special moment between a bride and a groom, Sara Kauss makes it her duty to make sure her clients can look back and relive that very moment for years to come. She has shot for Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood, Darius Rucker, Faith Hill, George Strait, Keith Urban, Leann Rimes, Miranda Lambert, Rascal Flatts, Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, and many more. She also has been featured on NBC’s Wedding Special, The Knot, CBS News, Palm Beach Post, and Southern Weddings.
(Copyright images via Sara Kauss)