The “accidental” Wedding Photographer

My Wife’s sister recently got married. A few months before the wedding she called me and asked if I would be her “Wedding Photographer”. I enjoy taking pictures and on occasion get a few good ones, but I don’t do weddings. I had photographed one wedding a few years before and decided at that time that wedding photography wasn’t for me. Recently, I have had the privilege to tag along as a second shooter on a few weddings. I enjoyed that because I could sneak around the edges and do my thing. With that in mind I said I would help her out if she hired a professional wedding photographer, (I’ll call them a Wedding Pro for the rest of this article), for the ceremony at City Hall in San Francisco and I would handle all the other locations around the city. She said, “ok that sounds great”!

Fast forward a few months I arrive the night before the wedding and have dinner with the family and started to discuss what was going to happen the next day and I learn, there is no other photographer! It’s me and a few point and shoots. i wasn’t nervous since I was going to do my best and hopefully that would be ok. I started to think about the difference between a regular guy/family member that can take some great shots and a Wedding Pro.


I started to think/get nervous about how un-prepared I was.

I had two lenses, a 70-200 and a 24-70 with one body and a couple camera batteries.

I had one flash unit with some extra batteries that I quickly went and doubled my supply at a nearby drugstore.

I had no idea what the venue was like. How high the ceilings were, what the wall colors were,(in fact they were very yellow), I had no gels for my flash. Of course had I had Gels for my flash I would have no idea how or when to use them.

I didn’t have a list of “have to have” images.

With that in mind I told myself, who cares, just go shoot, and keep checking the histogram!


I’m proud of the images I came up with, but in reflection the real difference between a guy that loves to take photos and a guy or gal that makes a living photographing weddings is experience. Experience teaches preparation. Experience and preparation are worth paying for!

It’s not mandatory to have two camera bodies, but I did miss at least 2 shots I would have loved to have back, had I had quick access to a wide angle lens at a moments notice.

Having had experience to adjust white balance in the camera/flash would have saved considerable time in Post Process. A neutral grey card would have been helpful.

Worrying about what the light from the flash and correct exposure, deters your attention from what you’re actually seeing.

The ceremony was in the rotunda of City Hall. The ceiling was really tall, which meant my flash did nothing coming off of it. And I couldn’t find a wall to bounce off of consistently. So I noticed the way a Wedding Pro had adjusted his flash, bent slightly forward(one click forward) from straight up with the little reflector standing straight up. I borrowed from his experience to help me out. That saved me. I actually chatted with him a bit, nice guy.


In retrospect I think I would have liked carrying 2 bodies, one with a 35mm ƒ1.4 and one with a 135mm ƒ2 or my 70-200 2.8L IS. It also would had been great to have a set of gels for my flash and actually know how to use them. Stopping to think about a shot or two would have been beneficial, I missed the brides flowers a few times just because I didn’t have her fix it.


One thing about wedding photography that often goes unnoticed is the amount of post wedding editing it takes. I took just over 1200 photos, which means selecting and editing the best ones. This is a laborious process. Some images require a few clicks to improve, others might be 15min. This can take hours, but also completely necessary. If I had shot this wedding and dumped the files to a disk without any editing, many of her photos would have looked like the image below:


the second image is after edits in post process. I don’t claim to be professional photo editor, but I think the version on the right is worthy of a few minutes of effort.


After having photographed 2 weddings I have utmost respect for the guys and gals that make a living as a wedding photographer. I’ve gained a bit of experience and will continue to refer friends and family to the real pro’s with experience.

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  • Tom Scherer Jan 31, 2012 @ 19:56

    Looks like you did a fine job.  The shot of the couple kissing is a real winner.  I have done two weddings in the past, so I know how you were feeling.  The second couple wanted the ceremony in b&w and the rest in color.  Extra pressure!  Each wedding you do helps you learn for the next one.  At least I hope so since I have my niece’s coming up in May.  Plenty of time to become a nervous wreck. 

    • Doug S Jan 31, 2012 @ 21:01

      Good luck with your Niece’s wedding…. It is amazing how much you learn each time you do it. and I can understand why some would never do them. I really like photographing people so that makes it easier I suppose. 

  • Chuck Edgley Oct 23, 2012 @ 1:10

    You really came through! Beautiful, memorable photos.