How to Shoot a Wedding by Yourself

Want to shoot a wedding solo? These tips will help you avoid the stress and nail the perfect shots.

Even if you’re part of a husband and wife photography team like I am, it’s important to know how to shoot a wedding by yourself.

While I love shooting wedding photography as part of a team because it allows for less pressure and more creativity, there are times when I’ve had to shoot a wedding by myself.

In fact, I find myself doing wedding photography solo more and more often as we’ve added videography options to our wedding packages.

Being the only one taking stills means you have to do more with less and ensure you really nail your shots.

Let’s walk through the important parts of shooting a wedding by yourself so that you can gain the confidence you need.

In the first half of the article, I’ll talk about wedding photography tips for the solo photographer.

Then, I’ll talk about how to do your own DIY wedding photos.

How To Shoot a Wedding by Yourself (Alone, Without an Assistant or Second Shooter)

Shooting a wedding by yourself comes down to the right mindset, knowing what to expect and plan for, and deciding how you’re going to prioritize your time and energy.

When it comes to wedding photography, a single shooter can only be in one place at a time, so where are you going to be?

As you build your own wedding photography process for your photography business, you’ll learn that a solo photographer can accomplish a lot.

Let’s talk through some tips that will give you more confidence when shooting solo.

Wedding Photographer Mindset

a person holding a camera in front of a group of men.

Credit: Natilyn Hicks

First, I think it’s important to think about your mindset around wedding photography.

Whenever I’ve met a photographer who says or thinks that they could never do weddings, their reason is that weddings are too stressful.

Yes, the expectations are high and you only get one shot at key moments.

At the same time, weddings are highly predictable, making them easy to plan for.

Whenever I’m feeling stressed, I remind myself that the couple won’t see the shots I missed; they’ll see the shots I captured.

Focus on what you’re doing, not what you aren’t doing.

You can only be in one place at a time, so be fully there and present. It truly is about quality over quantity because the bride and groom will only print so many photos for their walls or in their wedding albums.

Deliver photos that your couple will love, and let go of any shots you think you missed.

The shots you missed aren’t important; the shot you’re taking is the one that matters, especially if you’re shooting solo.

The Myth of the Second Shooter

a bride and groom standing in a field with mountains in the background.

Let’s talk about the second shooter really quickly.

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I get the impression that a lot of would-be solo photographers hire second shooters because they can sell a bigger package to their couples by offering a second photographer.

A lot of photographers hire second shooters that are less experienced, so my guess is that they’re not relying fully on the second shooter’s photos unless it’s someone they’ve worked with a lot before.

If that’s true, then the second shooter is really a crutch anyway.

If you’re reading this article because you want to be able to shoot a wedding alone and not rely on an assistant, go back and look at how many photos you delivered from your second shooter anyway.

What would the gallery look like if you had only delivered your images to the client gallery as a solo photographer?

Be honest and realistic about whether you actually need a second shooter on the wedding day or whether they are a crutch or just a way to elevate the gallery because they free you up to focus on different things.

Nail a Solid Shot First, Then Get Creative

Wedding couple in forest

One of the best parts about working as part of a husband and wife team is that it frees me up to focus on different things on the wedding day.

If one of us is in charge of capturing something, the other person can head off and get creative with something else.

Essentially working together allows us to be in two places at once.

So the question of how to photograph a wedding alone is really about choosing where you want to be if you can only be in one place at a time.

What this means is that you’ll have to prioritize what you’re shooting and when.

My philosophy is that I nail a solid shot first and then get creative.

For example, I focus on getting a nicely framed and lit shot of the first dance – one might call it a safe shot.

Then, I get creative with my framing and composition and try something more interesting.

If my creative pursuits don’t work out as planned or I run out of time, that’s ok because I have that nice solid shot that I need to deliver.

Conservation of Resources

Bride and groom smiling

To be honest, you might have to cut your wedding shot list down a bit.

The expectations you have to be able to capture every single item, every single person, every single moment, and do it all creatively is a little unrealistic.

Are you willing to sacrifice the detail shots to get better cocktail hour candids?

Are your bride and groom?

If you’ve read anything I’ve written, you might have gathered that I’m not a fan of shot lists.

The concept of knowing what you need to photograph is a good one.

Study weddings, study the timeline, and know what to expect from a wedding day.

But eventually, you need to ditch the shot list and focus instead on lighting, composition, and capturing the once-in-a-lifetime moments that happen on the wedding day.

It’s unrealistic to do it all and do it all well. Does your bride want quality or quantity?

How many photos will actually end up in the wedding album?

For example, when I’m shooting as part of a team, I often stay with the bride until she walks down the aisle, knowing that my partner is waiting down the aisle to capture her walking.

Meanwhile, I’ll capture the groom’s face from over her shoulder.

It’s unrealistic that one person can do all of those things, so as the wedding photographer, you have to make the creative decision or compromise about what you’re going to prioritize and where you’re going to be during important moments like the wedding ceremony.

Timeline, Control, and Style

a man and a woman holding an umbrella under a cloudy sky.

I think what’s most important about shooting a wedding solo is getting a handle on the wedding photography timeline.

If you know what’s happening when – or better yet if you can control it – then you’ll be able to capture all of the photos that are important to you and your couple.

In order to do that, it’s important to know what’s important to you.

What types of wedding photography photos do you see as impactful and meaningful?

What wedding photos will matter to your couples a year from now? A decade from now?

I like to build a wedding photography timeline for my couples that helps set expectations for how much time I need in order to work the way I like to work.

For me, that means I’ll set expectations around how much time we need for bridal party pictures and a first look.

I’ll also plan a pre-ceremony buffer time and time for sunset photos.

Then, I’ll make sure I have my lighting set up before dinner is over so that I’m ready for all of the events.

And if I’m shooting wedding photography solo, I might choose a more simple lighting set-up than if I have a second shooter or an assistant.

A Few Final Tips

I like to carry two cameras so that I can shoot wide and tight without changing lenses.

You could also choose to use a zoom lens for that, but since I bring two cameras to every wedding anyway, shooting two allows me to use whichever lenses I want.

Shoot family photos, or any series of photos where the lighting conditions will largely stay the same, using full manual mode (including a custom white balance setting too, where possible.)

This will vastly speed up the bulk editing of these photos, and help you deliver the wedding photos in a shorter time.

How to Do Your Own DIY Wedding Photos

Set Your Expectations

Bride and groom dancing

Wedding photographers might be the kind of people that are most inclined to DIY their wedding photography.

Maybe they shoot weddings so much that they are particular about the photos, or perhaps they have a specific vision for their images, or maybe they just want to decrease the stress of the day.

If you’re going to DIY your wedding photos, be clear on what you’re capable of and what you want out of it.

Unless you have experience photographing weddings, I imagine taking pictures of your own wedding will be challenging, so set your expectations for the results.

You don’t want to ruin the wedding experience because you’re working on your wedding day.

You want your choice to make sense.

Set Your Goals

a bride and groom walking through a field holding hands.

What’s the story that you want to tell?

Wedding photographers shoot weddings from their perspective. If you’re planning to DIY your wedding photography, you have a very unique perspective.

What’s the best way to tell your story?

You know that you won’t be able to capture your wedding in the same way that a photographer would, so it’s time to think about what you do want to accomplish.

Make a list of the moments that are important to you. Is it formal shots or cake cutting or the bouquet toss?

Some things might be easy to shoot, like table settings, while other things might be really interesting from your perspective, like the cheering crowd.

Once you decide on the important shots, you can set about planning how to capture them.

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Good photos aren’t always technically perfect; sometimes the best photos are just whatever is meaningful to the bride and groom.

See Part 1 of this Article

Once you’ve set your expectations and goals for your DIY wedding photography, you can work your way through the first half of this article and everything that applies.

As the photographer and bride or groom, you’re the ideal wedding coordinator, meaning you can control everything about the timeline and order of events.

Set up the timeline to work in a way that helps you achieve your photography goals.

If you want a great shot of the wedding venue, who says you have to take that shot at any certain time or even on the wedding day?

For family shots, you can set up your framing and use a tripod and a trigger.

The tip about the conservation of resources really applies because you can’t be in two places at once and do two things at a time.

Decide the best way to achieve your goals for shooting your own wedding and then make it happen.

Summary for the DIY Wedding Photographer

As a professional wedding photographer, I feel a little funny telling you that you can DIY your photography.

But as a photographer, I know that sometimes I have a hard time trying to have someone else accomplish my specific vision.

Even working side by side shooting wedding photography with my husband, sometimes there’s a specific shot that I have a vision for and need to shoot myself, whereas in other shots I’m able to communicate what I want from him.

In fact, I agree with what professional wedding photographer Mark Condon said about shooting his own wedding.

Sometimes you feel like you’re in the picture because you’re taking it, and even the most banal photo can be the most beautiful thing in the world to two people.

How Do You Make a Wedding Video Without a Videographer?

Speaking of DIY weddings, let’s talk about how to make a wedding video without a videographer.

The first task is to get footage which can come in the form of having guests film, placing GoPros strategically, or setting up a tripod.

Once you have video footage, you’ll be able to use video editing software to decide how to tell the story of the day.

How Do You Shoot a Wedding With One Lens?

To shoot a wedding with one lens, you’ll want to choose a versatile focal length or a zoom lens that covers the focal lengths you’re interested in.

Try to think through the various types of shots you’ll want to take and see if your chosen lens will allow you to do everything you’re interested in.

Using minimal photography gear is great for the budget and keeps your decisions simple.

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