I've received this question many times. I’m usually answer just: good luck! What else? It’s not possible in a few minutes, to explain what I’ve learned in hundreds of weddings services, during the last 10 years, working with the best photographers in Italy.
So, if your friend, sister or nephew is asking you to take her wedding pictures, and you're not a professional, well, just don't. It’s better a “no” now, than to be sorry after the event.
I've noticed during the years, that many couples who are going to be married, most of the times, do not realise which are the skills and the reason of the price a photographer has, as a result they think a wedding photographer is just so expensive. So they start to wonder “why not my cousin, or my uncle, he’s a good amateur photographer, why can't he just do that..”
The answer is, yes, he can ..if everything is happening very, very slowly, 100% as planned, if you'll do whatever he'll ask you to do, at your wedding, he'll probably be able to take a few good pictures of your wedding! Maybe not hundreds, and maybe not the most important moments but well, at least, if he'll do all his efforts, he'll archive a discreet result.. based on his style, and his own experiences as a photographer, of course.
The point is, there's no wedding which is happening 100% as planned, not even one is exactly on time, exactly stress free, and everything is happening so smooth as it was planned!
So, I'll write you here a bunch of simple "tips" (that’s all they are) wishing that they would lead you to take better pictures, as an amateur photographer, during your first wedding as a photographer.. still, do not underestimate the huge responsibility you're going to take. Most of the people is going to be married only once in their life, if you don't feel 100% confident you're going to handle this, say it to them, clearly, and just recommend them to hire a professional!
If you really have to, another option, is to hire a professional, and during the wedding day, ask him/her to be his/her second shooter, and to do as he/she'll tell you to do, you’ll feeling safer and you’ll have wedding pictures for your portfolio too!
If you’re still reading, well, there's no other option than to do it by yourself, so here are a few tips.
“Photography has nothing to do with cameras.” – Lucas Gentry
Despite what Gentry said, I say first of all, the gears. I do not want to be technical or writing a lot about lenses or about which is the best brand between Nikon, Canon and Sony, just take two pairs of everything. It’s because in the case the first one will have some kind of issues, or worse, if it will be broken (it happen!), you won't be able to do your duty. You will be not able to take any pictures, and they won't have any memories. Two cameras. Two flashes. Two packages of extra batteries. Two of everything. Even two jackets or trousers, for the same reason. Just, trust me on this one, it happen.
“Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.” – Peter Adams
Stay far from the centre of attention, don’t stay too close to them, at leat a few meters, all day long try to stay on the side. As you're a friend or a relative, you'll be tempted to be part of the joy, of the fun, just do not, yet. In particular during the ceremony, do not wander around the church/venue at all. Choose a spot or two, and take as many pictures as possible from there. Only during the rings exchange you'll be allowed to go closer. It's not just for the couple, walking around the venue, you'll take the attention of the guests, from the priest/celebrant who's talking about them. The less they'll notice you, the better. The people who’s hiring it’s because of my personality. My style and personality match, so they know they’re getting candid pictures, and a genuine style.
“I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.” – Diane Arbus
Everything you'll see, every single detail, they choose it and they paid for it. They want to remember about it. Take pictures of every single thing which is somehow wedding related.
If you're a friend or a relative, this should come easier for you. Focus on the people. Try to understand who's closer to them. Who care for them and vice versa. Don't take pictures of the people that you like but the ones that they care for, if possible while they're smiling. That would help a lot.
“There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.” – Robert Frank
Try to know every detail of the logistics and of the "plan of the day". Ask to the couple about it, just a few days before of the wedding, so there are less chances of a last minute change of the plan. Try to be sure about what they will do and when they will do it. Scout the location, if possible and ask them at what time they will leave their flat (or the hotel's room) to go to the ceremony. How they will go there. How many guests will attend the ceremony and how many the reception. At what time the ceremony will start and finish and where they will stand during the ceremony. At what time they'll arrive to the reception and the dinner will be served. If and how long the speeches will be. Try to figure out, in advance, which would be the amount of available light and which the best spot, to have the best point of view.
Last but not least: “Don’t pack up your camera until you’ve left the location.” – Joe McNally
As far as you’re there, something may happen that worth to be chased, and captured. You don’t want to miss the cake cutting, the first dance or the bouquet toss just because your camera is already inside of the bag. Pack up only when you’re really, really leaving.
“It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter.” – Alfred Eisenstaedt
As I was reading somewhere, a good wedding photographer take a lot of good pictures during a normal wedding. A great wedding photographer, take a lot of amazing pictures even in the worst scenario.
I wrote all the first recommendations that come across my mind and I'm sure there are many more, but I guess it's already enough for an amateur photographer to read and learn. Comments and critics are always very welcome.