How To Photograph A Wedding With One Photographer, One Camera, One Lens and One Flash

Sep 26, 2014

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

How To Photograph A Wedding With One Photographer, One Camera, One Lens and One Flash

Sep 26, 2014

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

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In our recent article How To Make Money As A High End Wedding Photographer, we explored the high end wedding photography market.

But, it seems that the more I am able to charge for a wedding, the more complicated and stressful wedding photography becomes.

So recently I have decided that I would like to simplify my wedding photography a bit – get back to basics – unplug if you will.

how to photograph a wedding jp danko toronto commercial photographer

In this article I will take you through my simplified approach on how to photograph a wedding with just one photographer, one camera, one lens and one strobe.

In the Beginning…

In the beginning, there was one photographer, one camera, one lens and one strobe.

Then strobe begot strobe, camera begot camera, lens begot lens and photographer begot assistants and the next thing you know, you’re walking around with three camera bodies, six off camera strobes, light stands and modifiers and an army to lug it all around for you.

The cash from high end weddings is nice, but the stress is not, so I have recently decided to try out a new bare-bones low cost / high profit wedding photography business model (more on that soon).  A big part of the profitability of this plan is making sure that my wedding photography as efficient as possible.

That means eliminating all superfluous gear that I don’t absolutely need to do a good job of photographing a wedding.

Of course, this is where we all started with wedding photography, and where a sizable portion of the budget wedding photographers still live – but now that I am an experienced photographer, I was surprised that the wedding photos I can produce with just one camera, one lens and one flash are not that much different than what I typically shoot at high end weddings with a truckload of gear.

So, I though that I would take you through my approach to wedding photography – unplugged.

How To Photograph A Wedding…

To show you my approach on how to photograph a wedding with just one photographer, one camera, one lens and one flash – I am just going to take you through a series of photos of a recent wedding (you might recognize a few of these photos from another recent post When A Guest-With-Camera Saves The Wedding Photography).

But first, my gear – I used:

I also had a collapsible reflector, a spare camera body, lens and strobe, spare batteries and my old trusty Canon G9 with me (I’ll explain that one in a bit) a 0.6 (two stop) neutral density filter, a polarizing filter, Cactus V6 wireless radio triggers and a Manfrotto lightstand.

Unplugged Wedding Photography Examples

The beginning of my wedding photography day starts with meeting the brides and bride’s maids while they are getting ready.  I split my time between photographing the girls getting their makeup and hair done to photographing the essential details – the wedding dress, shoes, jewelry, garter etc.  This is often done in a cramped hotel room with messy beds and piles of shoes, makeup, candy wrappers and cans of Red Bull laying around everywhere.

In these circumstances it can be difficult to find a good spot to create polished looking photos (just one distraction in the background ruins the whole photo), but if you spend a little time cleaning up and moving furniture, you can usually find a few good locations to set up.

These two photos were taken at 1/125, f/2.8, ISO 800, 24mm with the SB-800 on camera in TTL -2/3 and pointed straight up at the ceiling.

how to photograph a wedding jp danko toronto commercial photographer

Wedding Photography

Normally, I would also take the bride glamor shots and the bride with her bridesmaids at this point.  However, the girls were running late and this was just about the last photo I had time to take before they ran out the door to catch their limo.

After the girls left for the ceremony / reception venue, I went to meet the guys.  They were staying in the same hotel, just on a different floor.  I usually spend a couple hours with the girls, but I only need 15-30 minutes with the guys.  The great thing about the guys is that they are so reliable – they are never ready until about 15 minutes before they have to leave so there is no point getting there early.

The next two photos are just natural window light with a reflector.  Both are 1/125, f/2.8, ISO 200, but the first one is at 35mm and the second is at 70mm.  I always try to back up and zoom in as much as possible, but a lot of time the space you have to work with is limited by the room you find yourself in and the angle you have to shoot from.

Wedding Photography

Wedding Photography

On the way out to the limo, we went through the lobby of the hotel which had a pretty cool looking wall.  So I took about ten minutes to grab a quick group shot of the guys, along with each individual guy with the groom.

Both these photos are taken at 1/125, f/2.8, ISO 1600 with an on camera flash in TTL -2/3 pointed straight up at the ceiling and 28mm and 50mm respectively.

Technically speaking, this series of photos is not the greatest.  There is a ton of mismatched light going on here – overhead tungsten, circular fluorescent on the wall and my flash.  This is the danger of shooting high ISO and expecting an on camera flash to fill the shadows – because it doesn’t always work very well.

However, I was able to mostly correct the color casts in Lightroom and to a client – these photos still look great.

Wedding Photography

Wedding Photography

After racing the guy’s limo to the venue, I had about 30 minutes with the girls – which I used to take the bridal glamor shots and the bride’s maids shots that I missed earlier at the hotel.

This series of photos was taken in the coat check room at the venue.  It was about 2:00 in the afternoon and the outdoor light was horrible, not to mention that it was a lot cooler inside with the AC, so I made due with the only decent window light I could find.

Even then, this window faced south, so the light shining through the window was still pretty harsh and I had to be very careful how I photographed the bride so that the harsh window light looked like soft pretty light.

The first photo was taken at 1/60, f/2.8, ISO 800, 28mm with no flash or reflector.  I basically just overexposed the window light to produce a semi-silhouette.

Wedding Photography

Next, I moved my bride to a bench on a wall perpendicular to the window.  The bench was not in the direct line of sunshine streaming in through the window (if it was, I would have picked it up and moved it to the opposite wall).  This gave me a location with soft pretty and very directional window light to work with.

The next series of photos are just natural window light with the camera set to 1/125, f/2.8, ISO 1600 and 35mm, 35mm and 50mm respectively.

Wedding Photography

Wedding Photography

Wedding Photography

The guys arrived at the venue just as I was finishing up with the girls.  The schedule for this wedding was to do a reveal before the ceremony and get the “park” photos out of the way first – so while the guys and girls were getting a drink at the bar, I took the opportunity to photograph some of the details in the wedding hall.

Again this is just natural light at 1/60, f/2.8, ISO 1600, 50mm.

Wedding Photography

When I was able to drag the wedding party away from the bar, we went outside for a quick set of photos (again, I would normally take these after the ceremony, but this particular wedding had them scheduled before).

It was bright and sunny and near mid-day, so I was pretty limited as to what I could do outdoors.  But to give myself a little bit of artistic leeway, I used a 0.6 ND filter and a polarizing filter for all of the outdoor photos.

The neutral density filter gave me the latitude to shoot at f/2.8 to minimize the depth of field, and a polarizer really helps to make the colors pop.

This photo was taken at 1/125, f/2.8, ISO 100, 24mm with the on camera flash in manual at 1/1 and pointed straight at the wedding party.

Wedding Photography

Next, we were able to find just a teeny bit of shade beside one of the buildings, so I used that space for a few bridal romance shots and a couple traditional wedding party in a row photos too.

The next three photos are all taken at 1/60, f/2.8, ISO800, 24mm with the on camera flash set to TTL -2/3 and on a forty five degree angle for a little fill.

Wedding Photography

Wedding Photography

Wedding Photography

I finished up with the wedding party about 20 minutes before the ceremony.  Again, it was a bright sunny day in the middle of the afternoon, so the ceremony photos were taken at 1/125, f/2.8, ISO 100, with the on camera flash in manual at 1/1 and pointed straight at the subject.

I was also limited to shooting away from the sun (I will not disturb a wedding ceremony by going behind the officiant and shooting back towards the audience) which means that everything in the ceremony photos just looks bright and boring – but it was the best I could do under the circumstances.

Wedding Photography

After the ceremony, I grabbed the newlyweds and dragged them out into the vineyard for a quick set of photos.  This time I was able to shoot back towards the bright sun, which makes all of the grape vine leaves back lit and adds some nice rim light to the bride and groom.

This photo was taken at 1/250, f/4.0, ISO 400, 24mm with the on camera flash set to manual 1/2 and pointed straight at the subjects for fill light.

Wedding Photography

Next we went down to the wine cellar – which was nice and cool if not a little dirty and smelly.  Here I had to light the entire scene with a single flash, so I decided to back light my subjects for a dramatic effect on the wine barrels.

This photo was captured at 1/250, f/2.8, ISO 400, 50mm with a strobe on a light stand behind the couple and to camera right in manual at about 1/16th with the head zoomed out and pointed back towards the camera.  I wasn’t entirely happy with this photo, so I cheated by borrowing an additional flash from a wedding guest and using that too.

Wedding Photography

This was the last series of photos I did with the bride and groom.  At this point, they were pretty worn out, so even if I had time to keep going, there was no point because they were no longer feelin’ it.

So, I sent them to the bar to mingle with their guests and enjoy themselves a little before the reception began.

By now it was late afternoon with great outdoor golden hour light – but the timing just did not work out.  There was no way I would be able to convince the bride and groom to go back outside for more photos – so instead of pissing them off by trying, I knew that I already had all the shots I needed, so I left it at that.

But, since it is a known sin for photographers to let good light go to waste, I grabbed their rings and photographed them instead.

This shot was taken with just natural light, shooting into the light and exposing for the shadows at 1/125, f/2.8, ISO 800, 70mm.

Now earlier I mentioned my old Canon G9 – here is a little secret for ring shots…

I often bring my old Canon G9 point-and-shoot with me just for the ring shot.  You know the “flower mode” that you never use – aka macro – well it actually works really well for closeups and almost every point-and-shoot has “flower mode”.

However, at this particular wedding I actually forgot the battery for the G9 – so I just used the D800 and cropped the photo in.  (If I would have used the G9, I would have shot the rings quite a bit closer than this).

Wedding Photography

Next there were the dinner and speeches and then the first dance.  For the first dance, my personal preference is to set up my flash on a light stand across from my shooting location and photograph the bride and groom as a rim lit semi silhouette with the strobe flare in the frame.

This photo was taken at 1/250, f/2.8, ISO 400, 35mm with the flash set to manual mode at 1/8th.

Wedding Photography

And finally, there is the dance party.

Nothing looks worse and more guy-with-camera than photographing the reception dancing with an on camera flash in TTL.

But, no matter what you do it can be pretty hard to make a half dozen people on the dance floor with a Costco DJ light show look like a Vegas club.  My weapon of choice in these situations is to put the camera in rear-curtain sync and drag the shutter.

The results are very hit and miss and can be a little trippy, but brides generally love these types of photos because they’ve never seen anything like it and nobody else there will be taking photos that look like this with their phone cameras.

Both of these photos were taken at 2.0, f/4.0, ISO 100, 24mm with an on camera flash set to TTL -2/3.

Wedding Photography

Wedding Photography

Unplugged Wedding Versus Full Gear

In the end, what I find really interesting about taking a minimalistic approach to wedding photography is that the images that I am able to produce are not that much different than what I would normally create with all my regular gear.

It is also interesting that my approach to photographing the actually wedding is not that different either – except for the logistics of carrying around one camera bag rather than several.

But where I found the biggest efficiency is packing and unpacking gear.  Packing and unpacking a full set of gear for high end weddings is like packing for a trip to the moon – it takes a lot of time and effort compared to grabbing one camera, one lens and one flash and heading out the door.

What Is Your Minimum Gear For A Wedding?

What do you think is the minimum amount of gear to professionally photograph a wedding?

Is one photographer, one camera, one lens and one flash enough?

Leave a comment below and let us know!

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JP Danko

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

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28 responses to “How To Photograph A Wedding With One Photographer, One Camera, One Lens and One Flash”

  1. Shifty303 Avatar
    Shifty303

    You must have steady hands for all of those 1/60 shots! While not a “pro” wedding photographer (only shot 3 by myself so far), I generally use a 70-200 2.8 and 24-70 2.8 while my partner uses my Sigma 50 1.4 Art and 24-105 f4 (she only used the 50 on last wedding with great results).

    I can’t imagine shooting the reception with only a single strobe though. I generally have two set up on stands and one on each body.

    1. JP Danko Avatar
      JP Danko

      Reception and the interior of dark churches is where you get into trouble with only one strobe. Two on stands and one on each body is for sure a much better approach.

    2. Justin Haugen Avatar
      Justin Haugen

      I like to back light the dance floor with two speedlights, and then both camera bodies get an on-camera flash with a CTO orange gel. I love having a cooler rim light and a normal fill/key when I shoot the couple on the first dance.

  2. Shawn Avatar
    Shawn

    I bring 3 strobes thinking that i’ll use all of them….alas I have yet to use more than one. (It’s usually just me and if i’m lucky me and my wife.) I like this ‘back to roots’ approach. It’s not always about the gear. PS I hate the dances. Mostly because I can’t feel my feet by that time. haha

  3. Z Avatar
    Z

    Yeah – I need 2 cameras on me with the standard 24-70 / 70-200 f2.8 setup for 75% of the shots. Switch out to 50mm for about 15% (make-up, dress details, etc). A few with the 100mm macro (rings and shoes of course), and some fun stuff with the 10-22 (wedding party and reception group / dance). As to flash, I have 3. I put two up high on opposite ends (stands or shove in sconces or planters) which carry the majority of work and one in hand for detail as needed. I’m constantly moving so yes – I’m beat by the time it’s over. But I know I got a good variety of angles, all possible expressions, groups and details – and so far clients are happy – which is always a good thing! :)

    1. JP Danko Avatar
      JP Danko

      Great recommendation for a complete wedding kit – thanks for sharing.

  4. stewart norton Avatar
    stewart norton

    I shoot weddings alone I take my 12-24,24-70,70-200 and 50mm but end up taking shots 80% 24-70 and 19.999 % 70-200 if I’m lucky and get time ( ie hardly ever) I’ll get a couple of shots with the other lenses.

  5. Amelia Croft Avatar
    Amelia Croft

    This
    is the same wedding you wrote about in an article entitled “Guest with
    camera saves the wedding photography” on Sept 11th because you couldn’t
    get one of the key shots with your single strobe (https://www.diyphotography.net/guest-camera-saves-wedding…/).
    So it seems a bit rich to be doing an article two weeks later about
    the same wedding writing about the joys of working with minimal kit,
    photos the same… except the one where you had to borrow the guest’s
    strobe!

    1. Blue Eyed Guy Avatar
      Blue Eyed Guy

      Who cares. He did a better job with very little equipment than I have seen with some who carry 2-3 bags and have an assistant. I started out as a wedding photographer’s assistant and can tell you I’ve seen professionals miss shots because they couldn’t get to certain equipment (in one of their many bags) on time.

  6. Amelia Clarke Avatar
    Amelia Clarke

    This is the same wedding you wrote about in an article entitled “Guest with camera saves the wedding photography” on Sept 11th because you couldn’t get one of the key shots with your single strobe (https://www.diyphotography.net/guest-camera-saves-wedding-photography/). So it seems a bit rich to be doing an article two weeks later about the same wedding writing about the joys of working with minimal kit, photos the same… except the one where you had to borrow the guest’s strobe!

  7. Lanthus Clark Avatar
    Lanthus Clark

    I photographed a wedding with just a Nikon f801s and a 50mm f1.8 lens one time… long ago. Those are still some of the nicest wedding photographs in my portfolio.

  8. Sébastien Roignant Avatar
    Sébastien Roignant

    A 24-70 is not what I call “one lens” …
    What you did with this wedding, 98% of photographers do that every saturday.
    Not a real challenge. Or maybe a challenge for a photographer who is used to very very big and richs weddings …

  9. DPiMages Avatar
    DPiMages

    How do you take those last 2 pics without the subject in blur?

    1. JP Danko Avatar
      JP Danko

      You need a flash – can be on camera or not. Set your camera’s flash control to ‘rear curtain sync’ so your flash will fire at the end of your exposure, not the beginning (default). Next set your exposure for the ambient with a relatively long shutter speed. Now the ambient light will burn in with some motion as you move and the scene changes – but then when the flash fires at the end of the exposure, the pop of light freezes the subject at that split second.

      1. DPiMages Avatar
        DPiMages

        Thanks, will try it tonight. Thanks for the speedy reply.

  10. Amaryllis Avatar
    Amaryllis

    All those grumpy people… seriously, instead of ranting, try making a GOOD article yourself. We’ll see if you can do anything to begin with.

    This said, I actually really like those shots. Considering the full sun and harsh light, they’re great. I always carry around a compact camera too (a Canon S110), but that’s just because I only use my 50mm on my DSLR ~

    And for those who aren’t happy about this article, just know that it’s not everyone who can actually do these. Writing about a personal experience is a great way to let people know about what can be done. Maybe you did it, but if the writer didn’t, they can share it. I’ve never ever done wedding photography before (nor even attended a wedding to begin with), so this made me know that it’s not everyone who just leaves with a huge wallet full of photo gear.

  11. ash Avatar
    ash

    You inspired me, JP. Thanks a lot for wonderful insights. This has shed off quite a few myths for a beginner like me who keeps seeing these mighty weapons called camera gear wondering if there was any other approach to getting good pics. You answered it. Thanks again.

    1. Rose Avatar
      Rose

      What about the makeup worn by the wedding guests and the bride? Are there any tips to share? Found some info online such as on https://cellregenerate.com/best-foundation-for-flash-photography/ but I am looking into this aspect as well, to be able to recommend them something.

  12. PhotoHawaii Avatar
    PhotoHawaii

    Really, what’s the big deal ? . . . we do 130 weddings a year basically this same way . . . Nikon D800, 28-300 lens . . . we do often use two flashes, one on camera and one mounted on tripod (because more stable in the wind) . . . but that’s the most complicated we get . . . results at . . . http://www.photohawaii.com

  13. Andrew Avatar
    Andrew

    This is what most of us do on most weddings, some great shots though… Envisionimages.co.uk

  14. Idalia Avatar
    Idalia

    I’m starting my photography it’s been about 2-3 months and 2 of my friends are getting married and they want me to take the pictures. I’m just in sure of what stuff I need. I have a cannon EOS. Please help me!!

  15. Lyn Avatar
    Lyn

    I have a Canon Powershot SX40HS. I took some photos at my cousin’s bridal shower and now she has asked me to take photos at her reception. I am NOT a professional photographer. lots of times my phots are blurry..and I am worried they will be dark at the reception. I have no other camera equipment. The photos will not be photo shopped or touched up. basically I will take them and give her the SD card. (after deleting the bad ones) anyone have any helpful tips or advise? I am not looking to do professional pictures…would just like to take some good ones for her. Thank you!!!

  16. Chris Parker Avatar
    Chris Parker

    I don’t recommend any wedding photography pro’s to shoot with 1 camera, 1 lens, 1 flash,etc.. What happens when your camera gear accidentally falls out of your camera bag, crashes to the ground and destroys your “1” lens – true story, happened to me. Luckily I didn’t have “1” lens. How about when your “gear” is knocked over, on your tripod, while shooting family pics? Only to find out that your “1” flash is busted beyond repair! Happened to me too. But, I carry no less then 3 of everything. 3 cameras (sometimes 4), depending on the gig – 6-8 lenses, 3 flashes, a dozen media cards and much more. Very irresponsible to promote “1” of each gear. https://parkerphotographic.com/1000-free-lightroom-presets/

  17. Charles Avatar
    Charles

    I think it is doable but I wouldn’t recommend only 1 of everything. If that is all you have then cool but hopefully people are in an area that they can rent additional equipment. I think in terms of from the client view that if one person can do it they don’t care but as a professional photographer YOU know what all could happen/go wrong and that is were it is too risky (I think) to chance a wedding with only 1 camera and 1 lens.

  18. Alden Avatar
    Alden

    Thanks for sharing this article I’m doing photos and video for a wedding this Saturday and I only have one camera two lenses and just the built- in-flash plus two iPhones to capture the video part
    I have developed my own photoshop technique so I’m confident that I can produce acceptable photos. Even just with my iphones. ?

  19. Shaadismart Avatar
    Shaadismart

    Very useful blog for photographer. When i was searching for photographer this blog and shaadismart helped me to find out the best photographer in my budget you may visit them :- https://www.shaadismart.com

  20. Sara Roberts Avatar
    Sara Roberts

    Great description of your shooting methods, JP! It is surprising to see the event details come out alive with just a single flash, and the 24-70 mm lens. With Nikon D800 in full glory. The natural light photos have come out great too.

  21. Anna Smith Avatar
    Anna Smith

    Invest in a off camera flash bracket they are expensive but will make your photos 10 times better (controlling the shadow).