Feature Image by: Ryan Schembri, Canon Master

Wedding Photography Tips with Ryan Schembri

22nd August 2017

Canon Master Ryan Schembri has been a professional wedding photographer for over 16 years and has travelled the globe capturing couples’ most important days. Here he shares his wedding photography tips on everything from his equipment checklist to the camera settings and techniques he uses when photographing weddings.

"Weddings present, to me, the ultimate challenge: to combine all different facets of photography on one day, at one time. And the overhanging pressure of this is only going to be once, there's no going back and doing it tomorrow."

Whether you’re just getting into photography and want to take better photos of your family and friends’ weddings, or a passionate enthusiast looking for advice on how to become a professional wedding photographer, this guide will run you through everything you need to know.

Bride and father outside home photo by Canon Master Ryan Schembri
Aperture f/2.8, ISO-640, 1/2500 sec

Wedding Photography Equipment Checklist

There’s no getting away from the fact that photographing weddings is one of the most challenging tasks a photographer can undertake. You only get one shot at capturing those all-important moments, so it’s essential to make sure you have every piece of gear you might need, and to know exactly where it is at the drop of a hat.

Ryan’s wedding photography gear checklist includes a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II camera, which he pairs with a variety of different lenses depending on the scenario.

Bridesmaids outside church photo by Canon Master Ryan Schembri
Aperture f/2.8, ISO-640, 1/8000 sec

Wedding photography lenses: If you’re just starting out then feel free to stick with whatever lens you are most comfortable with, whether it’s the kit lens that came with your camera or perhaps a fixed 35mm or 50mm lens. But if you’re interested in stepping up your game, you’ll probably be quite keen to take a peek inside Ryan’s camera bag.

Ryan says that one of the main challenges he faces when photographing wedding days is that “there are so many people to navigate around.” This makes it doubly important for a pro photographer to have the right lenses at hand, to ensure the moments that matter most are captured for the bride and groom.

“The most important thing I've learnt in photography in general, over the last twenty years, is to follow light. Light is everything. If you can see light and you can follow it, then you can create.”

B&W image pf bride photo by Canon Master Ryan Schembri
Aperture f/3.5, ISO-250, 1/250 sec

Ryan’s all-round default lens is a 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens, which enables him to take awesome wedding photos whether he needs to get right up close to his subjects or zoom in from a distance. If there was one lens he would recommend for your kit, it would be this one.

When he’s in particularly tight and up close situations, Ryan uses a super wide 16-35mm f/2.8 zoom lens, which allows him to capture as much as possible in the frame, even when he is surrounded by people or in tight spaces where he can’t easily position himself.

When it comes to shooting the finer details of the wedding, such as macro details of rings, jewellery, perfume, wedding dresses and shoes, Ryan uses a 100mm macro lens.   

Diamond wedding ring photo by Canon Master Ryan Schembri
Aperture f/5, ISO-4000, 1/100 sec 

In low light conditions, such as wedding parties or dancefloor shoots, Ryan relies on his 50mm f/1.2 and 85mm f/1.2 lenses. The low aperture on these lenses really let in as much light as possible to capture the image. 

Ryan also mentions that his absolute favourite lens for shooting weddings is his 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom lens, which he likes using to crop in really tightly and to eliminate objects that are not crucial to the scene. This is a great lens to get up close to the bride and groom when they are saying their wedding vows, for example, or for other intimate moments where, as a photographer, you don’t want to interfere in any way.

Bride and father photo by Canon Master Ryan Schembri
Aperture f/2.8, ISO-640, 1/500 sec

As well as his particularly comprehensive set of lenses, Ryan’s camera bag also holds a 600EX II RT speedlight with a remote trigger, which he says allows him to take the flash off-camera and get really interesting light. 

B&W bride and groom dancing
Using a speedlight to create new sources of light. Aperture f/8, ISO-3200, 1/125 sec

Wedding Photography Camera Settings

As a wedding photographer, your main challenge is trying to constantly adapt to the different light levels as you move from venue to venue. You may start the day at the bride’s house, before moving to the wedding ceremony venue where you will need to take photos outdoors and indoors. Later in the day you will likely have to contend with low levels of light, paired with bright neon lights and wedding guests moving around quickly as they dance and celebrate the night away.

Bride and groom walking out to reception
Aperture f/3.2, ISO-1600, 1/100 sec

To tackle the wide variations of lighting conditions, it’s best to shoot in manual mode. This is especially important when photographing outdoor weddings and weddings at the beach, which can be particularly challenging if you have to shoot in the middle of the day, when you’ll likely have to deal with harsh light.

Wedding Photography Posing Ideas

Though wedding photography comes with the challenge of having to capture all of your shots in just one day, there is one major advantage over other types of photography. Unlike street photographers, nature photographers and concert photographers, wedding photographers are able to direct their subjects and influence their poses. The key to getting most from your subjects during a wedding photography shoot, whether you’re photographing the bride and groom, bridesmaids, groomsmen, family or friends, is to foster rapport. 

“For me, building rapport with my subjects is key in order to bring that emotion through the photograph. I think my job is 95% people and 5% photography skill.”

While shooting at the bride's house before the wedding, Ryan notices good light on a mannequin, which he describes is "a perfect setup". Ryan communicates with the bride and positions her in the exact same spot, resulting in a gorgeous photograph that captures the ethereal elegance of the bride’s wedding gown.

Reflection of bride photo by Canon Master Ryan Schembri
Aperture f/3.5, ISO-4000, 1/250 sec

It’s important to have a vision of what you would like to guide you through the shoot. As Ryan explains, "My approach to portrait imagery is, I want to think about it in a way that, if I was the groom looking back at the bride, how would I want to look at her."

As a wedding photographer, you are liberated to move objects and props around as you wish. Discussing how he approaches detailed shots, Ryan says that, "It's very simple. I need to show what's important to the bride. Things like shoes, rings, earrings."

He also encourages wedding photographers to consider the details that may not initially seem so obvious, like the flowers, for example, which Ryan says help to capture a story that will last forever.    

Capturing wedding dress details
Capturing wedding dress details

More Creative Wedding Photography Ideas

When coming up with outdoor wedding photography ideas and shoot locations, Ryan chooses a spot that may not at first seem all that obvious. He chooses a location with a large tunnel in Sydney, explaining that it "cuts the light."

Bride and groom under veil
Aperture f/1.4, ISO-320, 1/125 sec

Shooting against a natural stone wall lit beautifully by soft light bouncing off a large building opposite it, Ryan talks about what he looks for when seeking out light. “The light that I try and always go to is something that has a little bit of direction,” he says, “but gives us that softness, that glow to an image."

Veil flowing in breeze photo by Canon Master Ryan Schembri
Aperture f/4, ISO-2000, 1/160 sec

When shooting indoors at the wedding ceremony, where Ryan has to work with the light provided by the space, he places his phone below the lens of his camera to create a reflection point and fill the area of the image. "It gives me more in the shot and gives it a creative feel as well,” he explains.

bride and groom photo by Canon Master Ryan Schembri
Aperture f/2.8, ISO-1250, 1/160 sec

These unique wedding photography ideas can also be used when photographing bridal parties, or when doing group shots of family members, friends, bridesmaids and groomsmen.  

"For me what makes a spectacular photograph has to be first and foremost the light."

If the light is good, we can craft everything else around it. Photography has rules. If we follow rules of light, rules of pose, rules of composition, then we can get creative in terms of how that actual image is read. What's the emotion behind that image? If we can marry the rules and the emotion, then we have a spectacular looking photo.”

Bride and groom dancing in fog photo by Canon Master Ryan Schembri
Aperture f/4, ISO-1250, 1/250 sec

To see more of Ryan's wedding photography follow him @ryanschembri

Get inspired and learn more with these tips