I know the Internet is littered with blog and forum posts all answering this question, but my answer is a bit different than most others, which is why I felt the need to write about it.
Upon getting your first dSLR, there is a good chance you’ll get asked by to shoot their wedding because they’ve seen you with a “big-fancy-camera.”
Wedding are super expensive, so with reason, couples try to cut corners, which is why you got asked. I don’t mean to offend anyone, but if they had an extra few grand sitting around, they would have hired a seasoned professional. The decision is up to you, but here is my opinion.
1) Fast glass is an absolute must. If you don’t know what “fast glass” is, then you should decline their request. In my opinion, and most agree, fast glass is f2.8 or faster. At your next wedding, look around for the bride’s uncle with his dSLR and kit lens. Every time he attempts to lock focus, his on-board flash pops up, because his lens is to slow. The results he gets are no different than a $200 compact digital camera.
If you don’t have fast glass, you’ll need some. You can go with a zoom lens or a fixed-focal-length (prime) lens. There are professionals that shoot with either or. I however skipped the midrange zoom and used my funds for a nice collection of primes. I am a sucker for sharpness, contrast and the depth of field that a prime has to offer.
People say that zoom lenses offer versatility, but I consider versatility subjective. I most always shoot with my aperture a half-stop slower than the lens is capable of. For example, I usually have my 35mm f1.4 set to f2.0 due to an increase in sharpness. Therefor, when shooting a f2.8 zoom, I might find myself in the F4 range, to slow for a wedding. I would much rather move back and forth with my feet and achieve a 1/40th shutter speed than be able to stand still at 1/20th. You’ll see great amounts of lens/motion blur with 1/20th at 70mm.
Funds may not permit a collection of L series primes, but look at the 35mm f2, 50mm f1.4, 85mm f1.8. There are all sub $400 and will shoot circles around any $1000 zoom lens. If you make a career out of photography, I can almost promise you that you’ll have a bag full of primes, so why not start early?
I do however consider the 16-35mm f2.8 and 70-200mm f2.8 a great asset to a wedding photographers bag, but I would feel completely confident in shooting an entire wedding with a 35mm and 85mm prime.
2) You need a flash. Not your on-board camera flash. Not the old Vivitar flash from your father’s camera bag. You need a flash that has a rotating head. To me, there is nothing worse than directional flash. You might as well go back to using the $200 compact digital. A good flash will let you get away with a slower lens, but is not a substitute. When fast glass and a flash bounced off the ceiling or wall are paired together, the results look fantastic.
3) Batteries and memory cards. Take your current supply and double it. You can never have enough of these.
4) If you’ve got 1, 2, 3 covered, then you can proceed to 4. I remember when a friend of mine asked me to shoot her wedding, I told her I’d think about it. I then scoured the Internet for guides and recommendations. Almost everything I read was against it. You have everything to screw up and little to gain. Here is how you screw up.
First, weddings move fast, and once it’s done, it’s done. Second, people don’t listen well. You can’t blame them, it’s a busy day. Work on your people skills and get to know the couple’s family, otherwise you’ll find yourself being a wedding organizer rather than a wedding photographer. Third, make sure you can deal with stress. Most likely something is going to go wrong. The last thing you can do is throw up your arms and walk away.
If you’ve made it this far, theres a good chance you want to take wedding photography seriously. So go for it. If I had told my friend no, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Was my first wedding shoot perfect? No, but it went darn well, because I set the right expectations and did my fair share of research to prepare myself before hand.
With that, realize that about the only thing you stand to gain from shooting this wedding is a tiny bit of confidence and a lot of humility. Experience is the best teacher. Some say that a wedding is no place to learn, but with the right judgement and preparation, you can provide ample results. If you’re still nervous, ask them to hire a different photographer that you can shadow, but realize that sooner than later, you’ll have to do it by yourself.
Some last pointers. Regardless how good of a friend they are, draw up a contract. Email me and I’ll send you mine to use. Preview the ceremony and reception venues, and bring your camera. Find a park or place to photograph wedding party pictures. The more preparation, the better.