Let me start this off with a sincere apology to the professional wedding photographers. I'll be the first to admit that you are among the large number of pros who regularly lose work because someone had a friend with a camera. The unfortunate fact is that there are too many couples that simply can't afford expensive weddings and as long as there's a friend or family member with a camera, the photographer is one of the first expenses that's reduced or eliminated. It may not be fair, but it's a fact we all have to deal with.
With that out of the way, I'm now going to address those friends and family members that are called upon to fill that gap. If you have a DSLR and people enjoy your photos, chances are good that you're eventually going to be asked to shoot someone's wedding. It's a double-edged sword; you're probably flattered that they thought of you, but it's a lot of work and a lot of pressure. It's a decision you shouldn't make lightly, especially if they're asking you to do it for free or offering to “cover your expenses.”
If you've been asked, thought it over and agreed, then this guide is for you. Assuming you know your equipment well and have the skills for the job, following these steps should help you get through it and deliver a package you and your “clients” will be proud of.
Define the terms, including payment. Even if you're not being paid, there are a few things that should be made clear before you agree to do the job. It needs to be established that if you are the photographer, there's a certain amount of authority that goes with the responsibility. Wedding guests will need to be asked not to block your view and they should refrain from using flashes, to avoid ruining your shots. You should also insist on keeping copies of all shots to use in your own portfolio. These issues and any others should be worked out with the couple before things move ahead.
Make a clear plan. Once you've established the terms, the next step is to sit down with the couple and build the list of specific shots they want. Have them look through some wedding magazines. In most cases, the couple will already have some classic shots in mind. Make a list and memorize it before the ceremony. Offer your own suggestions and remember those little detail shots of the rings, bouquet, etc. Don't forget to find out if they want a “trash the dress” session.
Consider a second shooter. If you have a friend that's good with their own gear, think about recruiting them to help. He/she can shoot the candid shots while you're concentrating on the formal shots or vice-versa. This may also let you move around less during the ceremony.
Get to know the locations. Get access to the location of the ceremony and the reception. Scout them carefully and determine where you're going to need to be during each step of the event. You're going to want to make sure those locations are reserved for you on the big day. Bring your camera along and set up the lighting conditions that will be used. Find out whether you'll be able to use your flash and if so, be sure to diffuse it. Take some test shots so you can determine the exposure settings and work out any “bugs”.
Use two cameras. Swapping lenses in the middle of an event can mean missing the best shots. Borrow or rent a second body for the event and keep a long lens on one and the wide angle on the other. Rather than fight with two straps, invest in a Spider Holster rig for one or both cameras. You'll be faster on the draw and less fatigued.
Attend the rehearsal. Being there while the couple walks through the ceremony will help you map out your movements, too. Work out the best times to change your position without interfering with the proceedings. It's also a good opportunity for the wedding party to get to know you and to let them know exactly what to expect from you during the nuptials.
Recruit the help of a family member. Every wedding has at least one family member that wants to be in charge of something. Ask for a volunteer to help gather people for the various group shots on the day of the wedding. That lets you focus on the sots and moves things along more quickly.
SHOOT RAW! If you're one of those photographers who doesn't like the big file sizes and extra processing associated with RAW files, this is one time that you need to bite the bullet and set your camera to save RAW files. Don't risk having blown shots during something that's this important to your clients. Most modern DSLR cameras will let you shoot in dual mode, so you'll still have files that you can show at the reception.
Make sure you have plenty of charged batteries and memory cards on hand. This shouldn't require any explanation.
Switch to continuous shooting mode. This may not be necessary during the posed group shots, but during the ceremony and reception, shooting bursts of 3 or so shots can help ensure that you capture the perfect moments. Anticipate the moment and fire through it.
Take as many group shots as possible before the ceremony. Everyone is fresher and more patient before the wedding. Afterward, everyone is anxious to congratulate the couple and get to the reception. You can have the newly married couple stick around after the ceremony for formal shots of the two of them while the guests are gathering at the reception site.
During the reception, be assertive, but not pushy. Remember that the serious stuff is done and everyone is ready to cut loose and celebrate. Blend in, have a good time yourself and keep the cameras clicking. (That Spider Holster is going to come in really handy here, too; you're going to want easy access to both cameras without having one banging around on your chest.) Avoid embarrassing shots. Chances are some guests are going to have too much fun and those moments don't need to be recorded.
Follow through after the day. Don't simply give your memory cards to the happy couple and let them handle printing, etc. Letting someone you don't know handle printing and processing is a great way to make sure you never get a second wedding job. At the very least, do your own culling and post processing before you allow them to be printed. Make sure you and your “clients” are going to be happy with the results.
This list is intentionally very basic. Each wedding is and should be unique and will provide unique challenges for the photographer. Start with these steps and work out your own details. Who knows? You might even find yourself on the road to a new career!