After more than 9 years shooting weddings as a professional, and now turning it part-time as I'm pursuing other artistic projects, I have these simple but yet important keys to leave behind for all interested in shooting weddings, whether part-time or full time.
Some snap-shooting is definitely necessary at certain times when action and movement are happening quickly BUT that does not rule out "PREVISUALIZATION", which is still the basic discipline in outstanding photography.
I always crop my shots before I press the trigger, make full use of whichever camera format I use edge to edge, frame my shots with a concept in mind, decide whether to stop down my aperture, whether to use a slow shutter speed to depict movement, etc. before I ever point my camera at my subjects. A weak composition is a weak composition, no matter how you crop it afterwards.
2. Quick Thinking
I personally find it stupid, to use "Manual" mode if your camera has "Aperture Priority" and "Shutter Priority". I only use "M" when I shoot with my Nikon FM2, Bronica SQA, Leica M6 or Sinar F, when I'm given no choice. C'mon guys... we are on the move in weddings, we are photojournalists, we need to be super-quick, and all the modern cameras since Nikon FE days already have "A" mode to help us cut down one step in thinking so we can concentrate better on framing our shots! And not-to-mention the advanced "Matrix Metering" by Nikon and "Evaluative Metering" by Canon.
BUT please please, don't set your camera to multiple-shot mode and start spraying throughout the day like an insect repellent! Although, today's "Repellent Shooters" do win multiple awards from associations like WPJA. It's QUESTIONABLE how much do we really take pride in our works. A retail salesgirl in Japan probably takes more pride in her job than most of our local wedding "professionals".
3. Advance Planning
Always plan 2-3 steps ahead of whatever that's gonna happen next. Example: Be at the gate before the bridal car arrives, enter the house before the groom enters, be at the car when the bride gets out of the car at church, etc. We've gotta plan our shots. Conceptualize our shots. String up the whole event well with minimum "missing links". All these come with experience. Never rely on 2nd and 3rd shooters assisting you entirely. Ask yourself the question: "If there's no 2nd and 3rd shooters, can you deliver?"
Also, if you are used to shooting with 2 cameras, ask yourself, "If one camera fail, can you still deliver?" And we are talking about delivering a similarly good job. I have been shooting alone in this career for more than 7 years. It's only about 2 years ago, I started using 2nd shooters to kickstart my teaching career.
4. Some Choreographing
You can't shoot a wedding like a dumb person. We need to communicate. We need to get along, get into the environment and blend in, celebrate the event like a part of the family, enjoy, and no matter how troubled you can be on the day due to whatever reasons (once, I had the saddest day of my life when my dog has gone to heaven), SMILE!
A smile gets your subjects to reciprocate. A smile starts a conversation. A smile makes you get the shot you want.
See a piece of tissue paper in the background? Get rid of it. Some idiots will still shoot it with their F1.2 or F1.4 aperture hoping to blur it, but I'm telling you, it doesn't work that way. You can still see a nice blurry dirty tissue paper.
Some annoying video cameraman gets in your way? Don't fight. It pays if you have greeted him in the morning when you first met him. Tap him gently on the shoulder to let him know you are going in for your shot and do it quick, step out of it. Remember, you are a professional, you are supposed to get your shot precise and quick.
As photojournalists, MINIMUM CHOREOGRAPHING PLEASE!!!
You spoil the mood when you point a video light at someone, miss a shot and ask the bride to pose for you again(especially when you take your own sweet time getting the shot). Even if you badly need to ask the bride to pose a little for you, do it in less than 3 seconds please. The longer you drag, the more you spoil the mood.
You also will spoil the mood when you talk too much.
We should be good secret agents, blended in the midst of the wedding crowd, choreograph only when necessary, shoot without being obtrusive, absolutely likeable among the crowd.
I'm often being asked,"Are you a friend of the couple? Are you doing this for a living?" Ha ha.. :) Instead of feeling offended, I feel so delighted. My standard reply,"Oh yes, I know the couple, I am asked to cover the event.. with a big smile :)" - My "secret agent mission" successful. Confidence should come from the end-results-your works! NOT your super-huge "L" lenses or camera bodies.
Lastly, for all interested in taking lessons from me, I do it in a "NON-CLASSROOM" environment, casual and practical, results-oriented personal style. I've just finished a course on wedding photojournalism, and into my 4th batch of Basic Course.