If you have a relative or friend who's planning on getting married and they know that you own a camera, you might be asked to take some candid shots to supplement the pictures taken by the professional photographer, or maybe you'd just like a set of photos for yourself. You won't want to miss anything, so you'll want to start shooting at the beginning.
Okay, so when does the wedding begin? If you're a casual acquaintance or pretty good friend, it probably starts at the beginning of the ceremony. But if you're a very good friend or close relative, you'll want to get a few casual shots during some of the preliminary activities.
A good place to begin is with the bridal shower. It usually isn't necessary to take a lot of pictures, but a few shots will be nice as reminders of the occasion. Possibilities include the bride-to-be with the hostess, with her attendants, mingling with the guests and opening a few gifts. Take enough informal shots of the guests so that you'll be sure of including every guest at least once. If the prospective groom attends, you'll want a picture of the couple together.
One of the more informal occasions is the bachelor party. It's usually not necessary (and often not wise) to take your best camera to this event. A smart option is to pick up one or two single-use cameras. They're inexpensive, small and easy to use. Be sure to get those with built-in flash.
A recent alternative to the bachelor party is a groom's shower. It's similar to the bridal shower, but instead of things for the kitchen, he receives tools and/or other items that can be used around the house. Use the same picture-taking approach as that suggested for the bridal shower.
When the big day arrives, you'll want to be prepared, even if you're not the primary photographer. Be sure to have batteries in your camera that you know will not run out of power. If you're in doubt, pick up replacements. If your flash unit takes separate batteries, be sure that they are fresh, and carry a spare set just in case. I know of instances in which the batteries gave out, and spares were not available (at one wedding, I was able to provide the primary photographer with a set of spare batteries that I had brought along).
If you're shooting film, you'll also want more film than you'll need. Try to calculate the number of pictures you think you'll want to take, and triple it. From that you can calculate the number of rolls of film you should have with you. If you're into digital photography, have enough storage space available that you can safely take everything at the highest quality setting. You never know who might want reprints. Also make sure that the camera's batteries are charged up.
At the church, there might be a few opportunities for pictures before the ceremony begins. But remember the cardinal rule of wedding photography: Never compete with the primary photographer. If he or she is taking pictures of the bride in her dressing room with her attendants attending, you might want to take a few grab shots, but wait until the professional is finished so you're not competing for the attention of the bridal party. This also goes for any other pictures you might want.
While the professional is taking pictures of the bride with her attendants, you might want to look around for other picture-taking opportunities. Oh, and don't forget the other half, the groom. You might want a few informal shots of him with his best man and other male friends. Go for some fun shots, but when the primary photographer shows up, turn the picture-taking over to him or her.
When the guests start arriving, you might want a few shots as they greet each other. If there is a registry book and an attendant at the entrance, this is another good picture-taking opportunity. The registry attendant is as much a part of the wedding party as the groom; well, maybe not quite.
More wedding photo ideas and suggestions next time.