Last year, I got a call from a couple of old friends who were about to get married. A simple beach ceremony, they said, strictly casual. And no pressure or anything, but would I like to take the photos?

Reasons to be fearful

For most people, the day they marry is the most significant event of their lives, and one that, all going to plan, they won’t repeat. The pressure on the couple’s photographer is huge: You only get one chance to capture the full scale of the event, from the key elements of the ceremony to the spontaneous moments that occur when families get together to celebrate.

But nerves are good as long as you don’t let them rule your day. Things happen so quickly that you soon forget to worry, and the free-flowing adrenalin means you’re likely to be on top of your game at all times.

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Prior preparation

I’m instinctively more of a finder of images than a planner, but I knew I couldn’t rely on a gaggle of wedding guests to arrange themselves into photogenic formations. Casual folks though my friends may be, they wanted the obligatory group snaps for the family, so I combed the Web to see how the best wedding photographers set up their subjects. Some of it was out of my league—I wasn’t prepared to hire elaborate lighting rigs—but I picked up some great tips, such as arranging the family into a rough triangle shape behind the bride and groom, and shooting group portraits from a high angle.

Frozen in time: Getting the perfect wedding shot can be tough.

Third, I arrived at the ceremony site two days before the wedding and scouted several great backdrops, including a romantically situated lifeguard hut overlooking the beach. After much schmoozing, I convinced the burly lifesaver boys to let me use it.

The best-laid plans

With this degree of preparation, you should be able to forget most of your worries and concentrate on enjoying the moment. But nature doesn’t always let us have our own way.

As fate would have it, the morning of the wedding came with gales and lashing rain, and all plans went out the window as the romantic ceremony on the lawn swiftly became an inside affair. Fortunately the room had huge windows so I could shoot using mostly natural light, and the rain brought an unexpected benefit. The entire wedding party being trapped inside, it was easy to pull them all together for the potentially complicated group shot.

The fact that the bride and groom were old friends allowed me to capture the essence of their big day in a way that a hired wedding pro might have found difficult to match. And the shots I scored at the end of the afternoon, when the sun finally granted us a brief and spectacular light show of rainbows arching across the churning sea, made every moment of my preparation worthwhile.

David Stott is a photographer based in Australia. Write to us at