Well, I've done a couple of wedding shoots as an unpaid amateur and so far I am still friends with all the couples. so it can be done, but never the less it WILL be stressful.
I've written a small journal about doing wedding photography as a non-pro: http://christophmaier.deviantart.com/journal/Wedding-Photography-243847778
(If you are a deviantArt member comments are highly welcome) For all those not being part of deviantArt here is the journal. It's not so much a technical description but more of a bunch of overall tings to keep in mind. Might still be of use for you.1) Expectations of the couple:
Does the couple want professional pictures without paying the price? There is a reason why pro wedding photographers are expensive. You don't get any do-overs, no 'smile-agains' and certainly no 'lets-say-our-vows-agains'. If you miss a special event it's gone, period. Being a non-pro will most likely mean you'll miss on some things, or wont be able to capture some perfectly, that's why you do it for free (or at least much less than any pro would). If they know this and you feel that they truly understand this you are good to proceed. Now a lot of folks will tell you differently, but I have done 6 weddings now and all of them were satisfied with my work even though it was far from professional. They all knew what they were getting into when choosing me and I believed them when they said so. (Note, there are some weddings that I would not do because I know those folks just have different standards) Also, make sure you get a list from them of all the must-have events and people. Carry that list with you and cross things off as you go.2) Equipment:
Make sure you have plenty of backup. Two bodies are an absolute must. You do not want to show up on a wedding and have your gear fail halfway through the show. Plus it's always good to have two bodies with different lenses available. The less you change lenses the more pictures you'll be able to take. (And the less danger of breaking something while juggling two lenses and a body without any place to put anything down) also, multiple memory cards are a must and it goes without saying that each body should have at least one spare battery. (And all of them should be charged the night before) You should also have at least one flash with plenty of batteries as well. I would also recommend to have a tripod ready and to make use of a second flash. Depending on the location and shooting you want to do you might want to consider a spare set of clothes as well. Sometimes you'll have to work in a field, kneel or lay down in order to get a good shot. Always good to have something else to change into then.3) Location:
Check it out beforehand. Where is it exactly, where can you park your car and how far do you have to carry around your gear. Will there be lot's of indoor or more outdoor shooting. Where would be a good place for a group shot (make sure you know how many guests are expected) Where are some good spots for family photos (bride and groom plus parents, plus brides maids, only parents, only brides maids, etc) And where are some good locations to have some special photos taken of just the couple. (Made a lovely shot with a couple walking away from me through a wine-field and then running towards me for example) If possible try to find at least some time where you and the couple is alone. (Either before the ceremony or maybe between the ceremony and the reception)4) Guest list:
Get a guest list beforehand and make sure you know who are the important people besides the couple. (Family, extended family, special guests) Try to get at least one shot of every guest. (See 'Guest book' for some advice on that) Have a long lens to make 'sneaky' pictures of people. The best portraits on events like that are done when people do not see you taking the picture.5) Special Events:
Contact the best man and maid of honor to see if and what special events are planned. (Fireworks, surprise band, letting go balloons, etc) The couple will not necessarily know all the events that will need to be photographed and you might need to do some special preparations as well.6) Guest book:
This is something I've done a couple of times and that has been very well received. It also helps immensely with keeping track of who has already been photographed as well. Get a small picture printer (Canon Selphy is my choice) and set it up somewhere on the main location. Get an empty picture frame and photograph everybody while they hold the frame. (Do try to do small groups like couples, work colleagues, families etc) Print out the photo and hand it to them together with the guest book. Idea is that they stick the photo into the book and write their wishes to the couple. Have the guest list ready and make sure people mark it when they've done it. Be aware though that you can't do this alone! You'll be busy photographing everything else, but since those pics don't need to be of the best quality it can be handed down to someone else. A good bet would be some close friends of the couple or maybe some relatives. (Cousins are a good choice as well) Do make sure that they know how to use a camera though. (Ask around in advance, but there's a good bet you'll find plenty of people glad to help and there's no need that only one person does it) This is a wonderful present to give the couple right after the wedding to take to the honeymoon.7) Work:
Don't take the job lightly. Photographing a wedding is a lot of work. Not only is it stressful but it's also physically demanding. You will carry around a lot of gear throughout the day and you will do a lot or running around as well. Once I did a shoot outside for several hours in 38°C (100.4 ºF) Since I had to take pictures of all the folks standing in the shade I ended up standing in the sun a lot. (Luckily I had a hotel room there so I was able to change and shower during the day) So be prepared for that. Also make sure you get some food before everything start because chances are that you will not have a lot of time to eat during the event. And last but not least there will be the post-processing. Simply sifting through your images to see what is good and what is bad might take a while and then editing whatever picture you want to use will take an even longer time. Make sure you either have some free days right after the event or prepare the couple that they might need to wait a while until they see the final product. (Once I shot a wedding in both RAW and JPG and transferred all JPGs to the grooms laptop after the wedding to give them an idea of what to expect once I was done) If you regularly do a lot of pictures you might also look into something like Adobe Lightroom (or Aperture if you are a Mac user). It will let you mass edit and process photos very easily. I don't personally use it, but then I don't shoot weddings that often. It can be a real time saver though! Church wedding
Should there be a religious ceremony involved make sure you know how much is allowed inside the church or wherever it is being performed. In one of my wedding shoots the priest forbid all photography during the actual ceremony. (The couple wasn't too happy about it but his house, his rules.) Also, not all couples want pictures of this moment because it can be distracting. (In order to get a good view you would have to either set up a remote camera or run around in plain view. Often also in areas that are 'off-limits' to regular folks) Talk to them about this a couple of days before the wedding so that they also have time to ask the priest what is acceptable and what is not. If you are allowed to take pictures but cannot use a flash make sure you have some fast glass available. Canon's 50mm 1.8 is a cheap but good lens to do that. Everything else will cost you a lot of money, so consider renting equipment for shoots like this. Canon's 50mm 1.4 or Sigma's 85mm 1.4 would come to mind. Else there's an amazing 50mm 1.2 from Canon, but be sure to rent them beforehand so you can actually work with them first. Shooting with such wide apertures will result in a very slim depth-of-field and it's not as easy to use! (Especially when all you normally use is an aperture of 2.8 or smaller)9) Be the photographer
Should you be the main photographer you should have the couple announce this and set some ground rules. A lot of folks tend to be there doing photos themselves but everybody should know that you come first when it comes to the important shots. Also helps for group shots when everybody knows who to look at and who to listen to. (Had that problem recently where I was nearly drowned in other 'photographers' and everybody was looking at a different camera) The couple might also want to limit some events to be photographed just by you and ask everybody else to refrain from taking pictures. (Especially during any ceremonies things can get very distracting and noisy if a lot of people try to get some pictures) Also, especially when doing group shots do not be afraid to yell. Lot's of people make lot's of noise and the bigger the group the farther away you'll end up as well. Tell the people what you want. If some huge wrestler stands in front of the brides maids it's not going to be a good picture. Tell him to get behind the people where he can still be seen. Speaking of being seen, tell the people the simple rule, they can't see you? Then they wont be in the picture! (Amazing how many people appear to not grasp that concept)10) Don't take one, take two!
... or more pictures. Things mess up, people look stupid and lighting might not be the best. Last wedding I did a lot of shooting with my flash, but I tried to do two shots of each photograph in quick succession so that the second shot was without the flash. (Sometimes had to do three for that) Some photos look better with flash, some without and I for once can never tell in advance what it will be. If I do portraits I very often do two shots in quick succession as well, a small change of expression sometimes makes all the difference between an average and wonderful shot. Does certainly add a whole lot of work to it though. (See point 7
) And do check your work often, you don't want to realize the day after that you had a bad setting on your camera. (Once did a whole shoot with ISO 1600 without noticing, thankfully it was just some outdoor work I did for myself, pretty much threw all of those out...)11) Contract and model release form
Now, while this is mostly geared towards the non-pro who does it for free this should still be mentioned. A contract is never a bad thing, and as soon as money starts changing hands it's an absolute must. As the laws differ from country to country (and then even from state to state) I wont go into detail here, but only state a few points. See if there is a photography club somewhere in your are and ask them for advice on contracts. What is needed by law, what should and should not be included. Either way be sure to have a very clear description of what is expected of you. Things like pre-wedding shoots, engagement shoots, additional portraits, etc should all be written into the contract if you are expected to do them. It should also be clear if you provide full-res digital pictures or if you will provide the prints for a fee. (Something that is very often done by wedding photographers) Also the question how much editing is expected from you and if there are any must-have moments that need to be photographed in order to be paid. (And I would certainly rule out any penalty payments should something not work out) If you wish to publish the photographs you did during the wedding be sure to also get a model release form from the couple. Again, laws differ extremely so be sure to ask someone who knows the rules and regulations when it comes to release forms. In Germany for example it would not be enough to simply get the couples agreement but you would absolutely need a model release form from everybody who's picture will be published. (Minus group shots, but the definition is somewhat unclear in Germany) As a rule of thumb I simply do not publish photographs from weddings.12) Assist in a wedding shoot
(Okay, obviously not happening in this case)
Now again, as a non-pro who plans to do only a single shoot this might not be suitable. But if you plan on doing this as a pro you should absolutely try and find a pro wedding photographer who will let you tag along on a few weddings. This will certainly be the best preparation possible and depending on the deal you make with the photographer might even make you some cash.
I hope that helps. Be very, very sure about the expectations from the couple however!
There are some friends of mine where I would never be the photographer because I know they would expect the full pro package. (And I know I am nowhere near good enough for that) But if their expectations match up with your skill I see no reason not to do it. (Other than the fact that it will be a lot of work and you'll pretty much miss the wedding even though you are there all the time)