Shooting a friend's wedding

How would you react if one of your friends dropped the bombshell and asked you to photograph their wedding? As the professional guy, they had lined up, needed to cancel at the last minute, as he had overbooked and had no alternative. And with 2 weeks before the wedding, on very short notice too.

Boy, what an ego boost, they want 'you' to photograph their wedding? But hey, on such short notice? 
They've seen your work with landscapes and nature shots, so you must be good at wedding photography too. Yeah?

I couldn't and wouldn't, but if I had plenty of notice, and they were happy and felt confident I could carry it out. I would certainly give it some serious thought, as long as I had time to prepare. Especially a major shoot like that.
Believe it or not, it happened to me, just like that, but fortunately, I had about 3 months notice, so it gave me plenty of time to plan, or so I thought.
It seemed the quickest 3 months of my life. Being a full-time worker, 6 days a week, planning the whole thing took all the time I had, but I did manage it.
When asked the big question, I think the first thing you have to make perfectly clear to them, is that it's your first time and you must stress that point and that you are not a professional, but you will do your best, and that said, they can only expect that of you. At least make it clear so they understand your situation because you have to understand too, this is not going to be your everyday stroll in the park.
Preparation is the key and the more you have, the easier your task will be. But remember, as you will be the chief photographer, it is yours and the bride's big day and you have to get it right for her and it is most important that you call the shots (pardon the pun), and all others taking photos can 'wait your hurry', because you are the chief photographer! You don't need to be rude to people, but at least show your assertiveness.

Planning for the big day:

Firstly, you must set up a bit of a dossier or file on the bride and groom, listing their names and the names of their parents, grandparents and any other immediate families in the bridal party and how they situate on the family tree.
Next, check for any family members who may be divorced or separated, as they may not wish to be included in some of the family portraits. The last thing you want is to be involved in some family squabble because Mable doesn't want to be photographed with Dave.
Also, get the bride and groom to be, to introduce you to the person who will be performing the ceremony, that way you can find out if he or she has any problems as regards to photographing during certain parts of the ceremony.
You will also need to have a good knowledge of the times and distances between venues on the big day. Such as the hairdresser's, where she will be made up, where she and the person giving her away will be getting dressed before getting into the vehicle to go to the ceremony.
All these stops provide excellent opportunities for both formal and candid shots. This is where you can let your imagination run wild.
The groom may like some intimate shots of his bride in her lingerie, with her permission of course, or fitting the garter.
At times such as these you need to maintain that air of professionalism and try to perform the tasks required of you, as best you can. Remember, it is the bride's special day and although you call the shots, she must have the last say.
After the bride is dressed there is always the classic reflection in the mirror shot, shots in the garden and getting into the car.
Before photographing in the garden, check for anything you don't want in view, such as garden litter, hoses, clotheslines, kids toys, etc.
You may plan from there to visit a park, or other gardens for more shots before going on to the marriage venue and make sure you leave there in good time to set up before the bride arrives.
She may want photos of herself alighting from the vehicle, but you must be positioned at the church or on-site where the actual ceremony is taking place, ready for her when she walks down the aisle. During which time, you will be kept busy taking those, amongst other candid shots.
Then there's the signing of the registry, more formal outdoor shots, including family groups, etc., before making a quick get-away to be at the place of the reception in time for the bride and groom's arrival.
During the reception, or wedding breakfast, you will encounter those usual customs such as, speeches and toasts, reading of messages, removing the garter, the cutting of the cake and dance floor scenes, more family portraits, shots from around the tables, leaving the reception, throwing of the bouquet and the bride and groom driving off to who knows where. Only then can you start to think about going off to your own bed.

The aftermath:

In the morning you will feel a 'little' drained, to say the least. It can be quite exhaustive work, although I have heard, some professionals will do up to 6 or 7 weddings a day.
Being as this is your first major assignment, I would advise the following:

It is usually the Bride's decision on what she is going to do with the photos, so leave it up to her. In fact, after you have had them all up on your computer, deleted the bad ones, made some minor adjustments in your photo editing program, put them all onto a disc and take them to her for a viewing. If she is happy with them, she may want to go down to the local photographic store to arrange enlargements, frames and albums. 
If payment has been offered, it is up to you how you arrange that, but being as my first wedding shoot was for friends and I needed the experience anyway, I decided not to charge them and asked if they would accept my services free as their wedding gift, provided I could keep a couple of photos for the portfolio. They were over the moon with that and with the way I conducted my self, in a very professional manner, they said and exceptionally pleased with the photos. So everyone was happy.

And for the experience, I came out of it a little wiser - I think!