C ongratulations on booking your first wedding photography assignment! It’s exciting isn’t it? I remember how it felt to get my first wedding client – the pay was peanuts but the fact that a complete stranger was willing to entrust me with their big day? That felt phenomenal.
Weddings are amazing events where you as the photographer must wear many hats – portraiture, photojournalism/ (similar to street photography), people management, fashion photography, problem solving, and product photography.</mark.
Experience matters when it comes to photographing a wedding and luckily for you, I am going to share with you 9 tips to help you photograph your first wedding whilst avoiding costly and irreparable mistakes.
9 tips for photographing your first wedding
- Dress up rather than dress down.
- Know how to use your equipment (learn to use your flash!).
- Attend at least 2-3 weddings before you photograph your first wedding client so that you know what happens when and where.
- Set clear client expectations and boundaries.
- Back up every single file.
- Don’t just scout the location, scout it during the times that you will be there (e.g., midday sun, afternoon, evening) so that you may get a sense of the lighting conditions and how to best work with/around it.
- Prepare spare batteries, spare memory cards, spare change of clothes etc.
- I can’t believe this needs to be mentioned but PHOTOGRAPH IN RAW, not jpeg.
- Practice your small talk skills.
#1 Dress up rather than dress down: Nobody will ever tell you that you’re dressed too casual. But they’re all thinking it. In fact, my closest friends who are high end wedding planners tell me that this is the number one complaint or request from their clients. That is, they want a wedding photographer who dresses up and looks the part. Dress up rather than dress down. Jeans and sneakers – don’t do it.
#2 Know how to use your equipment: I am embarrassed to say that I’ve made this mistake many times. When the Fujifilm X-T1 was released, I went out and bought the entire kit: two X T-1 bodies, XF56mmF1.2 R, XF23mmF1.4 R, XF 35mmF1.4 R, XF14mmF2.8 R. I couldn’t wait to try them in the field. The problem was, I had to learn an entirely new camera system, having spent the previous few months using the Olympus OM-D series. Let’s just say there were moments at the first wedding with my Fujifilm kit where I wish I had spent the time to know my gear better.
By all means, buy all the new gear you want but don’t make my mistake. Learn to use your flash, your camera, and your lenses so that when you need to get the shot, you’re ready instead of fiddling with unfamiliar menus.
#3 Get some wedding experience in you before you photograph your first wedding: Taking images is the easy part of being a wedding photographer. Knowing where to be and knowing when a particular moment is about to happen so that you can be ready is how impactful wedding images are made. For example, what angle is best to capture the groom’s expression when the bride walks down the aisle? If you’re photographing a wedding by yourself, where is the best spot to capture both the bride’s entrance and the groom’s reaction?
If you have never photographed a wedding before, I highly recommend that you get some experience prior to taking on your first client. Click here to find out how you can get wedding photography experience before you shoot your first wedding.
#4 Set client expectations and boundaries and set them early: This is less photography-related and 100% related to how to operate a business. Most couples getting married are getting married for the first time. To them, it is a whole new world and they have nothing to refer to in terms of expectations – thus making their expectations quite often unrealistic.
What are some expectations and boundaries to set from the very beginning? How about (i) when you will accept calls and respond to text messages and emails – and when you will not accept phone calls (ii) when their enquiry becomes a concrete booking; and (iii) how long it will take for you to edit and deliver them with their wedding photos.
By setting clear client expectations and boundaries, you can avoid stressful situations down the road./
#5 Back up every single file: Back up. Back up. Back up! The very first thing I do when I get home from a wedding, no matter what hour it is, is transfer every single memory card across to my laptop. Sometimes, I’ll even sit there and wait for each memory card to successfully copy across before taking a shower. Once Photo Mechanic (seriously, buy this piece of software) has finished ingested all the files, I then copy the folder across to my storage unit – a Drobo 4-bay array. After I have a second copy of all the files safely on my Drobo, I will make a duplicate onto an external hard drive for an extra level of redundancy.
#6 Scout scout scout: Before you photograph your first wedding, I highly suggest that you go to see each location. But not just to see the location at any time but to see the location at the same time as you will be there on the wedding day. This will not only give you a lay of the land (e.g., vantage points, access points, where to park) as well as the quality of light so that you can practice in the months leading up to the wedding.
#7 Bring spares of everything: Batteries in colder months die quicker. Memory cards can often fail mid-shoot. Cameras can fail! Do whatever you can to reduce risk – and this includes a change of shoes, socks, shirt, pants, dress etc.
#8 Shoot in raw: If you are contemplating to photograph an entire wedding in JPEG, please watch the following videos.
#9 Practice your interpersonal skills every single day: I cannot stress this enough! Before taking photography as a serious professional, I was incredible shy. I hated meeting new people because I was afraid of how they would ‘see’ me. I forced myself to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Slowly but surely, my confidence in meeting new people grew and my fear of awkward pauses in conversations lessened.
When you are a wedding photographer, you are not selling images. You are selling who you are; what you bring to the story, how your approach helps your clients look and feel great. You are selling confidence.
Common mistakes that all starting out wedding photographers make
I cared more about my camera equipment than learning how to be the best possible wedding photographer – and when I look back, I get it.
Most wedding photographers start off as photography enthusiasts – I certainly had no aspirations on being a wedding photographer!
And as all photography enthusiasts know – camera equipment is addictive.
Having the latest and greatest is a never-ending internal battle.
“Should I buy the f/2.8 or the f/4 version?”
“IS or non-IS?”
“Will I see a difference between this 85mm f/1.8 and the f/1.4 version?”
Do these questions sound familiar?
Like you, I loved my camera equipment and when I took on my first wedding photography assignment, I had all the cool gear:
- 1x Canon 5D MK II
- 1x Canon 1D MKIII
- 1x Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS
- 1x Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L
- 1x Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM
- 1x Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L
- 2x Canon Speedlite 430EX II
- 1x Lowepro CompuTrekker AW
PS – The only thing in this kit that is still in production is the camera bag.
This was back in 2010 so the gear list is quite old – but back in the day, I was proud to have this kit.
And that was the problem.
I was so fixated on what my gear could do that I didn’t focus on how I could use said gear to produce the best experience possible for my first wedding photography client.
In fact, it wasn’t a few years later that I realized that it was the client experience that was the number one priority – not the photos themselves!
The number one and most common mistake that beginner wedding photographers make is understanding what role they play.
Earlier I said that weddings are amazing events where you as the photographer must wear many hats – portraiture, photojournalism, people management, fashion photography, problem solving, and product photography.
I’ve highlighted the main roles.
When I photographed my first wedding, I went into it with a set of images that I wanted to achieve (selfishly, for my portfolio). I was so set on getting this images that I didn’t care about much else.
That was my big mistake.
You see, weddings are essentially expensive parties.
Parties involve people.
People behave randomly.
There is a great quote by Maya Angelou, “I’ve learnt that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
No matter how great your photographs may be – your success as a business lies in how people remember you.
And how do people remember you?
In how you make their wedding day for them, their family and their friends, a positive experience.
Let me give you an example.
I was photographing an outdoor wedding in the late afternoon one winter. After the wedding ceremony, as the sun was quickly dipping, I had to quickly get through 15 family portrait combinations before the light completely disappeared. In between each group is usually a few minutes of confusion and people moving in and out – this, as you will discover, is completely normal.
Knowing that each family photo had to be on point, my instinct was to yell at people and get them done as quick as possible. But luckily, I had been a wedding photographer for 3 years and knew that yelling at people wasn’t going to make things any faster and more importantly, would make me look like a cranky bossy photographer. Nobody likes a cranky bossy photographer.
Instead, I waited. And while the bride and groom waited, I noticed that the bride was cold. So I offered her my jacket.
To this day, she and her entire family still remembers this – not the photos.
People remember by how you made them feel.
Never forget this.
One versus two cameras
I dropped my 5DMK3 onto concrete at the beginning of the wedding ceremony. It died on the spot.
My Nikon D3 shutter died 3-hours into my wedding day.
I left my 5D in the rain doing a time-lapse.
The mirror on my Nikon D750 locked up once and failed to do anything.
I have had cameras fail on me and I have always had a back up camera with me.
I suggest that you do the same.
One card slot versus two card slots
At the time of writing, Nikon unveiled its mirrorless cameras Z6 and Z7. The online photography community has been blasting Nikon for their obvious oversight – having only one memory card slot in each camera. Storm in a teacup?
Having two card memory slots is beneficial but ONLY if both memory card slots are set to be in redundancy mode.
Before dual memory card slots, cameras had only one card slot. Before digital photography, photographers used film.
Not a single wedding client of mine has ever cared about my equipment. They hired me for my ability to understand what they wanted and they were impressed with my vision.
By all means, use the best technology available to you. If it means stretching your budget, do so. But in all honesty, I think wedding photographers give this topic way too much attention it deserves.
How to get wedding photography experience before you shoot your first wedding
If you’re thinking of jumping head first into your first wedding without having attended a single wedding before in your life – may I try to change your mind?
Weddings are messy.
People are erratic.
Even if you have a schedule, life has a way of throwing said schedule out the window.
As someone who has been a wedding photographer since 2010, every wedding I have attended as the hired professional has had something go wrong.
It is inevitable.
When shit hits the fan, it is up to your wits to keep things moving.
When the bride is having a meltdown and questioning the entire marriage, you need to know what to do.
When the groom is struggling to do his tie or fold his pocket square – you need to know what to do.
When the mother of the groom is stressing out the bride – you need to now what to do.
Sometimes, doing nothing is the best thing to do. But without being put in a similar situation before, you will be caught off-guard.
As a complete newbie to wedding photography, how do you get wedding photography experience?
Offer to assist a local wedding photographer that you genuinely respect.
Offer to help them with all the driving on the day. Offer to help help them park and mind the car on the wedding day. Offer to help to make sure that all their expensive equipment is not left behind on-location.
Offer to help them.
The biggest mistake that newbie wedding photographers make is trying to build their portfolio over the shoulder of another professional.
Offer to help someone by giving them value instead of a problem.
I used to get weekly emails from photographers wanting to second shoot for me. I never bothered to reply because they were thinking of themselves before my clients and I. Why should I spend my time babying someone I don’t know?
The key to getting wedding photography experience is by offering to solve another wedding photographer’s problem – even if it is a trivial one (especially if it is a trivial one!). Across time, you will build trust and before you know it, maybe you’ll even be tasked to taking some photos.
When I trained Jack, I didn’t even allow him to bring a camera for the first 3 weddings. I wanted him to see what was going instead of worrying about taking photos.
Wedding photography is more about people skills than photography. So get as much exposure to this before you photograph your first wedding.