12 Must Do’s when Shooting Your First Wedding
Let’s face it- shooting your first wedding is a big deal. I’m not the kind of person to have nightmares, but I’ve definitely had my fair share during wedding season! Many capable photographers are scared of weddings because they can be so high pressure: there is an expectation for wedding photographers to deliver images that will still be loved 50 years from now. Couples pay a lot for their wedding photography and expect timeless, romantic images that express their personality, the details of their wedding, and make them look fabulously in love. Things happen fast, and there are moments you can’t afford to miss. Pinterest has raised the expectations of couples everywhere, wanting their wedding photos to look as ethereal and romantic as ever. There aren’t any re-shoots or rain checks for wedding days, so how is a brand-new wedding photographer to start from scratch and be awesome with no experience? With that in mind, here is a list of my top 12 must-dos for every photographer shooting their first wedding.
- Know your couple. This is absolutely the biggest one. It is so important to know your couple’s style. My first 2 wedding couples couldn’t have had more different personalities. The first couple were both doctoral students working on PhDs in some fancy subject- I can’t even remember what it was, I just know I didn’t understand anything they talked about! They wanted traditional, sweet pictures but nothing too crazy and dramatic. We did some photos downtown, then the rest at the wedding venue. They turned out great, and were just what the couple wanted. The second couple was an engineer marrying an actress/singer. And she wanted every artistic shot she could get. We ran around Chicago at full steam until the sun went down- jumping in an out of the car and striking vivid poses in every venue possible. I truly enjoyed each wedding and the different “feel” each had. But it’s really important to know what your couple is expecting before you show up with your camera.
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- Communicate expectations. I’m all about being completely open with your couple- if this is your first wedding, they need to know. Do not masquerade as a wedding photographer even though you’ve never shot a single one. My wedding couples that first year picked me to shoot their weddings because they loved the other work I did and trusted that my style would carry over to their wedding. The key here is to have a brimming portfolio full of everything else you’ve done- families, newborns, couples, engagements, landscape, you name it! The more work you’ve done, the more trust you’ll earn. I once had a bride turn me down as inexperienced when I had only done 4 weddings. And that’s fine. I was disappointed, but obviously it wasn’t meant to be. Keep moving on, keep shooting. If your other work is good, you WILL get wedding requests. And if there’s one thing that is crucial in the wedding industry, it’s time. Don’t be impatient. Your reputation as a wedding photographer is built on years of trust.
- The most complex issue with weddings is lighting. Even the most well-lit venue gets dark when the sun goes down. Or the picturesque outdoor venue gets rained out and you have to move inside. Sometimes couples plan their weddings during daylight savings time, forgetting that their wedding is after the time change and all the lighting they planned for gets thrown off. You have to be ready! For a long time I was scared to use my flash- I didn’t want my images to look cheesy and artificial. Nonsense. A good flash used well can make or break the image. The key is practice. (And lots of extra batteries!)
- Hire a very experienced assistant. For my first wedding I used a friend and mentor who I trusted to back me up, had her own equipment, and had shot weddings before. It’s important your assistant expects you take charge and doesn’t run the show, but it’s also imperative to have someone who isn’t going to sit back and let you make a terrible mistake.
- Shoot everything you possibly can beforehand– practice practice practice. Some of the best preparation I got with lighting and posing was shooting newborns in their home. The more often you can practice shooting indoors in a location you’ve never seen before the better off you’ll be on a wedding day. Also, I was lucky enough to get to shoot deployment homecomings before I ever did weddings. There are many similarities- you can’t miss “the kiss”, there are hours of preparation leading up to the big moment, and they take place in all different venues, weather, and lighting situations. Shooting and posing big family reunions is very helpful too- it’s nice to have that skill set in your background, especially when you are working with a large wedding party. Posing seniors can be very similar to posing brides and grooms for their single wedding day portraits, another necessary expertise. And of course- shooting families with small children (ie moving targets) does wonders to hone your skills in almost every way. Basically, practice with anything and everyone you’ve got. It will all make you more prepared for that first wedding.
- Go to the rehearsal. Once you’ve shot a few weddings you can probably skip this step. However, if at all possible, do yourself a favor and go look at the venue while they’re rehearsing. Usually I bring my camera and take a few test shots- with the flash, without, trying out different lenses and angles. Don’t get too attached to your lighting plan at this point, often the rehearsals are later in the day than the ceremony (plus weather can change!) so the lighting will be different during the actual wedding. However, it’s a great time to get your feet wet, meet the parents of the bride and groom, and get a feel for the personality of the wedding party.
- Don’t be afraid to be in the moment. Some of the best, most timeless shots I’ve taken have been completely unplanned. Be on the alert for emotions and sweet moments that unfold when you aren’t expecting them. And when they happen- grab those images!
- Have a written game plan. I always ask the bride for a wedding day schedule ahead of time and give recommendations for when/where/how much time I need for pictures of everyone. Look it over carefully to make sure you have enough time for everything. (If there isn’t adequate time for pictures people are prone to blame the photographer, even if you warned them.) I print a copy for myself and my assistant and keep it handy during the entire wedding day. And for part b of this step- wear a watch! I’m embarrassed to admit how long it took me to figure this out. Wearing a watch is a virtually foolproof way to stay on schedule, and it looks so much more professional than pulling out your phone every 15 minutes to make sure you’re on target.
- Bring a snack. For real. If you think you can run around for an entire day with all your gear, composing shots and fielding questions and making small talk and dealing with that groomsman that doesn’t want to cooperate and handing the bride tissues during that pre-wedding meltdown and finding the wedding coordinator for that crucial question and grabbing this shot and that shot and finding Uncle Bob that wandered off the to the bathroom during family formals and coordinating the first look and helping the bride with that lipstick that got on her dress, all without something to eat… well, you’re wrong. Whatever works for you- be it chocolate, Clif bars, caffeine- bring a discreet energy source you can sneak on the go. You’ll thank me later!
- Choose your gear with care. This is probably the toughest one for me to write, because every wedding is different, with different needs. However. I recommend shooting a wedding with mostly gear you own, and not renting much. Why? Because you know your gear best. And you’re going to take better images with the camera and lens you’re used to, even if the lens you’re renting is totally sweet. One of my favorite wedding photographers brings only 2 lenses with her- a 50 mm and a macro. And she does an amazing job! The key is creating the best images possible with what you have. With that being said, I do recommend shooting weddings on a full-frame camera. You have a lot more flexibility with high ISO capability, and the images are much sharper. Moving on to lenses, my favorite lenses for shooting weddings are the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8, the Canon 50 mm f/1.2, and the Canon 100mm f/2.8. They each have their place during the day and I’d be hard-pressed to do without any of them. That being said, the 24-70 f/2.8 is my workhorse. I couldn’t shoot a wedding without it.
- Shoot in RAW. I’m not really sure why RAW scares so many photographers. You just adjust some dials on your camera and ta-da! You have an image with so much more data, you can salvage almost anything from it. Make sure you have enough memory card space to handle all the RAW images, but you knew that already from all the practice you’ve been doing for this wedding beforehand.
- Have fun! Let’s face it- weddings are big, awesome parties. Being a wedding photographer is the best job in the world. Do it with a smile on your face!You might also like 12 Tips to Photograph a First Look at a Wedding
These are some great tips and shots! I’m in NC also 🙂 My husband and I owned a photography business for several years but closed in 2012. I’m starting to re-build my portfolio now… no weddings or newborns though lol One thing we did before our first wedding was to second shoot with a couple other photographers to get a grasp of things and that really helped a lot.
Melissa Yay for building your portfolio again!!! Where in NC?
Erin @ The Speckled Palate says
What a great post, and what fantastic tips to photogs who want to shoot weddings! These are all great things to remember. My experience in weddings (which I’m now moving away from) has taught me that communication and setting expectations is key, as is rolling with the punches, whatever they might be!
Excited to hear if these tips help out a wedding newbie in the near future!
Kimberly Bolden says
These are some great tips Erin. I will be pinning this. My goal this year is to learn everything I can about photography and Photoshop.
Thanks for the comment love and for pinning!
I never thought about how much pressure is on the photographer at weddings. I love seeing wedding photos and seeing the couple’s love for each in their photos.
Sonya, soooo much pressure…you’ve got one shot for most of the days events! 🙂
Whitney Mills says
These are all such great tips, thank you for sharing! What kind of camera do you recommend for a beginner that has no experience. Those lenses are a little out of my budget. You’re pictures are amazing!!!
Erica @ The Crumby Cupcake says
This is such a wonderful list of tips!! I’ve shot only one wedding since getting interested in making photography a possible career move, and it was for a pair of friends who just wanted it documented – I did it free as a wedding gift. Let’s just say it was easy to see from the shots how amateur I was. Absolutely pinning this for reference, and I’ll do my best to not be so afraid of RAW, even for my food photos!!
Very interesting post! As newly married, we were disappointed by our photographer who was almost never in the right position to shoot the kiss, the best man with the rings, the guests waiting for wishing to the couple and their parents (greek-orthodox custom), in no picture nor in the video of the wedding you can see the parents during that process, you can hardly see the couple there. We had agreed for pre-wedding preparation (getting dressed) shooting for both the groom and the bride (that is me!) and my shots were like I was all alone in the house, with no family or friends while it was full of them! No recollective photograph with my beloved in my parents’ house, though he did it with my husband whose shooting was before mine. Why didn’t he just ask me if I wanted? I am guessing from our conversations before the ceremony that he was not interested in finding out about us really, but more if we would do the next-day shooting (which we didn’t). I can’t know for sure if it was his first wedding shooting (he is a young person) or how aware he is of any technical detail,of which obviously I am not, but this post should be sent to him right away!
Paul George says
Great post! I am getting prepared to second shoot a wedding for the first time and all the information I can get, the better I will feel and preared I feel I will be.
Thank you for all the great tips!!
Really great tips!
Awesome tips and ideas!
I stumbled upon your site and have been glued to it for about an hour. I am a younger photographer from Oregon. I am just starting to venture into couples photography and recently booked my first engagement shoot. I hope to start doing weddings as soon as possible. Thank you for all of your tips! I was wondering if you have any tips for how to determine your pricing at first?
Hayley, I’m so so so glad this has been helpful in your journey as a photographer. There are so many times when I was up and coming I had so many questions and no where to find answers so in hopes that this is what Sixth Bloom is helping you do! I don’t think I have a lot on pricing but that can be a very hard thing to determine. However I do offer one on one sessions via FaceTime or Skype to help with individual needs such as pricing or helping get your business going. Let me know if I can help you in any other way. feel free to email me firstname.lastname@example.org
I needed this! I have my first solo wedding coming up and I definitely had a nightmare I didn’t have back up SD cards! Thanks for sharing this!