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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BE SURE TO FOLLOW SIXTH BLOOM
- 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