If you've been following my journey, you know that I shot my first SOLO wedding this year on February 18, 2022. (Thanks Heather & Zach for trusting me!) Since then I have shot another 12 weddings, and second shot another 10 weddings. By no means am I calling myself the most tenured or expert wedding photographer, but I have learned from one wedding to another what works for me; and what makes my wedding days move smoothly!
Wedding days require a lot of hard work, knowledge, and planning to ensure that they go smoothly. On a wedding day, you will encounter more people, more lighting scenarios, more stress, and more variety than on your average session. But they are filled with so much love, happiness, and can be a total blast to shoot if you’re prepared going in to the wedding day. So here are a few tips for newbies getting ready to shoot their first weddings or pros looking to refresh their thinking on how to shoot a wedding day:
The best way to avoid missing capturing any moments on a wedding day is to know what to expect. If you have enough time ahead of the wedding, help your client build up a timeline or at least ask for theirs. This will help you make sure you have enough time for the portraits you need to get and that you always know what’s coming next. Ask them what they want covered (i.e. family formals, getting ready, first look/touch, reception, dancing, bridal party portraits, bride & groom portraits, etc.) and help educate your client on the best lighting throughout their day. Remember, you are the expert so don’t be afraid to offer advice.
To build my timeline, I ALWAYS send a questionnaire to my couples. This helps me prepare for what is most important that my couple. If they aren't doing a first look, thenI will need to account for more time during formal portraits. If they are doing a First Look, I will need to build that into the timeline.
2. Have Backups on EVERYTHING!
Have backups of EVERYTHING! You never know when a camera will stop working, a lens will drop, or a battery will die. While it can be hard to have all the gear when you’re first starting, it’s important to make sure that you won’t be missing the most important moments on someone’s wedding day! In case a camera fails, you’ll feel a lot better knowing that you have another one in your bag. I always carry extra batteries, memory cards, lenses, and a camera body with me just in case!
Also, be sure to back up your files - meaning don’t just throw them on your hard drive or desktop and call it good. For those of you starting out, here’s an idea… Copy the photos onto your desktop, 1-2 external hard drives, and leave them on the memory card until you deliver the photos. That way if a hard drive fails, a computer crashes, or a memory card corrupts, you’re not going to lose those really important memories. If you continue doing wedding photos, consider adding in a cloud based backup too!
Finally, make sure you have extra snacks, water, shoes, clothes (I always bring a rain jacket, rain boots, and sweater), etc. It’s a long day, so you’ll never know when you need something extra!
If you’re planning to shoot a full wedding day, keep in mind that on most full weddings days the sun (your light source!) will eventually disappear. Help your client plan for their light - making sure to take photos when the light is soft, informing them about the importance of natural light in getting ready spaces (think white walls, big windows, airbnbs), and try to scout locations ahead of time so you can make sure if you have to do family portraits in the middle of the day, you can find some nice shade.
Be sure to bring along at least a flash for when the sun sets or if, say, a getting ready room has really limited light. Watch some youtube videos on how to bounce flash if you’ve never used one and practice with it at home on your friend/dog/parent so you can get used to using it!
Bonus Tip: If you’re shooting at a venue you’ve never been to, try to scout out the location online before the wedding day. I always google “VENUE NAME wedding photography” to get an idea of a gallery that was shot there or you can use google street view. I also try to arrive at least 30 minutes early on the wedding day, so I have time to walk around the venue and familiarize myself with it.
4. Make Friends (& Learn Names!)
Hands down, one of the best things you can do is to make friends with the bride and groom's bridal party and immediate family members. While your job is ultimately serve your couple, these are their absolute favorite people, so you want everyone to feel taken care of. And if you can learn names, that is always such a great plus!
Tip - I am the WORST at remembering names, so I ask my couple to give me key names (Maid of Honor, Best Man, Mother of the Bride and Groom, etc) ahead of time so I can spend time learning them the week before. I don’t always get it, but it definitely helps!
Also, be sure to make friends with the vendors. They’re all working really hard too, and introducing yourself, offering to help them if they need anything, and even getting their business cards (or info from your client) so you can later send photos, is a great way to build community and potentially get future referrals.
5. Second Shoot or Assist!
The best way to get familiar with the flow of the wedding day and learn how to be an awesome wedding photographer is to work on the job as a second shooter or assistant. I’m a big believer in reaching out to assist (carry bags, grab drinks, etc) because you have almost no pressure on you to get the necessary shots but can also learn firsthand about the flow of the day and how to shoot the wedding day.
This might help get your foot in the door to second shoot with a photographer. Make sure you know what they expect from their seconds so you can deliver what they need and it’ll be a great opportunity for you to get used to shooting under high pressure in tough situations. I still try to second shoot with other photographers from the industry to learn from them and help support their businesses.
I am forever grateful for the photographers who trusted me when I first decided to enter the Wedding Industry. I will never forget one photographer who called me 3-4 weeks after the wedding to thank me and asked if he could given constructive feedback. It was all coming from a good place and he even let me know how many of my photos from the day he would be delivering to the bride and groom! He has been a great point of contact through the last year and a half, and has always been willing to give me advice and feedback. I'm FOREVER grateful for him.
Just remember as a second shooter that you are NOT there for portfolio building. If you can get a few awesome shots, that’s great, but your main goal is to serve the first shooter and the bride and groom on their wedding day and that doesn’t always involve getting tons of portraits and portfolio work. So make sure you go in with the right intention!
6. Build a Relationship with Your Couple
As photographers, we are SO incredibly lucky to spend practically the whole day with the bride and groom. Sometimes I like to joke that my second shooter and I almost spend more time with the bride or groom then they spend with each other. So putting in a little extra work to build that relationship with your client will be so worth it. I hate going in as a stranger, and I want to walk in on the wedding day as a friend.
For example, you can follow along and interact with them on social media, do engagement photos before the wedding, go out for coffee to meet or finalize wedding plans, and just be there as a support whenever they need. Not only will it help make the day more fun, but by getting to know your couple ahead of time you can more authentically capture them on their wedding day!
7. But Still Be Honest With Your Couple
Sometimes a client doesn’t want to do a first look, but still wants to be present for all of cocktail hour, get 50 family formal combos, and spend 30 minutes on bride/groom portraits. Maybe you’re really quick at getting through family formals, but chances are if they don’t do that first look, they won’t be there for much of their cocktail hour if at all. I think it’s really important to be honest with your clients throughout the process while still trying to work to achieve what they want. If you overpromise and can’t live up to your promises, then that will only lead to disappointment.
Another example, if it will take me 4 weeks to edit a client’s photos but I promised them in 2 weeks, they will be much more disappointed then if I had originally promised a 6 week turnaround time and I’m able to finish the photos right at 4 weeks. The goal is to underpromise and overdeliver so your client always feels taken care of and happy with their service!
8. Make a List for Family Formals
Talk to your couple ahead of time about making a list of photos for family formals - otherwise you can end up spending a ton of time taking photos with every individual aunt/uncle/cousin. Making a list also helps you speed up the workflow since you can organize it in a smart way so that you can get through these shots as quickly as possible. I usually recommend keeping these shots to immediate family (parents, siblings, grandparents) and getting any other group photos during the reception. Then find a caller (an assistant, a bridesmaid who knows the family) to hold a copy of your list and help you get people organized and ready to go!
Print this list out and have an extra copy ready for your Second Shooter - I promise you'll thank me later!
9. Print This ALL Out
As mentioned above, print out your shot list! You can’t be expected to memorize all of this before your first wedding, so I recommend typing all your information out and printing out multiple copies to keep with you on a wedding day.
My ’Shot List’ consists of contact numbers of my bride/groom and someone who will be getting ready with them in case I can’t reach them, a timeline, a list for family formals, a shot list with any specific shots they’ve requested, key names, and any other details that I need to remember. If you are still learning, don’t be afraid to write out more reminders and ideas for shots, but just don’t let it distract you from what’s going on during the day!
These lists are all created from a questionnaire that I send out to my bride and groom 4-6 weeks prior to their wedding day. Without this list, I would be lost on what's important to my couples.
10. Make Sure Your Heart is in the Right Place
Take a minute before you head to the wedding to really ground yourself and remember the importance of what you’re about to do. I ALWAYS start my wedding days with a workout, and have been told by other photographers that I'm nuts for doing that. But it's what makes me clear and level-headed when entering the wedding day!
Wedding days absolutely fly by, and the photos are pretty much all the couple are left with to remember their wedding day. Maybe you capture moments they missed so they get to see a bigger picture of their day or maybe these photos are passed down through generations to show kids and grandkids.
This is a day that your couple has put so much time, energy, and money into so really give yourself a heart check. You are there to capture their day in an artistic way, not build your portfolio - if that happens too, that’s great, but that isn’t the #1 goal. You’re not looking for one great shot to put on Instagram, you’re looking to tell a story. So prepare, work hard, and go in with the right heart and I know you’ll do great! :)
BONUS: WHAT GEAR DO I BRING ON A WEDDING DAY?
Here’s my list of gear that I bring to a wedding:
2 Full Frame Camera Bodies - I shoot on a Nikon z7ii and Nikon D750
4 Lenses - 24-70mm, 50mm, 85mm, 70-300mm
2 Nikon Flashes
Extra SD cards and CF express cards - Nikon shooters iykyk!
Portable phone charger
Memory Card Cases - Don’t you dare put that memory card into your pocket!
Gluten-Free Snacks and Protein Shakes - I always let the couple know I'm GF but sometimes the caterer forgets!
1/2 Gallon Water Bottle
Emergency Kit - includes ibuprofen, tampons, Shout wipes, camera cleaning cloth, hand sanitizer, chapstick, etc.
Rain jacket (& rain boots, usually leave boots in the car)
Extra Shoes - I always change my shoes to sneakers during the reception
Styling Mat (& a mix of styling accessories)
Double Strap Harness by Coiro
Kamrette Lyra Backpack - If you don't have one, I HIGHLY suggest the investment!
lululemon Everywhere Belt Bag - Packed with all my extra batteries, memory cards, lens wipes and cleaning cloth, hand sanitizer and chapstick
IF YOU’D LIKE MORE BLOGS ON TIPS FOR SHOOTING WEDDINGS,
LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENT SECTION BELOW WHAT YOU’D LIKE TO SEE!