Shooting Your First Wedding - Part 1

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So you think that you want to become a wedding photographer, you see a photographer a work at a wedding and think, "Wow, that looks so fun/cool. I bet I can do that." After all your mom says she likes your photos. Or you take photos as a hobby and then you start seeing some of these epic photos that wedding photographers take and want to be a part of preserving the memories of couples forever. 

These are all ways that some people start shooting weddings, along with a plethora of other ways; a friend/family member asking you to do it cuz its cheaper and you own a camera or being a portrait photographer and someone liking your style and asking you to shoot their wedding. And suddenly after saying yes you realize that you have your work cut out for you. Hair and makeup starts at 9am, the bride and groom are getting ready 30 miles apart across a busy city, and the reception goes until midnight. Not to mention that the church will not let you move past the first five rows, the DJ has lights that ruin every first dance photo, and after it is all said and done the couple is asking you within a week when they will see their photos. Stress sets in. You cry, you complain, you edit like you are being chased by a ravenous lion, and then they want more photos, or they are unhappy, or they never respond once they are sent. All for $200 (or free). 

"I AM NEVER DOING THIS AGAIN."

But do not despair. There is hope. 

 99% of wedding photographers started cheap, or even free. I shot my first wedding that I found on Craigslist for $500. My second and third were for $1000. My second year I started at $2000. Now, nearly 9 years later we charge somewhere between $4000-$6500 but don't be afraid to start cheap! Build to $3500 as fast as you can, but make sure you have a portfolio first. Also don't be afraid to play around with your pricing several times a year. - Daniel Aaron Sprague of The Spragues  

When it comes to shooting weddings there is no such thing as being over prepared. I believe that is it always good to have a small amount of fear and nervousness before the wedding. It means that you are taking it seriously. Many of us photographers have nightmares about wedding days. We dream about forgetting batteries, about forgetting memory cards. About driving to wrong locations, forgetting to get dressed, anything. But preparation will help you. So here are some things that I wish I knew before shooting a wedding. (No particular order)

1.   How to properly use my flash/speedlight.

During my first wedding I really had no idea what I was doing when it came to using my flash. I just kinda set things up, made it go off and hoped for the best. Figured I would fix it later. This was a mistake. I brought shoot through umbrellas and light stands, but no sandbags. They blew over and one broke. It was awful. It felt like such a derp. 

After that I took the time to learn about them, how to bounce my light, how to use diffusers, what power to use when, and it changed my game. Now there is no situation that I cannot light. 

Like the one below. Pitch black yet epic. 

See my post about backlit photos HERE

See my post about backlit photos HERE

2. HAVE A PLAN - Organize the day

My first year of weddings was awful. I just asked what time they wanted me to show up and showed up. I reacted instead of acting first. There were so many things that went wrong, only because I did not have a plan. Once I started working with my clients to develop a timeline days started going better. I realized that in order to present the clients with the best photos I need a certain amount of time to work with. 

I send my couples a questionnaire about a month out and then I use that information to build a timeline with my clients (and potentially the planner as well). I tell my clients this during our first meeting as well as during engagement shoots. You can see my that questionnaire HERE.  

Taken during my Iceland shoot. 

Taken during my Iceland shoot. 

3. KNOW YOUR GEAR (This should be number 1)

I cannot stress this one enough. 

  • Know how to switch your settings fast.
  • Know how high you can push your ISO and in what light and what you can recover in post
  • Know how to use your flash
  • Know your card speed
  • Know how to shoot a dark church from 20 rows back
  • Know what the lowest shutter speed you can shoot and still get useable images.
  • Know how open you can shoot and still get an in focus image - for each lens
  • Know what to do when your flash breaks and you have to shoot the first dance
  • Know what error messages mean what and how to fix them 

There are plenty of other things that you need to know before you shoot, but many times people blow into weddings without a full understanding of their gear and how it works. Remember, you don't get a second chance. Your couple is relying on you. 

In camera double exposure

In camera double exposure

4. Be Bold, Yet Tactful

You are hired to capture the photos that the couple wants. Guests will get in the way, wedding planners will tell you no, church coordinators will limit your movement, or try to ;). But you still need to be able to capture the moment and tell the story. This means setting your clients expectations before hand. Tell them that asking the guests to refrain from stepping in the aisle during the ceremony, or better yet suggest an unplugged ceremony. 

Talk to the coordinator before hand so you know what they expect. Then communicate this to the bride. If the bride has an issue the coordinator will listen to the bride far more than they will listen to you. 

If people are getting in the way of family shots, BE BOLD, take control and get the shots you need. You do not have to be an ass, but be firm. You have a timeline, the couple has a timeline and once met everyone will be happy. 

One of the coolest set ups ever

One of the coolest set ups ever

5. Don't forget the details

Wedding days go by fast. They are stressful. I have worked in both construction, landscaping, and kitchens and wedding days are by far one of the hardest things I have ever done. There are many times that a couple will tell me after that they do not even remember a certain moment or event during the day. 

That being said they spend months and/or years planning out the details of their wedding day. You are not only responsible for capturing the moments. But also the details. The table settings, the flowers, the napkins, the pin in the bouquet, the list goes on and on. There may even be things that mean something to the family, but you may never notice. So Ask. 

Get to know the bridal part 

Get to know the bridal part 

6. Get To Know The Bridal Party

The bridal party can be your best friend or your worst enemy. I arrive really early so that I can meet the whole group and get to know them. Luckily, for the photo above I worked with the groomsdude and knew his now fiance. But we are not always that lucky. 

I have had weddings though where I have left feeling like I am friends with the bridal party. They will dance with you, they will hug you, some may even friend you on social media. 

But when they work with you the results are amazing. 

One of my favorite bridal party photos. 

One of my favorite bridal party photos.