Getting started in amateur wedding photography (like most freelance photography) can seem really scary. It’s up to the photographer to make sure to capture all of the important details of the big day.
But wedding photography doesn’t have to be so stressful. With these 25 tips, you will feel more prepared and confident before, during, and after the wedding.
1. Prep Your Equipment
It is very important that you prep your equipment the day before the wedding event. You can ensure you have all of the gear cleaned, capped, and set next to the door before heading out the next morning.
It would be very unfortunate to arrive at a wedding only to realise that you forgot to bring extra memory cards.
Save and print, or make your own checklist so that you can visually see what you have prepped and packed and what is left to do. You don’t have to own all the gear on this checklist. Just have it all ready to go before you go to sleep.
2. Pack Snacks and Water
Wedding days can be long and tiring, and often you won’t eat until dinner. Make sure you have a small lunch bag with water and protein-rich foods to give you energy during long wedding days. Peanuts, trail mix, chocolate, oranges, and pretzels are great options.
Also, pack some mints or gum.
3. Eat Before the Wedding
This seems like a no-brainer however, many make the mistake that they will have time in-between to grab a bite to eat. Weddings are long hours and very tiresome. It is likely that you won’t eat again until dinner time.
Also, eating on the go won’t really fill you up like a well-balanced breakfast will and photographing hungry is never fun.
That being said, the best advice I received when starting out in wedding photography, was to drink a lot of water the day and night before. Staying hydrated before the wedding can give you more energy and you’ll feel less worn out after the first 6 hours.
4. Contract and Payments
Contracts are especially important for wedding photography for both your clients and you as the photographer. Make sure the contract covers you in case of accidents, image corruption, and states the copyright stipulations.
The more detailed the better, this way all parties involved are aware of the terms and conditions set forth by your company.
With that, make sure that your contract states that you are paid at least 7 days prior to the event. Fourteen days is ideal since many brides and grooms are busy with last minute preparations. This gives them enough time to get the payment to you beforehand.
Getting paid before the event helps you focus solely on the photos without worrying about getting paid at the end of the night.
There is nothing more embarrassing or disappointing than asking for payment after a wedding only to find out that they don’t have your money.
5. Have a Photo Checklist
Other photographers call this a “shot list”. It is a list of all the must-have photographs you should take during a wedding. Usually a shot list is created by the bride, however, I find that asking the bride to provide the list for you adds to their already large list of preparations.
Having a photo checklist with you during the wedding will allow the bride to enjoy her day, and you as the photographer, to capture all of the most important photos of the wedding.
6. Arrive at Least One Hour Early
On wedding days, it’s really important to arrive early. You can set up your gear, run tests, scout and plan the locations of where you will be photographing.
Arriving early also means that you can introduce yourself to the people that you’ll be photographing the entire day. This will set you apart from the other vendors and create a more personal rapport with your clients.
7. Know Your Photography Lighting
If you can create a great portrait in any kind of lighting, then you are ready to jump into wedding photography.
Wedding timelines are usually adjusted to the time of the ceremony and reception, which isn’t controlled by the photographer. Therefore, you might be stuck photographing the bride and groom at noon, or the family portraits at 3pm.
Knowing how to photograph in any lighting situation is going to make you more versatile and confident. And you’ll get those photographs that your clients will cherish for many years to come.
You will also be able to offer more options when it comes to locations and backgrounds because of your experience with photographing in different lighting situations.
8. Rent Equipment
When starting out in wedding photography, certain gear can make the difference between an OK ring photo and a great one.
However, depending on the type of wedding photography that you do, you may need different equipment than what you already own, which can get pricey.
Renting equipment can help you use gear that will elevate your wedding photography portfolio without having to invest a lot of money.
Some companies rent equipment for the whole weekend for one price, also giving you the chance to test the gear after the wedding event.
You can also check our article on buying used lenses and camera.
9. Remember That All Details Are Important Details
A bride and groom put a lot of effort into the details of their wedding. Therefore, all details are important details.
From the flowers to the shoes, the escort seating cards, and even the flower girl’s crown – photograph it all.
Make sure that you capture all of the details, even the smallest because all that is left of the big day are your photographs.
Making sure the couple can relive all of their wedding memories will guarantee you more referrals!
10. Never Say No
While you’re photographing a wedding, your clients might request a photo or pose that might not be in line with what you’d like to have in your portfolio. It’s important to remember that wedding photography is not for you, it’s for your clients.
If they request a pose or photo, just do it. Never say no outright. This can cause friction between your clients and how they view your services. Instead, take a few shots and then change the pose.
You want your clients to refer you to more friends and family. By not saying no, they will feel like you did your best to cater to their needs on the most important day of their lives.
11. Include the Groom
Weddings are primarily focused on the bride, and as such, we can leave the groom by the wayside a lot of the time during the photography portion.
Don’t just focus on getting great portraits of the bride, get some of the groom individually and with his groomsmen. If there is an important detail like watches or groomsmen gifts, make sure to capture that.
Getting shots of the groom getting ready also makes for a great spread in an album.
12. Wear a Wristwatch
As a wedding photographer, you have to stay in line with the wedding timeline so that you are able to capture all of the details during a wedding day.
While a phone is good to have during the wedding day, it is also bulky and takes your hands away from holding your camera. It is much faster to check the time on a watch and keep photographing important and fleeting moments during the wedding day.
This is especially true if you are a woman because sometimes our outfits don’t have a place for our phones.
13. Mind the Videographer and Other Vendors
As the wedding photographer, your job is very important. The photos you take during a wedding are the couple’s first real family heirloom. That being said, you’re not the only person working hard to make sure the couple enjoys one of the most important days of their lives.
You will find that many times, you will work very closely with the videographers. They usually are right next to you, behind you, or sometimes, in front. Which is why it is really important to introduce yourself to the video team right from the moment you see them.
Talk to them about how you will work that day. Some videographers give priority to the photography team. Others might want to work alongside you, and very rarely, you’ll find someone who isn’t willing to really cooperate. However, that is not the norm.
Make sure you give them time to take their shots and get what they need before moving along or changing poses. Couples really appreciate when two vendors can work together to make sure their day goes off without a hitch.
As for other vendors like the caterer, coordinator or planner, and DJ, try to exchange business cards to stay in touch and add their details to your blog or social media posts.
They’ll appreciate the credit as everyone worked together to make sure the event was a success. This will also help fuel more referrals from them.
14. Wedding Timeline
As the photographer, you are the one who knows how much time to allow for each photography event. You can guide your clients to create the perfect wedding timeline for their day.
For example, allowing at least two hours for bride and groom portraits is a great place to start. If the couple has a wedding coordinator, it is good to go over and share the wedding timeline with them so that everyone is on the same page on the day of the event.
Having a rough draft of the wedding photography timeline at least 6 months in advance can help you avoid any issues that might come up otherwise.
For example, sometimes the parents of the couple are divorced and don’t want to be seen together in photographs. We as photographers must respect their wishes and create a wedding photography timeline that makes sure this isn’t a problem on the day of the wedding.
Keep a wedding timeline with you at all times. It is best if you print it out and have it handy in your bag or in your pocket. Make sure your assistant knows where it is and can help you keep track of what and when the next amateur wedding photography opportunity is going to come along.
15. Be Flexible
Weddings never go 100% as planned, but everyone involved tries their best to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible.
Wedding photographers have to be flexible to time constraints, people not showing up, and maybe even moving the timeline around.
Being flexible means that you are able to photograph details or other parts of the wedding day at a different time than scheduled.
Take note of what is being moved around so that you can make sure that you get it later in the day. The couple will appreciate you being flexible as this is their day and not yours.
16. Use First Names
After a year or more of planning, the couple’s names are probably ingrained in your brain. However, it is very important to also take note of the names of family members and during the wedding event, use their names correctly.
Nothing is more personal and meaningful than you using their first names throughout the event. Especially when you are posing family portraits and bridal party portraits.
17. Demonstrate Poses, Don’t Direct Them
During weddings, you can sometimes find yourself crunched for time during the most important events of the wedding.
If this happens, the easiest and fastest way to get more poses at a certain given time is to demonstrate yourself what you want the couple or person to do.
Actually doing the pose yourself helps to set up the person or couple to do exactly what you want. From there you can modify the poses so that they look more natural.
Doing this will eliminate any confusion as to what you want them to do as they are able to see exactly how they are to pose.
Directing poses from a distance can create a lot of confusion and on wedding days, everyone wants to enjoy themselves. Demonstrating the poses will feel more natural and smooth.
18. Assistants and Second Photographers
If you are going to have an assistant or second photographer help out during the wedding photography, make sure that you have a contract signed first.
It may sound awkward because in the photography industry, there is an unspoken rule book as to what an assistant and second photographer are supposed to do and there are countless articles on this very subject.
However, you may encounter that not everyone knows those “rules” and having a clear contract will get rid of any confusion. Especially if the second photographer is to take photographs using their own equipment and memory cards.
Outlining their responsibilities, payments, and things like image delivery will save time and avoid confusion for everyone involved.
19. Download and Save at Least 20 Inspirational Photos
When getting started in wedding photography, it can feel like you’re doing the same poses every time you photograph a wedding couple.
Getting in the habit of saving at least 20 inspirational photographs that you would like to try on the wedding day can keep your creativity fresh and flowing.
You’ll be inspired to try more than the ones you have chosen. Always try and give it a personal touch when you are trying to recreate images you see for inspiration.
Experimenting can often create the photographs that are the most creative and beloved by your clients!
Sometimes, experimenting can open more opportunities to create one of a kind photographs during a wedding event and can widen your own style of photography as well.
Got a new flash unit? Try experimenting with it. Rented a wide angle lens? Try photographing the bridal party with it and see what you get.
Of course, do this only after you have photographed all of the traditional wedding poses so that you can deliver a good mixture of both.
21. Pack Business Cards
Always pack business cards in your bag and have some on your person during the wedding event. It is very often that people will see how hard you are working and will like to see more of your portfolio.
Also, a lot of guests will ask you about the photographs and where they will be able to view or purchase them. Hand them a card.
You can always have a small notebook as well to write down any potential clients’ emails or contact information to give it a more personal touch. They will appreciate the detail and you will have more clients!
Make sure your assistant also has them on hand because they too will get asked by guests while you are photographing the couple or reception.
22. Get on the Dance Floor
The reception isn’t only for guests, by this time you’ve earned the right to enjoy the party as well.
Get on the dance floor and be a part of the party, you’ll get one-of-kind photographs of the guests and perhaps even capture a few too-good moments of the celebration.
Also, don’t forget the band or DJ. They are important as well. Getting a good solid photograph of them during the reception that you can send to them later can often come back to you in more referrals.
23. Dress to Impress
Wear comfortable but professional clothing when photographing a wedding. Weddings are formal events and it is important that you blend in with the crowd, yet not look like you’re an invited guest.
For both men and women, a good wedding photography outfit rule is to wear dark colours.
Your shoes will be either your best friend or worst enemy on a wedding day so wearing really comfortable shoes is more important than your outfit. Investing in some shoe soles is always a good idea.
Trust me, after 10 hours of walking and standing, photographing, crouching, and posing you are going to be grateful you put some comfortable shoes on.
That being said, carry an extra pair of shoes, just in case the ones you are wearing give out or aren’t as comfortable as you thought.
24. Take Photos of the Elderly
Another great point to make during a wedding day is to photograph the important elderly guests alone and with the bride and groom.
That means that grandma, grandpa, aunts, and uncles, are going to get their own special portrait. You can go the extra step and get a beautiful portrait of mom and dad. Usually, mom and dad are photographed with their son or daughter individually.
It may not seem like a big deal, however, in a couple of years when they are longer with their family, the family will greatly appreciate the fact that you got a wonderful portrait of their loved ones.
This can be done during the reception or anytime that you have a chance for a quick portrait.
25. Stay Close to the Bride
Weddings go quickly and timelines can get thrown off by the slightest setback. Staying close to the bride will guarantee that you get to where you need to be on time.
You’ll also get genuine emotions that are easily forgotten on the day of and relived through your photographs.
Weddings are beautiful and you should add to the overall fun of the day. It’s almost impossible to not have fun, especially when you get to celebrate love.
Each wedding is different and can offer challenges because they are one time events. Hopefully, these 25 tips can help to prepare you and allow you to celebrate weddings and create meaningful memories for your clients.
For more information on getting started in wedding photography, why not check out our article on best wedding cameras.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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