So a family friend has convinced you to photograph their wedding. It seemed like a great idea at the time… they’re pretty chill, and you could earn some extra cash and add a bunch of photos to your portfolio! Plus, you really do love photography and have silently dreamed of making it your 9-5. What better way to monetize your fave hobby than to enter the wedding world?! Yep…I was there 16 years ago, and I was SO excited. And then…the anxiety set in. What was I thinking? A wedding?! What if I screw it up? What if I miss something crucial, or my gear fails? How the heck do you shoot a reception anyway? And worst of all…what if I’m not actually any good? I felt all of those things and more. But you have one really good thing going for you – you’re here looking for help! The last thing you need is “My 1001 Complicated Photo Skills You MUST Master to Not Suck at Your First Wedding.” Hello overwhelm! Instead, here’s what you actually need to know – 3 tips for beginner wedding photographers that will put your focus in the right place and help you shoot your first wedding with confidence.
Make Change your new BFF
Yeah…I don’t love Change either, but it’s time to get friendly with her. A tip for wedding photographers, beginners and pros alike: flexibility is the name of the game. Picture with me the flow of a wedding day. You might arrive at a dimly lit hotel as the getting ready location where, right off the bat, you’re hit with the dreaded fluorescents. Have the lighting gods no mercy?! You might have some window light to work with, maybe some ugly lamps, or maybe you’ll score a gorgeous patio. Or perhaps you’ll have all of the above. Flexibility. No problem, you say. Next up is the venue, and it’s gorgeous and naturally lit! But you’ll likely encounter another “getting ready room” or two with the above challenges in addition to that lovely natural lighting you were looking so forward to. Or that gorgeous venue may not have any shade during your scheduled portrait time, and you’ll have to navigate some overhead sun. Or maybe you’ll be forced to opt for a photo spot you wouldn’t usually choose because the gorgeous and perfect spot is currently filled with vendors in a flurry of preparation. Flexibility. How about once the party begins? Will you be in another dark room needing to capture lots of quick movement? Will you be outside under some bistro lights that offer their own brand of orangey glow? Will there be a videographer with their own lighting that will affect what you planned for yours? You see where I’m going here…flexibility!
Now take some deep breaths. Yeah… the number of scene and lighting changes inevitable on a wedding day can produce anxiety in even the most seasoned photogs. I do have some tips for beginner wedding photographers for preventing some of these problems above – keep reading to the end to find out how. But the key to handling the constant change of a wedding day with grace is to practice flowing through these changes on the fly—a lot. Very literally, grab your camera and flash, and start moving through and photographing as many different lighting situations as you can in a short time. You can even do this at your own home if you can replicate some of the lighting scenarios I mention above in different areas! Practice moving room to room, to a dark room, to a window-lit room, and outdoors, constantly evaluating your new environment and changing your camera settings accordingly as quickly as you can. Do it over and over again. Look at the photos you’re capturing and make sure you’re happy with the results – and if not, make a change and try again.
The goal you’re working toward is to know your mind and your camera so well that you almost don’t even have to look at the buttons to make changes as you move from place to place. Let me be clear – this kind of mastery on the fly takes hours and hours of practice, so don’t be discouraged if it currently feels like a pipe dream. Set your mind to practicing the skill of flexibility right now, and you’ll gain a ton of confidence to serve you in your decision-making on the big day!
A few beginner wedding photographer tips for wedding day flexibility:
If you’re not super confident in your camera’s manual mode, opt for the aperture priority setting instead. You’ll have fewer moving pieces to think about and can still achieve a beautiful shot. I’ll tell you a secret…I love aperture priority and use it all the time.
Get real friendly with your flash. Remember all those dark rooms you’re likely to encounter? You’re gonna need a powerful flash if you want to capture lots of movement there. Dig into that manual if you need to and incorporate it into your on-the-fly lighting practice. If you don’t yet know the term “flash exposure compensation,” look it up and make sure you know how to control it with ease from your camera.
My fave reception hack: I program my 2 custom setting buttons on my camera with two options for shooting the reception. Custom button #1 is for the settings I like when the flash is on, and #2 is for the settings I like when the flash is off.
Have a clear plan for the day-of
So you and Change are now besties because you’ve practiced your on-the-fly setting switching ’til your thumbs locked up. Great! Now it’s time to develop a clear day-of plan to serve as the framework for all that good flexibility. Decision fatigue is a real thing, my friends, and a wedding day for a photographer is basically the decision-making marathon to end all marathons. The more decisions you can make upfront, the more your brainpower can go toward being creative and serving your couple on the big day.
Before the wedding day, decide:
On a realistic and breathable wedding photography timeline. Make sure the bride & all key players agree! I’ll tell you more on this and why a custom wedding day timeline is the first thing I send to my couples below. You can grab mine here if you need one.
If time is running short, where can you steal from to squeeze in any essential shots you haven’t gotten yet? I like to make sure there is always room in the cocktail hour to make up for any lost time.
What do you need before heading to the wedding? This may seem super basic, but photographer wedding day anxiety is no joke (this 16-year vet still has it every dang time), so it’s a good idea to leave yourself some figurative AND literal breathing room on the big day.
Exactly what gear you’ll bring and tasks that need accomplishing before leaving for the wedding – then physically check them off on a list before driving away from home.
What to do if you accidentally delete photos: never shoot over a formatted or failing card. Safely tuck it away and keep shooting on a fresh card. If you don’t shoot over a formatted card, there is almost always a way to recover what’s there! And yes, I know this from personal experience, <cringe>.
How you’ll navigate the venue. Do some good venue recon – either on the actual property or via google images – to make sure you have a clear sense of how it’s laid out. Visualize getting around the venue fast, where you might set up the bridal party, family, and other large group portraits, and where you’d like to adventure with the bride & groom.
If you’ll bring along some help. My trusty second-shooter of 16 years (Sarah) is a dear friend who tagged along to my very first wedding to be my moral support, runner, and carrier of alllll the things. Eventually I made her learn photography so she could be my second photographer :).
They’ll remember how you made them feel.
And your photos will reflect it too. This principle applies to your clients, their family, their friends, and the other wedding vendors. Many years ago, a clear pattern started to emerge in my client reviews…they expressed it in lots of different ways, but the gist was the same…they liked the way I made them feel. It was true even before I had any clue what I was doing as a photographer and has played an enormous part in getting me a constant stream of clients from the get-go. Your entire journey with a couple, from the time they happen across your Insta post through when you photograph their babies, is one giant opportunity to show them that you’re worthy of their trust. That you value them and add value to their lives. That you deliver on your promises.
How do you think having your clients’ trust might affect the way they interact with you on their wedding day? What if they don’t trust you? What would it look like on the wedding day for you to put your subjects at ease – give them peace and confidence? I don’t have to tell you how much trickier it is to take flattering photos of someone who’s uncomfortable than someone who’s clearly joyful and free. How can you free your clients to feel that way before, during, and after their big day?
Some tips for wedding photographers to earn the trust of your couples throughout the wedding process:
Respond to emails fast & friendly. Even if you don’t know the answer, tell your client you got the email and work on a solution for them by a set date. Then it’s simple: come through on your promise.
Over-communicate…and then communicate some more. Yeah – be that guy. I’m not telling you to make it a goal to annoy your client, but I will tell you never to assume they’re in your head. Spell out exactly what you’re going to do for them and when, and do it as early on in the process as possible. I use a tool called HoneyBook to build workflows that allow me to stay in touch and on the same page with my couples throughout the planning process. The very first email I send to my couple once they’ve booked me includes details on what to expect in the upcoming months, as well as my preferred wedding day timeline. That may sound like a strange time in the process to send out a timeline, but letting my clients know right from the start what I view as ideal in terms of timing and lighting serves two purposes. 1) It gives them some peace (they’re all a little overwhelmed and don’t know where to start putting together the schedule), and 2) I head off some of the complications likely from leaving these key decisions up to someone with less know-how on the subject. If you need a little help timelining and knowing where to start setting expectations with your client, you can grab my exact templates here.
During the shoot, let how you’re making your subject feel be your guidepost. If you feel stuck or stressed, take a breath and think about celebrating with your couple. If shots aren’t working, don’t discuss it with them or let it show on your face; just make like Ross and pivot! Make it your goal for them to feel like you’re another member of their bridal party, and the other pieces will often fall into place.
Make sure they know what to expect AFTER the big day (there’s a template for that here too). How soon will they see some photos and how many? When will they have ALL of their photos, and how will they receive them. Leave no surprises…unless they’re of the good sort ;). And if you need a little help getting wedding photos back to your clients fast, download my free guide here.
Do not under-estimate the impression you make on family, guests, and other wedding vendors – this principle holds true for all of them too! You can read more on how I serve other vendors here.
A few more practical tips for beginner wedding photographers
Oh, I do like a good checklist! I’ve included some essential beginner wedding photographer checklists for you right here.
MUST-HAVE BEGINNER WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY GEAR LIST:
[ ] A bag that’s easy to transport for a long day
[ ] At least 2 cameras (one for backup). Make sure your backup is equipped with fully charged batteries, plenty of memory, and a powerful flash. Having the newest and BEST camera isn’t important – you just have to be confident with it!
[ ] Get enough camera memory/film, and then double it.
[ ] Get enough camera batteries, and then double them.
[ ] 1 zoom lens like this. If you’re just starting out, it’s not crucial to have a zoom lens yet, but you’ll want to add this to your wish list if you continue photographing weddings.
[ ] Plenty of backup batteries for each flash
[ ] A simple emergency kit (pain killer, chapstick, granola bar, tampons, etc.)
[ ] A copy of the timeline and family shot list that doesn’t require an internet connection
Keep in mind that if there’s something here that you don’t own it’s easier than ever to rent photography equipment! You can rent what you need online here.
WHAT TO WEAR – WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER EDITION:
[ ] Think professional – what you’re wearing should be wedding-appropriate, which can vary with the wedding style.
[ ] Think about fitting in – you don’t have to wear black, but you should blend in with guests.
[ ] Think comfortable, supportive shoes that don’t give you blisters.
[ ] Think something you can bend and move in without showing off anything you don’t want to.
[ ] Think about the weather and maybe layer-up. The setting and lighting aren’t the only things that change throughout the wedding day.
[ ] A watch with a timer. I wear an apple watch and like to set timers for myself throughout the day to keep me on schedule and prevent me from getting lost in my little artist’s world.
And there you have ‘em – my 3 tips for beginner wedding photographers! It can seem like there are just too many skills to master to be a great wedding photographer, but just take it one step at a time. Start working through these steps today to focus your energy in the most productive places and prep to shoot your first wedding with confidence!
Have more questions for me? Add them in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to help! Happy growing!