I’m a hobbyist photographer, I don’t have the flashiest gear, and I certainly don’t have any professional experience. The most “official” projects I’ve done before involved using photography studios at university to do portraiture for the Student Union where I worked at the time. So when I was asked by a friend of mine to do the photography for his wedding, I was overwhelmed by a mixture of excitement, anxiety, self-doubt and pressure. Immediately I thought “I’m not good enough to do that.”
I’m writing this a few days after the wedding, and everything went fantastically well. The pictures I got (and there’s a lot of them, but we’ll get to that later) came out better than I’d hoped, and the ones that the happy couple have seen so far, they’re very, very happy with. That being said, I’m certain the only reason it went so smoothly was because I took so much advice, looked for hundreds of tips online and listened to anyone I could who’d done anything similar before.
So, as was the original intention for the Internet, I’m going to share the bits of advice that helped me most for any other hobbyist photographers looking to do their first wedding.
1. Equipment – Get the best you can
Now, I’m not going to launch into some elitist rant about how only the top of the range camera will do. Most of the images I shot were with a mid-range Nikon DSLR (D5300). Most modern DSLRs these days are capable of taking great pictures; they all have more pixels than you can shake a stick at and most have very decent image processors. The most important thing is to get the right lenses, flash guns, memory cards, batteries and all the other bits and pieces to make shooting those great pictures possible.
Look through Flickr, or any other photography site, and find wedding pictures you love. Look at the details for that image and see what focal length, aperture, shutter speed and ISO it was shot with. Get a really good idea not only of what kinds of shots you want to get, but what equipment you’re going to need to get it. If you have a specific type of picture you want, but don’t have the right kit to get it, you simply won’t get it.
It sounds silly, but one of the things I was most worried about wasn’t the cameras or lenses, but the flash gun, batteries and SD cards. If you’re shooting indoors, you’ll need a flash gun. If you’re shooting quickly, you’ll need memory cards with high transfer speeds. If it’s an all day job, you’ll need a few batteries, and even more for the flash gun. Always take more than you think you’ll need. That peace of mind will help you relax and get on with the difficult bit: Taking the pictures!
2. Check out the location
This isn’t always possible, but if you can it’s a real help to get a look at where the ceremony, reception and any other bits are going to be. This will help you figure out where you can/need to stand in order to get the best shots but also not to get in the way. If possible, take some test shots in the locations at the same time of day as what you’re shooting will be taking place. This will help you to get an idea of the settings you’ll need to use to get the best out of the moment.
Always remember, the little moments your client will be wanting you to capture will be over in the blink of an eye. Make sure you know where you need to be to get these shots, and when you need to be there.
For the shots of the guests and portraiture of the happy couple and their entourage, get a good idea of the scenery around the location. Be aware of what will be in the background, and also the lighting. Take a compass and find out where the sun will be in the sky when you’re due to be taking these pictures and make that lighting work for you. Don’t forget to keep an eye on weather reports, you may be forced to change location last-minute!
All of the above can be a very difficult set of variables to juggle. Always remember: You’re just one person with one camera, capable of taking only one picture at a time. You’re not going to be able to get everything. No one can. Talk to your clients and prioritise the bits most important to them, and make sure they understand your limitations.
3. Get all the help you can
For the wedding I did, I borrowed an additional camera body from the groom, and had my partner (who happens to also be a hobbyist photographer) help me on the day. This can help you work around some location limitations and allows you to be in two places at once, and the additional camera body allowed me to switch quickly between two different lenses.
Talk to as many people who have done this before as you can, they will undoubtedly come out with something you haven’t thought of.
4. Look at other people’s work for inspiration and talk to your clients
If the wedding is taking place in a location that hosts weddings regularly, you may be able to find wedding pictures online at that location. This can be a great source of inspiration, from composition to specific locations and post production methods. If the wedding is taking place somewhere unique, it’s still worth looking at wedding photography portfolios to get ideas.
Discuss these ideas with your clients! What a photographer thinks is a good picture and what the client thinks is a good picture may be wildly different. At the end of the day, you’re there to provide them with what they ask for, not necessarily what you think looks best. Most of the time they will defer to your experience, although it is worth remembering the old retail mantra: “The customer is always right.” If they’re happy, it doesn’t matter whether the pictures you’ve taken don’t win any awards.
5. Scheduling and communication with venue staff
As a photographer, you are part of the crew that produces a wedding, including the staff at whatever venue it may be at, the best man or men and bridesmaids who help to organise the bride, groom and guests, and the event managers. It is a really good idea to find out who all of these people are, remember their names and what they do. If anything happens on the day that isn’t planned (and let’s be honest, the weddings where nothing goes wrong are in the minority, here) you will need to know how to handle it, or who to speak to in order to handle it.
Scheduling can be a big one. There needs to be a window after the ceremony where you have enough time to get all of the pictures the clients want. Herding wedding guests, who are probably on their second or third glass of prosecco and enjoying themselves, can be a challenge in its own right. Clear and confident communication is needed to let everyone know where they need to be and when.
Find out your time slot for taking pictures. Sometimes this will be organised for you, other times you will have to make do with what you’re given. Be aware of whatever is following on from the photography, and what time it needs to start, and prioritise the shots you need to get in that space of time.
A really important thing to remember is that there are limitations on the parts of the ceremony you can photograph. Make sure you speak to the registrar or whoever is conducting the ceremony so that you’re both clear on when you can and when you can not take pictures. Make sure the bride and groom are fully aware of this also, as they may be expecting pictures you’re not legally allowed to take!
6. Post production
Be realistic in your promises of post production. Chances are you will end up with hundreds of pictures of the day, and it would take months to post produce all of them. Come to an agreement with your clients about the end product, whether it includes printing or any kind of album production, and how many pictures you’re going to carry out post production on. Also agree whether the cost of any additional work such as a photo album is included in your fee or is extra.
Make sure this is clear and agreed between all parties well in advance.
7. Enjoy it!
On the actual day, talk to the guests and your clients throughout the day, create relationships, be part of jokes, and get involved. This will help guests feel more relaxed around you, and more inclined to give you natural smiles. Never forget that you’re there to do a job, but yours is one of the few jobs at a wedding that requires you to get involved and interact with the people there. The happier and more relaxed they are around you, the better the pictures you’re going to get will be, and the happier you and your clients will be!
I hope this will be some help to a budding wedding photographer out there. It can be a hugely daunting task, but with the right preparation and thought, it is massively enjoyable and produces the memories that will be shared for years to come.