Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Business: Your First Wedding

One of the most nervous moments a photographer has is arriving on site at their first wedding. Maybe it was a family/friend request, or someone who found you through a friend or another customer. But it's your first one! What do you do? Have you prepared for this day? Let's talk about how you can be best prepared, and deal with that first magical wedding gig.

  • Clean your lenses and pack your camera bag methodically before you leave your house.
  • Know how to change your camera modes quickly and efficiently, in the dark.
  • Have your spares close to you. Camera, batteries, lenses, whatever you have.
  • Format your memory cards before you leave for the site. Nothing is more frustrating than shooting the first 30 shots and then realizing your card has tons of images from the last shoot.
  • Consider getting an image tank device that will duplicate your cards to hard disc on location. Good insurance policy for around $100.
  • Batteries. Lots of Batteries. If you power flashes with AA, get Lithium batteries. Take your chargers in the car so you can power up at the reception.
  • Drill into your head "check your barrel" - meaning don't shoot without confirming ISO, shutter, f-stop, mode, lens auto/focus, white balance, image size/quality settings.
  • Know how to set white balance on your camera. Do it whenever setting or lighting changes. It will save you HOURS of time editing.
  • It's digital...shoot more than you think. Look for environmental shots and crowd/response shots. You'll love those background shots for album layouts.
  • Shoot 3 shots of every image, plus extras proportional to crowd size. For large formals, stay in one position and fire off 8-10 images. You'll have the right recipe to do head swaps for blinkers.
  • One technique - tell everyone to close eyes and when you count three, they open and smile. Usually the first shot has no blinkers!
  • Do a walkthrough of the church or ceremony area. Understand lighting issues for the time of day.
  • Meet the people in control and remember their names. Church secretary, catering manager, DJ, etc.
  • Ask if there is a rehearsal at the church, and if you can show up. You can also shoot some shots of the people in rehearsal and include as before/after. You will also be treated more like "family" by the bridal party after the rehearsal.
  • Talk to the officiating person at the ceremony, to know where you can and cannot be, and if there are times when it is inappropriate to shoot. Ask about flash; assume "no flash".
  • Make a list of the key shots you want to get. Keep a pencil with you.
  • Note the name of the principals, and use them. Bride, Groom, parents, wedding party.
  • ID your "go to" person to help find others and resolve problems. Often this person is the matron of honor, but sometimes its a friend who is not in the bridal party.
  • Dress comfortably but not too casual.
  • Depending on location and dress, it may be OK for men to not wear ties. Maybe a dark jacket and dark clothing. Slacks and comfortable shoes are good for both men and women.
  • Don't let personal body adornments (tattoos, piercings) degrade your image.
  • You will sweat. Lots of deodorant!
  • Throw a bottle of water and a couple energy bars or granola bars in your bag. You don't want dehydration or low blood sugar to impact your shooting.
  • Go potty once you get lower the risk of "timing problems!"
  • Turn off the cell phone. Do Not Text On The Job!
  • Have business cards, and only give them out when asked.
    Talk to bride and groom about whether you want to advertise web listing of the gallery, and print cards with their image if available.
  • People will ask you about your camera. It's the conversation starter. Be prepared to talk Megapixels.
  • Probably not a good idea ever to drink at the reception. You can have a beer when you are uploading images at home.
  • You may be more nervous for your first couple of weddings than the bride or groom!
  • Know how to relax yourself (focus, breathing, positive thoughts). Know how to recognize when you are agitated.
  • Try to get some sleep the night before!
  • You are expected to be in control. If your timeline is drifting or Uncle Bob is shooting over your shoulder, don't hesitate to be polite but firm. Think ahead of time the words you will use.
  • Remember that you will be wired...adrenaline high. You may be a bit edgy so make sure you know how to turn on the "nice" and turn off the "snap".
In The End, Remember:
  • You will shoot better photos than anyone else in the room.
  • You have permission to tell pretty much anyone to do anything...implicit permission from bride and groom.
  • You will have hours after the event to decompress and think about what could have gone better. Don't worry about it until you leave the event.
  • Be confident...they hired you because you are "you"!


  1. I have photographed two weddings -- my nephew's wedding and the wedding of a friend. If I am asked to photograph another wedding, I hope to have a second camera body in my repertoire. It is much easier to reach for a camera with a needed lens, rather than having to change lens on the fly. A second camera body would make this type of photography less stressful, at least for me!

  2. I have my first wedding coming up in August. I really have some planning to do. Your article really helped. Thanks! Since it's my first wedding shoot, I'm not familiar with the location inside. It's at the Warner. Do you know if I can get in there sometime before the event to scope it out? I'm concerned about lighting inside. If I can't use a flash will faces be dark? Have you ever shot there? Just wondering....

  3. Jennifer, the Warner is a bit dark and the ceilings are VERY HIGH, meaning you can't bounce a flash off them and get any decent light. Also, the side walls are dark and have pockets and mirrors, which may complicate the lighting if you tried to bounce off a nearby wall.

    If you have an attached flash, you may want to consider a Gary Fong lightsphere. I have one if you want to borrow it and play. It's only about $30.

    One thing I need to get better at is gelling the flash to be more compatible with the surrounding (tungsten) light. That will help with your color temperature mismatches between the warm tungsten light inside and your cool blue flash.

    If you can't use flash, you will have to shoot wide open f-stop, high ISO and slow shutter, meaning that the subjects may be blurry. I have played in there a number of times in bands, and it's not terribly light. lens (2.8 or lower), newer Nikon bodies are better at low light than Canons...and rock steady hands or IS lenses...