What Does a First Time Wedding Photographer Need to Know?

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For many first time wedding photographers, their first gig was for a family or friend or someone they knew well, a friend maybe. Inevitably the first question they had was how to photograph a wedding? When there is a photographer who is not professional but has a talent for photography, someone is at some point bound to ask them for a favour to photograph a special event for them.

Every wedding day is such an adrenaline rush. There are so many things happening. So fast. All at the same time. It feels like a whirlwind. There are SO many elements to think about all. The. Time. It would take weeks or months for us to tell you everything. So, instead, we’ll let you know the first things that came to mind because we think they’re some of the most important to remember as you embark on your first wedding. We have compiled a list of our top Wedding Celebrants to help you celebrate your special day.

Wedding photography can be lucrative, fun, and a great way to show off your photography skills. Although the industry is filled with professional wedding photographers, you don’t need to be a pro to document the special occasion. This tutorial offers ten essential steps that help ensure you’ll end the day with a great set of photographs – whether or not you’re a professional.

Tips for Shooting Your First Wedding

The First Client

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It’s usually a friend or a family member who asks. And there are two reasons why they have asked you, firstly, that recognize that you are a talented photographer (which is excellent to know!) and secondly, they ‘know you’. Perhaps they have trust in you, which you cannot replicate with a brand new client. It takes a few jobs to build rapport and confidence in the industry. 

All a new client would know at first is that you are a good photographer. They need to have worked with you before they can trust in you. A friend or family member knows you well enough that this is a foregone element.

Preparing Yourself

It might be your cousin or best friend who has asked you, and between you, you both have never photographed a wedding. It’s a little negative to say, but we need to ask: Have you thought hard about whether you are suitable for the job? You more than likely are! But you will always have small doubts. 

Knowing when you are taking on more than you can chew is an excellent ability to have. A small wedding in the local church and then a pub reception is a much different kettle of fish to a lavish 500 person wedding where they expect photoshoot back-drops and photo booths.

Not knowing your strengths and limits will lead to clients expecting more than you can deliver. But if you know them and it’s not a job too big, then congratulations on the first job! 

Be More Than a Photographer

Be more than a photographer. Be a coach, an encourager, an advocate, and a friend. Let your first instinct always be to love and serve. Love and serve. Marinate in that. Let it invade every area of your heart and become woven into the fabric of your very being because the way we treat people matters as much as the photos we give them — so love and serve people all day in every way you can. Walk onto that wedding day with a servant’s heart and go out of your way to make people feel cared for and special. Also, smile. A lot. Be an ambassador of joy. That’s what the day’s all about (happiness), and it’s what we should be all about, too. As a new photographer (especially at weddings), you’ll make mistakes. We still do. There’s no such thing as shooting a perfect wedding day. That’s what makes it a rush every single time.

Just do the very best you can with the equipment and experience you have right now. But, do you know what you can be excellent at from the very beginning? Precisely what we’re talking about here. Loving and serving everyone around you with a smile on your face and a joyful, hard-working servant’s heart. Remember, people won’t get to see your photos until weeks after the wedding. Let you be who you are and how you act, be an impression that’s so strong that your clients love the photos before they even see them. And if, for some reason, something goes wrong and you miss a shot you should’ve gotten — because sometimes that happens and none of us is perfect — work so tirelessly every second of the wedding day that no one can ever blame your effort or say you were lazy or didn’t care.

Get in touch with the happy couple to make sure you know exactly what they want from the day. They may want you to be around all day taking candid shots at the service and reception, or they may require formal family portraits. Try and agree on how traditional they want the photos to be, whether it involves the whole party lining up outside the church or whether they’d prefer some more informal shots of just themselves at a chosen location.

If you are allowed, try to be there at every stage of the wedding, the bride getting ready and when the car arrives right up until they drive off into the distance. This will give you comprehensive coverage of all the events and a great selection of shots to choose from!

Dress for the Job 

Dressing for the job is always important, but especially when you’re young. You’ll be making a lot of first impressions on that wedding day, so choose something that reflects what you want to project. Wear something well-put-together — cute, classy and professional — like a pencil skirt with a nice blouse and some accent pieces, for example. Even though you’re young, people will take you seriously if you dress professionally and interact with others confidently. On that note, wear comfortable shoes! Your feet will thank us later! Here’s a link to a post with everything we wear on wedding days!

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Every chance you get between now and the wedding day, practice. Offer to second shoot or even third shoot/assist/carry bags/get water for as many wedding photographers in your area as you can between now and your wedding, so you can see what photographing a wedding is like before diving in. 

Weddings are so different from portrait sessions for so many reasons, and you’re going to feel so much more confident if you can walk onto your first wedding day with as much on-the-job wedding day experience as possible. The more wedding-specific education you can absorb between now and then, too, the better.

But, at a minimum, make sure you’re as confident as you possibly can be with your camera. That’s something many photographers don’t think about when they move from portraits to weddings: just how many images they’re going to have to edit. If you don’t nail your shots correctly in-camera, it could take months to be able to deliver your product to your client finally — and that’s just too long. You got into photography because you love taking pictures, not to spend your life trapped behind a computer screen trying to do surgery on images and fix them.

Make Sure You Know Your Boundaries

It can be the case that the vicar or registrar would prefer certain parts of the service not to be photographed as it can be distracting, and you have to ensure that you know when you are and aren’t allowed to shoot. Also, ensure that your camera won’t be making any beeping noises during the service!

It’s also good to know whether anyone else will be taking photographs or filming on the day; remember, it’s not a competition; try and work together, and you’ll all get great results.

Set Clear Expectations

If you’re getting paid (we’ll get to this), then you’re now a Pro. But this is your first job. No matter how good you are at photography, you will still be learning on the job. Make sure to make the couple clear that you won’t deliver the equivalent quality of work that an experienced wedding photographer would.

That’s not to say the photos will be substandard, but to understand you will still be doing the best you can with the experience you have. Once everyone is on the same level of expectation, there shouldn’t be any disappointment.

One of my policies is to undersell and over-deliver. Which is infinitely better than overselling and under-delivering, which I think many people are prone to do. 

Confirm a Price

This is probably the most common mistake of first time wedding photographers, heck, any first time photographer.

A different reason a friend or family might ask you to photograph their wedding is reducing costs. Wedding photography can be one of the highest costs, and many couples go into planning unaware of this. Not everyone realizes the cost of getting great photos. Some even think it’s a simple job so it won’t cost much.

You, as a first time wedding photographer, will be cheap. You may decide to do it for free or as a favour. So make sure you are clear about what payment you are expecting beforehand. It should be the first thing you and the couple decide on.

Many first time photographers go into the job only to decide or negotiate a price after. This is an unnecessary mistake many first time photographers make. And it will almost always end in disagreement.

Additionally, if you seek monetary compensation for your efforts, know your value. A wedding is the better part of a day in working hours, and you’ll need the equivalent amount of hours to edit. Multiply this by the hourly rate you think you are worth, and that’s your value.

Location Scouting

Now you have the first two tips resolved and are taking on the job. You need to know every facet of the battlefield to win the war!

Getting to know the location will reveal any obstacles or hazards and any issues you may encounter as a first time wedding photographer. Every wedding event can be different, so you need to be prepared ahead of the wedding to know where the best places are to get the right shot, where the light falls for the best picture.  

Knowing this information beforehand means you spend less time figuring things out and more time taking more shots. Standing in the wrong position, figuring out the correct settings while you have seconds to get the bride and groom walking up the aisle is not a situation you want to find yourself in.

Shoot in Raw

As there are a variety of venues, indoors and outdoors, you’ll need as much versatility in the shots as possible, and with RAW, you’ll be able to ensure that the light is always right. It is essential to make sure you have enough memory for all the photographs you want to take. If you feel your memory card isn’t big enough, you can either get a second card or take along a laptop to back up the photos as you go. You don’t want to be fiddling around with unwanted shots and missing ideal photographic opportunities.

Duplicate Everything

This should go without saying. If you have a camera with two memory card slots, have it written to both cards. One with.RAW and the other. JPEG.

Suppose you have the funds or access, backup your equipment. Having a backup camera is better than having nothing if your camera fails. The same thing goes for memory cards. Have as many as financially feasible.

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Make sure you are kept in the loop, the couple can send you an itinerary for what the schedule of events are, so you know when all the crucial moments will take place: when the bride walks down the aisle, when the confetti is thrown, to later in the evening, when the cake is cut.

You also need to know where the important people will be. The bride and groom, but the vicar, the best man, the maid of honour. All of you will be working together during the wedding, especially when the itinerary changes.

It is essential to ensure that you get the shots that you’ve been asked to capture before you start getting too inventive. The photographer’s role is to preserve the essence of the day and ensure that memories can be relived for years to come. They’ll want beautiful clear shots, not creative blurs. So make sure you are in the right place at the right time to capture all those perfect moments. Once you’ve got what you want from a particular setting (e.g. cutting of the cake), you are free to start being creative!

You are often surrounded by fantastic architecture, decorated buildings, and a church full of people looking their best at a wedding. It would be a shame not to make the most of this, so keep moving around each set, trying to find the best angles and viewpoints to capture the people and the structures around them.

Lastly, spend some time writing out a timeline and make sure you know exactly what you want to accomplish during each portion of the day. The law of time says that everything will take longer than you think. Plus, people are almost always running late on wedding days. So give yourself plenty of cushions, so you don’t feel rushed. That could lead to you feeling frantic and panicked… and freezing up. If you show up without a detailed plan, you’ll quickly feel paralyzed because there’s so much going on. If you have a plan and know what shots you need, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable and serve your clients the way they deserve to be done. Looking for a wedding photographer in Melbourne? Look no further. Vines of the Yarra Valley has compiled an ultimate list of wedding photo companies to help you choose.

Take Charge

It would help if you took charge of situations. Mostly a wedding photographer is out of sight capturing the moments, but when it comes to couple and group shots, you need to find your voice to command the situation.

Most people don’t know how to pose or how to stand; you need to tell them, direct them, and show them what you need to get the best shot.

And don’t be afraid to boss people about it. Children and the older guests will have little patience during group shots. Keeping your composure is key. Speak up and strongly assert your authority.

The formal shots are likely the most important photographs of the day, so it is excellent to ensure you get it right. Try to decide on two locations, your first choice being somewhere outdoors if it’s dry and a back up indoor option that preferably has a lot of natural light in case of rain. Make sure you’ve got your tripod and a list of the required shots, preferably detailing who is to be featured in each.

Employ a bridesmaid or best man to be in charge of ensuring that each shot has its full complement of members, and then it is up to you to ensure that you have everyone’s attention and that they are smiling! Don’t be afraid to tell people what to do. It’s impossible to know everyone’s name, but they’ll soon get the idea when you start arranging them in the shot and getting them to look your way.

There is always the possibility that you’ll need to shoot indoors, either through the couple’s preference or because of the weather. It’s essential to be prepared for this. If you have any lighting equipment, take it along with you; even if it’s just a single light or reflective disc, it might make all the difference.

There may also be the requirement to use flash for the formal shots, and it’s essential to get this right. We all know that too much moment can spoil a picture, so get your hands on a flash diffuser and don’t overdo it. If you have one, take a light meter and always try a couple of test shots before you start racing through the formal photographs.

Final First Time Wedding Photographer Thoughts

It’s a big event for the couple, the best day of their lives, and your monumental task is to capture that.

So remember to take a moment to breathe and compose yourself. You have the skills and tools to do the best job, and you can do it! During my gig as a first time wedding photographer, as the wedding unfolded, I realized it wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be. 

There were a few hiccups that challenged me, but I was in my element. There was a moment I realized I knew I could do this, and once I had that realization, I enjoyed the rest of the wedding day with the guests. At Vines of the Yarra Valley we have compiled a list of the Best Photographers in Melbourne to help you choose who captures your magical day.

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