The news that you are photographing your first wedding often leads to emotions ranging from excitement to apprehension, and in some cases, fear. Assuming you have experience with your equipment and have developed the necessary skills to take great photographs, the wedding event has a greater likelihood of being a successful one if you follow some essential steps.
This article provides an overview of essential steps to follow before, during, and after the event. As with any critical job, the keys are preparation, focus, follow-through, and the gear that will allow you to improve the quality of your photographs, and in turn, take your business to the next level. Check out our extensive list of Wedding Photographers in Melbourne to help capture your special moments.
Table of Contents
- 1 Before the Wedding
- 2 The Ceremony
- 3 After the Event
- 4 Must-Have Wedding Day Photography Gear
- 5 Essential Things That Should Be in Every Wedding Photographer’s Camera Bag
Before the Wedding
Proper preparation before the event is the best way for a photographer to have a successful outcome. I spent several weeks before my first wedding visiting other photographers’ websites. I read books on wedding photography, and I researched photography blogs and forums. It is incredible how much information is available for little or no charge. These tips and photographs can inspire you and get you thinking about what you want to accomplish and how you will make it happen.
You must have a standard written agreement signed by the bride- and groom-to-be and the photographer. There is no excuse for not having this document in place. It should describe the deliverables and the fees associated with the service and products. It should also include a model release so you can use the photos for promotional purposes. It is highly recommended that you contact an attorney and draft a standard agreement that protects you.
At the time of signing the agreement, there are two other opportunities to enhance the process. First, get to know the bride and groom. Spend some time chatting so you will know their story and they will know you. When the wedding day comes, they should feel comfortable with you so their true personalities will shine. If possible, include a no-cost or low cost engagement shoot so everyone can gain even more of a comfort level. It is an excellent opportunity to give them some posing tips that they can use on their wedding day.
It is also imperative to know the schedule. When you meet with the bride and groom, go over the agenda for the time you are expected to be at the wedding. Could you get to know their expectations? Let them know when you expect them to devote time to photographs with you in charge. This is an excellent time to talk about a wedding coordinator. If they designate a friend or family member to help them identify essential family members during the wedding day, it can be a tremendous help.
Another essential component of preparation is checking your equipment. Check it thoroughly at least four or five days before a shoot. A check before my first wedding revealed a faulty auto-focus mechanism on one of my camera bodies, and I had to borrow a second camera for the shoot, but I was ready.
A proper equipment check also requires making sure you have backups of everything. You need two camera bodies and two flash units at a minimum. If you do not have them, you can rent them. On my first senior photoshoot, the wind blew my tripod and camera to the concrete surface. You never know when something will drop or fail.
Check your batteries and memory card supplies, and bring more than you think you will need. It is not uncommon to take 2,000 to 3,000 images at a wedding. If you are using flash, you will burn through batteries very fast at that rate. For memory cards, it is better to have several smaller cards than just one or two big ones. If a card fails, you minimize your loss by using multiple cards.
Visit the venue(s) before the wedding day to scope out lighting and shot locations. Do you need to gel your flash for proper white balance? I often find that if I take a few test shots with and without flash and perform a custom white balance check with my camera, there are competing colors from the various light sources. For indoor venues, I often have to gel the flash to match the color of the venue’s lighting. This will save you much time and aggravation later in the process.
To prepare yourself physically for a tiring day, have a light meal before you go. It is a good idea to bring granola, energy or candy bars, or other portable snacks. Bring water, too, just in case.
If you are prone to headaches, have a pain reliever with you in your pocket or bag.
Part of blending into the event is dressing appropriately. Talk to the bride and groom about their expectations before the event. In all cases, wear comfortable shoes.
Be insured. If someone trips over your equipment, are you covered?
When you arrive, begin by taking outdoor venue shots. Here in southeast Michigan, you never know if the weather will turn on you later, and the same is true in many locations. Get some critical building and landscape elements without people having them.
Calibrate your camera’s white balance as soon as you walk indoors; do it for all of your cameras. Also, turn the camera sounds off; you don’t want your camera to make noise during the ceremony.
Bring a fast lens; the quicker, the better. Indoor lighting at churches and reception halls is notoriously poor and dim. Be prepared with a fast lens (f /2.8 minimum – f/1.8 preferred). If you don’t have one, rent it.
If you are in a worship place, have a clear understanding of where you can go and what locations are off-limits. Also, flash is usually not permitted in places of worship, but you can ask.
Consider bringing an assistant. Let them carry equipment, help set up shots, hold the off-camera flash, and more. If you are working a 6-8 hour event, be prepared for the physical impact it will have on you. Having an assistant will ease the burden on you and should result in better photographs.
If you have a break from the bride and groom, start shooting the very young and very old early. They can get tired fast, and some may leave early.
If you have a camera bag, lock it down or have your assistant carry it. If you are on your own, consider using a cable lock for your camera bag and hide it out of sight. It serves as a deterrent from theft. You may feel comfortable with the bride and groom, but you never know about their friends and family or the venue’s staff.
Never reformat memory cards at the event. Backup when you can, but do not reformat. Check everything on your computer and complete backups before reformatting.
Take shots of the bride and groom as soon after the ceremony (or before) as possible. After people start drinking and celebrating, it will get harder to assemble people and look their best.
Most of the time, the photographer’s role should be to blend in and be discreet. Disappear in the background and try to capture people when they are relaxed, happy, emotional, etc.
If the wedding and reception are indoors, make sure to take shots of the bride and groom outside. Try to get away during the reception and get some outside photos–even if it is nighttime.
Take a group shot of everyone. This is a great way to have everyone in attendance in one photo. It makes for significant enlargement and an opportunity for sales to others in attendance at the wedding.
After the Event
After the event is over, I believe it is essential to process the images as fast as possible. There is something to be said for capturing the energy of the day and carrying forward. Posting photos quickly to a website will make everyone happy.
Please keep in contact with the bride and groom and schedule a time to meet with them to go over the images and discuss order details. It is essential to provide a high level of customer service after the event and before it. If you establish a relationship with the couple, they will think of you for family portraits and portraits of their children in years to come.
Finally, take notes about what went right and what went wrong. This may help you do an even better job next time around.
Must-Have Wedding Day Photography Gear
A Good Bag
There are approximately 72 million camera bags in the world today. Some are cross-body, others are backpacks, and others are roller bags. Some hold a few lenses and a body, while others have roughly 84 lenses and 17 bodies. While much of what I’m saying here is an exaggeration, one thing I will not exaggerate about is that every wedding photographer must have a bag that is big enough, strong enough, and safe enough for all of the gear necessary to be a GREAT wedding photographer.
A Camera That Performs Well in Low Light
You’ll inevitably encounter extremely crappy light at some point on a wedding day. Most churches have dull lights that cast a yellow hue on everything in sight. The majority of reception venues are dimly lit spaces with sometimes not even enough ambient light to lock focus (that’s the WORST). Thus, all wedding photographers must have a camera that will produce beautiful images even in dark situations.
If you do not own a camera that can handle low light situations, please, for the love of ALL the things, rent one for a wedding day. Never forget that someone is trusting you with some of their most important memories, and you only get one shot to do it beautifully!
Going back to that church scenario mentioned above, it is also inevitable that you’ll encounter a church that restricts photographers. I’d say that I am bound somehow in at least half of the church weddings I photograph. Most often, this restriction is in the form of where I can move during the ceremony. Some conditions are harsher than others, but I have been in some churches where I couldn’t even move out of the back row! If I had not had my 70-200 lens, the couple would’ve looked like ants in every single photo!!
Another reason why I love my zoom lens is the compression it creates due to the focal length. This compression allows you to create beautiful bokeh behind your subject without worrying about losing sharpness due to a super-wide aperture. My recipe for an attractive reduction on my 70-200 is:
The further your subject is from the background, and the more you zoom in, the more beautiful compression bokeh you’ll get. This is the main reason why my 70-200 is on my camera 90% of the day. Which, in turn, is why my right arm resembles that of Popeye.
A Wide Angle Lens
A year ago, I wouldn’t have included this lens on this list. When I first started photographing weddings, I had a Tamron 24-70 mm and did not like it at all. I ended up selling it and went a few years without owning a wide-angle lens. If I ever needed a wider shot, I either stitched together a few photos in post-processing or moved far away from the subject.
However, about a year ago, I experimented with a Canon 16-35 mm f/2.8 lens and fell in love. It has such a unique look and even distortion.
Essential Things That Should Be in Every Wedding Photographer’s Camera Bag
Not only does it require long, concentrated shooting, but it’s also a fleeting event. You just have one chance to capture everything the bride and groom want you to.
After my first few weddings, I learned that preparation is everything. Your camera bag makes or breaks the experience, so I’m here to share my camera bag must-haves whenever I go to shoot a wedding.
There are some basic things I’m not going to cover, though. You should always have an excellent selection of lenses, a flash, and a backup body, if possible.
Batteries, Filters, and Storage
Shooting a wedding is all about preparation, particularly preparation that doesn’t require any bride and groom input. While everything here seems like common sense, I showed up at my first few weddings feeling overprepared when I was underprepared.
Batteries are first. I’m a Sony shooter, and anyone who shares that burden with me will know that the battery life is terrible. When I started, I came with six batteries, but aI found that wasn’t enough for more than one 12-hour day; now, I show up with ten batteries in my bag, even though I’ve never made it through all of them.
That’s pretty expensive, though. Ten genuine Sony NP-FW50s will run you around $500. There are plenty of off-brand options that cut the price significantly, though. Take this four-pack of Powerextra batteries that’s about half the price of a single salvo from Sony, for example.
If you’re a Canon or Nikon shooter, you can most assuredly get by with fewer batteries. The important thing here is to be over-prepared. If you don’t have the money to shell out for a ton of extra batteries, make sure to set up a home base where you can charge batteries throughout the day.
The same rule applies to storage. My practice is to pack three times as much storage as I think I’ll need. Of course, you can modify this rule depending on your shooting circumstances. If you’re only shooting the ceremony, you can get by with less, and if you’re covering the whole day, you’ll need a little more.
If you can shoot redundantly, then always opt for it. My particular setup doesn’t allow for that, so I try to find a safe place to set my laptop with an external hard-drive and dump images throughout the day.
Lastly, make sure to pack filters. I have UV filters on all of my lenses, but I also pack variable NDs and circular polarizers. While it’s always a good idea to research the venue before you shoot, you won’t know about the lighting and weather conditions until the wedding day. Having multiple filters at your disposal will allow you to adapt to, say, a high-contrast shot outside quickly.
Filters are expensive, though, so if you want to save a few bones and use what you already have, I suggest packing some stepping rings, too.
You could also pack color-correcting or gradient filters, but I’ve found those slow me down more than anything else. If you’re, for example, shooting at a venue that has an orange cast to the lighting, though, it may be a good idea.
A Blower and Cleaning Cloth
While I’m not opposed to the ol’ “huff on your lens and wipe it down with your shirt,” dedicated cleaning cloth is something you should pack. Not only will it keep your wedding attire clean, but it will also ensure that you’re not smudging or otherwise damaging the front element of your lens.
A “rocket” blower is also essential. If you’re unaware, this little tool shoots a small amount of air into the mirror and sensor area of your camera to clean out any dust that may have built up inside. Whenever I’m doing a lens swap, I have mine on hand to take off the lens I’m changing, clean out any dust, and attach the new one.
While you could wait and clean your camera after the wedding, it’s a good idea to routinely clean it. Nothing’s worse than a considerable speck of dust showing up across 300 shots that you didn’t spot in the viewfinder.
While, in hindsight, it seems so obvious, I never thought to pack tissues in my camera bag. Weddings are emotional, and you’ll have subjects crying left and right. Having some tissues on hand can ensure that you’re always getting the shot you need, even if it’s a particularly emotional moment.
Furthermore, it builds rapport with the wedding party. Especially when starting, it’s hard to be taken seriously as a wedding photographer. While a small gesture, handing out tissues whenever you need to show that you’re professional and prepared. I usually pack the travel-sized Kleenex packs, which are under $1 apiece.
Plastic Bags, Grips, and Ties
Outdoor weddings are a nightmare. It doesn’t matter how many times you check the weather; the conditions can always change. Even with the unusual weather sealing that professional cameras and lenses have, it’s a good idea to pack some old-fashioned Ziplocs to be safe.
While I primarily use the bags to cover my camera when it starts raining outdoors, I’ve had to use them in other situations, too. Sometimes, for example, there’s a particularly rowdy reception, with wedding guests tossing booze around as they dance. You’ll be happy to have them there.
In addition to plastic bags, I always pack some cable ties and spring clamps. Like the Ziplocs, these items are situational, but they’re a good idea to bring along. Whether it’s for rigging a flash you’re going to trigger remotely or clamping up something for a backdrop, I always bring cable ties and clamps with me.
Snacks, Mints, Water, and Deodorant
You’ll be offered food when you shoot a wedding. I’ve never had a client that hasn’t provided it to me. However, if you’re like me and want to focus on shooting and not eating, it’s a good idea to pack some snacks to eat throughout the day.
Trail mix and protein bars are good options. Try to avoid anything that’s loaded with sugar without a good mix of healthy fats. Trail mix and protein bars have their fair share of sugar, but the fat offsets that inevitable crash.
That rule applies to what you’re drinking, too. Don’t pack energy drinks or soda because, once again, you’ll eventually crash. I only drink water when I’m shooting to make sure I’m hydrated and alert throughout the day. I use a water bottle with a ring-like top to easily attach it to my camera bag.
For me, that’s particularly important because I sweat like a dog. It isn’t cute, but you’re going to be running around all day long, and during the Summer, when weddings are at their peak, that means you’ll probably be sweating. I always pack deodorant and, sometimes, cologne, so I don’t stink up the joint.
Similarly, I don’t want my breath to stink when I’m giving direction for shots. Mints are always a good idea, especially as it gets late in the day and you’re doing staged photos. I’ll usually pop a few in throughout the day to help me focus, too.
While not always possible, I try to schedule when I’m shooting for a full day. Usually, I’ll meet with the bride and groom and walk through the day with them before the ceremony. This allows me to know where I’m supposed to be and when I’m supposed to be there.
In the past, that schedule has been stored on my phone, but after a few dead batteries, I started bringing a physical copy. It’s a small thing you can do to make sure you’re fully covering the day without people pulling you in every direction. Furthermore, you’ll often have family members and friends ask for photos, and having a schedule informs whether you can take the time to do that or not.
Last but certainly not least, you’ll want to have a hefty stack of business cards on hand. Business cards are a most archaic form of sharing information, but they’re handy for fast-moving environments, such as a wedding. Here at Vines of the Yarra Valley we have compiled an exclusive list of Melbourne Wedding Photographers to help capture your special day.
In addition to giving your information to a bridesmaid or groomsman who’s looking to get hitched, you’ll often find, for example, extended family who have a newborn. If you have a website, you can also print a QR code on the card so those potential clients can look through your portfolio.