If you’re reading this article, you might be interested in testing out wedding photography or you might be trying to figure out how to build a sustainable career. When people find out we photograph weddings there are a wide variety of responses but one of them is, “I tried that once and I’ll never do it again.”
In this article, I hope to give you tips for shooting your first wedding so that it’s not your last.
With a little forethought going into it, you can set yourself up for success. But I’ll warn you that you might need to set realistic expectations, take baby steps, and invest some preparation time upfront. Weddings can be intense which can either be stressful or endless fuel for your creativity.
Note: This article is not about photographic skill, as that should be a given. You should make sure you are experienced enough as a photographer before taking on a challenge like wedding photography. You do NOT want the responsibility of capturing memories on one of the biggest days of a couple’s life if you are not extremely comfortable behind a camera.
tip #1. Take the Pressure Off
Let’s talk about expectations first. I’m talking about both your own expectations and the clients’ expectations. Lower them.
Sure, that sounds bad but until you’ve shot a wedding, you don’t know how complex they actually are. The more pressure you put on yourself the more you’ll set yourself up to hate it. That might mean that your first client needs to be someone who is generally a positive and grateful person.
You may not shoot award-winning photos of your first wedding but you’re going to work hard to capture beautiful and important moments. One of the best feelings is when you work really hard to create something you’re proud of and the couple really values it too. So pick that first couple wisely.
To take even more pressure off, consider second shooting for your first wedding or shooting with another photographer so that there’s less pressure to not miss a moment. Weddings are a lot of pressure, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event and you can’t recreate it. And at the same time, if you expect to be perfect it will be too much pressure.
My philosophy is to focus on the amazing shots I did capture rather than stressing about any that I might have missed.
Tip #2. Know What to Expect
If you read the article on what photos should be taken at a wedding you know that while weddings are stressful and overwhelming, they are also predictable. If you familiarize yourself with weddings in general and your couple in particular, you can anticipate. It can also be helpful to scout the location ahead of time.
When it comes to weddings, there are key moments that are important. And for the most part you can plan when and where to be. You can even plan your framing and your camera settings so that you already have a plan of how you’re going to shoot something.
You might be hesitant to use plans and systems since they don’t sound all that creative. However, the more prepared you are, the more freedom you’ll actually have to create. Family group pictures are an example of a time to use a list that you’ve gathered from your couple ahead of time so you don’t have to scramble trying to figure out what combinations to do on that day.
That comes to knowing the locations as well. Scout the venue both in person and virtually, and get a feel for the various lighting conditions that you’ll need to be prepared for. Once you have more experience you’ll be able to shoot any location on the fly but for your first wedding, plan ahead.
Tip #3. Prepare to Take a Beating
Charge your batteries, pack snacks, drink water, and wear comfortable shoes. It’s a long and sometimes sweaty day. It’s best to be prepared.
Think about it less like you’re going to a wedding and more like you’re going to climb a mountain or run a marathon. If you’re prepared for your body to take a beating you won’t be as surprised at how sore you are the next day. Another thing that can help with that is to think about your body position and ergonomics.
Wedding photography is extremely physical being on your feet all day on concrete floors, your gear weighing you down, and the strange positions you contort yourself in. Not to mention being polite and friendly all day can take a toll. During all your preparations and scouting you might even plan ahead for a time that you’re going to take a break and stretch your back.
You know what you need in order to be at your best. Some photographers thrive on high-intensity and constant motion while others need a way to recharge.
Tip #4. Be Yourself and Have Fun
There is a lot of wedding photography advice out there and here’s the truth, it’s not all going to work for you. You’ll want to learn to quickly determine what resonates with you and what doesn’t. The more you’re able to be yourself on a wedding day the better your work will be.
For example, despite what you may think, not all wedding photographers are super extroverted and directed. Not all wedding photographers love pretty girly decorative things. Eventually you’ll develop your own style of shooting weddings the way you love to and the sooner you start doing so the sooner you’ll attract the right clients.
Why did you decide you wanted to do this in the first place? Do you love a good party? Are you a sucker for love or classy decor or crazy family dynamics and people-watching?
Whatever your reasons for wanting to give wedding photography a shot, make sure you account for that. Get down on the dance floor with your camera in hand or gush over the flower arrangements if that’s your thing. If you’re having fun your photos will probably be better and you may actually want to do it again!
In conclusion, if you want to build a sustainable career start by taking the pressure off and setting reasonable goals. Then, plan and prepare for whatever you can by familiarizing yourself with weddings. After that try to take care of yourself both physically and mentally by doing things like staying hydrated, having fun, and being yourself.
Obviously you need to know how to use your camera to frame up a good photograph, but for better or worse (pun intended) wedding photography is about a lot more than that. If working with couples that are in love on one of their happiest days sounds fun to you then you might just find your Saturday nights booked out.
About the author: Brenda Bergreen is a Colorado wedding photographer, videographer, yoga teacher, and writer who works alongside her husband at Bergreen Photography. With their mission and mantra “love. adventurously.” They are dedicated to telling adventurous stories in beautiful places.