At every wedding we shoot we meet guests with shiny new DSLRs. It’s amazing how often one of them will come and ask for advice because they are about to photograph their first wedding. Karl and I are total photography geeks so we never mind chatting about our equipment and sharing some of our techniques. Because of this approach we find that we make a lot more friends (and therefore customers) rather than if we strive to keep our wedding photography ‘secrets’ to ourselves.
Wedding photography can be one of the most rewarding professions around. The emotion that you can evoke when you give a newlywed couple their wedding photographs can be incredible. Once you have experienced this you will be addicted to improving your work and growing your list of satisfied customers.
Unfortunately shooting your first wedding is not as easy as buying a big camera with a bigger lens and turning up at the church. You are going to be capturing the most important day in the couple’s life and you should prepare accordingly.
So here are 10 tips to consider when you're asked to photograph your first wedding:
1. Manage expectationsEvery photographer with aspirations of becoming a professional wedding photographer should start out shooting weddings for free. In this ‘current financial climate’ a lot of couples are looking to reduce the cost of getting married and would be grateful for some free photography. This will take some pressure of you and as long as you explain to them that it is your first attempt, they will understand if your work isn’t quite up to the standard of Damien Lovegrove.
2. Create a 'Shot List'It’s important when you are starting out to create a photography shot list to use during the day. Speak to the bride and groom beforehand and come up with a plan of what photographs they would like and when they will need to be taken. Great uncle Bob might be sat in a corner for the entire wedding day but if he’s on your list, make sure to seek him out for his portrait.
Once you have ticked off all your official photographs you will be able to relax and have fun with the camera capturing the emotions of the big day.
Ideally you should ask a friend or relative to help you shoot your first wedding but if this isn’t an option, ask the groomsmen for help. After all, they are really there to help with the smooth running of the day and not just to look pretty.
3. Enlist the help of the Groomsmen
Give the best man and each of the ushers a copy of the shot list and a timetable of events. Ask them to give you a hand calling the guests for the group shots especially. When you are preparing the photograph of the entire wedding party you won’t want to be running round on your own, retrieving guests from the bar.
4. Know your camera inside outWe often joke that anyone with a decent camera can photograph a wedding and this might just be the case if the weather is perfect, the vicar is cooperative and the wedding is being held on a beach in Mauritius. In reality you probably won’t be getting at least two of these whilst shooting your first wedding. You might get a rainy day, the vicar will only allow you to shoot from the back of the church (without flash) and the venue might be cramped and dark. These are the situations where a professional photographer will make his work stand out.
You must know what your camera is capable of in every situation. Experiment with different ISO settings and know where the acceptable range is in case you need to squeeze a bit more light out of a badly lit room. Learn how to use the different focusing modes to track a moving subject. Practice using flash as a main source of light and also a fill light and ensure you are competent in any lighting situation.
These techniques will ensure you are ready to tackle anything that the wedding day will throw at you and they’ll ensure that you are shooting with the camera and not fiddling with it.
5. Shoot a lotIt costs nothing to fill up a memory card so shoot and keep shooting all day. I don’t mean keep lining the guests up for group shot after group shot but shoot everything you can. The venue, the cars, the flowers, etc. should all be on your standard list but try putting on a long lens and shooting the guests again and again from different angles. If you are standing back and not getting in their way they’ll ignore you after a while and you’ll get some great shots of them relaxing and enjoying themselves.
You’ll find as you shoot more and more weddings you will become more efficient and the amount of ‘keepers’ you’ll get on a typical day will increase over time. When you are starting out you can try and offset this by keeping that shutter busy.
6. Research the venueAlways go and see the church and wedding venue before the big day. Especially if you haven’t been there before. Try and meet the wedding coordinator and explain to them that you are a novice photographer. You’ll usually pick up some great advice from them and they will show you all the usual spots for the best photography.
At your first wedding you are not trying to create unique images that have never been seen before so have a look at what others have shot in the past. Visit the websites of local wedding photographers and the chances are you’ll find some photographs from a wedding shot at your venue and you will be able to take inspiration from them.
7. Hire but don’t buyIt’s very tempting when you have been booked to shoot your first wedding to go out and buy a new professional camera with all the accessories that inevitably come with it. The trouble is, it will probably cost you more money to buy the camera than you will earn from the wedding. This means that you are running your business at a loss right from day one.
It’s much better in my opinion to rent the equipment that you need for the day. That way you’ll have excellent gear to use and it also means that your current camera can be used as a backup if things go wrong.
Do ensure to book the rental for a day or two before the wedding. This will give you time to familiarise yourself with the different button layout and tune the camera to your ow preferences.
8. Be polite and professionalThere are a lot of stories about wedding photographers being rude to guests. A guest told me he’d been to a wedding once where the photographer was stood on the steps setting up the group shot, smoking a cigarette whilst whistling and barking orders at the guests. Don’t be that photographer!
After a wedding only a handful of the guests will actually see your wedding photos. The only experience most of the guests will have of you is watching you work. If you are rude or discourteous then you can forget any referral work, no matter what the standard of your photography is.
If you are polite and professional with the guests this will also reflect in your photography. Most people hate having their photograph taken so making this as painless as possible is your aim for the day.
9. Backup, backup and backup againAlex Lindsay from Pixel Corps is often heard saying ‘A photograph doesn’t exist until it exists in three places’ and we tend to agree. During a wedding there is usually some downtime when the guests are eating and this is the first opportunity you have to start your backup strategy. We always take a laptop with us and copy the cards to the hard drive while we are on our break. This also gives you the chance to quickly scan through the photos that you have already taken and you can double check that you have everything that you need so far.
After the wedding we return to the office and back the photographs up to our main editing machine. We use Macs so once this has completed we use Time Machine to make another backup of the photographs to an external drive. After this round of backups has completed, the external drive is taken off site and put in a fire safe at one of our houses.
Then and only then do we know that we can reuse a memory cards for the next wedding.
10. Keep it simpleThere’s a saying in sport ‘Don’t try to win the game with a miracle shot’. The same theory applies to wedding photography. Don't attempt to be over creative because you think you have to. Keep it simple. Good, sharp, uncluttered and in focus images are what you are aiming for. Trying to be too arty and spending too much time looking for that miracle shot could waste precious time that could be used to capture a dozen other ‘banker’ images.
Shooting your first wedding can be nerve-wracking but you’ll soon find that it can also be tremendous fun. Get to know the groomsmen and bridal party before the wedding day if you can. This will help you all relax and the fun you are having will be reflected in your photographs. Share your work on all the social media sites and before long you’ll be receiving referrals, gaining a reputation and hopefully be well on the way to building a successful wedding photography business.
Article from Kapow - www.kapowphotography.co.uk. You can read more wedding photography tips and business advice with Kapow’s new iPhone app titled: Wedding Photographer's Starter Kit.