If you’re reading this post, there’s a good chance you’re a brand new wedding photographer! Congratulations! I remember my first wedding 10 years ago and how excited and nervous I was.
Before you shoot your first wedding, there are a few things you will want to do. Here are my 7 tips to help make your first wedding photo shoot a success.
Gain Second Shooting Experience
If you have never second shot a wedding with another photographer, you may not be ready to photograph a wedding on your own. Unlike portrait sessions, there is no room for error on a wedding day. You don’t want to be learning for the first time, on the job.
Find a local photographer to second shoot with to improve your skill.
When reaching out to experienced photographers in your area, it’s important to remember: you are taking time out of their schedule and they do not have an obligation to help you.
The best chance to score a great relationship with a photographer is to follow what they do online extremely closely! Comment regularly on their blog posts, Instagrams and Facebook posts. Don’t be creepy, but be kind and encouraging. This will help your name to become more familiar to them.
Network with other photographers to expand your skillset
After a few weeks or months of this encouragement, send them an introductory email. Share why you love what they do, who you are, and what you would like.
Keep your email short – nobody wants to read multiple paragraphs.
In the email, offer something to them – perhaps that’s your assistant or second shooting skills for free, maybe that’s lunch at their favorite restaurant at a time convenient for them. Show them you’ve done your research, you respect your time and you’d be cool to work with.
Keep at it, and eventually, you’ll find you’re ‘in’ with another photographer and gain valuable experience and possibly, a great friendship. Some of my favorite photographers have reached out to me this way! I’m still connected to them!
Decide On Your Pricing Structure
Before you can set prices for your photography, you need to know your costs. The first step is to make a list of all of the costs associated with your photography business. Think about any current costs you have, monthly or yearly. When you know those costs, you can calculate how much money you need to bring in to break even in your business!
Next, you can set goals for how many weddings you want to shoot per year, and how many portrait sessions. By looking at your costs involved in offering each wedding or portrait collection, you can multiply your profit per job by the number of jobs.
- If it costs me $400 to deliver a wedding to a client (after accounting for my second shooter fees and any products related to the job), if I charge $2000 for that wedding, I will make $1600 from that wedding.
- If I shoot 10 weddings per year at $2000, I’m making $1600 per wedding. $1600 x 10 weddings = $16,000 in revenue. Depending on what my overhead costs are (those monthly and yearly costs we talked about earlier!) I may not be profiting at all, even with 10 weddings!
- Find the sweet spot with your calculations until you have a good feeling for what you need to charge per wedding to make a profit.
If this all feels a little overwhelming, scroll to the bottom of this article for a freebie that will help you set profitable prices!
Set Expectations With the Bride And Groom
Before the wedding day, sit down and discuss exactly what is involved in your photography collection. Set expectations for delivery of images (how and when) as well as image usage rights.
Set expectations in advance and use contracts to capture the agreement in writing
Are you allowed to use the images online? (I would recommend always having this in your contract!) Do you require a meal at the reception? Write it all down and review with the client so there are no surprises. The LawTog offers lawyer drafted contracts by photographers, for photographers. Learn more about wedding contract bundles from the LawTog.
Scout Locations in Advance
Until you gain a better understanding of the locations and venues in your local market, travel to the locations in advance. Learning to ‘think on your feet’ requires experience; so take the pressure off of yourself. Visit locations in advance!
Familiarize yourself with the location and lighting before the big day arrives
Walk around the venue or location and brainstorm possible poses for a) bride and groom, b) wedding party and c) family photos. Look for interesting backgrounds, textures and even shade. Visit the locations at the same time of day you’ll be photographing portraits. This way, you’ll know you’re dealing with the same light you will on the day of the wedding.
Create a Shot List & Get Inspired
Shooting weddings is like any other skill, with practice, it gets easier and more natural! But as a beginner, you’re going to want to write down an exact list of shots you want to capture and do your best to memorize the list. With experience, you’ll know when you’re ready to step away from using the list, but it’s so helpful in the beginning.
This is a great place to start, but take time to brainstorm your own:
Bride’s Getting Ready
- dress, shoes, rings, other details
- photo of bride + girls in robes
- bride putting on dress (wide and close)
- putting on shoes
Groom’s Getting Ready
- individual detail shots
- groom tying his own tie
- putting on shoes
- decor (wide shot and details)
- each attendant walking down aisle
- bride walking down aisle
- groom’s face as she walks in
- each set of parents during the vows
- vows from each side (up close)
- vows from straight on
- ring exchange
- first kiss
- signing of the legal documents
- bridesmaids at front of church
- groomsmen at front of church
- super wide shot of the ceremony space
- reactions of guests
- bride and groom (variety of full length and close up)
- bride with bridesmaids
- bride with each individual bridesmaid
- groom with groomsmen
- groom with each individual groomsmen
- wedding party together (guys on one side, girls on other)
- wedding party together (girl and guy alternating)
- table décor (wide shots and up close)
- couple’s entrance
- photo of each person who gives a speech
- reactions of the bride and groom
- reactions of the parents
- any other guest reactions from each table
- first dance
Gain inspiration from other photo blogs, Pinterest, and magazines. Take note of how couples pose or relax in movie scenes. If you have a significant other, practice poses with them in your home, see if it feel natural, if not, make adjustments. If you’re artistically inclined, you can sketch poses in a notebook for visual examples.
Prepare your shot list in advance to save stress on the day of the wedding shoot
There’s no shame in jotting down a list on your phone. Don’t necessarily look at your phone during the portrait time, but as you’re walking to a new location you can sneak a peek.
Here’s an example:
- groom facing me, hands in pockets, bride on his left side, her right hand on his arm, right side of her face on his shoulder
- bride and groom walking hand in hand towards me, looking at each other
- bride in front of groom, his arms around her collarbones
- bride and groom standing a few feet apart, both looking at camera
- bride and groom walking, he stops to spin her halfway through
- bride and groom walking away, bride looks over shoulder at me
Stock Your Gear Bag
Backup equipment is very important on a wedding day – it’s not worth the risk to show up with only one camera! I recommend photographers pack the following items in their gear bag:
- 2 full-frame camera bodies
- 2 or 3 lenses
- 2 camera flashes
- AA batteries for your flash
- batteries for your camera
- memory cards
If you’re starting out, you may not have the finances to invest in all of the above equipment right away but there are many local and online companies you can rent gear from. As you shoot more weddings and your income grows, upgrade your gear as you can.
Come prepared with backup equipment. Rent lenses and cameras if necessary when you are first starting out
When it comes to lens choices, I recommend shooting with prime lenses.
They often shoot as low as f/1.2 or f/1.4 in aperture, making them wonderful for low light situations: ceremonies, receptions, getting ready spaces, etc. My 3 lens recommendations would be the 35mm f/1.4, the 50mm f/1.2mm (or f/1.4 for a more affordable option!) and finally, the 135mm f/2—helpful for ceremonies and receptions.
However, if your funds are limited and you can only afford to purchase or rent 2 lenses, I would recommend the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L lens. It’s a versatile lens that’s a great starting point, paired with the 135mm f/2 for the closer ceremony shots!
Once you’ve gathered all the gear necessary for the wedding day, are you comfortable using it? Do you know how to change lenses quickly on the day-of? Do you know how to bounce flash for a natural look? Practice shooting with the actual gear you plan to use before the wedding.
Know how to use your gear and its capabilities. Practice extensively before the wedding
In addition to the gear items in your bag, I always pack the following items:
- water bottle
- snacks for the day
- business cards
- clear or black umbrellas
- change of shoes and a sweater
- coins/change for parking in the city
- printed wedding timeline
- printed family photo list (3 copies, to hand out)
Craft An Efficient Timeline
When a client first books their wedding day with you, ask for a rough idea of their timeline. What time is their ceremony and reception? Do they want to have a First Look before the ceremony? Do they have any idea of where they want to take wedding portraits? I would draft a sample timeline based on the details provided.
It’s key to ask early in the process before they’ve sent out invitations or finalized too many details. Sometimes brides won’t know how much time is required for images! Once those invitations are sent out noting the ceremony at 5 pm and the reception at 6 pm… and she’s against a First Look, you’re in trouble.
Even if you didn’t originally include an engagement session in the collection, offer a complimentary session for your clients. Your bride and groom will be thrilled at the added (and unexpected!) value and it’s also a great time to chat timeline details in a natural way. If the client doesn’t live locally, arrange a Skype or FaceTime call to chat about details and sort out any questions they may have.
As you begin to work with higher-end clients, you will have a wedding coordinator working with you on the timeline. However, it’s important to be involved as a photographer. You will be able to advise exactly how much time needed to create the best portraits.
Sample Timeline for a Typical Wedding Day
Not sure where to start? Here’s a sample timeline for a 9 hour wedding day:
- 12:00 PM Bride’s Getting Ready
- 1:30 PM First Look
- 1:45 PM Wedding Party Portraits
- 2:30 PM Bride and Groom Portraits
- 3:30 PM Arrive at Ceremony
- 4:00 PM Ceremony
- 4:30 PM Family Photos
- 5:00 PM Cocktail Hour
- 6:00 PM Reception Begins
- 8:45 PM First Dance
- 9:00 PM Coverage Ends
Build a timeline in advance, and include buffer time for unexpected surprises
When planning the timeline, consider and build driving times right into the document. How long will it take to drive there, including traffic? Will the wedding party need to walk about 10 minutes? Write everything down and buffer in extra time so there are no surprises.
I hope these tips will help you successfully shoot that first wedding!