While I was working full-time as a wedding photographer, I was shooting around 30 to 40 weddings a year. I would spend my weekends shooting and during the week I would be editing, responding to emails, writing blog posts, and watching cat videos… errm, I mean doing very important other business related stuff like making videos for my YouTube channel.
With that being said, these tips are coming from someone who has experience on what to expect when diving into the world of professional wedding photography.
Perhaps youʼve been shooting weddings all along, some of these tips might still be useful to you, so stick around.
Tip #1: Donʼt rush into it!
Iʼve seen a lot of bad advice going around lately on Youtube from photographers suggesting that if you havenʼt shot a wedding before, you should just do it. Why not right? Youʼll learn how to do product photography, shoot people, couples and events all in one day and make a ton of money while youʼre at it.
I think this is terrible advice. Firstly, youʼre experimenting with one of the most important days in someoneʼs life in order to gain some experience in photography. If you screw up, you could potentially ruin the memories from their day and they wonʼt have images to remember it by.
Secondly, in photography, your name is everything. Itʼs your personal brand, so if you make a mess of someoneʼs wedding, you wouldʼve dragged your own name through the dirt and thereʼs no real way to recover from that.
Instead, Iʼd suggest contacting photographers you admire and ask if you could assist them on any of their weddings. Theyʼll more than likely be happy to have you unless they already have someone else. Theyʼre getting a backup and youʼre gaining experience. Itʼs a win-win.
Tip #2: Have backups of everything
Wedding photography, and photography in general, can get very expensive very quickly so if you have GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), make sure you get that in check first.
Youʼll need backups of everything from lenses and camera bodies to cards, batteries, and speedlights. Anything can happen on the day and you donʼt want to be the guy or girl who is being paid to be at the wedding with a camera… without a camera.
One way to combat this is to rent gear that you canʼt afford just yet. There are a few advantages to renting over buying and thatʼs why I always recommend this to new photographers. You get to try out the gear youʼve always wanted without breaking the bank and a lot of the time youʼll realize that investing $2,000 in a new lens wonʼt really make your work THAT much better and suddenly you’ve saved yourself thousands of dollars.
Tip #3: Shot lists
Youʼre probably thinking that having a shot list is not your style, that you want to be creative on the day, you have a general idea in the back of your mind of the shots you want to get and you donʼt need anyone telling you what to do.
This may be true but sometimes the pressure can get a little too much and you can go blank. Iʼm not saying this is going to happen to you but it definitely does happen.
Weddings can be quite overwhelming at times with everything that is going on and in the heat of the moment, you could easily forget what shots you needed to get. If you miss a shot at a wedding, thereʼs no rescheduling or re-shooting, you either get the shot or you donʼt.
Rather be safe than sorry, it wonʼt take much of your time and youʼll save yourself a lot of headache and heart break if you do this.
As a mini bonus-tip, Iʼd also suggest asking the couple for a group/family shot-list. This will save you heaps of time on the day because you wonʼt have to scramble around deciding on which family members need to be in photos together. This can go on forever and you might lose valuable time if youʼre planning on doing the couple shoot right after.
Tip #4: Location scouting
Often on a wedding day, depending on how strictly the couple sticks to the schedule, things can go completely haywire and decisions are made on the spot. Perhaps they decide to move the group photos up by 2 hours and you’ve had no time to look for the best spot to capture them. Youʼll be stuck with picking a location that is within view and have to settle for something that is less than perfect.
Instead, arrive early and walk around the wedding venue looking for the best locations and visualizing where you would shoot the dress, the rings, the couple, the group photos, etc. You could even pay the venue a visit a few days or even weeks before the actual wedding to scout out the best spots. That way thereʼs no rush or pressure at all and you might even find yourself with some spare time on the wedding day to eat that peanut butter sandwich you packed.
Tip #5: Know your tools
You might think that you know your camera very well but you donʼt want it to be someone elseʼs wedding day that determines whether or not you do.
When things start moving on a wedding day and you have to quickly expose for a variety of different lighting situations, you might realize that you donʼt actually know your camera as well as you thought you did.
You need to be able to look at a scene and without really even thinking much about it, know exactly which settings on your camera need to be adjusted to expose correctly and then how to change those settings in seconds while you move into the next scene.
Picture yourself shooting the couple inside a dimly lit chapel. Now as the ceremony ends and theyʼre walking down the isle, they walk from inside the dimly lit chapel to a bright and sunny day outside. You need to know how to expose for those two drastically different lighting situations, while walking backward, without looking up from your camera so you donʼt miss anything and without stepping on the brideʼs second cousinʼs dog named Bella that he brings to all the family functions.
You can improve the speed at which you shoot by giving yourself a time limit challenge. Similar to what I and two other photographers did in the “3 Photographers Shoot 1 Model” challenge.
Each photographer had 3 minutes to get a photo of a model in a new setting. If you donʼt have a model, you can use props around your house and practice that way. Build out a little scene and give yourself a time limit to capture that scene at different focal lengths. Get a wide shot, a medium shot, something close up and if you have time, something creative.
I hope that you found these tips helpful. If you did, Iʼd appreciate it if you shared them. I go into a lot more depth with each of them in the video at the top, so check that out.
If you have any questions please pop them in the comments below and Iʼll try to answer them as best I can. Thanks so much for reading this and good luck with your first wedding!
About the author: Sheldon Evans is a photographer based in Cape Town, South Africa. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Evans’ photos and videos on his website, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.