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10 Tips to Shooting Your First Wedding

February 12, 2020

I'm the woman who transformed adversity into triumph: I left my economic development job, navigated through divorce, and built a business that realized my dreams. Blending support with strategy, I turn dreams into reality. My mission? To empower women to boldly chase their entrepreneurial ambitions every day!

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Wedding photographers are some of the strongest, smartest, and most creative people I know.  Wedding photography is not for the faint of heart. Weddings are long days, where you are on your feet all day.  You carry a lot of weight on your shoulders. Quite literally with all your gear, but also the weight of responsibility that comes with weddings.  There are no do-overs, things don’t get canceled for rain, and lighting is definitely going to change throughout the day. Shooting weddings is extremely hard on your body too I mean they call it a “wedding hangover” for a reason.  Every muscle in your body screams at you to stay in bed. 

So why do we do it?  Why do we give up our weekends, to do something that is so physically, mentally, and creatively challenging? I think you will get lots of different answers from each wedding photographer you ask, but for me, weddings hold a special place in my heart.  I think I first fell in love with the materialistic beauty of weddings. The dresses, the flowers, all the little details. But as I grew as a wife, and we went through all of my husband’s heart surgeries, I started to understand the beauty of what a wedding truly signified, and celebrated.  This promise to stand side by side through whatever life would throw at you. It’s this beautiful promise, but it’s also so scary because you truly have no idea what lies on the other side of what I do. We as wedding photographers carry this weight of documenting the day that a couple makes that promise.  Hopefully, we can do this well no matter what the wedding day throws at us! 

I don’t think anyone is ever 100% prepared when they photograph their first wedding. There are so many moving parts, and unknowns, and if you have never done it before how could you know!  Wedding photography is also something that can be hard to break into.  

10 Tips to Shoot Your First Wedding!
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Today I’m sharing my top 5 tips for photographing your first wedding.  

Okay, so my very first tip for photographing weddings is to second shoot as many as you can first.  

Why Second Shooting?

Second shooting is such a great way to learn on the job without the complete pressure of being lead.  In most cases photographers who are looking to hire a second shooter are looking to bring someone else aboard because they find more coverage is needed then they are able to provide solo.  

What is expected from you as a second shooter will vary from photographer to photographer, but this is what I ask my seconds to do on a wedding day.  Depending on if they have second shot before or not, I ask my seconds to photograph the grooms getting ready. While I photograph the bride and the bridal details.  Then I will have my second get the groom to the first look location and have him ready to go when I get there with the bride. During the first look I have my seconds get a different angle then I am shooting.  Whenever you are second shooting its important to know where your lead photographer is at all times so that you aren’t blocking their shot, or ending up in the back of their shot. 

180 rule

I also suggest as you look up what the 180 rule is in the video field.  Its kinda hard to explain over a podcast but essentially if a couple is standing face to face there is a 360-degree circle around them, you want to stay on one side of that circle in relation to your lead photographer.  If you want to see a visual of this head to the show notes! I’ll also link a really great video that shows this as well! 

After the first look we usually will head into bridal party photos.  One of the key things here is to not shadow the lead photographer. Your goal is to get candids throughout the day from a different angle than the lead. Not just more of the same. 

A lot of times during the wedding day you may be asked to hold flowers, fluff the dresses, and get family members lined up for family formals, instead of shooting. All of these things help the day run smoothly and are essential. You will also want to make sure that your time sync your cameras at the beginning of the day.  It can be really frustrating to edit a wedding when everything is out of order, and syncing your cameras is a super easy fix!  

Before you agree to second shoot a wedding you will want to agree on any rules and expectations upfront.  I highly suggest that you request a second shooter contract that spells out what you can do with images after the wedding, how you will get images to the lead photographer, are you shooting on their cards or your own, and what the payment terms will be.  

Payment will vary based on location and your experience. 

Second shooting is an amazing learning experience and can bring in some extra cash if you don’t have many of your own weddings booked.  I actually love second shooting even now if I’m available. Last year I second shot for two amazing photographers. I learned a lot from them both. Besides meeting amazing people the networking has been amazing. 

Both of these photographers referred clients to me in one form or another!  Getting your foot in the door with other established photographers can be hard.  I wish it wasn’t but the reality is that it can be. A lot of photographers treat their competitors like mortal enemies instead of people who just happen to be in the same line of business. Photographers who have a scarcity mindset get so wrapped up in protecting “their share” of the market that they miss the bigger picture. That’s why I highly suggest checking with your local chapter of The Rising Tide Society.  The Rising Tide Society’s mission to empower the creative economy to rise together, doing what they love. 

Now if you have second shot a few weddings, and are feeling confident to take on your own these next 10 tips are for you! 

Tip Number One:
Set expectations so you can exceed them

So when my husband and I went on our honeymoon we went to a Sandals Resort.  We actually didn’t go on our honeymoon until our 3 year anniversary. We booked a candlelit dinner for two on the beach for our anniversary.  Steak and lobster! It was so good. We were telling our waiter that we were celebrating our anniversary. 

We finished up our dinner and sat by the firepit for a drink before heading up to our room for the night.  When we got to our room there was this beautiful gift basket and roses and a little note from the resort saying happy anniversary.  This wasn’t something we had paid for, it wasn’t something we were expecting. It was simply a little surprise gift from the resort. They didn’t just meet our expectations for a great trip, they exceeded them by going just a little above and beyond! 

So how can we do this in our photography businesses? If you know it’s going to take you 4 weeks to edit a wedding don’t tell your client they will get images in 4 weeks.  Tell them it will take longer. This isn’t lying to your couple, it’s giving you a buffer. You could get sick, your kids could get sick, your laptop may need some update. If you get them done on time at the 4-week mark then you get to exceed those expectations that you set for your client. – this is going to do a lot for your word of mouth advertising!  

You can also set expectations for your clients around how you would like to communicate.  This includes what your office hours are if you are comfortable with texting or emailing. 

Tip Number Two:

Book an engagement session with your couple 

I honestly believe that an engagement session is THE key to amazing wedding photos. At your engagement session you get to meet the couple see how they interact, they get to know you and how your posing system works. You get to build up their confidence in front of the camera without a crowd of rowdy groomsmen behind you.  Having an engagement session will help to put everyone at ease on a wedding day including yourself! 

During the engagement session, you can learn more about your couple. What their values are who is important to them. This is information you can use to help document their wedding day even better. If you get to talking about how grandma jean is super important to the bride, and how they have this beautiful relationship then you can take special care on the wedding day to document the bride and grandma Jean. 

I generally book my engagement sessions 4-6 months before the wedding.  

Tip Number Three:
Educate your brides on what a photo-friendly timeline looks like.  

You know how long it takes to photograph things, you know how light throughout the day will affect where you shoot what when.  You know this because you are a photographer, and understand light. Educating your couple on how long things take, what golden hour is and what time that is on their wedding day can go a long way in helping you brides to craft timelines that give you enough time to capture everything.  

I mean I have no idea how long it takes to put together centerpieces, and how many flowers it takes because I’m not a florist. If you think about it, most brides will only ever plan one wedding and don’t have much first-hand knowledge of how long things take. By educating brides and taking control as a photographer you can help your brides craft a timeline that is setting yourself and your clients up for a smooth stress-free wedding day.

If you don’t have a wedding timeline you can head to chelsyweiszshop.com to grab my wedding Timeline Guide! 

Photography Client Workflow

ALRIGHTY! Onto Tip Number Four

Schedule in your editing time.  Whenever I book an engagement session or a wedding I go into my calendar and block off my editing time. I think we as photographers can get so excited about booking and shooting, that we often forget about the work that comes after we download those images onto our computer.  For me, I set aside Sunday and Monday after a wedding to do all of my culling and editing. This helps me to not have a backlog of editing which means less anxiety of things looming over my head. 

Tip Number Five:

This may sound a little silly but I did it when I was first shooting weddings and it helped out a lot!  Practice going from shooting something inside your house to outside your house and adjusting your camera settings while you walk out the door.  A lot of times you will go from photographing in a dark church to the couple walking out the church doors and kissing on the steps. This is a really sudden change and light and if you’re not really comfortable with adjusting your camera settings on the fly you can miss a shot you really wanted to get! 

The goal is to get really comfortable with changing settings quickly.  I have the Nikon D4s and I love that I have a dedicated button on the back of my camera to adjust iso settings really quickly without ever taking my eye away from my camera viewfinder. Shooting in manual is really the most ideal for weddings. So practice transitioning to different lighting scenarios and adjusting your camera as quickly as you can. You want to be able to change your settings fast.  I feel like a cheetah changing settings on my camera, but if you stick a cannon in my hands I’m like a newborn baby calf just learning how to stand! 

10 Tips to Shoot Your First Wedding!
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Ok on to Tip Number Six: Rent gear if you need to.  

I’m going to be super honest here, to document a wedding well, you really only need like 2 lenses – the 50 mm and maybe something like the 24-70. Now I’ll be honest, neither of those are my go-to lens on a wedding day. The 85 mm 1.4 is my go-to, but it’s not a need to have lens, it’s a nice to have lens.  I don’t think you should break the bank on gear for weddings.  This brings me to tip number 6 and that is to rent gear. Renting gear is a great way to try out lenses or camera bodies you are considering purchasing, or don’t have the funds to purchase right now.  My favorite place to rent gear from is Lens Pro to Go. I love that gear comes in a pelican case that is waterproof. All of the gear I’ve ever rented from them been clean and worked great! 

Tip Number Seven!

Have a plan for family formals!  If you let them family formals can drag on forever and eat into your sunset time with your couple.  This is why you want to have a plan for them. About a month and a half before the wedding I send out a questionnaire to my couples regarding family formals.  I ask my brides to create a list of 10 groupings and include the names of who will be in the photos. This helps me on the wedding day to know how large the biggest group is, which helps me to choose a great spot for family formals.  I also ask if there are any divorces, deaths, or family situations that I should be aware of before the wedding. This helps to avoid any could be awkward moments. I print out this questionnaire and give it to my second shooter, who helps to line up the next group while I’m photographing the first group. By having your second shooter do this you an keep things running smoothly and you make sure that family members only have one camera to look at and smile! 

My next tip is to shoot in Raw. 

I know there are some photographers who shoot in jpeg because of the file size, but with how affordable memory cards are becoming I really don’t see the downfall in shooting in raw.  Raw files store more date, and you have a little more leeway if you overexpose or underexpose images, which can happen pretty easily on a wedding day. I love that I can shoot in dual card slots on the D4s and have the option for either overflow or backup.  I usually will shoot backup which means that when I take a photo that photo is getting saved to both cards. This gives me a backup in case a memory card were to fail or get misplaced. The D4s has an XQD slot and a CF card slot which is kinda nice too. 

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Number 9

Backing up images takes us to tip number nine. And that is to back up your images right away.  I download images to my external hard drive as soon as I get home from a wedding.  I’ve heard horror stories of photographers leaving a camera in a car for a day or two after a wedding and the car getting broken into and losing all the images. Don’t leave your gear in your car, at least put it in the trunk way from prying eyes if you have to.  I also don’t delete images off my memory cards until after the wedding has been delivered to the client.  

Tip ten! – comfy shoes 👟 👠

Okay, guys my last tip!  Tip Number Ten!  Wear comfy shoes.  You are on your feet the entire wedding day.  This is not the time to break in new shoes. I’ve got a cute pair of Rothy’s which I love because they are machine washable and pretty comfortable.  I love that I can toss them in the washer because sometimes ya gotta stand in mud for the shot! I also love all the cute colors and prints they come in.  I’m kinda boring and just have the black point. But I’ve got my eye on the cheetah print! It’s been in my shopping cart for a few weeks, but I just haven’t pulled the trigger yet! 

If you want to get $20 to go towards your own pair of Rothy’s head to the link in the show notes! 

Click here to get $20 off your first pair!

I also keep a pair of black tennis shoes in my car for the reception.  Sometimes my feet are just killing me from lack of arch support wearing flats all day and my tennis shoes are there to save the day.  They also serve as a back up if something were to happen to my first pair of shoes! 

Alright, guys, that’s all the tips I have for you as you prepare to shoot your first solo wedding.  If you found this episode helpful remember to share your screenshot on Instagram. If you haven’t already joined our Facebook group you can find the link in the show notes below, or search wise photographer podcast insiders on Facebook! 

That’s it for this week, I’ll see you next time! 

Sponsor for the show

One on one coaching – www.coachingwithchelsy.com 

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