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So you’re shooting your first wedding! Yay! That is so exciting. I remember the first wedding I ever shot and how nervous I felt. In this photography tips post, I’ll share preparation strategies that will help you feel more confident and less stressed on the big day.
1: Develop game plan with the couple for their big day
In wedding photography, good communication is key. One of the first things you need to discuss with a client couple involves what services and coverage you provide. In photography, “coverage” usually means how many hours you will be on-site taking photos of their wedding. Coverage can range from just a few hours to photograph the ceremony to dawn to dusk coverage of the entire day. Some wedding photographers offer different packages with different lengths of coverage.
It’s important to remember in determining how much coverage you offer and for what prices, that each hour of coverage will result in photographs that you need then need to edit in Lightroom and Photoshop. So one hour of coverage could represent two hours of editing time, resulting in a total of three hours of work. It’s important to remember this in determining what you offer and at what price.
It would help if you also discussed what photographs your clients want. Do they dream of an early morning first look? Or photos of the bride getting ready? How about their sparkler send-off at the end of their reception? Do they want formal portraits of just them or extended family pics?
Couples planning their wedding often overlook how their timeline decisions will impact their photos. So it’s important to help couples plan quality photo sessions into their schedules. Educate them about the difficulties of shooting in harsh midday light. Educated brides and grooms often will change their whole plan around to get the best photos possible.
By the end of your consultation with the couple, you will have a good game plan. You should know when, where, how long, and what you will be shooting. This takes a huge load of stress and uncertainty away.
2. Get contracts, deposits and model releases
Wedding photography is a business. As such, it requires contracts and model releases. A good wedding photography contract will provide you a great deal of protection. Why do you need protection? Because sadly, some people sue wedding photographers. Contracts and agreements sound scary, and ideally, you would hire a lawyer to help you create one for your business. When you’re starting, you can use a resource like rocketlawyer.com to craft your agreements.
Model releases are agreements the couple and their wedding party should sign that gives you the right to use images you take of them. These give you legal protection when you use photos of them on your website, social media, advertisements, and more. Having model releases are also required if you want to submit images for publication in wedding magazines or to wedding photography competitions.
Part of your contract should stipulate a deposit to save the date of the couple’s wedding. This could be as simple as saying that they need to pay 50% upon booking and 50% one week before the wedding. Since most people get married on the weekend, a wedding photographer’s schedule generally consists of only 52 weekends per year. Saving one of those 52 weekends should require a deposit.
3. Manage your client’s expectations
You need to educate your client on what to expect when it comes to their finished photos. You should give them both a time by which they will receive the images and how many finished images they will receive. How many finished images they receive should also depend on how many hours of coverage you are providing. A photographer who shoots all day will give a lot more pictures than one who shoots the one-hour ceremony and then goes home.
A good rule to follow is: initially underestimate and then over provide. In other terms, if you think you can deliver 400 images within two weeks, don’t tell your clients that. Say they will get 300 pictures within a month. Then, when you do deliver 400 images within two weeks, they’ll be extra happy and delighted.
Now, underpromising and overperforming a classic business staple. But it also gives you peace of mind. What if you only get 320 usable pictures that day? And then you get a terrible cold halfway through editing, and it slows you down? Then you don’t have to worry! If you deliver 320 photographs within three weeks, you’re still wowing your customer. While if you had promised 400 images within two weeks, you’d have fallen short. So build in wiggle room in your estimates to save yourself from stress.
4. Scout locations
It’s a good idea to take a look at the shooting locations ahead of time. It’s essential to see what the lighting looks like when you’ll be there with your client. Also, imagine what might make an excellent background for photos.
Even if you can’t do this in person, go online and look at photos taken in that location. Visit venue websites. Look at photos taken by other photographers there. When they post a wedding they shot on their blog, most photographers will include the venue’s name. So Google search “venue’s name + wedding photographer,” and you might find images to help you get ideas.
Another important point on locations is this: check legal requirements.
Some locations, like state parks, require you to apply for a permit weeks in advance. Some of these permits may cost a significant amount of money. The couple should ideally pay for this, either by working it into their wedding package cost or by having them get the permit directly.
Another legal note is that some venue locations require photographers to carry business insurance to shoot there. Some even require a specific policy amount, such as insurance that will pay up to a million dollars in damages. Why? If someone trips over your camera gear bag at the reception, hits their head and ends up in the ICU, that venue wants to know that your business insurance will cover it and not theirs. A year’s worth of business insurance can cost around $200-400, depending on where you live and what your policy covers.
5. Pack like you’re bracing for the flood
A flood of what? Exhaustion, hunger, and unforeseen disasters. Wedding photography is tiring work, so make sure to pack snacks, water, pain relief pills, allergy pills, and more. Wear comfortable shoes and wear shorts or tights under your skirt if you’re wearing one. I climbed a seven-foot rock wall in a dress in front of fifty people once to take an extended family shot. I was so glad I was wearing leggings under my dress at the time.
6. Charge, duplicate and back up
The day before, charge all of your camera batteries. Get a spare battery for your camera if you don’t own one already. Then also pack your camera’s battery charger. Have more than one camera and more than one lens if possible. You can rent extras from sites like borrowlenses.com if you don’t have one. Pack multiple SD or CF cards depending on what your camera uses. Bring a lot of batteries for your flash. Completely charge your phone and then pack your phone’s charger.
7. Create a list of pose ideas
I would suggest you create a visual list of pose ideas you want to try. How? By finding great poses you love on Pinterest, saving them to your phone’s camera roll and then adding them to a new album called “Pose ideas.” Then, organize them by type. For example, put all the bridesmaid shots together, and the couple only shots together. That way, if you’re in the middle of the shoot and you just can’t think of a pose, all you have to do is pull out your phone. Flipping through your pose ideas album will get your creativity flowing once again.
8. Spread out the photos on different days
During the planning stage with the couple, see if they would like to take critical photos on a day other than their wedding. For example, would they want to do bridals or couple shots a few days or even a week before their real wedding? Doing bridals this way takes stress off of the wedding day timeline. It also gives you a laid back, non-rushed atmosphere to capture some of the most important photos. Shooting on a different day also gives you more location options. You can plan a shoot further from the venue locations because there’s no reception or ceremony to rush to.
9. Shoot details before the wedding day or during downtime
If possible, try to get the couple’s invitation suite and similar details before the big day. It’s easier to style detail shot flat lays when you don’t feel rushed. Another great time to take detailed shots of rings, shoes, and more is while the bride is getting ready. Take a few photos of the stylist curling her hair. But then move to shooting important details like her jewelry, shoes, ring, and dress.
10. Have confidence
Believe in yourself and your skills. Someone wants you to do their wedding photos, so they must like your work. Your best is good enough. Don’t compare what you can do to what seasoned professionals can do. They shot their first wedding scared and inexperienced too. It’s the only way to grow.
And as you prepare for the big day, continue to practice and grow in your skills. Take courses. Shoot a billion pictures of your pet. Drag your friends outside and make them pose. If you want more specifics about how to grow your wedding photography skills, I’m posting a series called How to Be a Wedding Photographer Made Simple. You can click here to read the first post in the series where I talk wedding photography gear and your camera’s manual mode.
And if you’re interested in learning more about growing a creative online business, make sure to follow me on Instagram here at @elliedashie.