Advice for new wedding photographers: Part I

I get emails from photographers every once in a while who tell me that they are about to shoot their first wedding and wonder what advice that I might have for them. I love getting these emails. When I was first starting out, I used to email photographers that I admired to ask them for advice. Wedding photography is exciting, nerve-wracking, exhilarating, terrifying, and extremely rewarding. In the past four years shooting weddings, I have met some incredibly amazing people. As a wedding photographer, you have the most intimate access into one of the most important days of people’s lives (often times, stranger’s lives). I cannot reiterate how HUGE of a responsibility this is. You should feel proud that someone chose you to be their photographer. You bear the responsibility of documenting these once in a lifetime moments for your clients. Remember to carry yourself like it’s an honor and it starts with your initial interactions with your clients.

There are a TON of amazing photographers out there. I think that I am a pretty decent photographer, but I KNOW that there are a million photographers out there that are more creative and artistic than I am. However, in my opinion, wedding photography is a half service/half art. It is definitely a people business. Sure, you are the hired documentarian/visionary/artist but what you might not realize is that you will also be (and should also be) the logistical planner/time keeper/comedian/nerve-calmer/compliment-giver and all around fun person to be around. Weddings are stressful. Your clients will be stressed. You can’t control that. You should and need to be the one who is prepared for the worst and is one step ahead of your clients.

  • Know the timeline for the day.
  • Know where your shots are going to happen in advance.
  • Scout the venue before the wedding. If this isn’t possible, get there earlier than you are contracted and walk around the venue multiple times.
  • Anticipate the moment.
  • Listen to guests conversations so that you can anticipate a laugh or expression that will photograph well.
  • The last thing that your clients should be thinking about on their wedding day is the photography. You should do the worrying for them. If you’re prepared and confident, you won’t have anything to worry about.
  • Tell your clients how great they look and that they are doing an awesome job. (They need to hear this).
  • Show them a few photos on the back of your camera!

I tell my clients that it is important that they like my work and like my style of photography. But it is equally (if not more important) that they like me as a person. You are going to be the person that your clients spend more time with than anyone else on their wedding day. They should see you as a friend and someone that they feel 100% comfortable with.

Ok, on to my recommendations for new wedding photographers. These recommendations are little nuggets that I have complied over the years from working with and listening to my clients:

Recommendations on communicating with your clients:

  • Be professional, starting with your first email. In planning my own wedding, I was amazed at the lack of professionalism that my wife Lydia and I received from potential vendors. A prompt, well punctuated email with correct grammar goes a long ways. Trust me, your clients expect and deserve to be greeted by first name and  thanked in your communications.
  • Be quick and thoughtful with follow up. Chances are that your clients are sending the same email to a handful of photographers all at the same time. I know that you’re busy (we all are), but trust me, your clients will be impressed if you respond to their email in a prompt manner. Chances are that your clients will be more inclined to set up a meeting with the first photographer to reply than the guy who took four days to respond. (You know you hate it when a company takes forever to get back to you. Change the cycle!)
  • If at all possible, don’t reply to client emails from your phone. Take your time to write a well-crafted email. If you don’t have any other choice but to respond on    your phone, don’t write your email like it’s a text message. Always start with a greeting and end with an acknowledgement.
  • Communicate with your clients the way that they prefer to communicate. Some people like email, some like phone, some like Facebook messages and some prefer face-to-face  meetings. You should cater to your client’s preference. Remember, it’s  about them, not about you.
  • Use contracts. All of your clients should sign a wedding contract and a model release. There are lots of templates online. Have your law school friend look it over. (They love doing that!) Also, get a deposit. I do 50%. It protects you from being canceled on and it makes your client confident that you won’t double book their  date. Another note about payments: get the final payment prior to the wedding day. There is nothing worse than having to tap the bride on the shoulder at 11pm while she is dancing with her bridesmaids to ask for a check (I’ve had to do that, it sucked). I ask for the final payment 10 days in advance of the wedding.

What gear should you bring?

OK, now on to the reason that you’re probably reading this post. I get questioned about my gear more than anything else. I’m happy to tell you what I use, but honestly, it’s really not all that important. There are two things, however, that are vital when it comes to gear:

  • you have a backup camera
  • you know your gear like the back of your hand

It’s unavoidable that your camera is going to freeze, error, or do something weird that it has never done before during the wedding. It happens and it’s unavoidable. The only thing you can do is be prepared for it. (Usually if you turn it off, unmount the lens, remount the lens and turn it back on, the error will go away).

YOU NEED A BACKUP CAMERA. I cannot stress this enough. If your main camera body goes down, you’re screwed. You owe it to your clients to spend the $150 to rent a backup if you don’t own one. Trust me, the peace of mind is priceless.  I shoot with two bodies the entire day: one with a long lens and one with a wide lens. You’re not going to have enough time to be switching lenses all day long.

People ask me all the time what camera they should buy. I tell people to buy the most expensive one that you can afford without going into debt. Also, Canon or Nikon are essentially the same.

This is my standard wedding kit:

A note about memory cards. I prefer to bring a large amount of small memory cards, rather than just a few large memory cards. The reason for this is if one of the cards gets corrupted or misplaced, you’ve only lost some images and not  all of them. I typically shoot the pre-ceremony stuff on one card then put it in my bag (in a very safe, zipped place), then put in a new card for the couple portraits, then put it away, etc. I typically shoot on about  7-10 different cards throughout the day.

  • Extra AA batteries for flashes.
  • Extra batteries for camera  bodies.

I hope this helps you navigate your first wedding. My next post will be about all of the non-photography things that a wedding photographer needs to know. Check back soon for that. I love helping out new photographers and potential brides and grooms. Please feel free to shoot me an email any time. I’d love to hear from you.