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So You Want To Be A Wedding Photographer

by Samantha Lee (follow)
Blog (395)      Articles (166)     

People get into photography for lots of different reasons - to capture beauty, chase adventures, preserve moments or to experience new things. Wedding photography is unique because it happens to tick all those boxes and more.

A wedding is usually a once in a lifetime event for the bride and groom so it is a high pressure situation. Wedding photos are lovely to look at but there’s a lot you don’t see that goes on behind the scenes that has to be considered before specialising in this type of photography. A wedding photographer must be prepared for the unexpected and be ready to shoot, no matter what the conditions.

Stressed out "bridezillas", nervous grooms, overbearing wedding planners, uncooperative weather and guests that get in the way of the camera, are just a few things that I can think of, that add to the pressure. But big risks yield big rewards and there’s definitely nothing more satisfying than being able to deliver photos that will be kept and shared for years afterwards.

Here are a few things you need to know to help get you started working as a wedding photographer:

1) Know how to work in all types of light

This is important with most niches of photography and wedding photography is no exception. Light varies depending on the time of day and the location you’re shooting in so you have to adjust your angles accordingly. Like many people, I'm always a fan of shooting during the golden hour if possible, but weddings are scheduled at all hours of the day, including noon when the sun is at its harshest. You can’t tell a bride she needs to change the spot where her ceremony will be taking place because you are worried your photos will be too dark or too bright. Practice taking photos at every time of day, both indoors and outdoors and don’t accept a job until you feel certain you can take good photos regardless of where you are.

Learn how to use tools that will help you photograph the event from morning until you finish at night including Speedlights and filters, and keep umbrellas on hand for both sunny and rainy days. Be prepared to suggest suitable spots for photos at the ceremony and reception venues, which means location scouting and researching beforehand at the times of day the couple has advised you the events will be taking place.

2) Clean up your composition

You want the bride and groom to be the star of their photos so learn to find the best angles with the least amount of clutter in the background.

Be prepared to use editing software to take out objects that can’t be removed from the frame at the time - such as bins, fences and bystanders, especially if the wedding is taking place in a public area such as a park. Capturing spontaneous and candid moments means you’ll have to shoot without having any control over your background at times, and knowing how to use depth of field to keep the focus on the foreground is essential too.

On the other hand, even when shooting in open and pretty outdoor locations such as wooded areas or beaches, it’s important not to overwhelm the photograph with too much landscape. Make sure that the couple is still the main visual element in the photograph and the location is used to accentuate them and not overpower them.

3) Master posing

Unlike fashion or portrait photography, wedding photography involves unexperienced models of all ages, with different levels of comfort in front of the camera. Study hard to find out what kinds of poses work for all different body types and learn how to accentuate different features for the camera. Remember that your subjects aren’t in clothes they usually wear in their everyday lives so they are probably stiffer than they normally would be.

Meet with your clients beforehand to gauge their comfort level in front of the camera and how they interact with each other. If you have time, you may even want to have a pre-wedding shoot to trial poses and show the couple what to expect on the day. Some couples are naturally touchy-feely and this will make your job easier, however there are couples that prefer a more subtle way of expressing their love with each other. In this case, watch out for subtle glances or distinct body gestures that they use to manifest their love and don’t push them to be overly affectionate, otherwise their discomfort will be obvious in the photos.

4) Prepare your gear

Wedding photography is fast-paced and you have to think quickly on your feet. Knowing the ins and outs of your equipment is crucial so that you can really focus on capturing the most important parts of the wedding. Many wedding photographers carry two cameras on their body throughout the day so that they don’t have to change lenses, and as a way of ensuring there is always a camera to capture photos, should one of them fail.

Image taken by Elvert Barnes

Always carry extra battery packs so you don’t lose power during any important moments, plus a variety of lenses to help you cover all angles. Invest in good camera straps that ensure that your neck and shoulder can withstand the weight during the long hours, as well as comfortable shoes. Make sure you are dressed appropriately for the occasion without drawing attention to yourself. You want to be able to move through the crowd without distracting from the couple.

After the wedding is over, of course, it is important to back up your photos on at least two separate sources (hard drive and cloud storage, for example). There’s practically nothing you can say or offer to console a devastated bride who has no photographic memories of her wedding!

5) Be organised

Most photographers who start out in wedding photography start slowly and don’t necessarily have a business, but there are certain things you need on the day to have to protect yourself, regardless of how much or how little experience you have. These things include public liability insurance and photography permits to shoot at the venues (and it is your job to know if you need to have these things, not the bride and groom). Don’t risk being hit with a fine or being asked to leave the location because you don’t have these things. Unless you are photographing the wedding as a guest, you will generally be expected to have them.

Be sure to check if there are other events taking place in the same areas you will be photographing, as you may have to compete with crowds and other wedding parties/photographers for popular photography spots in certain cities, especially during the “wedding season” (which in Australia is generally November to March).

Image taken by Elaine Faith

A few other things you may want to be aware of before pursuing wedding photography are:

The hours: Most weddings are held on the weekend and you can be required to work anywhere from six in the morning right into the wee hours of the night. Meal breaks and toilet breaks are not scheduled in for you and you are on the clock for almost every minute of the event. Don’t dream of being a wedding photographer if you don’t want to give up your weekends.

The editing time: It can take a long time to cull, edit and convert RAW images taken at weddings before they are ready to give to the newlyweds. The average amount of images taken at a wedding can be between 400 and 1,000 depending on the amount of time the photographer is asked to be there. Weddings are not shoot and burn photography jobs and nor should they be. It’s important to be familiar with editing software that helps you to edit quickly to a high quality, and batch process multiple images before you shoot your first wedding.

The extras: Wedding photography often involves doing more than just providing images - couples often want albums or digital slideshows included as part of their photography package. It’s ideal if you have the computer skills to be able to create these things for them.

Putting these things aside, being a wedding photographer is an incredible job in many ways. If you think this is the type of photography you want to specialise in, try working as a second shooter or taking photos as an extra (unpaid) photographer at a few weddings you’re invited to as a friend, to see how you cope with the pressure, before taking on any jobs as a primary photographer. As you gain experience, your confidence will increase and your photos will improve.

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