It is becoming increasingly common for couples on a budget to ask family members or friends to be their photographer. That person may well be accomplished in another area of photography already, or may just be a happy amateur with ‘a nice camera’, either way it is likely that they have never photographed a wedding before, and may find themselves a bit overwhelmed on the day. I would always advise a couple to choose and pay for a professional wedding photographer if they can. Asking a photographer who has no wedding experience would be comparable to asking a GP to perform surgery. They may now the theory but would struggle without assistance and guidance. Everyone deserves photos of their wedding, and preferably nice ones, so therefore I am happy to offer some words of advice to those newbie wedding photographers out there as everyone has a first wedding.
If you are able to try and gain some experience second shooting before your friend’s wedding. This will give you chance to see how things work, how to pose etc without the pressure of being the sole photographer. There are groups on Facebook for photographers looking for second shooters, alternatively approach local photographers. They may be willing to give a relatively experienced photographer the opportunity to tag along as an assistant on an unpaid basis. Don’t be put out if they say no as many like to work solo, or they may not have a wedding suitable for you to do so.
- For the wedding itself firstly if you haven’t already go see the venue beforehand. Scope out areas where you can take portraits, take note where sun is at different times of the day. Also make back up plan in case weather changes, where can you use inside for photos? Also pick out a group shot position and backup.
- Ask for a list of group portraits from the couple. Tell them each shot will take a minimum of 3-4 minutes therefore it is wise to limit group shots. Also ask them to assign a useful bridal party member (best man, bridesmaid, usher etc) who can round up people for portraits. If working on your own it will be essential even if you know those due to be in the photos anyway. Ask if there are any important guests they want photographed, any particular images they want created, whether there are any surprises on the day (doves, first dances etc), any family that don’t get on and similar. I send a questionnaire covering all this and more approximately a month prior to the wedding. It also covers locations and timings so you have in writing where you need to be when.
- On the wedding day arrive early. If you are not local (within 1-2 hours) look to book a hotel room for the night prior, firstly to avoid traffic, and secondly as you will have a long busy day so you have a good night’s sleep. I plan in at least an extra hour prior to the agreed time I will be on site. If I meet no traffic I use this time to eat or just chill before starting the day. I would rather be early and spend some time organising myself in the carpark than arrive late.
For the ceremony itself make sure to introduce yourself to the registrars beforehand, and scope out the ceremony room to see where you will be able to stand. Some registrars are funny about photography. Most will ban flashes if you intend to use them. If you have a silent shutter option on your camera use it throughout the ceremony. You won’t be able to photograph the signing of the register so don’t try. The registrar will stage with a blank book afterwards. Some may ban you from standing at the front or photographing during the vows. You need to find out beforehand. I simply politely ask, are there any restrictions on where or what I can photograph other than the register. That will normally convince them you are experienced without opening door too widely for them to restrict too much
- Before the ceremony take some time away from bridal portraits to photograph the details. Table plan, tables, favours, cake etc. You won’t get another chance before the guests get in and mess them up! If the reception venue is not at the ceremony venue/where the bride is getting ready, plan to go there first before bridal prep.
- Find out who the co-ordinator is on the day at the reception venue and become their best friend. They can let you know timings and similar which will help you be in the right place at the right time.
Bridal prep portraits don’t do much at beginning of make up as the foundation will wash them out, wait until they start work on the eyes normally. Utilise mirrors but make sure you’re not in the reflections!
- If it is properly sunny seek out shade, squinty eyes are not fun to work with. Alternatively shoot into the sun just watch out for sunflare!
- If you are shooting full manual remember to check/change your settings every time you change room or move outside.
- For couple portraits consider posing (or not!). You need to encourage your couple to relax so have some jokes to hand. If you have not taken portraits before have a practice shoot with the couple prior to the wedding. This will give you confidence with how to pose them and encourage them to relax and give them confidence in how you work.
- Remember to take a step back. The best things about weddings are reactions and these are best captured when you are not immediately involved. So every so often step back and look what is happening around you and not just directly infront!
Memory cards – if your camera doesn’t have two card slots change card regularly and not when it fills up. This way if a card becomes corrupted you only loose a small amount of images and not the full day. For example change mid bridal prep, then mid ceremony, then mid portraits, then mid groups, then mid reception at a minimum. This should then give you photos of each element of the day on at least two cards. Have a good card holder and have a system to know which cards have already been used. Personally cards face up mean empty, cards face down mean used. I also tend to keep empty cards on the right of the holder and used on the left as an added fail safe.
- Take more batteries then you think you will need, both for your camera and your flashes.
- Lens wise I shoot with 2 bodies with a 24-70 and a 70-200mm on. Others prefer primes with 24mm and 85mm being favourites. I also have a macro lens for ring shots but it’s not essential. Use what you are comfortable with. If you have only one camera body look at hiring or borrowing a second for the day, both to act as a backup but also to give you more options.
Shoot in RAW – It will give you far more flexibility with editing your images especially if some end up over or under exposed. Don’t rely on RAW to fix things though, if shooting in manual be sure to check your settings every time you change room or go outside. If you are shooting on an automatic setting you may need to use exposure compensation when shooting inside facing a window. Don’t know what exposure compensation is? Read up on it now! Personally I shoot in Shutter Priority Mode but on auto ISO but utilising exposure compensation according to the surroundings. This gives me flexibility especially outdoors in changing light. Don’t change your preferred settings on the day though, work with what you know or practice in advance.
- Additional lighting is vital if the venue is dark or if it is a late/winter wedding. But try not to use direct flash, either bounce it off ceiling/walls if they are light coloured or set up some off camera flashes around room.
- Comfortable shoes, I can’t tell you how vital they are. I wear smart deck shoes most of the time.
- Clothes – you need to wear something comfortable which you can bend in. If you are female either smart trousers and smart top or a smart dress (which doesn’t exposure you if you bend over or kneel down), if male a suit is normally most apt. Jeans, tee-shirts and the like are banned unless a very relaxed wedding where the guests are also allowed to wear them! Essentially I aim to dress to a similar level as the guests whilst remaining flexible, something with pockets is very helpful for easy reach memory cards and batteries. I will be in guests photos and I don’t want to stand out like a sore thumb in those photos.
Have a harness for your camera(s) not a neck strap, your neck and shoulders will thank you. Also a good bag that you can easily carry (try not to leave it anywhere unattended!) without it hurting!
- Pack some snacks in your bag, stuff that doesn’t melt and is quick and clean to eat. Mints, candy, cereal bars type thing. If you are not having a meal provided take a packed lunch in a cool bag as well which you should eat whilst the guests are eating. no one wants photos of them eating. This time also gives you a chance to sit down. On the food/drink note. DO NOT DRINK ALCOHOL whilst in charge of a camera. It doesn’t matter if you are a guest as well just don’t do it. If you are a guest and want to have a drink stop the photography aspect after the first dance put your camera(s) away safely and then enjoy yourself. If you are not a guest just never drink, if you are offered one politely decline. There are many many many reasons as to why you shouldn’t so just trust me with don’t do it!
- Back up equipment. I mention this above but it really is vital. Do not rely on one camera body, lens, memory card, flash etc for the day, if you do and something goes wrong you are right royally screwed. Have two minimum of everything vital (more if memory cards!). It doesn’t need to be on your person or in your camera bag at all times but it should be easily accessible, i.e. in the boot of your car out of sight.
Insurance – If you are accepting payment in any form you need to be insured covering public liability at a minimum. The venue may ask for a copy of your insurance as well. It is very cheap and gives you peace of mind so please get in.
- Contracts – make sure you have one in place, they may be a friend/family member but that doesn’t stop disputes having. Put a contract in place even if just a simple one to ensure all parties are clear on what will happen and what limitations and protections should be in place for both you as photographer and them as a couple. Make sure to include how long you will take to deliver the images (I’m 4-6 weeks for a wedding but if you have a full time job it may take longer), and what images you will include (i.e. only edited images not all originals), and lastly how you will deliver them. (On a USB, should they provide it? On a website?)
- Finally have a back up plan. What happens if you are ill, what happens if it rains, what happens if something breaks? Most of these things I cover in my contract but you need to think about and prepare for them in advance.
Good luck and remember to breathe and enjoy yourself especially if you are also a guest.