I’ve been photographing weddings for eight years now, but I can still remember the mix of elation and pure panic I felt after I booked my first wedding. Was I ready? I mean, everyone cautions against shooting weddings “before you’re ready,” but how in the world do you know if you’re ready?!
Unfortunately, there’s no simple equation for answering that question. But here’s a list of things you definitely should understand beforehand, in order to be as prepared as possible.
1. Know WHY you need the gear you need.
You’ve probably seen this question before: I’m shooting my first wedding. What lenses should I rent? Unfortunately, there’s no handy checklist. What you have in your bag is far less important than understanding why you need it and how to use it.
Here’s what matters:
- You need the ability to shoot a huge family portrait in a tight space.
- You need a lens that can get cozy portraits without invading personal space.
- You need the ability to capture beautiful images in low lighting.
- Most importantly, you need to know what gear will help you in each of those situations.
You’ll need to make a lot of split-second decisions during a wedding, so you don’t want to be fumbling around in your bag trying to figure out which gear you need.
2. Weddings move fast. You need to be faster.
If camera settings aren’t second nature yet, it’s easy to make a silly mistake — like shooting family portraits at f/1.8, or shooting the processional at SS 1/30, or forgetting to change your ISO when you go from indoors to outdoors. Likewise, you should have a solid grasp of which lenses you’ll use for each part of the day, because there won’t be time to mull it over on the wedding day. Last but not least, you need to be familiar with the timing of a wedding. Otherwise you might find yourself sprinting to catch the first kiss, or scarfing down your dinner while the father-daughter dance is happening.
There’s a reason most photographers recommend starting out as a second shooter. Second shooting is like watching a rollercoaster a few times before you strap yourself in for the ride. It helps you anticipate the twists and turns, so you won’t be caught completely off guard.
3. Flash is half the battle.
Photography means “paint with light,” but chances are, you’ll spend half the day in a dark reception venue. And even if you book a mid-afternoon garden wedding, you could easily end up indoors if it pours. Your pop-up flash won’t cut it — you need to know how to use an external flash effectively. If you don’t, spend some time researching and practicing flash techniques.
4. Insurance is a must.
It’s all fun and games until you knock over the wedding cake! In all seriousness, many venues won’t even let you in the door without proof of liability, which could be a nasty surprise for you and your clients. Insurance policies are surprisingly cheap for businesses — less than $2 per day will cover you for up to $1 million in many areas — and it only takes a few minutes to set up over the phone. If you’re not willing to spend the minimal time and money needed to protect your assets from the unexpected, then you should question whether you’re serious about doing this for a living. Don’t risk it.
5. Honesty is the best policy.
Weddings are an important day, and everything will run much more smoothly if everyone’s on the same page. So instead of trying to fudge your experience, just be real with your prospective clients. Explain that you have XYZ years of experience in portraits or corporate events or street photography or whatever, and you’re looking to expand into weddings. Let them know that your low prices reflect the fact that you’re still building a wedding portfolio. Brides on a budget will appreciate your candor. And fellow photographers will appreciate your honesty too — because you’re not pretending you can offer the same experience and service as a top-tier photographer for half the price. And that’ll likely make those top-tier photographers far more willing to, say, hire you as a second shooter and give you some pointers along the way.
Weddings are beautiful, emotional, unpredictable, and exciting. And if you jump in before you’re ready, they can quickly turn into a nightmare. If you need to take a few months to build up your experience, do it — you’ll never regret waiting until you feel fully prepared.
Wedding photographers, what else would you add to the list? Comment below!
Kara Wahlgren is a freelance writer and owner of Kiwi Photography in South Jersey, where she lives with her hubby and two awesome boys. Check out her photography website or visit her Facebook page to see more of her work.