5 Common Wedding Photography Mistakes – And How to Avoid Them

18th May 2016

They say experience is the best teacher, and if you’re hoping to specialise in wedding photography there are undoubtedly a few things you’ll learn through trial and error. 

Even so, some of the most common mistakes are also easy to avoid, so we’ve we asked professional wedding and portrait photographer Thomas Robert Clarke to address five of the most common problems photographers may run into when shooting a wedding for the first time.

Photo: @jonathansborba

1. Not taking control

As the lead photographer, you have to be able to take control when necessary by telling people where to stand, how to pose and when to turn up for the group shots.

“Lead photographers need to be extraverts,” says Clarke. “Engaging with subjects is the quickest way to capture engaging imagery.”

“It’s way too easy to hide behind the camera and be a voyeur. If this is you then you’ll need to break out of your shell or stick to being a second shooter. As a lead you need to walk the line of knowing when to lead, when to follow, and when to get out of the way. When it comes time to lead you need to step in there and herd the cats.”  

Of course, taking control in a room full of people you’ve never met can be daunting, so Clarke offers the following tips: 

  • Make eye contact: Not many people make or hold eye contact anymore, but this simple act helps you exude confidence, even if you’re stressed out.
  • Get to know key people: Ask the bride and groom ahead of time for the key players’ names. If the couple has siblings, find out if they have nicknames. Knowing a few key people can be a big help when it’s time to gather the family or move a sofa.
  • Use names: As the day progresses, try to learn people’s names and call out to them shortly after to reinforce the name. Wait until the family group shots to start using the nicknames you’ve learned, as this can help people loosen up.

Photo: @mikeandtomphoto

2. Handing over all the images or RAW files to the client

Before or after the wedding, clients may sometimes ask if they can have the RAW files or digital files of all the photos you took so they can choose their favourites. But while it can be difficult to put your foot down and say no, this mistake could end up costing you your reputation.

“One of my early photography instructors was fond of saying, ‘the greatest skill and attribute we have as professionals is the ability to self-edit.’” says Clarke. “Your reputation is on the line so you don’t want your client and potentially any referrals seeing your misfires, your test shots and your experiments.

They’ll always remember the bad over the good, so it’s imperative that you get rid of the bad before sending anything. At that point, anything they don’t like is a matter of opinion and you’re on high ground to defend your choices.”

He explains that usually when you get a request like this, what the client really wants is to have the security of knowing they’ll have printable files 10-20 years on, even if you and your business are no longer around. So what’s the best way to respond?

“I suggest educating the client from the very beginning that as part of your professional service you will deliver quality high res and minimally edited files,” says Clarke. “This way, you can control what they see and perform quick adjustments as needed, and they can sleep tight knowing they’ll have usable files in their possession.”

Photo: @Yohann LIBOT

3. Turning up unprepared

Knowing exactly what you’ll need for every situation you might encounter is incredibly important, but the reality is that many inexperienced wedding photographers turn up unprepared.

“I still walk through every situation in my mind ahead of time, anticipating what I might need and when, and then making sure I have it written down and in my bags,” says Clarke. “Visiting a location ahead of time can mitigate the majority of your potential pitfalls,” he says. “Have an idea of two or three locations where you can take group pictures and bridal portraits so you can lead people directly to these spots and not waste time wandering around searching for light.”

When it comes to the necessary equipment, he notes that it’s important to have backups of everything in case anything goes wrong, even if that means renting extra gear. “People are paying you good money and expect results. If your gear stops working for any number of reasons, you won’t have time to go get a replacement.”

So what equipment does he recommend for shooting a wedding?

“Hopefully you’ve got your bodies, lenses and speed lights. Beyond that I bring more memory cards and rechargeable batteries than I’ll ever need. Stay away from memory cards over 16GB, though. I mostly use 4GB and 8GB cards so as not to not put all the eggs in one basket.. It's also a good idea to bring a few lens cloths, oily skin wipe, duct tape, and clothes pins." 

Also important, he says, is to work out a system for where you keep things. “Practice finding and changing lenses, batteries and memory cards with military precision. This way you’ll know exactly where things are when you need them.”  

Photo: Yohann LIBOT

4. Not anticipating the next move

Exposing correctly for the bride’s white dress and the groom’s dark suit can be tricky, but thanks to the ability to review work on the fly, getting the correct exposures shouldn’t be too much of a problem for experienced photographers.

“Mirrorless cameras have made this even easier by displaying a live result even before the picture is taken,” says Clarke. However, he notes that one big problem many first-time wedding photographers come up against is not being able to anticipate the next move.

“What I mean by this is once you’re dialled in to the current location’s needs, you also need to be thinking about where you’ll be shooting next,” he explains. “Not being ready to switch from a sunny outdoor wedding to a dark reception hall right away can result in missing some quality interactions.”

Photo: @caytonheathphotography

5. Uninteresting group shots

Group shots can be terrifying for a new photographer. If they are overly staged they may look awkward or boring, but if you don’t carefully compose the shot it could end up looking chaotic. So what should you keep in mind when photographing groups?

“Taking good group shots just comes with time,” says Clarke. “A number of things I mentioned earlier, such as knowing where you’re shooting and having spoken with the bride and groom ahead of time, will help prepare you for the various groups to be shot.

Envisioning the shot days or weeks ahead of time gives you a chance to visualise things like where people are going to stand and where you’ll place the flower girl.”

Lastly, he suggests becoming more familiar with different types of wedding photography in order to improve your skills. “Identify a number of photographers whose style you like and study how they pose people. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery.”

Want to learn more about wedding photography? Our Ultimate Guide to Wedding Photography is a great resource for everything related to photographing a wedding, from setting your prices and the preparation beforehand to getting beautiful photos on the day. If you'd like to design a wedding album, check out these quick tips for designing a wedding photobook with Bob Books.