The Ultimate Guide to Wedding Photography
- Marianne Stenger
- 20th April 2018
Weddings have become a major business, and photography is undoubtedly a big part of this industry. Couples are eager to document their once-in-a-lifetime occasion and go home with beautiful prints, photo books and wall art to remember it by.
Over the past few years we’ve written a lot about wedding photography and also gleaned plenty of tips and insights from professional wedding photographers. So we decided to compile all of our favourite tips and advice in one place in order to provide you with the ultimate guide to wedding photography.
In this guide:
The preparation for a photographing a wedding should begin long before the wedding day itself. As the lead photographer, it will be your job to scout out suitable locations for the couple photographs, create a shot list, and of course, bring all the necessary equipment to capture beautiful photos.
So here are some tips to help you get properly prepared and avoid making the most common wedding photography mistakes.
Research the location
If possible, visit the wedding venue ahead of time so you know where you’ll be taking the couple shots, the group shots and any other important photos the bride and groom want. Professional wedding photographer Thomas Clarke points out that visiting the location beforehand will also give you a better idea of the type of lighting you’ll be working with.
“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.”
Know the wedding schedule
As the lead photographer, you will be responsible for capturing all the important wedding moments, from the bride and groom getting ready to the wedding ceremony to the first dance and everything in between. So get a detailed copy of the wedding schedule and use it to put together your shot list and plan out your day.
Create a shot list
Having a shot list will help you ensure that you don’t miss any of the important moments such as the cutting of the cake, close-up shots of the rings and other details, the family group shots and the first dance. If you’re not sure, talk to the bride and groom about the moments they expect you to capture and which friends and family members should be included in the group shots.
“Ask the bride and groom ahead of time for the key players’ names,” suggests Clarke. “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, shut up that drunken uncle or move a sofa.”
Make a list of everything you need
It’s easy to forget things on the day of the wedding, so it’s a good idea to make a list of all the essential equipment you’ll need to bring with you. In addition to your cameras, lenses, speedlights and other gear, Clarke suggests bringing additional items like lens cloths, wipes for oily skin, duct tape, clothespins and Advil.
“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.
He adds that it’s important to have backups in case anything goes wrong, even if this 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.”
Once you’ve prepared as much as you can, all that’s left to do is show up to the wedding with your gear in hand and start capturing the magic. Of course, since there’s no chance for a do-over of someone’s wedding, the margin for errors is pretty small. So it’s important to know what you can expect and how to stay one step ahead. With this in mind, here are some of the most important things to keep in mind on the wedding day itself.
Know some basic poses
The couple will be looking to you to provide guidance, so as the lead photographer; it’s important to know what will look good and have a few basic poses in mind. Professional portrait photographer Jamie Leonard says she likes to stick to just a few strong poses and then make small adjustments to each one rather than constantly changing poses.
“I like to start with my couples facing each other, toe-to-toe,” she says. “There are many variations you can do with this one single pose, such as looking at each other, one person looking at the other while the other looks at me, head on chest, arms around neck, hand on chest, etc.”
Need more advice? Check out these ten tips for posing couples on their wedding day.
Provide clear instructions and feedback
Since the bride and groom can’t see what they look like, you need to be able to provide them with clear instructions as well as feedback throughout the photo shoot. In general, it’s better to focus on telling the couple what looks good than on telling them what not to do, as positive feedback is the best way to boost their confidence and help them relax in front of the camera.
“Before the shoot, I give the couple some tips, explain different directions and show them with my own body what I mean with those directions,” says Leonard. “It’s important to keep reassuring them with positive feedback such as ‘Stay just like that, perfect,’ or ‘Move your hand down a little, right there, great.’
I also let couples know that they can talk during the session and I continue to ask them questions throughout while also telling them relevant stories about my life. This is where you will get those fun moments with genuine smiles and laughs.”
Try to stay one step ahead
On the wedding day itself, you’ll need to know the schedule by heart and anticipate each situation before it happens. Wedding photographer Thomas Clarke 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.”
Safeguard the photos
You will never get a second chance to photograph someone’s wedding, so keeping the photos safe is very important. In addition to making backups of the photos as soon as possible, it’s a good idea to use smaller sizes of SD cards in order to spread out the risk in case something goes wrong.
As soon as one memory card is full, you should transfer the photos to a laptop as well as an external hard drive or the cloud to ensure that they’ll be kept safe until you have a chance to edit them. This is where a photography assistant can come in handy, as you may not have time to make backups yourself while the wedding is in progress.
Even after the wedding cake has been eaten and all the guests have gone home, your work is far from finished, because while the wedding day might be behind you, you now have hundreds or maybe even thousands of photos to sort through and edit.
For many wedding photographers, the process of editing and printing their photos can be just as time consuming if not more time consuming than shooting the wedding itself. So if you’re new to photographing weddings, here are some things to keep in mind during post production.
Communicate clearly with your clients
Sorting through and editing the photos you intend to print or hand over to the client can take quite some time, and it’s important that your clients understand how long this process will take.
Even if you don’t expect it to take more than a day or two, you should give yourself some extra time, especially if it’s your first wedding. It’s much better to tell your clients they can expect to receive their photos in two to four weeks time than to promise a 24-hour turnover only to disappoint them when you realise that it’s likely going to take you a lot longer.
Never hand the RAW files over to your clients
It’s not uncommon for couples to ask their wedding photographer for the RAW files, but this is something you should never agree to as it could put your reputation as a photographer at risk.
“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 wedding photographer Thomas 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.”
He explains that when you get a request like this, what the client is actually looking for is 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.”
Consider offering your clients additional photo products
Many wedding photographers offer their clients additional photo products, such as photo books, photo calendars and photographic posters. Keep in mind that if you do want to provide your clients with a wedding photo book or album, you will need to work together with them to select 40-60 of the best photos that tell the story of their wedding day.
“I usually give the clients some guidance as to the images to select and will probably add in a few to make sure their story will come across,” explains award winning wedding photographer Lisa Devlin. “I like to use Bob Books Pro software because it’s very simple, fast and it allows me to customise layouts. Ultimately it gives me incredible quality books that my couples love.”
Devlin says she likes to design the photo book in one session to give it a consistent design, but then leaves it and comes back to it later with fresh eyes to see whether anything needs adjusting. “I try to tell the story of a wedding with a mixture of detail shots, reportage and more formal images all placed together throughout the pages.”
Figure out what works best for you
We’re all different, and what works best for one photographer won’t necessarily be right for you. So use the editing tools you’re most comfortable with, find your own style and develop an editing workflow that helps you stay organised and maximise your time and profits.
“Everyone edits in a different way,” says professional wedding photographer Clare Kinchin. “Personally I use Adobe Lightroom and select all the images I want to keep. I’ve made my own preset that I use on my images so I apply that and then tweak each image individually.
Editing tends to be a pretty time consuming job so I like to crank up the music or listen to podcasts. Not every client wants an album from me so I deliver their images first and then they come back to me for albums and books if they want them."
Kinchin says her favourite part about photographing weddings is getting to see different people and their relationships with each other.
“I love everything about weddings but documenting the emotion between people is really special. If you’re just starting out as a wedding photographer, get out there and photograph as many people as you can. In general, just keep learning and keep being inspired. Good Luck.” (If you'd like to know more about Clare and her photography, take a look at her interview here)
Aside from the actual work of preparing, photographing weddings and editing photos, as a professional photographer, a big part of your job will include marketing yourself to potential clients, getting organised and managing client expectations.
So here are some things you need to know about marketing your business, pricing your services and products, communicating with clients, and dealing with licensing and copyright agreements.
Marketing your business
Marketing yourself and your work is the only way to get your photography in front of potential clients in order to secure bookings and grow your business. Professional wedding photographer Marianne Taylor says the most important aspect of marketing a small business is authenticity. “If you keep your message personal, build your brand around who you are and what you are about, you will always people clients who that resonates with,” she says. “Remember, you don’t have to attract everyone, just the right clients for you.” Of course, without a strong marketing plan, you simply won’t be able to reach your full potential as a wedding photographer, so here are a few important tips for marketing your photography business in the early days.
Renowned wedding, portrait and music photographer Steve Gerrard says it’s important for photographers to develop their own unique style in order to stand out.
“You want people to know what you’re all about, right? They’ll get a lot of that from your images for sure. Especially if you have a unique style,” he says. “But you also need to consider who your market is. If you’ve identified your market you need to make sure what you say and how your brand looks appeals to that market.”
Use social media
Social media is a great way to engage with your customers and get feedback and reviews. But it’s not just a nice thing to have, because in this day and age, professional photographers are practically expected to have a presence on the major social networks like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
“It sounds like a daft thing to say, but you need to be all over social media,” says Steve Gerrard. “This should take up quite a portion of your time. As you know, marketing is essential to the survival of any photography business and social media is one of the most effective ways to get your work seen.”
Images courtesy of Steve Gerrard
Get your website up and running
Even if you’re active on social media and share most of your images and updates there, you still need to have a good website where clients can find all the information they need in one place. This includes your contact details, pricing and packages, a short bio or “About Me” page that sums up your experience and qualifications, and some strong examples of your wedding photography.
If you can manage it, blogging is also a great way to share your work and communicate with your clients and build a strong reputation as a wedding photographer. Just make sure your website is both desktop and mobile-friendly, as so many people exclusively use their smartphones these days.
Be selective about what you share
Promoting your photos on your website, blog and social media channels is important, but it’s just as important to make sure that the images you’re sharing will make a good impression. So be selective about what you decide to share with your audience.
“Let’s be honest, we all take some duff pictures. So be sure nobody sees them. Delete them. Bury them so that nobody sees them. Certainly don’t put them on your website,” cautions Steve Gerrard.
Create a strong portfolio or sample album
Although a lot of your marketing will happen online, it’s still a good idea to create a few physical sample albums showing off your best work so clients can get an idea of what you can deliver.
“Of course, this is a blog for a photo book company, but I really do love photo books,” says Steve Gerrard. “We make them for our clients all the time and they love them. Books are also a great way to market yourself, be it showing off your stuff at a trade show or with a client consultation. You could also leave your books at venues where you might like to shoot – a wedding venue, for instance.”
Images courtesy of Steve Gerrard
When you’re first starting out, it can be difficult to know how much to charge, because you don’t know exactly what expenses or hidden costs there might be. Professional wedding photographer Marianne Taylor points out that there are two sides to costs of being self-employed.
“First, there are the obvious costs of providing a service and products - your overheads, materials and expenses you have to fork out for in order to get your work to the client,” she explains. “There are also the accumulative costs of building up and maintaining your gear, any training you might need and investments you make into your business. All these costs should be spread out across your prices, as well your cost of living. The other side, she says, is about the more invisible cost of your time. “We have a fairly limited amount of time on our hands, and we have to put a value on that time so that we don’t price our service so low that it means we won’t have any time for family, hobbies or actually living a life. Often, especially when starting out, it seems like a luxury to charge for your time. But the longer you are self-employed the more you realise that, along your skill, your time is actually the most valuable commodity you are selling.”
With this in mind, some of the things you need to consider when setting your prices include:
- Travel time: Is the wedding in your immediate area or will you have to travel farther away or even stay the night in another city? How much will it cost you to get there?
- Editing time: Since your work doesn’t end when the wedding does, it’s important to work out roughly how many hours you’ll spending post processing and printing the photos.
- Insurance: Every wedding photographer should have liability and equipment insurance to cover any mishaps or accidents which might occur such as damaged or lost equipment, or lawsuits against the photographer.
- Equipment: You probably own much of the basic equipment you’ll need, but many photographers rent extra gear for weddings to make sure they have backups in case anything malfunctions or gets lost.
- Running costs: In addition to the costs you’ll have on the wedding day itself, you need to consider the daily running costs of your business, such as marketing, client photo proofing, studio or office space and professional services like accountants or assistants.
- Average wedding photography rates in your area: Although it’s important to price yourself competitively, you don’t want to overprice your services and end up missing out on jobs.
In order to reach a wider audience, most photographers offer different packages so their clients can choose one that suits their budget and requirements.
A basic wedding photography package would probably include coverage of the main events such as the wedding ceremony and reception, along with the prints and digital files. A more elaborate package might include everything from an engagement photo shoot to extensive coverage of the wedding day from start to finish as well as a photo book and wedding video.
You could choose to explain these packages in detail on your website or just mention that prices start from a certain amount and then have potential clients contact you for more information.
An aspect of wedding photography that doesn’t get much attention but is important to consider is the licensing and copyright agreements you make with your clients.
Legally, photographers always retain the copyright to their photos unless they explicitly sign this away. Rather than signing away the copyright to their photos, however, which prevents them from ever using the photos in the future, most photographers assign the wedding couple a “Print License” or “License of Use.”
This allows clients to print the photos for personal use and share them on social media, which is all most couples want to do anyway. It also protects you by preventing the couple from altering or editing the photos in a different style, which could reflect badly on you as the photographer.
Once you’ve gone over everything with your clients and received their permission to use their photos on your website or social media channels, you should draw up a simple wedding photography contract to ensure that you have everything in writing.
The agreement should cover all the basics, including what the photographer will supply (photos, digital files, photo book, etc), the payment and cancellation policy, as well as the copyright and privacy terms that were agreed upon.
In order to avoid disagreements down the line, you should go over everything with your clients before you ask them to sign anything. For example, if you intend to use some of the photos from the couple’s wedding day on your website, blog and social media, or for other marketing materials such as flyers or business cards, it’s always a good idea to discuss this with them.
Images courtesy of Steve Gerrard
Are you interested in using Bob Books to print wedding photo books for your clients? Be sure to check out this page to find out how you can benefit from our discount and reward programs for professional photographers and send orders directly to your clients.