First off, if you already have a wedding booked and you are planning on “faking it, til you make it.” DON’T! Let me just stop you right there! This is one of the single most important days of a person’s life. Do NOT mess this up! (No pressure right?) But seriously, if you are anxiously awaiting the first time you photograph a wedding on your own, here are some things you MUST know as you prepare to shoot your first wedding.
How can we say that? Well, I am a veteran wedding photographer. 16 years and 400+ weddings later I can say I know this to be true 110%! While the day itself is what produces the photographic results, the days, months even YEARS leading up to the big day will change everything about the day itself.
Have a good contract and stick to it.
Make sure that in all your pre-booking meetings that you both are very clear about the terms of your contract and relationship. For us, we always signed our contracts online, using ShootQ but even before that, we handed our clients a pretty, printed copy of what they were signing and we went over it line by line. This ensured that there was no confusion on either end.
Build a relationship with your client.
I know it sounds simple, but … it aint! As you prepare to shoot your first wedding, you must realize that it starts with the first minute they hear your name. From the first moment you begin, before the client is even booked, you should be thinking of relationship building! How fast you answer your email, says something about you. HOW you answer your email, again says something about you. Where and how you meet your clients for the first time, obviously, one of the first impressions.
Be useful to your clients. Wow them. Provide them with more information than you need to. This gives people a level of comfort! Be personable, from the start, on your website.
True Story: When we were photographing weddings full time, often the potential clients would meet us for the first time and they were already ready to sign a contract before we even arrived. They would reference things we had done (that they saw on our blog or Facebook page) talk about our kids by name (which are on our website) and we even had one tell us “I feel like we already know you!”
No one wants an awkward stranger at their wedding. If you have a relationship with your client it will make the wedding day SO much easier.
Start with an engagement session.
As you prepare to shoot your first wedding consider the engagement session. We always gave these away for free. WHY? Why would we not? Yes, we still made money off the images themselves but the freebie got people to use the session and it made us NOT have to refund them if they didn’t make time.
The most important thing was, that engagement session told us MOST of what we needed to know for the wedding day.
Furthermore, if they did not MAKE time for the engagement session, you knew right away that photos were NOT their priority. Trust me you NEED to know that before the wedding day. This helps you plan HOW to deal with the couple, the stress, the family and the day! Also, during the engagement session you can learn a lot about the specifics of their family and friends and know if there are any strained relationships to avoid.
True Story: We had one wedding couple where the bride was the totally chill half. The groom was very up tight and wanted everything perfect. As a matter of fact, HE had planned most of the wedding and SHE was just showing up! He micro-managed everything about the engagement session from locations to posing. For us, we always knew when the session was done. When you hit that one amazing image and you just KNEW it was not getting any better… you dropped the mic and went home. Well, we hit that image about 150 pics in. The groom insisted that we continue on and get 300 more! When they got their proofs back they both commented about how awkward they looked and how they didn’t really like the location of the last sets of photos (which I warned them) and I nicely pointed out the exact image when I knew that the session was over. Imagine that, it was their FAVORITE image. Fast forward to the wedding day and the groom announces to everyone “SHE is a genius with a camera… if she says do it… just do it. If she says its OVER, then we are done. Capeesh?”
How to Prepare to Shoot Your First Wedding Day.
Be prepared to photography your first wedding, in every single way possible. Seriously, my husband used to think I was crazy with the amount of stuff I packed to go to a wedding until he ripped the seat of his pants out at a wedding and was surely happy for those extras I had packed!
Prepare your Gear.
Most people realize that in order to prepare to shoot the first wedding you must get your gear ready. Make sure that everything is in good working order and that you KNOW HOW TO USE IT! Check to make sure your lenses are clean and functioning well. Clean your camera mirrors and check your flash functions. Go one step further and ensure that you are insured!
Prepare your knowledge.
Guys… do not try to shoot a wedding on “P” or AUTO. It won’t be pretty. Practice posing and lighting and settings until you are blue in the face. And then practice some more. If you cannot change your camera settings with your eyes closed then you are probably not ready to shoot a wedding.
Prepare to be creative!
Get inspired. Pinterest and other inspirational sites like Fearless are great to give you that edge. I hate to admit it but in some situations I have had to pull out my Pinterest to really SHOW hard to pose bridal parties what we wanted. You can even have private boards that you share with your brides so they can show you their ideas.
Prepare your Backups (and your backups of those backups).
Have at least one, if not two backups for each and every piece of equipment. Take more memory than you think you need. Take hundreds of batteries AND the chargers! If you are a dark church, with a dark reception site, you may blow through way more batteries than you think you need and there may NOT be a Walmart to run and buy more! Nor will you have the time!
Prepare your body.
When you prepare to shoot your first wedding it is most like a marathon. It takes a lot out of a body to go through the rigorous tasks required of a wedding photographer. Most of the days are spent in the heat, humidity, for 8,10,12+ hours. Remember that the more in shape you are, the less you will hurt on Sunday.
Prepare your wardrobe.
Listen ladies… I am a woman too. I want to look nice but nothing says you must wear a dress to a wedding. My husband’s favorite phrase was to ask me “Are we going Ninja today?” That meant … are we wearing solid black? I used to dress to match the bridal party until I had to edit MYSELF in a horrible trendy Kelly green blazer out of 25 ceremony pics. Never again.
Prepare your wardrobe.
Wear clothing that does not bind you or cause you to overheat. If you are a sweaty man… wear a vest only and not a jacket. (Gotta cover the sweat…) For ladies, I found that you can purchase very cute, simple dresses from Columbia and pair that with flats and a blazer.
Here are two of my favorite dresses for shooting weddings:
You look very nice, the dress is stretchy enough and long enough to cover everything. But I am paranoid… I ended up also wearing shorty shorts (workout like material) underneath to both soak up sweat and keep me modest when I was army crawling on the ground. I once even had an intoxicated bridesmaid pull up my skirt and laugh because I had shorts on. We have a picture of it somewhere… everyone got a kick out of it!
Either way I do not think I have ever gone to a wedding without backup clothing, extra shoes and basic toiletries. Sometimes you will NEED the extra deodorant or you will have sweated through your shirt twice! And trust me, after 14 hours, there is not a pair of shoes in the world that are still comfortable… not even Nikes!
Prepare to sustain yourself at the wedding.
You want to know the number one thing that people forget after planning every single detail of the reception and ceremony? They forget about the other 8-10 hours of the day! Many times you will end up in a location that does not have ready access to water fountains or bottles. The bridal party will almost always forget to bring a cooler and then you will have a hot mess of a bride who is sweltering and half dehydrated.
Yes, it is not our job to pack food and drink for the bride and groom but we always did. We took our small cooler with waters, a juice pouch or soda for sugar, peanuts and string cheese. You can pretty much survive on those things and I cannot tell you how many couples have happily sat in the back of our SUV with our AC cranked up her dress and the groom chugging a Capri Sun and devouring a cheese stick. (Can you tell we had little kids?)
Even if the bride and groom don’t use your rations you will be happy to not have to wait on the plated dinner to refresh your tummy after 9 hours of shooting! And you will be happy to wash back those Tylenols you will probably take with a cold bottle of water!
Prepare your vehicle.
Now I know we will get into gray area with this and many people would argue against this but for us it worked: Prepare your vehicle. Clean it up just a bit! We actually owned a GIANT SUV for the longest time simply because half of the time we ended up hauling the bridal party or couple around on the farm. Even if you are not taking them place to place, by the time their sunset photos happen a bride will likely NOT feel like hauling all the way down to that perfectly lit pond for pictures. If you can offer her a cool ride, she will oblige. It’s all about making your own life easier!
Prepare an “out the door” checklist.
My husband and I eventually got into a habit of “the car is packed but we still need a checklist” checklist. There seemed to always be ONE thing that we forgot because we thought the other packed it. So after we loaded the cooler, the backup clothing, the camera gear, the lighting equipment, the photobooth crap, we would sit, chill out, say a prayer and go over “4 Camera Bodies, 4 extra Camera batteries, 2 chargers, 16 CF cards, 6 Flashes, Flash stands, Softbox, Pole, etc.” We would physically say these things out loud and ensure that we had them.
Prepare a photo checklist.
How many times have I heard… “Can I give you a list of photos I want taken?”. My answer was always the same: “sure but after you see MY list you may not want to give me one!” Sure enough, after they read my 4 page checklist they were good. Also, it really does you, as a photographer no good, to have a list that says : “Aunt Sally, Uncle Dave, Grandma, Me, Tim.” You probably only know who “me and tim” are. What I did invite our brides to do was give us a list of anything special or different that would be happening. Things like bridesmaids signing the bottom of her shoes or she was wearing her grandma’s veil, there would be 4 generations together at the reception. Stuff like that is important and we would not otherwise know it.
Prepare to photograph at the location.
Scout it out. Seriously if it wasn’t a 3 hour drive, or some place that we had shot 100 times before, we ALWAYS met the bride AT the location one month prior to the event. We asked her what her vision was for the day and what locations she loved. There will always be a reason why a person chose the location they did to get married. You need to know what that reason it!
If the location itself was not fabulous we would drive to immediate surrounding areas and sometimes even snap a cell phone pic of that area to remind ourselves to use it. Without the stress of the wedding day we were able to look at a location in a much different manner.
Prepare to do 15 jobs.
On the wedding day you may become a therapist, a florist, a hair artist and much more. We always prepared for the worst and have seen a lot of the worst. We have rebuilt bridal bouquets with weeds and greenery from the location. We have re-made bridal hair that turned into a disaster. We ALWAYS carried extras of necessities like hair spray, hair pins, even black socks! Check back soon for another article where we detail all the things in our Wedding Emergency Bag!
Prepare to have FUN and enjoy your clients!
If you are not having fun, trust me neither are they. You want your clients to have a truly memorable day! Prepare yourself emotionally for the journey and ready yourself to become the bride’s best friend if need be. She will thank you for it in the long run.
Check back next week as we give you more details, in Episode 2: Everything I needed to know about shooting a wedding I learned at the engagement session!