Top 5 Tips You Need to Know Before Photographing Your First Wedding

Are you freaking out about shooting your first wedding!? This article will give you the Top 5 MOST IMPORTANT wedding photography tips that you need to know and implement before shooting your first wedding!

This is the holy grail, beginners guide to getting you prepared and ready for your first wedding shoot.

I wish someone had told me these tips when I shot my first wedding, but unfortunately I had to learn the hard way! So let’s celebrate…woohoo! Because if you follow and actually practice these 5 steps you’ll be ready.

bride and groom in forest

So, let’s set the scene: you’ve booked your first wedding about a year ago and at the time you were super excited! It may be a paid job or you might just be doing it for free for a friend to get some experience. Either way, it’s one of the most important days of the couple’s life so you need to make sure you nail it! The wedding is about two months away and your excitement has turned to fear, you find beads of sweat appearing on your forehead just thinking about the wedding, and as you see the big day quickly approaching it’s time to get organized.

Hopefully this list of wedding photography tips can help calm your nerves and get you as prepared as possible for the big day. And remember to have fun, because it’s going to be the first day of doing the best job in the world!

Before we get started, you need to know that being an awesome wedding photographer is NOT all about photography!

Having good photography skills is only about 30 percent of what it takes to being an awesome wedding photographer.

The other 70 percent includes:

  • Being happy, friendly and building rapport with anyone and become everyone’s best friend
  • Being an awesome problem solver when things go wrong (e.g., car breaks down, camera breaks, mother-in-law faints, etc., and yes, these have all happened to me!)
  • Being able to think quickly on your feet, make big decisions, and convince everyone it’s the right thing to do
  • Being bold, getting people to listen to you but never be rude—crowd control :)
  • Being an entertainer. Having fun with the bridal party, cracking jokes, playing games
  • Giving the bride and groom the best possible experience so they enjoy having their photos taken.
  • and lots more…

I wrote an article summarizing a day in the life of a wedding photographer; I suggest you read it to give you a really good idea, step by step, total overview of what it’s like to actually be the photographer on the day.

Lastly, I want to talk about the number one, holy grail, mother of all beginner wedding photography rules:

PREPARE, PREPARE and PREPARE!

Although this may seem obvious to most people, it’s amazing how little preparation some photographers put into their first wedding! Please don’t expect to rock up and just wing it. It’s irresponsible and totally unfair for the couple who are expecting you to know what you’re doing. So what does prepare, prepare and prepare mean? I personally find that preparation is the key for success in any industry so I have focused the following 5 top wedding photography tips on helping you to be as prepared as possible so you can rock up with confidence and nail it!! :)

1. Know your gear inside out

Let’s begin with one of the most important tips, know your gear! This should be a no brainer. Pick up your camera and make sure you know all the settings, understand the modes, get to know the settings that are available on your lenses (image stabilizer for example), work out all the options available on your speedlite, etc etc.

If you want to know what wedding photography gear I use, click here.

gear list for new wedding photographers

**Real life horror story** During one of my first weddings, I thought I knew my gear and then suddenly, BANG! My cameras shutter speed stopped increasing once it hit 1/250 of a second, the couple is looking at me waiting impatiently for direction and I’m red in the face and frantically trying to get my settings right. FYI, when your speedlight is attached and turned on, your camera does not allow you to shoot faster than 1/250 of a second. Simply turning on the ‘high speed’ mode on your speedlight fixes this! I wish I had known that before the day!!

Once you think you know your stuff, grab a friend or partner and practice getting perfectly exposed images quickly and in a lot of different locations.

I used to torture my poor girlfriend at the time (now wife!) by taking photos of her all around the house. It doesn’t need to be flattering,—just practice so you get used to getting your settings right, so on the big day you can be prepared.

My wife is going to kill me for showing these images—but it is what I did to learn so I wanted to share it with you. I even grabbed some branches from the neighbors’ yard to use as the bouquet! Here are some before shots (me learning at home) and after shots (real wedding examples).

mock bride portraits

photographing bride practice

**Try This** Go into the lounge room, position your subject where you would position your bridal party (ideally photographer’s back to a window), and take a photo of him/her as quickly as possible with perfect exposure. Then walk outside to the backyard and do the same: find the best spot, either in the shade or with the sun behind the subject, and shoot. Next, head to the front yard, then the kitchen, study, whatever! Use your flash, practice in a darker room with little window light, as this would be similar to the conditions you will be up against in the reception. Bounce the flash off the roof or the wall, or turn it off and crank your ISO to see what happens. Practice all these options and see what works best, so that on the wedding day, you’ll be prepared.

**Funny story** I used to watch the TV through my camera and try and move my focal points around as quickly as possible to follow the person’s face on the screen! Sounds silly, but now I can do it without thinking, and it saves me getting a lot of camera blur issues when shooting.

2. Scout the locations

Scouting locations is another MUST DO before the wedding so you can be prepared. You most likely won’t get a chance to see the groom’s house or bride’s house before the day, but you can assume it is like any average home. As long as there is light in the lounge room and master bedroom, then you’ll be OK.

**Extreme Example** I shot groom coverage in a one bedroom apartment with five boys in the bridal party plus 50 family members standing around waiting for me to finish so the bride could arrive and they could start the tea ceremony! Talk about pressure as well as working in tight spaces!

So, apart from the groom and bride coverage you should definitely scope out the scenes at the church/ceremony location, as well as the locations you intend to go to, and even pop into the reception to see what you’re up against.

**Tip** It would be awesome if you could go to these locations at roughly the same time of day as you will be there on the actual wedding so the lighting will be similar.

I would suggest googling the locations before you go on your shoot and see what other photographers have done there in the past. Then head over, use their shots as inspiration and work out your own ideas. Walk around everywhere, find the best spots, and use your camera. Take photos pretending the couple is standing there so you can work out your compositions. Below I simply google “Parliament House Wedding” and heaps of examples pop up, which makes for a really good reference!

google your wedding location for shot ideas

I know this sounds like a lot of work, but like I keep mentioning, preparation is key. If you’ve already been to the locations, worked out your ideas, and photographed your imaginary couple in the best spots, you’re going to kill it on the actual wedding day!

3. Write a shot list and memorize it

This is another really important tip that I used to do for at least my first 20 weddings! Write a shot list of exactly what you’re going to do at every location. Feel free to be as specific as possible and then try and memories it. Also, I feel that writing it with pen and paper actually helped me to remember everything a lot more than just typing it out.

I literally used to write the following info down the day before every wedding:

Groom Coverage Shot List

Details

  • Flower
  • Tie
  • Cufflinks
  • Rings
  • Cologne
  • Watch?
  • Ask the groom if there is anything else he wants

Boys Getting Ready

  • Boys helping groom with cufflinks
  • Boys helping groom with tie
  • All boys putting vests on
  • All boys helping adjust the back of each others vests
  • Slap each in the ass shot!
  • All boys grab jackets and do the Roger David shot
  • All boys put on jackets
  • Hero shot of all the boys fully dressed looking awesome
  • Serious and gangster!
  • Big smiles
  • Hugging and ruffing up the groom!
  • the wedding rings at Tatra Receptions
  • groomsmen helping groom prepare for his wedding at Montsalvat
  • Groom and his boys hanging out in the alleyway
  • bright colorful portrait of the groom before going to Montsalvat
  • Groom and groomsmen having a beer before the ceremony at Montsalvat
  • Portrait of the groom using orange video lighting

Etc, etc, etc… You get the point :)

wedding rings

I know this is super detailed, and all weddings are different, and things happen and you can’t always do all these shots, but at least I have all my shots memorized so whatever happens, I’ll be prepared and always have ideas up my sleeve!

Do this for the bride coverage and definitely the locations too. Bring a pen and paper with you when you’re doing your recce and as your finding spots, write stuff down. For example:

  • Bride on her own in archway (full length)
  • back of dress shot
  • bride looking down at flowers
  • bride looking away into the distance
  • bride looking at camera
  • groom on his own in archway (full length)
  • hands in pockets looking cool at camera
  • looking into the distance
  • looking at his bride
  • serious and smiling at camera
  • Bride and Groom together (full length)
  • looking at eachother
  • nosey nosey
  • kissing
  • looking at camera
  • Bride hugging groom from behind (close up)
  • Both looking at camera
  • Looking into the distance together
  • Bride kissing groom on the cheek
  • Bride sticking her tongue in the grooms ear!! Get the reaction!!

**Tip** For every scene try and shoot a series of wider shots, and then mix things up and shoot another series of close up shots in the same location. Doing this will make it a million times easier when it comes to designing the wedding album! All the pages will just fall into place.

wedding day portrait

4. Assist as much as you can

This is another super important thing that you should definitely do before you go out and shoot your first wedding! Ideally start trying to find someone to assist as soon as you book your first wedding or even before that. The sooner you start assisting the more prepared you will be.

**Tip** Finding a job as an assistant or even volunteering is not an easy task. Especially because every other beginner photographer is looking for the same job. Find the best 20 wedding photographers that you LOVE and shoot in a style that you really like and start emailing them one by one. Make sure they have your details on file and know your available at the drop of a hat. Even email them once a month (but don’t be annoying). I generally find that if your timing is right, you’ll get the job. Imagine, their current assistant is sick, they need someone urgently, and suddenly your email pops up—you’re in!

If you have no luck, then just make yourself a cup of coffee, put some music on, and start emailing all the wedding photographers in your city. One will eventually get back to you, and you can start heading out and getting some experience.

This will give you first hand experience from a pro (hopefully) of exactly what goes on behind the scenes of a wedding. Try to put yourself in their shoes and guess what shots they’re going to do next. Imagine what settings you would use on your camera as you go from location to location.

Best of all, you get a decent amount of one-on-one time with the photographer while driving around, so you can ask plenty of questions (without being annoying!). Pick their brains; most of the time they’ll be more than happy to help you and divulge their knowledge, as they know that once upon a time they started out just like you.

wedding photography assistant

Ask local photographers if they need an assistant.

5. Shoot a fake wedding

One of the best ways to prepare for the real wedding is to shoot a fake wedding! Get some friends together or a couple that you know and try and mimic some of the shots that you are actually going to do on the wedding day.

Shoot the groom coverage in a lounge room, try and memories the shots you need and practice getting the images perfect in camera. Same as the bride coverage, don’t worry about the dress, just try and get the shots.

Go on location to the actual spots you are going to use for your first wedding and shoot all the images you would for the real day. Practice getting it right in camera. There is no pressure doing it this way, so take your time and get it right, until it becomes almost second nature!

I just found some old photos in my archives of me doing this. I dragged some friends of mine to the city and acted out the scenes that I actually was going to do on the wedding day. Check out my super embarrassing before shots compared to my half decent real wedding after photos below:

mock wedding photography
practice wedding photography
Thanks so much for reading!

Hope you enjoyed this article detailing in my opinion the 5 top tips to get a beginner photographer ready for their first wedding. If this is you, let me know what you thought! Did it help you? Have you got some better ideas? Did I miss something super important??

I really appreciate your feedback so feel free to leave a comment. Or, if you know someone else who might benefit from reading this article, feel free to share it!

About the Author:
Chris Garbacz has 10 years of experience as a Melbourne wedding photographer (weddings.epicphotography.com.au). He’s photographed just shy of 400 weddings, says he has seen it all and experienced almost every scenario imaginable. The best part is that he still loves photographing weddings and jumps out of bed feeling excited to see each couple’s wedding day unfold.

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5 Comments

  1. What a great article — and timely for me!! I recently did a wedding and I WISH I had your list of must-do shots. You better bet I’ll be printing this out for the future. Thanks for sharing a wealth of experience and insight!

    Emily

  2. kelly says:

    Seriously? You left out the most important thing, the #1 thing all wedding photographers should have: liability insurance. If you ever plan on shooting a wedding get liability insurance. As the “wedding photographer”, you should never shoot a wedding without it. If you trip and hurt someone or break something, do you think the bridal couple is going to pay for the damages? Accidents happen all the time, don’t think” it will never happen to me”. If you do, you may end up in court paying way more than you ever thought of charging for shooting the wedding.

    #2 Always, always have a contract if you are charging for a wedding. More than one photographer has ended up in court by an upset bride. Have a backup photographer lined up in case you are unable to do the wedding. Don’t think you are a capable wedding photographer because your friends say you are a good photographer… make sure the couple has seen your work before signing a contract so they know what to expect!

    #3 Have a backup camera, lenses, batteries, flashes, memory cards etc. You never know when something may fail or get broken. Someone trips, knocks you over and your camera goes flying… You pick it up in pieces, now what? You were hired to do the wedding, a broken camera is not an excuse. They are not going to put the wedding on hold until you go get another camera. You really need to be prepared!

  3. Logan says:

    Great article! I was especially interested to see the ‘behind-the-scenes’ shots from practicing shots at home and scouting locations side-by-side with the final shots. It’s very nice to have concrete examples to round out the theory!

  4. Thanks Emily!
    Kelly, ha, i know there are always more things to add to the list, so I kept the theme of this article focused more on the shooting part of weddings, not the business side :)

  5. Michael says:

    Very thoughtful article Chris. You definitely focused on many of the top items from a shooters perspective. Regarding your shot list, I’d like to make a generic addition I learned from a leading shooter/online instructor – be sure to shoot everything where a significant sum of money was spent – Limo, flowers, gown, cake, officiant, church, reception area, food/beverages, rings, catering, videographer, singer/band, DJ…

    And regarding gear, ALWAYS have extra equipment if/when something fails – an extra camera body, an extra flash, etc. Even if you can’t afford the equivalent backup gear, always have a second camera and flash to save the day.

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