What is a wedding? For a photographer it’s nothing but business. For the bride and groom it’s the most important day of their life. A day in which two lives take a decisive turn, for the better or for the worse.
So a wedding is undoubtedly a very important even for at least two people and their immediate families. The photographer must be aware of this, even though for him/her it’s just another day at work. Why is this?
Because from him/her and from him/her alone the memories of this decisive day will totally depend upon. Unfortunately many photographers do not think of a wedding this way, but instead as just another check coming in. This is wrong for two reasons:
- Because if a photographer doesn’t respect a wedding for what it is, he/she will unconsciously not perform at his/her very best.
- This attitude won’t let the photographer fully appreciate the efforts made to make this day look so marvellous and therefore he/she will not be able to capture the true atmosphere.
[A brief introduction about myself: I am a wedding photographer because I love wedding photography, not because it pays well (which is debatable). As a matter of fact, I’ve done it for years making little or no money at all.]
For a photographer a wedding begins when a deposit is paid and therefore a specific date is booked. From that moment on there is a continuous (at times invisible) relationship between the photographer and the couple to be married. Some people book over a year in advance, but this doesn’t mean that in this lapse of time the photographer will forget about the wedding. As soon as a specific date is booked I send the couple a contract to be signed by both of them and a form to be filled in with all the relevant information, both items to be returned in good time for the wedding. When I receive the form and the contract back, I arrange for an appointment with the couple to discuss all the details of the big day. The contract, the form and the meeting are three very important steps for all parties; let’s go over them individually:
In this world, only what is written counts. Where ever there is an exchange of money, there must be a written agreement. Other than for legal reasons, this is very important because of the fact that when people are under pressure or stress, they tend to forget things or to miss interpret them. This could lead to unpleasant incidents in the future. A wedding photographer contract will state the agreed date, the agreed amount of money to be paid in exchange for the service and what service is to be provided. A contract should also include a copy of the photographer’s terms and conditions and this must be visible to the clients before they sign the contract.
The contract is also very useful when dealing with dodgy people, of which the world is unfortunately filled. Some brides and groom (I must say it doesn’t happen very often – but it does happen) plan from the start to take more than what they bargained for. Some people will look for a loophole in the contract to ask for more prints or for some money back. Imagine if you didn’t have a contract… open season to hunt down the photographer. The beauty is that a properly drawn contract works the other way just as well, so it also covers the bride and groom.
This is another very important thing, often omitted by most photographers. This form will contain all of the information a photographer needs for a particular wedding, including contact numbers for everyone concerned with the particular wedding. Even if you only have to manage one wedding (beginners) it’s a good idea to keep all the information in one place, because when you need it the most you must be able to find it, quickly.
Most photographer (and this is a very bad habit) work with notes. They take notes over the telephone, notes when they meet the clients, some more notes gathered from here and there… and in the end some crucial information ends up missing, like the brides telephone number on the day of the wedding, or a missing postcode. A sibgle form with ALL the information is the key.
Meeting the bride and groom before the wedding is essential. In order to get the mood of the day, you must know who you are creating this mood for. Everyone is different on this planet, there will not be two people alike. Therefore your service as wedding photographer must be tailored to the specific people you are dealing with. Even with a last minute wedding you should find some time to meet the bride and the groom. If there is absolutely no time, have a nice telephone conversation and try to understand their feelings and expectations.
After this initial contact there will be a long period of silence, as the photographer is not expected to call once a week just to say “hello”. In this period of time from meeting the couple to seeing them again on the big day (that can be long or short, depending on how much earlier they have booked), the photographer will investigate all the details of the wedding: the church, the venue, the bride and groom’s homes, addresses, routes, alternatives, etc. Everything must be investigated thoroughly, because mistakes on the wedding day are not forgivable.
The next thing you should do as a wedding photographer is to prepare for the big day. One week before the ceremony you should go to check on the ceremony location (the church) and the reception place. Don’t do this too early, because things can change with time, including the managers. Take the light meter with you. Look for possible shots, light impediments, speak with the manager for permissions and information. Other than obtaining very good and useful information, you show a high standard and professionalism that will be passed on as word of mouth. Leave a business cart to every person you speak with. You always want to leave people impressed with your work, even if you don’t directly work for them; one day you might. Word of mouth spreads very fast when a photographer works poorly, but it spreads just as fast when he or she does a good job, so do it right and always better than the others; you will be remembered for that.
Two days before the wedding is the time to start using a checklist in order not to forget anything. This is the time to make sure that a certain number of things are available to you and that are in good conditions: check that you have a clean and decent photo bag for your equipment. Make sure that your tripod works in all positions and that it doesn’t jam. Check that you diffusion panel is clean and not broken in any part; it would be a terrible embarrassment if you were to open it in front of many people after a long time of not using it and found it unusable. Make sure you have at least three camera bodies with at least three lenses, ranging from a wide angle to a telephoto lens. Why three bodies? One for color, one for black and white and one as spare camera.
Now with digital photography two bodies are enough, as everything is shot in color (the color can be taken away in the editing process). Make sure the aperture of the lenses work fine and that every moving part moves freely. If you use them, make sure you have soft filters and accessories in your photo bag; they are the most common thing to be left behind, I’ve seen it a million times. This includes the flashes’ cables, diffuser filters and attachments. You must bring with you at least two flashes. Remember that it’s one day in a lifetime and you cannot afford to stop working just because the flash decides to break down.
Remember to change the batteries in all of the cameras and flashes, plus bring at least one refill of batteries for each item. Better have too much than not having enough. Before digital photography arrived I used to carry with me twice as much film as I actually would have needed; the worst thing that could have happened was that I would have brought the film back home. You never know what can happen at a wedding and you just want to be ready. Nowadays you want to make sure you bring enough memory cards. No, one memory card that can hold 10.000 images is not enough. Occasionally memory cards go wrong and you do not want to find yourself in the position of not being able to shoot. Take three, five, eight of them… they are neither heavy nor expensive, so bring plenty with you.
Take with you some business cards to hand out. It’s very common at a wedding to exchange cards with the venue manager, the band, the catering manager, etc; we all work with and for each other and word of mouth has proven to be the best form of advertising. Make sure your cards are clean, new and fresh; there is nothing worse than being handed a dirty and sweaty business card that has been sitting in your bag or wallet for six months. Get yourself a nice aluminum case for your cards, so that they will be handed the way they are meant to.
I always keep a chocolate bar in my bag. When you get very hungry and your stomach starts complaining, it’s very difficult to concentrate and especially to create something artistic. I have been to weddings were there was absolutely nothing to eat. The day is very long and you never know when hunger is going to hit. If you are in a place where the weather is unpredictable like in London, bring an umbrella. Nowadays there are umbrellas that can fit in your pocket, so just through one in your bag. It’s always better to be prepared.
Take out what you are going to wear and examine that everything is fine. How many times did it happen that you were 100% sure that a particular shirt was in your chest of drawers and instead it was sitting in the laundry basket? Well, you don’t want this to happen on the morning of a wedding, so do take everything out and see if it is all clean, ironed, no buttons missing and just keep everything ready.
We are still two days away from the wedding, so if something is wrong you have time to fix it. Polish your shoes and keep them ready. There is nothing worse than an elegant wedding photographer with filthy shoes. That says it all about the person. Make sure you carry a watch, some emergency cash and an ID. Always carry an ID with you; this is because if you get pulled over by the police, whatever the reason, you do not want to be taken in to be identified. In most countries (including the USA) you must carry an ID at all times by law. Not many people are aware of this, but the police can detain you for up to 24 hours for identification purposes if you do not carry one. So since a wedding is very important, you want to take all precautions possible to make it go smooth.
One day before the wedding it’s the time to check your vehicle. Make sure you fill up the tank, check the oil and all fluids. Check the pressure of the tires (including the spare tire) and wash the car. Remember that first impressions count. Fully charge your mobile phone and keep it switched on from now on. Get your form with all the wedding information, street maps, alternative routes and notes and put everything in your bag. If you live in a large city, have a public transport pass, or ticket with you as well, just in case something goes unexpectedly wrong with your car. Have some coins ready for parking meters; When taking pictures of the bride and groom after the ceremony, you don’t know what ideas they have in mind and you have no ideas where they might take you.
If you unexpectedly have to park somewhere, you just want to be prepared. Tickets are expensive and coins are very light to carry in your car. Call your local road information office to make sure that everything is fine on your route. Look over the internet for the weather forecast and watch the evening news; if something big has happened, you want to know about it… it might affect your plans for the following day. Set two alarms just in case one goes wrong (you don’t want to oversleep on the wedding day) and lastly, have a good night sleep. This is important; you can’t go to bed late, you must be fully rested.
The wedding day:
On the day of the wedding give yourself plenty of time. It’s way better to wait around for two hours reading the paper, than being late and not have a chance to read the comics. My assistants only have to be late once for me not to ever hire them again. There is plenty of choice out there. Time is crucial and delays are totally unacceptable in this line of business. Always plan for the unexpected, accidents do happen and they can very well happen to you, so be prepared.
As soon as you wake up you should call your assistant, just to make sure his alarm worked and he should do the same to you if he gets up first. This is not paranoia, it’s a wedding and you should not take the slightest chance. Have a nice breakfast as it’s going to be a very long day. Leave home knowing that you won’t be back before one o’clock in the morning.
The moment has arrived; the day for which so many people have been planning for over a year has arrived. Do your very best and never stop till it’s over. There is no illness, there is no hunger, there is no family or girlfriend/boyfriend, there are no excuses: you keep shooting till you drop dead. You owe it to the bride and groom that trusted you with the most important day of their lives. You owe it to yourself, because people will be talking about you for years to come and you want them to talk nicely about you. During the day it’s OK for you to have a drink or two, just make sure you don’t drink too much and especially make sure you don’t drink at all for about two hours before you get yourself behind the wheel. Fatigue, alcohol and driving do not mix well at all.
The day after the wedding is when the real work starts: the editing of all the images, printing them and delivering the final work to the clients. It has been a long and difficult journey to the end of the wedding and if the clients are happy, you have achieved you goal. As you can see there is a lot more to a wedding than just make your appearance on the day. A wedding will typically keep a person buy for about 70 hours and you must consider this in your pricing. A mistake that many photographers make is to overbook.
They make themselves available for more weddings that they can actually handle. One wedding per week is plenty of work for one person, typically 60 – 70 hours per week (7 days). If you get booked for more than a wedding a week, make sure you have the resources to handle the extra work. On average a photographer will deliver the photographs about a month after the wedding. Over two months is not acceptable.
I hope this article helped you in better understanding wedding photography. Always do your best and be proud of it.
About the Author:
Michael Valeriani from www.misposo.com. Independent free advice to find a wedding photographer in the UK, USA, Canada AND plenty of advice on countless wedding issues.
Like This Article?
Don't Miss The Next One!
Join over 100,000 photographers of all experience levels who receive our free photography tips and articles to stay current: