Learn the logistics of shooting a wedding, how to conduct and profit from a pre-wedding shoot and the techniques that will help you capture the shots that sell.
Wedding photography is more than lighting, aperture and composition: you need to be able to handle every eventuality while still appearing composed and in control – even if you’re panicking inside. Until you have encountered every kind of wedding day disaster, kit malfunction and nightmare guest, and know instinctively how to handle it all. every wedding will pose new problems to overcome no matter how meticulously you plan. Which is why preparation is so essential. Covering the basics will put you in a much better position to cope with the unexpected when it happens. Until you become comfortable with the process of a wedding day. we advise you plan it like a military operation and try to identify problems as early as possible by having regular meetings with your clients. You want them to feel relaxed and confident that their photography is in capable hands, so it’s your job to discuss their prospective plans as early in the process as you can to address any problems that could interfere with them getting the pictures they want. After all, with so much to contend with, it can be easy to miss out on crucial pictures or a part of their day because you didn’t prepare for it properly. If this happens, not only could it knock your confidence but you could be feeling the financial effects of a damaged reputation for years to come. Even before the clients book, you should be managing their expectations. Make sure they’re happy with your style of photography and that they’re fully aware of what to expect. Once they book with you. take a deposit (normally 25% of the total amount) to secure the date and ask them to review and sign a contract, nothing too heavy just something to protect you both. Even if you are shooting for friends and family, if money is changing hands, ask them to sign a contract outlining the use of the images and your cancellation policy. In the lead up to the wedding, arrange a few meetings with the couple to discuss wedding day plans, what they want from you and their album, if they’re having one. Ask them to bring along a few images they like from the web. magazines, or from your online portfolio, to show you the type of images they want and more importantly what they don’t want. It’s vital to build a rapport and trust with clients before the big day. so work with them at the planning stages to ensure they get what they want. The couple won’t know how long you need for pictures and the best time to do them based on the time of year, so address these logistics five months before the wedding, rather than five weeks, when perhaps nothing can be done about it.
- Get all your kit together the night before because inevitably you’ll be in a rush the morning of and tend to forget things. Make sure all your lenses are clean, memory cards are clear and batteries are charged.
- You may find writing a shot list containing the essential images you need and want to capture a useful way to make sure you don’t forget any pictures the bridal couple and you want for the album. There’s nothing worse than getting home and realising you’ve forgotten to take a full-length portrait of the bride in her dress, a picture of all the bridesmaids or the groom with his 98-year-old grandfather. You may also find it helpful at the beginning to print off an inspirational contact sheet of images and poses you’d like to try on the day so if you get stuck, and have a sneaky second, you can refresh yourself.
- Always think what if ?… Be prepared for anything you can think of. One minute it might be beautiful weather, the next it could be raining so make sure you have big white umbrellas at the ready. If you don’t chances are a guest will have a couple of large, unattractive golf umbrellas with logos on that not only look horrendous but give your couple an ugly colour cast. Have tissues to hand for crying guests and make sure you have back-up equipment and a plan B in case gear fails, you have to do the group shots indoors where there’s limited light or a power cut forces the speeches and dinner to be done in candle light. It could happen!
Questions to ask the client…
- What’s the schedule for the day?
- How many people in the wedding party?
- How many people at the ceremony and then at the reception?
- Where and when are you getting married and is the ceremony in the same location as the reception?
- Are you planning any surprises for the guests or individuals?
- Are you planning any surprises for each other? (Ask them each privately)
- What have you spent the most amount of money on and is there anything particularly sentimental
- Who are the essential people you want photographed and photographed with?
- What is it about the venue that you love? (So you know to get photographs of it)
- How are you both arriving to ceremony/ reception? (You’ll need to approach photographing a horse and carriage differently to a classic car)
- Who is giving the bride away?
Your ‘to do’ list before any wedding day
- Visit the ceremony .nut reception venues at a similar time of day as they’ll be used for the wedding to scout out the best lighting and backdrops. Look for big windows for natural light and areas of open shade that you could use for the group and bridal couple shots.
- Check what the venue’s selling factors are. perhaps they have a grand staircase, a lakeside jetty or character features that attracted the couple, which you can use for photographs. If the venue is very basic, concentrate on finding uncluttered backdrops and areas of soft natural light like windows or even doorways so you can use the interior as a dark background.
- If the couple want a group shot with all the wedding guests, find out if there’s a place in the venue that can give you a high vantage point like a balcony or open window over an area outdoors. If they don’t, you know you may need to come equipped with a stepladder.
- If it’s a church wedding, arrange to meet the vicar to discuss any restrictions on photography. Sometimes you won’t be allowed to use flash during the ceremony or at specific times, like the exchanging of vows. The vicar should also be able to tell you the best places to stand to gel photographs and where prior photographers have shot the groups. Ask the registrar it it’s taking place in a registry office.
- Find out when the wedding before and after yours is happening, so you know your window of opportunity to photograph guests arriving and after the ceremony.
- If the wedding’s not too far away, do a test run of the journey from bride’s hotel where she’s getting ready to the ceremony and then to the reception venue. You may be surprised at how difficult some venues can be to find if they’re off the beaten track or how your initial travel time is doubled by traffic at that time of day. If you have to go further afield for the wedding, travel up early and try to do this the day before the big day.
- Arrange a meeting with the couple’s private or venue wedding coordinator to discuss the details of their wedding day and where events like the first dance, wedding breakfast, cutting of the cake and reception drinks will be held. If possible, get them to run through the wedding with you so you know exactly where you need to be and when to get the best angle for pictures.
- How big is the wedding? Do you need to hire a second shooter or an assistant to help you or can you rely on the best man and ushers to help coordinate people for the group shots?
- Introduce yourself to as many operators and suppliers for the wedding as possible, such as the florist, venue manager and wedding coordinator. By doing so. you can arrange to send them pictures you’ve taken of their work, which can help build up your contact base. If they like your images and decide to use them for their promotional material, you’ll probably find you become one of the first wedding photographers they recommend to any of their clients.
- Speak to the DJ or band about how they plan to light the room for the first dance so you can decide if the ambient light will create enough atmosphere or if have to provide your own light and exactly how do you want to do this.
- Once you have a detailed schedule of how the day will go and an idea of the lighting conditions you’ll have to work with, plan when and how your best chances are to get the shots you need and equip yourself for the task, be it learning or practising flash techniques or hiring equipment.
Create a detailed schedule of the day
Every wedding is different and should be treated as such, but by preparing for each one the way we advise you to, you’ll be setting yourself up for success and reduce any of your wedding-day stress
When Coming up with your schedule, be realistic about your journey times. How long will it take for you to get from the various venues, factoring in traffic and time of day. If you can. do the journey and time it or use Google Maps or Map Quest to plan the route. When you plan the day like we’ve done here, leave room to be flexible in case of the unexpected and. if you can. assign more time than is needed for the group shots and bridal portraits. If the bride is fashionably late to the ceremony, it will be your time with the bridal couple that is squeezed as everything else has to happen on time. If it’s a long way to travel, you may even want to consider staying in a hotel near the wedding venue. It’s a good excuse for a weekend away, you won’t risk being caught in traffic, plus – best of all – it’s tax deductible!
An example of a schedule:
10.30am: Meet the bride at her hotel room to take pictures of her and the bridesmaids (Lily. Jen and Pippa) getting ready. If time, photograph the groom at home (the groom’s house is 15mins from the hotel).
12.15pm: Get to the church ahead of the bride to photograph arriving guests and group shots of the groomsmen (Ben. Phil and George) if we didn’t have time earlier. (Church is 20mins drive from hotel and five minute drive from groom’s house).
12.55pm: Bride to arrive in horse and carriage with her father and bridesmaids.
1.45pm: Ceremony finishes. Get confetti shot and guests with bride and groom outside the church.
1.55pm: Leave for reception venue before bride and groom (15min drive).
2.15pm: Bride and groom arrive at reception. Meet them at the entrance. Drinks and canapes on the lawn.
2.55pm: Take group pictures of the bridal party. Use a different location to the group shots of the guests.
3.20pm: While the guests and wedding couple chat on terrace, take the time to capture the table details and decorations in the venue as well as documentary images of the guests.
3.45pm: Whisk the bride and groom away for their private portrait shoot.
4.30pm: Bride and groom must be back for their receiving line.
5.30pm: Wedding breakfast.
7.00pm: Cutting of the cake and evening guests arrive.
7.30pm: First dance.
An engagement, or pre-wedding, session is a fantastic way to get to know the client, for them to get to know you and for you to see how they slot together as a couple. To find out what they like, what they don’t like about themselves and to build your relationship with them. The photography is actually the least important part of the pre-wed – it’s all about encouraging a connection between you and the clients that can carry through into their wedding day. Keep it relaxed and relatively unstructured, with them dressed comfortably even if it’s jeans and t-shirts so the images simply capture them being together and having a good time. Different photographers have different approaches to a pre wedding shoot, but they all consider the sessions to be an integral part of preparing clients for their wedding day. A good approach is letting the clients to pick the location, be it at the beach, a local park or to meet them at their home. “approach it like I would a lifestyle portrait shoot, whereby we go out for a wander and stop off to take pictures where the light is right and the backdrop is good. It usually takes no more than a couple of hours. The key is to make them comfortable and to keep the animation going by chatting to them all the time. Posing isn’t usually necessary as if you make them feel comfortable you can often catch them as they fall in to poses, laughing and having a good time as opposed to having them sit quite stilted.”
To do the engagement shoot in a very different location to the wedding venue to increase the saleability of the pictures. However, if you’re still a little daunted by shooting a wedding it might be worth arranging the pre-wed at the actual wedding venue to get accustomed to the setting, lighting and backdrops. The engagement shoot is an ideal time to subtly find out if there are parts of the client or angles of themselves they don’t like, as it’s usually now that they’d say something like’ try not to get me from this side, it’s not my best’. Log comments like this into your brain for the wedding day and be sensitive to their hang-ups; you might not understand why they hate their shoulders or nose but do what you can to conceal those areas and to find their most flattering angle as it could be the difference between them loving or hating their pictures. Most people don’t like having their picture taken and need a lot of guidance to be made to feel comfortable, down to how to stand, where to look and even their smile. If you simply tell them to stand while you take pictures, without much interaction from you. the images may look stilted. If the subjects are hankering after some direction, try to be as descriptive and specific as possible. For instance, don’t tell him to say something in her ear. as it’s likely he won’t know what to say. Instead tell him to whisper ‘I love you’ and photograph the huge grin that crosses her face or to nuzzle in to her neck as she glances towards the camera. By encouraging them to interact with each other, it will elicit some natural reactions. It’s also a good chance to gauge their personalities. If they’re quite shy and quiet you’ll probably struggle to get them to do anything eccentric, but if the couple is outgoing and relaxed from the outset, it’s a chance for you to get creative and have fun with your set-ups. A good way to start the shoot is to warm up with a few ‘safe shots’ (the type of images that consistently sell) such as them touching foreheads, a three-quarter crop with him holding her or a head and shoulders shot, and then try to loosen them up by having them walk, run or jump hand in hand and or even suggest they give each other piggy-back rides. If the couple have children, encourage them to come along to the pre-wed shoot too to make it more of a family photo session. While the main aim is to get to know the clients and to see how they photograph, there is potential to earn some extra money too. Most photographers include a complementary engagement shoot in their wedding packages but not the images, so there’s room to sell off the back of it. Try to treat the pre-wedding shoot like you would a wedding; edit the images in the same way and present them to your client in a similar fashion. Don’t sell yourself short by saving unedited images to a disc and posting them off to the clients, as you’ll be missing a trick!
Remember it’s all about delivering a professional service that reflects your brand. So, if you can, meet up with the client to view the pictures on a projector screen or computer, you could do this in your studio, at their home or hire a conference room in a hotel. If you do a viewing, try to be equipped with products you’re trying to push, like mini albums, frames, canvases and acrylics in sizes you sell. Nine times out of ten, clients buy what they can see. As a gesture of good will for the bride and groom, you could make a note of the couple’s favourite picture, get it framed and mounted so guests can sign it on the big day. Another option could be to do a guest book with pictures from the shoot, as some people prefer a book they can keep on a shelf. If the bride and groom are too busy to meet up for a viewing, you could load the images up in a private gallery on your website for them to view at their leisure. Some website companies like The ImageFile also enable you to sell prints and products directly from your website, so the clients can pick how they want their engagement pictures presented.
Before or after the pre-wedding shoot, take the couple somewhere they can relax over a cup of coffee like your studio – if you have one – or a quiet but chic cafe or bar. Somewhere you can chat without being Interrupted. Use this time to recap on the plans for their wedding day. Run through your list of questions to find out who’s who in the family, if there’s any family members you need to get pictures of or family situations you need to be aware of, like new partners, divorced parents or widowed grandparents. Do the pre-wedding shoot at least three months before the wedding day, leaving plenty of time to provide them with framed prints or a signature board and for you to prepare for any wedding day changes that may have happened since your last meeting.
To Be continued: more to come 🙂