20 years ago yesterday, I woke up excited and nervous. I checked my equipment three times. Then I headed out to the train from NYC to the Jersey Shore. You see, this was the day I photographed my first wedding.
I had NO idea what I was doing in regards to weddings. Well, that’s not entirely true, but I had only glimpsed the tip of the iceberg.
I had been a professional photographer already for almost two years. I’d been to weddings. I had gone to several friends’ weddings and taken pictures which I sent as an extra ‘gift’ after the wedding.
My friends had raved about the pictures and said I should consider being a professional wedding photographer. “Why not?” I thought. How difficult could it be?
Very difficult indeed.
It has been a long trip since photographing that first wedding. In the last two decades, I’ve photographed hundreds more weddings, big and small. I made some mistakes that first day. I also learned a lot.
Have a Good Contract
I think all I was using was an invoice with a place for signatures and the date at the bottom when I first started out.
When I arrived that day there were several things that I realized should be spelled out in a contract.
For example, my exact start and end times for shooting. They’d booked me for 6 hours of coverage but there was a huge gap between the ceremony and the reception. I was not getting paid for that time even though there was nowhere I could go and nothing I could do. I was at their mercy and my client’s were determining when I was ‘working’ and if what I was doing counted towards my hours of coverage.
Next, there was another photographer. I don’t blame them for hiring another photographer. In fact, it took some of the pressure of me. It’s just that they never told me about it. I showed up and there was someone else taking pictures.
At first, I didn’t know if I was in the right place.
Now it’s in my contract that I (and my team) are the only professional photographers.
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Communication is Key
As I mentioned they hadn’t told me about the other photographer. This is something that I think would have come up had we all just talked more before the wedding.
They were nervous since it was my first wedding, both about the quality of my photos and whether I would even show up. It was understandable, but apart from one in person meeting and several emails back and forth, we didn’t talk that much before the day of the wedding.
Now, I am in regular contact with my couples throughout the planning process. I get to know their likes and dislikes. I go over the timeline for the day of the wedding with them at least a few times before the wedding day arrives.
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Bring Backup Equipment
I did not have any equipment issues on my first wedding, but it became immediately apparent that I should have multiple backups. I brought a digital camera and a film camera with me that day, and I was freaking out about what would happen if one of my cameras broke.
I now travel with three digital cameras to every wedding I shoot. I’ve got plenty of lenses, flash units, batteries, memory cards, and everything else in case any of my equipment fails.
In the early years, when I hadn’t put together a lot of gear, I would rent an extra digital camera body to have at weddings (and I’d bring my film camera as my backup). If you can’t afford to buy the gear, it shouldn’t keep you from being prepared in case you have an equipment failure. Build the cost of rentals into your pricing.
Remember, this is someone’s WEDDING – you don’t get to just say, “Oh well, my camera shutter stopped working. I’m just gonna go home. Have a great day.” You need to solve the problem without letting your clients know there even is a problem.
Know Where to Stand
I missed several great shots that day because I just didn’t know where to stand. When they went to kiss after cutting the cake, one of the guests just walked up and stood right in front of me.
Knowing where to stand doesn’t mean elbowing people out of the way to get the shot…though you may have to do that sometimes.
Knowing where to stand means being able to read the situation and figure out where you should be to get the best shot. During the ceremony, the first dance, the speeches, etc. you have to find your spot and stake your claim. Don’t let guests casually stand in your frame. Politely let them know that you’re the professional and you’re getting paid to take pictures.
How Have Things Gone Since That Day 20 Years Ago?
I would say things have been pretty great. It HAS NOT been easy, but with all of the work have come a lot of rewards.
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What else would you like to know about wedding photography? Let me know in a comment or on social media. I’d love to give out more tips and pointers!