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7 Tips for Photographing your First Wedding

7 Tips for Photographing your First Wedding

One thing I'm always getting questions about is how to handle your first wedding day. Now, keep in mind before you do your first wedding, there are definitely some things that I believe you should understand first. So let's talk about the prereqs before you start getting into wedding photography.

Prerequisites for shooting your first wedding

First and foremost, you definitely need to understand the exposure triangle or how to get a good exposure. Obviously, you don't have to be a master of this, but if you're still struggling on how to get good exposure in nearly any situation, you probably want to slow down on weddings and either second shoot or practice doing portraits or street photography or something of that sort. Again, people are paying you money to capture a special day. You can't be sitting there messing around like oh, I don't know how to get exposure.

Comfortable with your camera

Again, you don't need to know all the secrets in and outs of your camera, but if you don't know how to get to places quickly and change your settings fast, you also need to practice on your camera a little bit more before you start doing weddings. Again, wedding days can be fast-paced.
And when there's no time and someone's asking you for something and you're trying to make changes and you're back there chimping on your camera because you don't know what to do, no. You cannot do that at weddings, so you need to understand your camera.

Make sure you're shooting in raw

This one is a given and I'm sure everyone has heard this before, but the main reason that you're shooting in raw is so that you have more flexibility in your edits. Now I will argue shooting in JPEG is possible, but if you're not able to shoot JPEG and raw and have the raw as backups, you need to just shoot raw. Never, never go into a wedding shooting only JPEG.

Use a dual-camera setup or at least have a backup body

I have two cameras on me exact same bodies throughout the day. Now the main reason I do this is because I use prime lenses, but honestly, you should have a backup regardless. Basically, if one of my cameras gives up on me for whatever reason, I have another camera ready to go.

So even if you are shooting with zooms and you're using one camera, have another of that same body in a bag somewhere that you can go grab in case something happens. So those are the prereqs. If you don't have all of that down first, don't get into weddings seriously. Take some time to practice.

Do portraits with friends, do engagement sessions, do street photography. Because honestly, in my opinion, street photography is probably one of the closest things to weddings. And if y'all want me to make an article about that, let me know in the comments below.

So once you've hit these prereqs, now let's get into the 7 tips I have for you for shooting your first wedding.

1. Pre-Wedding Communication

Now you may be thinking, Swapee, this has nothing to do with using my camera and all of that type of stuff. But again, you should already know how to do the majority of that. Your pre-wedding communication is the absolute, most important part of being a wedding photographer. If you don't meet with your partner several times, if you don't set expectations with them, if you don't make sure they know what it is about and how you like to approach photography, you are setting yourself up for disaster.

I meet with my couple at least three times: Pre-booking, in the middle while we're waiting for the wedding, and then right before the wedding, maybe like a week or so.

This way, we can set expectations and also just talk over the day and make sure that everything is in stone and they know what I want from them and I know what they want from me. Generally for communication, I use HoneyBook because it keeps everything in one nice thread.

7 Tips for Photographing your First Wedding

We talk through everything and if something comes up, I can just scroll back through the thread and see it right there. I got away from it just using email or Gmail or something of that sort because there'd be all these threads that everyone would start and I have to go through and search through things, so seriously, definitely check out HoneyBook.

All your communication should definitely go through there. You can also ask them questions through questionnaires & line up everything so that your communication is smooth & you have a peaceful wedding day.

2. Write Your own Timeline

Speaking of using HoneyBook for sending questionnaires, you also need to be writing your own timelines.

So this may be one that you didn't think about at all because usually, most photographers will just let the planner handle all that stuff. But in my opinion, you really, really need to write your own timelines so that everyone knows where you are and what you're gonna be doing. If you have a planner for your wedding day, make sure you don't step on their toes at all. Write a timeline yourself to fit theirs & if there is anything that conflicts with how you would handle wedding days for photos & talk to your planner about it.

Again, don't fight with them, talk with them about it, see what they want, see what you can do, and say hey, I like doing my wedding days like this. It works out for most of my couples. Can we adjust here and there? But always, always write your own timelines.

Again, when you do this, you become the authority of the wedding day. You don't want your wedding day to run you, you want to run the wedding day, so that now when you have a timeline and the planner is on the same page with your timeline, everybody knows, okay, we're doing these portraits here, we have this much time for that, now it's time for family portraits, so on and so forth. Never just show up to your wedding days and be like, okay guys, I'm gonna take photos. Don't, don't, you will run into headaches, really. Handle your wedding days and write your own timelines.

3. Have a Family Portrait List

This tip is hugely important as well, which is having a list for your family portraits. So in my opinion, one of the most stressful parts of a wedding day is the family portrait time. Mainly because you have all these family members and you want to get them together, you don't know who anybody is and then there's usually a mom or an aunt or a dad or somebody asking for 50 billion photos and 60,000 different combinations and it's just too much.

So, ask your couples for a list of family photos. Basically, the way I do this is through HoneyBook, I send them a questionnaire with a shot list. Now for me, shot lists are not specifically what photos they want because I want to still be able to be creative. It's more so for special and important things that I may not know about. Again, I tell my couples, I've been doing weddings for 5 years. I know to take pictures of the bouquet and the shoes and the dress and the first kiss, I know that stuff.

So what I want to know from my couples is more so we have a special family heirloom or my grandma's very important to me or make sure we get a shot with these cool shoes that we're gonna change into at reception time. That's what's on my shortlist and also the family list. And when I ask for a family list, I mean, it's totally, totally detailed. It's not just me and mom and dad, I need their names and I need every combination that you want. So, couple and parents, couple and both parents, couples and aunts and godmothers and so on and so forth and make it a long list.

This way when you get to family portrait time, there's a list. No one can tell you all these extra combinations cause the couple's already on your team. They're like this is the list we want, we don't want family photos to take forever, this is what we're gonna do.

You can give the list to your second photographer. They can call out the names and because you have the names on your list as well, you're not gonna run into any weird divorce parent type situations because trust me, you don't want to be there doing family portrait and be like okay mom, okay dad, and they're divorced and yeah, it gets weird. Don't do that.

So again, your family portrait lists would be very specific. And I mean, I'm serious like bride and groom and mom, bride and mom, groom and dad. Like the whole list should just be totally listed out like that and should have their names.

4. Use a Higher f/stop for Group Photos

So if you're new to photography stopping now, we're talking about your f-stop or your aperture. Basically, when you stop down your aperture, things get sharper all the way through, your depth of field is not as shallow, so you're gonna get sharper photos when people aren't on the exact same plane of field. Now again, the reason you want to do this in group photos is when you have people standing and they're not standing exactly next to each other, if you're shooting at F1, some people are gonna be out of focus. So make sure you're stopping down to 2.8 or 3.2, somewhere in that range just to keep things nice and sharp.

Now, since I shoot Fujifilm and its crop sensor and I shoot with the F2 lenses, a lot of times I don't really have to stop down too much. You can see in my photos here, most of these I'm shooting wide open at F2, but F2 on a crop sensor lens is more like 3.2 on a full-frame.

So everything is nice and sharp and it looks good, but sometimes if I do have the available light, I'll definitely stop down to 2.8 or 3.2. So, make sure every time you're doing group portraits to stop down a bit. Now, a couple of portraits are fine. They're normally gonna be close to each other, their heads are gonna be closed, they're gonna be kissing and loving and stuff, so you don't need to stop down as much for that. But definitely, definitely for group photos.

5. Don’t Use Continuous Autofocus

Honestly, a lot of people don't think about it too much but don't shoot in continuous auto-focus. Now the reason I say this is because I feel like nowadays with our cameras being so amazing, that we depend on them a little too much, and then we'll complain when the focus won't be where you want it to be. If we have this whole mentality of you need to shoot everything in manual and don't shoot in auto, I think you should also apply that to your focusing as well. Now, obviously, I'm not talking about shooting a full manual, but you should move around your focus point.

In my opinion, especially on a wedding day, do not depend on your continuous auto-focus, face auto-focus, eye auto-focus because what will happen, especially if you're doing it during the ceremony, there's a lot of people, there's a lot of faces, your camera has no idea what it's focusing on. So generally what I do is set it to single point auto-focus and I will move my focus square and or do focus and recompose. And I know everyone's probably like focus and recompose? That's like old school... It works, y'all, just do it. It works, it's fast, and it's never let me down.

Whereas continuous auto-focus sometimes just has no idea what it's doing. On that same note, however, if you do have your couple walking towards you or away for you, that's a great place to use auto-focus. So generally during a wedding day, those are the only times that I'm gonna use continuous auto-focus.

I don't use face auto-focus because again, when people are walking away or towards you and there's a lot of faces around, auto-focus is gonna have no idea what it's doing, but if you set your focus point to zone focus, so it's a larger square in the center and then continuously auto-focus from there, you know it's gonna be focusing exactly where you want it and it's gonna catch your couple coming towards you or away from you. So that would be my tip for using auto-focus on a wedding day.

6. Pay Attention to your Background

This is very important to me, but make sure you're paying attention to your background. Now, I love capturing moments. I love being more photojournalistic and just kind of capturing what's happening on the day, but y'all, if you can move some stuff, go ahead and just move it. I've seen too many people who just show up to wedding days and take photos as things are rather than moving things to make them look nice.

So for instance, when you're dealing with the getting ready section of the day, if your bride is in a spot and there's all kinds of like water bottles and people's clothes and dresses and bags and stuff, either move her somewhere else or have them clean up the background.
You should always take your shots based on the best light and also the best background.

People are paying you lots of money for their weddings. They don't want to see that stuff. And yeah, it may take away from the moment, but it really doesn't. Don't be afraid to control your wedding day and make choices and decisions and move things and tell your couples hey, this is gonna make things look much better, let's clean up this room just a little bit before we take photos.

No one's gonna say no to you. So again, don't forget to do stuff like that because it's easy to just jump in and be like oh, something's happening and taking photos. And it's fine when you do have a couple of photos like that with stuff in the background. But again, just make sure you're cleaning up stuff when you can.

7. Stay in Control of the Wedding

Do not let anyone else run your wedding day. Now, what I mean by this is while you're at a wedding and you're the wedding photographer, everybody, and I mean everybody, is going to be making suggestions to you about what you should do for your photos, where you should take your pictures, so on and so forth. And you don't have to be mean to anybody, but just let them know I know what I'm doing, I have this handled, it's gonna be great.

The best way to get this to work is again with the pre-wedding communication with your couple. When you get the couple on your team and they understand what you're doing and they trust you, it's much easier to have them be your guard for anything during the day. So for instance, there's a lot of old-school classic-type shots that I just don't take. And my couples are also like, yeah, no, we don't like that stuff. So when mom or their planners like oh, it'd be so cool if you took this picture, the couple is like Nah, we're good.

And I'm like they said it, don't tell me to do that anymore. So really get the couple on your team, make sure you all are on the same page. And that way, if anyone does try to be pushy about what needs to happen on the wedding day, your couple's gonna back you up and then no one's gonna argue with the couple. I mean really, it's their day. A great story I have of this exact thing was I had a couple and we were at a wedding. It was coming up on reception time, but I needed to take their photos before it got dark.

So the food planner or the venue coordinator, he was so, so adamant, like they have to get some of these hor d'oeuvres. They have to get them right now. They have to get them, they have it... And I'm like, we need to take photos. And he's like do you need your d'oeuvres when they're hot? And it has... And I'm like, we really have to take these photos.

And we're kind of arguing. I don't like to argue at weddings because I don't want my couple or any of their guests to see me like in a yelling match with someone. So I'm kind of like bro, we're not gonna do this. And he's like we're gonna do it. So, I just caved and say you know what, whatever, it's not gonna totally destroy my day and I should be able to get what I need.

We come up, he comes up to the couple, oh, we got to get you this food and dah, dah, dah. And literally, the couple was like, no, we want to take these photos with John. We will get your food later and this dude's heart was broken.  But again, that's a great example of someone not running my day and also the couple backing me up. So again, if you have your pre-wedding communication, you have your timelines written out, you have shot lists for family stuff, you know what's happening during the day, the couple trusts you for light.

So when you're like let's go take this photo at this location that most people are like this looks dumb, you're gonna be like well, I know what I'm doing in your couple's gonna say, I trust you because I've seen your photos and they look good. So again, don't just cave to whoever's around and do whatever they ask you to. That's how a wedding day gets out of your hands and turns into a whole cluster and falls apart and then stuff gets left out and then you will be more stressed than you need to be.

Last words

So those were my 7 tips for your first wedding. And I know you may be thinking, none of it talked about photography, but honestly, in my opinion, wedding photography is 80% customer service. And if you don't think that's the case, you need to reevaluate and look at wedding photography because it might not be for you. Yes, that is true, wedding photography is 80% customer service, first and foremost.

The other 20% is taking photos, but no one cares about what you're doing. Your couple doesn't, the planner doesn't, the venue doesn't, they just expect you to make magic, which is why, again, those prereqs that I talked about at the beginning of the article, you have to have that stuff down. You should already know how to take pictures because no one else will care. They will take you to a dark room with no windows and expect you to make magic. So again, you need to know all of your stuff first and foremost, and then work on your customer service mainly.

Let me know if you all have any other tips down below for any new photographers as well. If you've been doing weddings for a while, leave it down below, let's share as much information as possible so that we can all be great wedding photographers.

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