What are the key ingredients to becoming a great wedding photographer? It’s not as easy as you might think.
The key to becoming a great wedding photographer is to have a genuine love for photography. Wedding photography is an art form, and it requires patience, attention to detail, and the ability to work well with people.
It takes time and dedication to become great at anything, but success will eventually come your way if you are passionate about what you do!
As a wedding photographer, you are an artist who captures the beauty of love in its purest form. Therefore, you will need to have a creative vision and impeccable technique for this job.
There is, of course, talent, but there’s also experience and an eye for capturing those fleeting moments that make your photos stand out from the rest.
Wedding photography is also one of the most financially rewarding artistic professions in vogue today because it is indispensable to the newlyweds’ grander theme of romance.
Many photographers who are starting out prefer to take the wedding photography route as they feel this niche has a lot of potential to make good money.
In this blog post, we’ll explore what it takes to become a great wedding photographer by looking at some of the top tips from professional photographers who have been doing this for years!
1. Dealing with Pressure
Since a couple wants their wedding day to be documented comprehensively, they want to hire a good wedding photographer. Because of this, there is pressure on the photographer to perform exceptionally well.
Photographers are expected to provide clients with visually creative images, which appear larger-than-life. Photographers need to be aware that there will not be second chances if something does go wrong.
They, therefore, need to practice several photography skills and abilities to deal with issues in a short high-pressure environment. However, to insulate themselves from legal disputes, photographers should insist on a formal contract.
2. Delivering the Latest Look
A great wedding photographer must keep up with the times and read up on ‘fashionable poses’, bridal hairstyles, makeup, and wedding gowns. Couples are wont to demand specific looks they saw off Bridal Guide or Modern Wedding.
Bridal magazines are continuously pushing barriers, advertising exotic locales, extravagant dresses, dramatic and entertaining themes. As a result, a photographer is expected to be conversational with many different magazine-style photos that clients are likely to demand.
3. Observing Carefully
A critical part of the wedding photographer’s job is to anticipate the fleeting moments and rare expressions that are likely to occur during the wedding. Then, it is her/his job to make sure they become a beautiful part of family history.
Because a wedding is an emotional and joyous occasion, there will be many memorable moments that photographers can latch on to. In addition, as the photographer gains experience, she/he will better predict candid outpourings from emotional couples and their kin.
4. Perfect Timing
Observation would be useless if the photographer is not able to capture the moment. Photographers, therefore, have to be prepared and be present at the right place and time.
Photographers must know the event schedule by heart so that they can prepare beforehand. Do your homework in terms of being in the right place before time. Get the right gear based on the type of shot that the situation requires.
Another skill that photographers must practice is to be able to react and not overthink. They will miss the shot if they wait too long. Emotional expressions or actions have peaks and lows, and a photographer has to try to capture those peak moments.
5. Seeing the Best in People
What differentiates a good photographer from a great one is the latter’s ability to see the best in a person. Instructing a person to pose and adjust the situation and lighting to capture that best side is an integral trait of a great wedding photographer.
Photographers should strive to conceal the imperfections that they notice in a person, especially in wedding photography. However, clients may want to document themselves as they are and the event as it unfolds; photographers then may have to go for the documentary wedding photography approach.
6. Telling the Story
Photographers, through their pictures of the special day, chronicle the story of the wedding couple. They see a pattern and form a compelling narrative. When the client sees the final album, she should be able to recall the experience and emotions they went through and connect to the event with the help of photographs.
Telling a story visually requires a lot of thought. Showing up at an event and simply capturing what is happening in front of you is not storytelling.
Visual conventions help move a story along and provide rhythm to a story, like using establishment shots, relationship shots, and emotionally focused shots (wide, mid, and close-up).
Pre-planning with shot lists will help you tell a better story, and I am not talking about shot lists from some bridal magazine advice columns. Instead, the photographer should be developing a shot list based on conversations with the wedding couple.
They have a backstory; the photographer needs to know to tell the story correctly.
7. Preparation equals success – Practicing and testing your equipment
Wedding photography is fast-paced and full of challenges. You are often working on your own or just with a second shooter or an assistant.
With a small staff like that, you have to work fast to get the required shots and still deal with schedule changes, client requests, and you need to make it look like you are doing it effortlessly!
- Take your camera and your lights out at least once a week and do a test shoot.
- Try various light setups, positions and modifiers and decide which work best for your style and allow you to overcome specific challenges most efficiently.
- Find at least one beautiful, quick and comfortable method that you can fall back to if all else fails.
- Get so comfortable with it that you can accomplish that shot with your eyes closed! But maybe don’t close your eyes on the wedding shoot…
8. Know your equipment – camera, custom settings, lenses etc.
Knowing your equipment is crucial to your success. Reading the manual is a good start, but more importantly, it has a good relationship with your camera and lenses.
- Most new cameras have programmable buttons and menus. Learn how to get to every important function you will use and then set up a quick menu or assign a button to get you to that function.
- Your camera can give you feedback through the histogram and highlight warnings. Please get to know your camera and know what it is saying to you. Run tests on your exposures to learn how much latitude you can expect from your camera.
- As a wedding photographer, you will find yourself in widely varying lighting conditions constantly. Often you are back and forth between three or four exposures, like during the ceremony in a dark church.
Almost every modern camera has the option to create a set of custom settings. Use these custom settings to pre-set your exposures for the various exposures, flash settings, camera modes and focus methods you will need in each situation, then turn the camera mode from Custom 1 to Custom 2 and keep shooting.
- How steady are your hands? Find out how well your Image Stabilization works for you. The general rule is that when you shoot with a 200mm lens, you should set your shutter speed at 1/200 of a second (essentially 1/mm of your lens).
9. Master all lighting situations, even the tricky ones
Scouting for the existing or ambient light is best done before seeing the client on the wedding day. I like scouting the day before a wedding, if that is possible. But even if it is the day of the wedding, you can look for lighting and assess what that light will look like on your client without wasting the bride’s time dragging her around the grounds turning her this way and that.
- You have a little model with you at all times. We like to call him Thumb-kin. Hold your hand out in front of you in a fist with the thumb outside the fist and observe the current ambient light as it falls on your fist and thumb, which make a rudimentary face. Spin around and find the optimal lighting condition for the face, then plan how you will augment that light with your strobes.
- When adding light to your bride or groom, always follow the rules presented to you by the existing light to create a natural-looking match. For instance, if the ambient light is coming from the right, light your bride from the right. If the light is tungsten (warm) light, add tungsten gels to your strobe(s) to match the colour of the ambient light.
And if the ambient light is soft light (like that coming from an overcast sky), light with a soft light source like the OCF 2×3′ Softbox. A bright sunny noon daylight should be matched with a bare head or an OCF Magnum Reflector to get that more complex light quality.
By matching the ambient light that already exists with the appropriate modifier, your subject will look as though they belong in the scene and that rather than being lit by your strobes, they were lit by the existing light.
- The perfect all condition lighting kit might be a Profoto A1X and a Profoto B10 with an OCF 2×3′ Softbox, an OCF Beauty Dish Silver 2′ (with diffuser) and an OCF Magnum Reflector. This portable, powerful and versatile lighting kit fulfils 90 percent of the lighting needs.
10. Scouting the best locations for wedding pictures
Never start a portrait session without doing a little location scouting first. It would be best if you went scouting the areas simultaneously as the event the day before the event. When that is not possible, you can arrive a few hours earlier than you are expected to get some location scouting in.
Knowing where to photograph and having an efficient path to follow will help you to get better images, more images, and it will help you keep your clients on time. If you get a reputation for being the photographer who keeps things on time and still gets many beautiful portraits, you will be at the top of every vendors’ list.
11.Get to know your clients and understand their needs
Your clients have hopes and wishes, and requirements for their wedding photography, but you will never know them if you don’t have in-depth conversations with them. Discovering those photo needs is not just a matter of asking, “which photos do you want me to take?”
Ask this question, and you will get a copied list from a bridal magazine with all the standard shots you need to take. Instead, spend time asking them about who the most important people are, what they have worked the hardest on, and unique items like a ring from their grandmother.
These kinds of discussions will give you a much better list of “must-have” photographs to capture.
12. Nailing that epic wedding portrait
Nailing that epic wedding portrait requires you to be engaging, humorous, complementary and don’t be too heavy-handed on the directions and the posing. So here are a few tips to get that shot that will hang on their wall.
- Watch the couple. They will find a natural way to interact with each other.
- Paying attention to the natural light and tracking where the sun will be when the wedding portraits will be taken will give you the best opportunity at finding the perfect backdrop for that epic shot.
- Knowing your camera and lighting gear through practice will ensure that you know how to set up the shot without wasting a moment of time.
- When it is time for the shot, talk to your subjects, show them how to stand, guide them with hand motions and easily understandable directions.
- When the couple has settled into their natural pose, you should have everything else in place, background, exposure, lighting and composition! So praise them, make fine adjustments if needed, and shoot shoot shoot!
13. Never miss a moment
Wedding photography is a documentary by nature, and there are no second chances. Therefore, you must be ready to get the shot whenever it happens. This means your attention must be absolute and your staff should be equally sharp.
At a bare minimum, no one should ever be on their phone, texting their spouse or looking up the weather for tomorrow. But what’s more, you must always be camera ready. This means knowing the exposure is correct for whatever scene you are observing. If you are looking at it, your camera should be set to capture it.
Both you and your camera and your lights must be ready to take the shot and capture the moment when it happens. And thanks to the Profoto A1X and B10’s fast recycling times, you only need to focus on yourself and your camera.
14. Editing your wedding photos – how to review and select your images
Once you have finished photographing a wedding, you are left holding thousands of images, and your work has only begun. Now you need to get them through your post-production pipeline, and the very first bottleneck in that pipeline is the selection process.
This part of the process causes enough fear in photographers that it inspires days or even weeks of procrastination. So regardless of which software you choose to review your images in, here are a few rules that, when followed, will get you through the process of selection much faster:
Comparative review: You will make faster and better selection decisions when comparing images as a set rather than looking at them one at a time.
Positive selection: It is a foregone conclusion that you will choose to keep far fewer images than your reject, so don’t use the “reject” key to remove photos you don’t like, instead use the “pick” or “select” or “star” keys to mark the images you will keep.
Use your instincts: Let your instincts be your guide as you select images in post. Don’t fuss over your choices, and don’t second guess your decisions.
Remove distractions: You will make decisions faster and better if you remove all distractions from your selecting environment. For example, turn off your phone, shut down your email and social media feeds.
You can get this done faster, and you will make as good or better decisions as you have in your slower, self-doubting past. For example, soon you will be selecting a wedding in an hour or two instead of days!
General Mistakes to Avoid
1. Don’t Make the Wedding Day All About Photography
Sometimes wedding photographers make the mistake of thinking the day is all about photography. While this is your job during the big day, you should also aim to balance getting the shots you need with the happiness of your clients.
Of course, with this comes great responsibility. You need to be able to use good judgment to determine when to fight for specific photos vs. when you should say “it’s up to you.” If you haven’t done enough portraits to be happy with all the images you already have, that’s when it is super important to make this clear.
Ultimately though, the B&G are in control. It’s their wedding day, not yours.
2. Not Sticking to the Wedding Day Schedule
You put together wedding photography timelines for a reason. If you begin to ignore the timeline throughout the day, it ends up not serving a purpose, you actually wasted time putting it together, and the flow of the day will be off.
For sure, some things will happen that are unavoidable. For example, if hair & makeup runs over the allotted time, there is not much you can do. But, one of your goals should always be to get back on schedule.
3. Don’t Use Selective Coloring in Your Edits
In the film Schindler’s List, there was a great use of the colour red to contrast with the movie’s otherwise black and white style. This is probably the only instance of selective colouring that is acceptable. In all seriousness, this is a very dated editing style, and while you can technically do what you want – we’d suggest against it.
4. Avoid Having Portraits with Blinding Bright Sun
Shooting portraits during Golden Hour is always going to be preferable. However, if for some reason it is not, you should be prepared to work with the sun. One of the simplest tricks is to position the sun behind the people you are photographing. This will keep their faces evenly lit and will result in no squinty eyes.
5. Don’t Focus on Guests Who Want Excessive Attention
From time to time, we’ll photograph a wedding that has that one guest who seems to want all eyes on them throughout the day. No, wedding photographers are not your personal paparazzi. It’s okay to grab some shots here and there, but if a guest is following you around and asking for photos too much, walk away and focus on shots of the people who matter most.
6. Not Having a Contract
We mentioned the importance of having a contract before. We know this is something a few of you may read and think, “Yeah…I should have one, but I don’t have time for that!” So that’s why we’re reiterating it here.
The reasons for having a contract in place are significant.
Contracts provide legal protections, ensure you will get paid, and clarify in writing what you are expected to deliver to your client.
7. Listening to Photography Opinion of Guests/Family
Once in a while, the guests at a wedding will raise their voices expressing their thoughts on the choice of location, lighting, and other things that play a role in your wedding photography. We suggest you take this sort of information with a grain of salt. You are the photographer. Your vision and judgment matter.
You will sometimes shoot in locations that may look cluttered in the background and even unappealing to the average person.
This gets mentioned because, as a photographer, you don’t always see the junk lying around – but how that junk can turn into painterly fractals in the background when you adjust your camera settings just right.
So – trust yourself and your photography instincts!
8. Missing the “Firsts”
Wedding days are filled with a lot of firsts for a couple. These are some of the most crucial moments to capture throughout the day. If by some mistake you end up missing a little detail shot or a candid picture of Aunt Sue at the reception, these are much more forgivable things than messing up or entirely missing photos of these big moments.
- First Kiss
- First Dance
- Exchanging of Vows & Rings
9. Photographing People Eating
A big no-no of wedding photography is taking pictures of people actively consuming their food. Instead, usually during dinner, we’ll find ourselves a seat and relax for a little while.
In our experience, we’ll photograph the food as it is being prepared and served to guests, but never while people are eating. It’s unflattering, and no one wants that. We certainly wouldn’t want a photographer taking a picture of us stuffing our faces!
10. Arguing (with anyone)
And the last wedding photography tip for beginners to keep in mind…don’t argue with anyone, for any reason, ever.
At 99% of weddings, you’ll more than likely have a great time doing a job that you can love and have a lot of fun at.
However, at that 1% of weddings, you may come into contact with someone who wants to start a fight for some ungodly reason. So spare yourself the headache and respond calmly, professionally, and walk away if you need to.
11. It’s all about family – this is not your portfolio shoot
A wedding is, first and foremost, a wedding. That should seem like an overly obvious statement, yet so many photographers forget that a wedding is not an extended fashion shoot or a portfolio-building opportunity.
Remember that your client has hired you to do what is best for them: take beautiful portraits and document their wedding day without interfering with the wedding day!
You can learn some Wedding Photography Styles
Different wedding photographers have different shooting styles, and photographers can even craft an identity around their unique styles. Many of these styles overlap with each other as wedding photographers follow no strict standards.
Also, the client can demand that you shoot their wedding photos in a specific style, or they may choose photographers whose style matches what they want. Therefore, it is essential to understand what is wedding photography and what are the typical wedding photography styles that you need to know:
1. Traditional Wedding Photography
If you notice the photos of your parent’s wedding album, it might probably have been shot in the traditional wedding photography style. In this style, photographers have to take complete control of the occasion by making people pose and take their shots.
Those shots would include group photos, shots of the cake, wine toasting, the first kiss of the couple, and so on. This way of photographing the ceremony has been prevalent for a long time. People opt for the classic wedding photography style to get all the main shots of everything that is going on.
2. Photojournalistic Wedding Photography
Along with the traditional style, couples are most attracted to the photojournalistic style as it resembles documentary and reportage shooting. Photographers have to be skilled to pull this off nicely.
They need to be able to quickly change the settings of their camera and frame the moments perfectly. Wedding photojournalism also requires that the photographer blend in with the crowd and capture candid moments easily.
This style of photography will give the clients more natural-looking photographs, which will recreate the exact sequence of events.
3. Illustrative Wedding Photography
Illustrative wedding photography uses the environment, whether natural or artificial, to frame compelling and visually appealing photos.
This style makes use of lighting and background. The couples are made to pose in a way that they look natural. The photographers use more wide-angle lenses and sometimes aerial photography to get that epic shot. In a way, it is also a blend of traditional and candid wedding photography.
4. Fine Art Wedding Photography
Photographers who focus more on Fine Art wedding photography look for artistic shots. Taking creative shots involves framing the shots creatively, lighting, and post-production techniques.
The photographer has to anticipate moments and use Fine Art photography techniques, including posing the subjects in a slightly different way. They can use objects like rings, bouquets, and outfits to create a composition that gives the images a more profound meaning and artistic look.
The limitation of this style is that it can reduce the number of photos a photographer can take. However, you can use this style with other photography methods like traditional and photojournalistic ones to get a broad range of shots.
Photographers can also ask their second or third shooters to cover different wedding photography styles while they focus on getting Fine Art wedding photos.
5. Fashion Wedding Photography
Fashion wedding photography poses, lighting setups, expressions, and trendy backgrounds give form to fashion wedding photography when used in the wedding context.
This style is used primarily in bridal magazines or to portray bridal fashion. Couples are made to act as models in this style, which results in getting dramatic wedding shots.
Photography is an art that requires the artist to master it with adequate precision, technique, and equipment.