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The World of Photography–Chapter Twenty-Seven–Wedding Photography

R. Landry Gallery (Minolta Maxxum 8000i Maxxum 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5AF 1/200, f/8.0, 45mm, Kodak Gold ASA 100)
R. Landry Gallery (Minolta Maxxum 8000i Maxxum 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5AF 1/200, f/8.0, 35mm, Kodak Gold ASA 100)
R. Landry Gallery (Minolta Maxxum 8000i Maxxum 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5AF 1/200, f/8.0, 80mm, Kodak Gold ASA 100)

Wedding photography is one of the most challenging yet fulfilling genres of photography, one that will challenge your people skills, technical abilities, and physical stamina. To succeed as a wedding photographer, you will need to become an expert in a wide of subjects, from how to work your camera to how to market your business.
This in-depth guide is filled with wedding photography tips for aspiring wedding photographers. It will take you from starting your business and photographing a wedding through to the nuances of marketing, styles, pricing, and contracts. Look out for the ideas that excite you and the vital details you didn’t know you were getting yourself into.

Every wedding day is different. Every bride and groom, every family member, their friends – you’ll encounter new challenges every time, and that’s what makes it so exciting! For the wedding photographers that survive the learning curve of their first few wedding seasons, weddings provide a deep well of creativity.

Wedding photography is not for everyone. And yet there are a variety of styles allowing each photographer to find their own way of fitting into this specialty. Like most creative things, there are the rules and best practices along with ways to make it your own. The path is one wrought with the numerous joys and pains of pleasing clients. It’s high stakes and high stress because you only get one chance and one day to capture everything important to your couple. And meanwhile, few industries have the pleasure of working with generally happy and excited clients on one of the happiest days of their lives.

What is Wedding Photography?

Wedding photography is a photography specialty that focuses on capturing the people and events surrounding a wedding. Wedding photography can involve simply capturing a wedding ceremony and group portraits of the bride, groom, and their guests. Or, wedding photography can include capturing everything from the proposal and engagement to the entirety of the wedding day including the reception venue and decorations.

Wedding photographers often are required to have a wide range of skills from portrait photography to photojournalism. The techniques a photographer uses can vary based on their wedding photography style as we’ll discuss later in this guide. Maybe you’re visualizing formal family portraits, candid one-in-a-lifetime moments, or creative portraiture.

As far as the photography disciplines go, wedding photography is often touted as one of the best for earning actual money with your camera. Your salary will be impacted by a variety of things such as where you live, how much you can charge, and how many weddings you’re able to shoot.

How to Get Started as a Wedding Photographer

Starting a wedding photography business is as easy as putting up a website. Sort of.

The best way to get started in wedding photography is to start. My first wedding was for a friend who couldn’t afford a photographer. It was a win-win, they got inexpensive photography and I got valuable experience.

Professional photographers don’t really like hearing about couples that hired friends to shoot their weddings for free. However, that couple might not have hired a professional photographer anyway. If you would like to develop experience and meet a couple who do not have the funds to hire a professional photographer, it could be a great learning experience.

If you are not an expert at photography, however, a couple’s wedding day is not right time to learn the basics. For most photographers, a good route is first becoming a second shooter for a veteran wedding photographer and learning the ropes that way. You can gain valuable experience in both the art and the business without putting people’s precious memories at risk of bad or missed photos.

So how do you start a wedding photography business? Photograph weddings, make money, repeat. Sure, it’s a little more nuanced than that but times are good for the creativepreneur.

Market your business and find clients. Then, figure out how to photograph the weddings you’re hired for. And finally, learn some best practices for running an actual business.

If you’re going to be a self-employed wedding photographer, you’re not just a photographer. You have a lot of hats that you’re going to wear including marketer, website designer, accountant, salesperson, and more. There are many aspects to a photography business and you have to either do them all yourself or outsource.

Utilize a business plan. This means figuring out how you are going to grow, find clients, and make money. You can start by doing a competitive analysis of the other wedding photographers in your area.

Part of the business plan will have you thinking about pricing, which we’ll talk more about in a later section. Essentially the goal is to make more money than you spend which means budgeting. Open a separate business bank account to help keep everything separate.

Then, ask yourself how you’re going to stand out so that you can get work. Next, let’s break down one of the first barriers to starting your business, finding clients. Marketing is a wild horse that we’re going to try to tame or understand or maybe even ride.

Five Simple Steps to Starting Your Business

  1. Get started, shoot or second shoot a wedding to get some experience.
  2. Make money, once you start charging for your work you’re in business.
  3. Formalize everything with a business plan which will help you understand the business side of things and how to grow a profitable business.
  4. Make it official. Get a business license, open a bank account, etc.
  5. Figure out how to get more clients.

This brings us to the ever-important topic of marketing.

Marketing Your Wedding Photography

You don’t have a wedding business until you find clients — couples getting married that are willing to hire you. In most cases, this means learning about marketing wedding photography. Luckily and unluckily there are countless marketing techniques that you can utilize to find clients.

If you were going to search for a wedding photographer, where would you start? Would you do a Google search or go on Yelp or TheKnot? Would you search hashtags or ask your friends who their wedding photographer was?

If you make a list of these ways that couples find photographers you can make a list of ways to be found. Let’s talk through some of my favorites:

4 Ways to Get Found for Free

1. Venues have preferred photographer lists. If you’re polite, respectful, and fun to work with you can sometimes get on that list. Send the venue some photos they can use on their website and make their venue look awesome. Develop relationships with the site manager especially of venues that have similar ideal clients that you do.

2. Referrals can have a high booking rate whether it’s from a friend, past client, venue, or a wedding vendor. No inquiry is more likely to book than someone who met us at a wedding or saw their friends’ pictures and loved our work. I always say that serving your clients well will serve you well, our best couples come from our best couples.

3. With a little SEO skill, your website can be found when someone searches for a “wedding photographer in my area.” When you build your website you can optimize for keywords that brides search and get found online.

4. Social media and your overall online presence. Do you love blogging or Pinterest or Instagram? A lot of photographers find success by being active on social media and we’ve even had couples book us saying that they’ve been following us for a while.

When it comes to wedding photography marketing, you could spend countless hours trying to perfect every strategy. What I’ve found is that some strategies work better than others depending on who you are. And what strategies work for you might depend on what type of clients you’re trying to attract or how you enjoy spending your marketing work.

Let’s talk about a few more options.

Finding Wedding Photography Clients for a Fee

Finding wedding photography clients is about discovering where they’re hanging out and then going there and offering your services. While you’re waiting for your SEO and working on those referrals from vendors and past clients you can look into paid advertisements.

1. Brides hang out in physical locations like bridal shows where you can set up a booth and meet an onslaught of brides actively planning their weddings. It’s a little overwhelming and not my favorite thing to do but you have to admit that there’s power in meeting brides in person.

2. There are also digital locations on popular websites such as TheKnot or WeddingWire. Brides utilize these websites and other wedding planning blogs to get ideas. Some websites have free listings or premium versions for a more visible listing.

3. You can also run ads on social media or Google or print out fliers to post at your gym or grocery store or coffee shop. Think outside the box and hustle.

There are more places than ever to market yourself and yet there is more marketing being done making it harder to rise above the noise. I think the trick is finding what works for you to either find clients or better yet, help them find you.

Wedding Photography Branding

A big buzzword in marketing wedding photography and finding clients is “branding.” It’s why some people loyally shop at Patagonia or how certain people identify as Apple users. The idea is to create a brand that attracts the types of wedding photography clients you want to serve.

Therefore, we can go back to this idea of how to stand out amongst the photographers in your area. Often couples are looking for a certain style of photography or a specific personality from their photographer. Or maybe they’re looking for someone that fits their budget or edits photos in a certain way.

You can use the idea of branding and defining your ideal client to help you determine not only where but how to market your wedding photography. Use branding to determine what keywords you target with SEO or how to stand out from the competition.

And then you can track all of it. You can track any ads that you run but you can also track where your leads come from and which ones book.

Essential Gear in Wedding Photography

Next, you’re going to need some wedding photography equipment.

The first thing you need is wedding photography gear that you can afford. A stressed photographer is not a creative photographer. Having a lot of expensive gear and no income to show for it can stress you out.

Second, you need gear that you know how to use. It’s pretty pointless to have a bagful of assets that you don’t actually know how to use yet. Start simple and then build, don’t get sucked into buying gear that will overwhelm you on the wedding day.

Third, you need wedding photography gear that you can carry. The reason wedding photography has morphed from traditional portraiture to photojournalistic art is that it could. Gear is lighter and faster, allowing us to be everywhere and capture everything… unless we have too much of it.

A Basic Wedding Photography Kit

  1. Camera (preferably with a dual card slot)
  2. Lenses (perhaps a 24-70mm, or maybe a 35mm and an 85mm)
  3. Flash and flash trigger (even beginners have to shoot in a dark reception room)
  4. A light stand (Unless you’re shooting everything with bounce flash which isn’t always an option)
  5. Ways to carry your gear such as a camera strap or holster and a camera bag.
  6. Accessories kit with spare batteries, chargers, memory cards, lens cloths, and polarizers.
  7. A backup or duplicate of anything that might break! Another camera, flash, etc.

As you gain experience and a level of comfort with your equipment you will add gear. A lot of photographers shoot receptions with a 3 or 4 light set-up which means more lights, heavy-duty light stands, sandbags, and lots of batteries. As your personal style and creativity blossom, you might add light modifiers or specialized lenses.

Finally, don’t forget about all the gear and accessories that no one ever sees. You’ll need a computer with a monitor you can edit on, software, card readers, hard drives or cloud storage, and more. But start simple.

Basic Tips for Photographing a Wedding

Your camera bag is packed, the couple hired you to capture their most important moments, and you found something between practical and professional to wear to a wedding. Now what? Now you have to photograph the wedding.

Let’s talk through three basic tips to help you survive that first wedding.

1. Familiarity. First, if you haven’t been to a lot of weddings, you may need to familiarize yourself with what happens at them. I’m not a big fan of carrying around creativity-killing shot lists but it is vital that you know what a wedding entails.

2. Service. Second, this is a service industry. Yes, you’re an artist and allreme should bow to your creativity. And yet you’re there to serve your clients so serve them well.

3. Simplicity. Lastly, don’t try to do too much. Simple is best, multitasking is a myth, and you’ll do better if you stay calm and focused. Especially when you’re a beginner.

I always say that serving your clients will serve you well. If you have positive relationships with your couples you will get referrals and reviews and have an overall better experience.

Critical Wedding Moments Photographers Can’t Miss

Look at this list of critical wedding moments photographers can’t miss as your deep breath. Instead of panicking that you can’t miss these moments, realize that everything else is icing on the wedding cake. Hit these few specific shots and you can relax and be creative with the rest.

I highly suggest keeping any lists in your head short. You’re going to shoot everything, you’re going to familiarize yourself with weddings and anticipate moments before they happen. Then, you’re going to photograph all those moments as they happen.

I keep this list of critical wedding moments photographers can’t miss short not because you’re only going to deliver 10 pictures. Instead, I keep it short because you’re going to nail these 10 predictable pictures and then wow your couples with all the rest of the awesome images you shoot.

  1. Sweet moments with parents
  2. Bride walking down the aisle
  3. Emotions and tenderness during the vows
  4. First kiss
  5. Post-ceremony exit
  6. Group pictures of the people important to your couple
  7. Couples portraits
  8. Dances, rituals, traditions
  9. Speeches
  10. Whatever is most important to your specific couple

Here’s a hint: ask your couple. Don’t ask them for a list, just ask them what they are most excited about and what their priorities are. If you know their expectations, you’ll set yourself up for success.

Do they care more about getting ready or the dance party? Are they super close with grandma? Did they spend 100 hours designing and building the centerpieces?

Lastly, when it comes to moments that you can miss it’s important to set expectations ahead of time. If you show your work on a website or social media, the couple will have an idea of your style which will set expectations regarding what types of photos they’re going to get.

Where to Position Yourself During a Wedding

Predicting moments comes down to positioning. When thinking about where to position yourself during a wedding, think about being ahead of the moment.

In soccer, you learn to pass the ball to where your teammate is going to be. If someone is running down the field and you pass the ball to where they are, it will end up where they were. Instead, you have to anticipate where they are going to be.

When you think about where to position yourself during a wedding, plan where you need to be for the shot that is going to happen. Anticipating the bride walking down the aisle, you need to be in position to capture that. And next, you can simply turn and capture the groom as he swoons over how beautiful his bride is.

To take the sports analogy a bit further, create a game plan for the wedding day. Where’s your couple, what’s happening, and what’s the best angle to shoot it from?

It’s crucial that you scout the venue before the wedding in order to make any adjustments to your game plan. For example, some churches have rules about where you can and can’t go during the ceremony which might require you to not only adjust your game plan but get a longer lens.

When you create your game plan you will realize what is realistic for one photographer to capture on the wedding day. And you will be forced to prioritize. You may not be able to get the bride walking down the aisle from behind and from in front.

Choose to accept your limitations and reconfigure your expectations for yourself. You can’t be everywhere at once so focus on quality over quantity. Or, work with a teammate.

A Strategy for Positioning Yourself

1. Anticipate the moment before it happens. e.g. The bride is going to walk down the aisle.

2. Position yourself ahead of the moment. e.g. I’m in the aisle near the front so I can capture her as she is walking.

3. Think ahead to the next moment and where you’ll need to be. e.g. The groom is smiling and/or crying and the dad is going to hand off his daughter so I need to turn, step back two paces, and capture that.

Having a Second Shooter as a Wedding Photographer

Having a second shooter as a wedding photographer is freeing. Two people can do more than one. Essentially, the best way to be in two places at once is to have two photographers.

From a business standpoint, many couples read online about the advantages of having two photographers. Therefore, they might ask you about hiring a second shooter. If that’s something you’re able to offer, you can charge for it.

I personally actually have more than a second shooter — I have a partner and a teammate. We’re not the only husband and wife wedding photography team that has reaped the benefits of two photographers on a wedding day.

Since I don’t have experience working with second shooters all I can say is what I’ve heard. Second shooting is actually a great way to gain experience, you can shoot a wedding without the pressure of being in charge. And for that same reason, it can be hard to find second shooters with experience and expertise.

Nevertheless, my recommendation is this: create your game plan. Assign your second shooter responsibilities that they can handle based on their skill level. Ideally, you can trust and rely on them to capture what you assign them and that will free you up to do something else.

Alternatively, if you don’t know that you can rely on your second shooter you might assign them less important jobs. Or you might assign them less stressful jobs. For example, those demanding detail shots.

How and Why to Shoot Detail Shots

The how and why of shooting wedding details is a surprisingly controversial subject. I know photographers that specialize in wedding detail shots and I know others who refuse to shoot them.

Detail shots can help set the scene and tell the story. A lot of couples spend a lot of money on everything from their invitations to their flowers and centerpieces. Brides often put a lot of thought into their jewelry, shoes, and wedding cake.

However, shooting all the details takes time away from shooting all the people. Valuable time. The photojournalist might think of all of the tender moments that they’re missing while they’re trying to pose those stubborn shoes and bracelets.

Meanwhile, other photographers know that shooting the details will help them get their wedding published online earning them valuable backlinks and vendor relationships.

I see the wedding detail shots as valuable storytelling elements and great for vendor relationship building while also viewing them as somewhat of a distraction from what’s really important. That cake artist spent hours on that cake and would really appreciate a pic for her Instagram.

But the cake artist is not my client. Nor is the wedding planner, venue, or wedding blog that I hope to get a backlink from. And yet, that wedding planner might refer me and the venue might put me on their preferred vendor list.

I think you should shoot wedding detail shots if they are important to your couple, if you have time, and if they will also benefit you in some way such as getting the wedding published or having something to give to the wedding planner or other vendors. If your couple doesn’t care and they don’t have a lot of details anyway, you don’t have to worry about it.

Photo from Depositphotos

When to Shoot Wedding Detail Shots

If you are going to shoot the details you need to add that into your game plan. Ceremony and reception details ideally need to be shot before the guests arrive and set their drinks on the table or coats on the chair. Other details can be shot in place, such as the flowers in the hands of the bridesmaids.

Here are some examples of how you might plan for when to shoot the details.

1. Getting Ready Details: If I know getting ready details are important to my bride, I’ll shoot those right away and get that done so that I can focus on the getting ready moments between the bride and her besties. If I know that they aren’t I might instead focus on capturing the details in an overall composition as a storytelling element. For example, the dress shot by itself is less interesting to me than the dress hanging in the background while mom and daughter get their hair done.

2. Ceremony Details: We typically have a buffer time between when we finish with the couple and the ceremony starts. The couple can freshen up and one of us can shoot details. Note that having a second shooter is great for dividing and conquering.

3. Reception Details: If there is a wedding planner, they will often keep the reception room roped off during cocktail hour until the photographer has a chance to shoot the details. In that case, you can do it after you finish family pictures and if you have a second shooter they can shoot cocktail hour candids or vice versa.

How to Learn and Grow as a Wedding Photographer

Let’s back up. How do I actually learn wedding photography?

Yeah, but how do I get that soft focus around the shot of the boutonniere? Or how do I pose couples so they don’t look stiff and awkward? Or how do I shoot in the dark or if it’s raining or off-camera flash?

Photography is detailed and complicated, and there are rules you need to know before you can break them for your creativity. Luckily, there are a lot of places to learn photography skills.

You can also learn by watching YouTube videos or taking online courses or even going to a tradeshow or a workshop. All of those things are great. But, to become an expert you need two things: a growth mindset and lots and lots of practice.

You might have heard of Malcolm Gladwell who shared that on average people need 10,000 hours or 10 years of deliberate practice to become an expert at something. Additionally, Carol Dweck talks about the importance of believing that you can develop your skills through dedication and hard work.

Therefore, when you’re deciding what teachers to learn wedding photography from you should look for those that have some natural talent and a decade or so of experience. Then, you should believe in yourself. And finally, you should spend some time in deliberate practice.

An example might be that you set a goal to learn how to understand light. Then you go shoot in a variety of lighting scenarios and practice different techniques. Eventually, you’re perfecting off-camera flash techniques and leveling up your work.

Luckily, with our digital cameras, you get instant feedback to track your progress.

8 Beginner Wedding Photography Skills to Practice

Below are some basic photography skills you can learn and practice. You can even practice them by just starting to look for these things everywhere.

  1. Understanding your camera and camera settings. When do you want a small vs larger aperture or fast vs slow shutter?
  2. Knowing the wedding and expectations of what types of images to shoot.
  3. Seeing moments. When does someone’s laugh peak? Can you anticipate the smile?
  4. Seeing light. What’s the color? Is it soft or hard and how intense is it?
  5. Working with clients and seeing beauty in all of them, every single one. Lots of different, uniquely beautiful clients. (This is a great skill for life too.)
  6. Staying calm when people get demanding or a day gets busy.
  7. Getting solid, clean, consistent, and reliable group pictures.
  8. Little framing details like not cropping people in awkward places or putting trees growing out of their heads.

Choosing Your Style of Wedding Photography

As you gain experience in the wedding industry you’ll start to recognize the different styles. And as I mentioned earlier, your style will impact your brand and thus the clients that you choose to serve. That’s the shift, choosing to serve certain clients.

If you landed on the “wedding details suck” end of the spectrum then you might be looking for a different client than the photographer who is definitely going to shoot all of the pretty details.

Wedding photography styles vary and there’s a wide range from the traditional posed and planned to the raw photojournalism. There’s also a variety of editing styles, posing styles, and more. You’re going to wind up choosing your style of wedding photography based on what enhances your creativity.

If you love creating moody images, you’ll start to capture those. Meanwhile, if you’re into the details and editorial aspects of weddings then you’ll build a portfolio that reflects that. If, like me, you appreciate adventurous couples then you might end up with an adventure wedding photography style.

Wedding Photography Styles

  1. Traditional: More posing, more working from a shot-list
  2. Photojournalistic: More storytelling, more candids
  3. Fine Art: More artsy and dramatic portraiture, often more heavily edited
  4. Timeless: Classic photos that are shot and edited to stand the test of time
  5. Moody/Trendy: Photos shot and edited in a moody or trendy way
  6. Editorial: Lots of details and scene-setting images to tell the story
  7. Adventure: Scene-setting with landscape portraits and adventurous elements
  8. Make your own style, add your own twist: Fashion, film, whimsy, wistful, edgy, romantic, natural, unique, vintage, black and white, aerial, destination, etc.

How to Price Your Wedding Photography

In the beginning, you might price your wedding photography to be competitive. You might want to just get more work so that you can build your portfolio. Eventually, you’re going to want to charge enough that you can pay yourself a salary.

The simple math is to add together your cost of doing business with your desired salary and then divide by the number of weddings you are willing or able to photograph. But there’s slightly more that goes into pricing wedding photography.

Therefore, the first step is to set a budget. You think you already have a camera so you don’t budget for that but then you drop a lens and have to fix it or replace gear when it gets stolen. Oops, cha-ching.

Here are some categories to budget for: accounting and legal fees, advertising, cost of sales (printing, shipping, sales tax), education, equipment and maintenance, insurance, licenses and memberships, permits and fees, office supplies and software, phone and internet, travel expenses, website(s) design and maintenance, health insurance, payroll taxes, salary.

Once you have a rough cost of doing business and a salary goal, you have a target. For easy numbers let’s say it’s $100,000. Sweet, divide that by $4,000 and you only have to shoot 25 weddings.

Note that some of your expenses grow as your income increases such as album and printing fees and sales tax.

Also, only shooting 25 weddings might sound great but that doesn’t mean only shooting 25 days. Not to mention packing, cleaning gear, editing, and time spent marketing to find 25 new clients year after year. You might live in a place where weddings are both seasonal and mostly on Saturdays.

You might be including an engagement session, wedding album design, and numerous meetings with your clients.

How to Design Your Wedding Photography Packages

This brings us to how to design your wedding photography packages. This is going to come down to how you like doing business and how good of a salesperson you are.

You might decide on an all-inclusive package that includes everything the couple needs. This has a higher cost of entry for the couple but they know you’re not going to be up-selling them after the wedding day. At least not too much.

Alternatively, you might have a low cost of entry knowing that once they see your photos they are going to open their wallets to order all the prints, products, and add-ons that you can think to offer. Both options require you to figure out how to sell, albeit slightly differently.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

Everyone wants digital files these days. You can charge for them but you should probably just consider that part of whatever your entry-level price. And giving them the digital files feels like it makes it hard to sell prints and products but if you make it easy for your couples they’ll still utilize your expertise.

Utilizing an online proofing gallery allows you to give your couples and their guests an easy way to order prints from you. Everyone loves convenience so that can be a great way to add low resistance sales.

The way you structure your packages are going to attract certain types of couples. That’s not always a bad thing. It’s good to look at what your competitors are doing and consider what you’re doing differently that might help the right clients choose you.

Additionally, build your packages to reflect how you like to shoot. You might include the engagement session if you love getting to know your couples or you might do all-day coverage if you’re into photojournalism.

Wedding Photography Contract, Retainer, and More

It would be irresponsible for me to leave you with all of this information without touching on a few other business details. If you book a $5,000 wedding on the most popular wedding weekend in your town, you’re going to feel pretty good until you start turning down other work and then your original shoot gets canceled. Hence, the contract and retainer.

We would all love to live in a world where people treated each other as we wanted to be treated. However, take a high-stress and high-expectation day like a wedding day and suddenly there can be some hurt feelings. You need a contract preferably one reviewed by a lawyer.

Think of your contract as kind and clear communication. You can clearly state things like here is what is included, here is what is not, and here are the expectations of each party. For example, in case of a global pandemic…

In addition to having a budget, you’ll need things like advice from an accountant as your business gets more complicated. Should you be a sole proprietor or an LLC? And how do you save for retirement? Set up a business bank account and keep your business and personal finances separate.

There are also a ton of tools for client management, tracking sessions, and sending invoices. Being self-employed might mean you need to set yourself some work hours and use to-do list apps.

Additional Tips

1. Get the best gear you can afford (or hire it!)

Aside from all the fun accessories, you’ll need backups of the essentials too.

Wedding photography includes all manner of different types of photography all wrapped up in one day.

Close-up photos of wedding rings? Macro. Venue shots? Architectural. Bride and groom? Portrait, etc.

You’ll also need to shoot in all environments and in all conditions. A candle-lit church service will really put the high ISO performance of your camera to the test!

If you’re taking up wedding photography as a profession, you’ll need to invest in the best camera gear you can afford.

Make sure to get a backup of all the main items – cameras, lenses and flashes. This can be a significant capital outlay but remember you can always hire equipment too.

Let’s take a look at the bare minimum wedding photography gear that you need.

Cameras

You can get great wedding photos with any camera, but most wedding photographers use full-frame cameras with at least 24MP resolution.

Full-frame sensors allow you to shoot in lower light without having to resort to higher ISOs. They also mean you can blur more of the background, depending on the lens you’re using.

You need a camera that shoots ‘clean’ photos at high ISOs, e.g. ISO1600+, and preferably one with good battery life and great autofocus too.

Dual memory card slots are essential too, despite what Canon EOS R owners may tell you!

Many wedding photographers switch from DSLRs to mirrorless cameras for various reasons, but there’s definitely nothing wrong with a DSLR.

As for your backup camera, it doesn’t have to be the same model as your main camera, but it’ll definitely help when you switch between the two.

(If you choose to carry 2 cameras at once, it’s a huge help if they both have the same controls.)

What’s the best camera for wedding photography? In my opinion, the Sony a7III offers the best bang for the buck in 2022, but any full-frame camera will serve you well.

Lenses

There’s a huge variety of lenses to choose from for wedding photography – everything from wide-angle to telephoto, with macro, tilt-shift and fisheye optional for some variety.

If you can only afford one lens, I’d recommend a 24-70mm f/2.8, which will allow you to shoot an entire wedding quite easily. Don’t be tempted by an f/4 variant, since your camera will struggle in low light.

It’s also a good idea to pack a ‘nify-fifty’ 50mm f/1.8 as a backup lens, and as something you can rely on in low light situations.

Many wedding photographers carry zoom lenses. The 24-70mm and 70-200mm is a popular combination since it allows for a large variety of ‘looks’ without a lot of lens changing.

It’s also popular to shoot with only prime (fixed focal length) lenses due to the dreamy renditioning of an image shot with a large aperture and the ability to blur messy backgrounds.

It’s hard to shoot a wedding with just one prime lens, but it could be done with a 35mm or 50mm.

Most photographers use a combination of wide and long: 35mm + 85mm (my preference), 24mm + 85mm, etc.

Over time, you’ll amass a number of lenses, then whittle your selection down to the ones that allow you to work the most efficiently.

Flashes

No matter how well your camera can handle high ISOs, you should still bring along a couple of flashes.

The brand/model isn’t so important – just decide if you need TTL or if you’re comfortable with manual mode.

For off-camera flash, you’ll also need to get some wireless triggers, and you may want to experiment with coloured gels, grids and other light-shaping accessories.

Check out LIT for some inspiration and tutorials on lighting techniques.

Other accessories

Some products are essential, such as spare batteries and memory cards, while others such as camera straps, bags, drones, tripods, etc are optional.

2. Invest in the right software tools

Take advantage of all the great tools available to wedding photographers.

For many wedding photographers, the challenge of their profession lies not in the taking of photos but moreover, in all the various tasks involved with managing their business.

From client emails to marketing, editing, delivering and backup, there is a myriad of tasks in order to run a profitable wedding photography business.

Although you may have second shooters, it’s likely you’ll start off solo as a wedding photographer, which means you’re in charge of absolutely everything!

Thankfully, there are plenty of great software tools you can use to make your life easier.

Over my years shooting weddings and reviewing software for Shotkit, here’s what I consider to be the best options for you:

Get yourself organised before you get too busy – all professional photographers need a CMS, and Studio Ninja is the best one I’ve used. Their support is fast and friendly too.

Editing: Lightroom

Despite all the great alternatives, Adobe Lightroom is still the wedding photographer’s number one choice for editing and managing photos. Some photographers use it in conjunction with PhotoMechanic for the culling process.

Client Galleries/Image Sharing: ShootProof

The days of sending your couples a USB containing their photos are numbered. Most wedding photographers use an online gallery platform, and my choice is ShootProof. You can also use it for cloud storage as an online backup.

Website: Flothemes

Once you have your domain name and hosting, it’s time to invest in a good-looking website theme – the most popular choice for wedding photographers in 2022 is Flothemes.

Image Compression: Rawsie

Shooting thousands of photographs each wedding will leave you with a ton of image data to store – solid-state hard drives are the fastest option, but remain expensive. Use JPEGMini to reduce the size of JPEGs and Rawsie to do the same with Raw files. See the Rawsie review.

Outsourced editing: ImagenAI

Once you start to book lots of weddings, an easy way to scale your business is to outsource your image editing. ImagenAI is an affordable, fast and efficient option, allowing you to preserve your unique style. See our in-depth ImagenAI review for more.

AI-Aided culling: Narrative Select

Most photographers hate culling their photography, but did you know you can use Artificial Intelligence to help? Narrative Select helps you choose the ‘keepers’, as well as zooms in to faces in group shots to help you weed out the ‘blinkers’. See the Narrative Select review. Another great option for culling is AfterShoot.

3. Get to know the couple before the wedding

Engagement photo shoots can be a great way to break the ice.

If you want to be a great portrait photographer, you need to do more than just take pictures. You need to get to know your subject and connect with them on some level.

Depending on your circumstances, you might not have time to meet up with the bride and groom in person before their wedding.

Ideally, you’d be able to take some engagement photos together to get to know each other or meet up for a coffee to chat about their expectations of you as a photographer, but this isn’t always possible.

As a bare minimum, you need to provide your couples with a questionnaire that asks things that reveal a bit about their personality.

Ask them about their favourite foods, movies, date ideas – anything that you can use to connect with them on their big day, to make them feel more at ease.

You could also ask the bride and groom separate questions, like how they felt when they first saw each other – revealing this during the bridal portrait session can lead to some candid and emotional moments.

How to take wedding photos isn’t just about technical aspects – there’s a lot of interpersonal relationship qualities that you’ll need to master too.

4. Show what you want to shoot

If you want to book quirky couples, show quirky images!

This is an old wedding photography tip, but it’s still relevant today. It refers to showing only the type of photos on your blog and on social media that you want to shoot in the future.

If you show blog posts with the wedding dress laid out perfectly on a bed, or the wedding ring styled beautifully next to the bride’s shoes, guess what? Your next bride will expect those photos.

If, however, you go against the grain with a wedding photojournalism style and show candid photographs of natural couple poses, or use creative lighting techniques for editorial-style images, your next clients will book you for that style of image.

If you want to be a destination wedding photographer, guess what? You need to show destination weddings!

You’re in control of the type of couples you attract, so use your online presence to your advantage.

5. Wedding photojournalism can still be ‘posed’

The moment was real, but I told the bride where to stand.

You’ll see plenty of wedding photo tips elsewhere that tell you to do everything as a fly on the wall, without interrupting the natural flow of the day.

However, if your goal is to be a pure wedding photojournalist… good luck with that!

While waiting for the perfect moment to unfurl before your eyes is admirable, you don’t always have that luxury at a fast-paced wedding.

I’m a complete advocate of the photographer being totally unintrusive to the natural flow of a wedding day, but experience has taught me that you can still lend a hand to make those moments even better.

An example is the first-look. You can capture the moment the groom sees the bride for the first time without interference, but you can still guide them on where to stand for the best light or background.

During the bridal portraits, don’t be afraid to give the couple a ‘starting point’ with a loose pose, like “go over there and give each other a hug.” Then, simply capture all the candid moments that occur naturally after that.

Another great tip is to use oral prompts, such as: “whisper into her ear why she’s the only one in the world for you.” – then, capture the emotional moments that follow in a photojournalistic way, and the images will still look beautiful and natural.

6. Learn to bounce flash

Bouncing is an essential lighting technique for wedding photography.

Among all the technical wedding photography tips you’ll come across regarding using a camera, this one is key to getting great photos after dark.https://v.adsrvr.org/75wkhw8/q0dmc2k/vf37tf519115fa8fdeed4ef88089cec513d745e4.mp4

On-camera flash has got a bad reputation for having unflattering results, but that’s only when you don’t know how to use it.

As much as we all want to only use natural light for our wedding photography, there comes a time during the wedding reception where you have to bust out a flash!

The simplest on-camera flash technique that yields the best results is bounce flash, where you point the flash head at an angle to your subject and ‘bounce’ it off a wall/ceiling/guest etc.

You can use TTL or manual power mode, but always try and find something with a neutral colour to bounce off.

You can also bounce the flash from a distance when photographing wedding speeches or the wedding party from afar – at full power, you’ll be surprised how far the light will travel.

What if there’s no surface to bounce off, like at an outdoor reception? Don’t be afraid to use direct flash – just try feathering the light by lifting the flash head slightly and experiment with the zoom/power settings.

7. Learn SEO to appear above other wedding photographers

Being smart with your SEO can generate more wedding enquiries.

This one may not strictly be a part of wedding photography tips for beginners – it’s more for 

Blogging your latest wedding and pre-wedding photos is popular in the wedding photography industry, but it doesn’t need to be a necessity.

While having an online presence is essential, writing about all your latest work and targeting the same wedding photography keywords each time can actually be detrimental.

Focusing on ‘evergreen’ content such as venue guides and wedding planning tips is much more beneficial for bringing you long-term traffic, and with a well-planned site structure, you can still rank for those lucrative wedding-related keywords.

8. Edit your wedding photos quicker

Using Smart Previews in Lightroom is essential.

When you first start wedding photography, your post-production will usually take a long time. However, the more weddings you shoot and the more you edit, your speed should quickly improve.

Here are some ways to make that happen:

Use an import preset – import your photos with a preset that applies your base edits that you do on every photo. Here are some free presets for Lightroom.

Create smart previews on import – this makes Lightroom much faster.

Cull positively – when culling your images, only select the keepers. Ignore the other photos, which you can delete or archive later.

Use shortcut keys – learn all the main Lightroom shortcuts or set new ones up for actions you regularly perform.

Consider AI culling – a tool called Narrative Select automates the process of finding ‘keepers’ and provides an enormous help when checking faces in group photos.

Consider outsourcing – if you’re shooting lots of weddings, want to scale your business, or simply don’t like editing, outsourcing your editing is a game-changer. I recommend ImagenAI for a fast and affordable solution.

Being a successful wedding photographer depends a lot on your post-production workflow. If you shoot lots of weddings and spend 10 hours editing each one, you’ll quickly burn out.

Learn how to edit faster, or hire someone else to do it for you. Then, concentrate on marketing (see guide) and getting better at your craft.

9. Educate your clients on your responsibilities and theirs

Give yourself the time to create something unique.

This is one of those wedding photography tips that’s often overlooked by beginners, but ask any professional wedding photographer whether it’s relevant and they’ll give you a resounding yes.

In the USA, wedding planners are the norm. However, here in Australia, they’re much less common, and perhaps it’s the same in your country too.

Whatever the case, it’s important that you educate your couples on where your responsibilities lie on the wedding day, both in a contract and through your other communication.

Feel free to give all the planning guidance you want prior to the big day, but be clear about what you will and won’t be in charge of.

An example is the family photos which normally take place after the wedding ceremony. The bride and groom will often expect the photographer to herd their families together, making sure the right members are in each photo.

This can be a huge stress, not to mention an inefficient use of time.

Long before the wedding day, you should ask the clients to appoint a bridal party or family member to be in charge of the name-calling/cat herding duties.

Also, while you may have a basic shot list of the essential photos to take at each wedding, you can’t possibly know the face of every VIP guest, or any surprise events that are scheduled to occur.

This, too, needs to be discussed prior to the wedding day. Ask your couples if they have any ‘must-have’ photos or even a shot list of their own. Get it all down in the wedding questionnaire – this way, there’ll be no disappointments.

10. Be a confident wedding photographer, not an obtrusive one

Getting the best shots may involve some push and shove!

When you’re just getting started with wedding photography, it’s natural that you’ll lack confidence, but it’s important to keep reminding yourself what you’ve been paid to do.https://gcdn.2mdn.net/videoplayback/id/3b727c45953a6bc8/itag/343/source/web_video_ads/ctier/L/acao/yes/ip/0.0.0.0/ipbits/0/expire/3808059846/sparams/id,itag,source,ctier,acao,ip,ipbits,expire/signature/513259C21266C5CA26CEE2AB2C1C83F6DC937D5C.238E4EC662E9FE52ED24B24E2C7883A7D14F6546/key/ck2/file/file.mp4?cpn=uifaapUMiGZhtHrf

You are the wedding photographer! Your job is to get great photos! If this means standing in front of Uncle Bob with his fancy camera for the first kiss, so be it! If this means asking the celebrant to stand to one side for the ring exchange, so be it!

With experience, you’ll learn to anticipate when moments are about to occur, but you’ll still need the confidence to get the shot each and every time.

That said, don’t be obtrusive. Mind your manners, and if you can remain low, silent and stealthy to get the photos you need, please do so.

Switch your camera to silent mode to cover the ceremony and creep around like a ninja.

The wedding guests will remember a courteous photographer who remained quiet and hidden during the majority of the wedding ceremony – among those guests may be your next bride and groom, so make a good impression.

11. Learn to use light in your wedding photography

You can still be creative in the harsh midday sun.

Obviously, you have no control over the weather on a wedding day, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use light to your advantage.

Learn how to create shade on the face of your bride at high noon during bridal portraits by angling the groom to block the harsh light.

Learn how to find diffused light under the tree canopies, or how to use directional light to create depth and contrast.

Position bridesmaids near window light during their hair and make-up preparations, or if all else fails, use the make-up artist or hairdresser’s ring light for a DIY glamour shot!

Techniques like off-camera flash can elevate your wedding photography and help differentiate yourself from the legions of natural light shooters.

Learn all the various flash photography techniques and experiment with coloured gels, grids, snoots, high-speed sync and more – the  LIT book breaks down some creative lighting techniques.

12. Get high, then get low

Seize any chance you can to change the viewer’s perspective to something less ordinary.

One way to quickly improve how your wedding photography looks is to experiment with camera angles – try lifting your camera up high and taking a shot, then putting it at waist height, or even on the ground, and taking another shot.

Varying the height offers the viewer something that’s unusual, which creates interest.

Try climbing on chairs or using drones to get a bird’s eye view of the wedding venue or wedding party.

Then try placing your camera down in the grass during the wedding ceremony and shooting along the aisle for a worm’s eye view of the couple tying the knot.

These may seem like simple tips, but it’s things that no wedding guest will do – even if everyone’s taking photographs of the newly weds’ first kiss, yours will be different, and hopefully, better too!

13. Nail the group shots

Asking bridesmaids to ‘connect’ to the adjacent person can help.

Photos of groups of people can be intimidating, especially at weddings. Whether you’re photographing the bridal party, groomsmen, bridesmaids or family members, it’s important that you get some great group shots.

Here are some quick tips:

Choose a safe aperture – don’t shoot group shots wide open! Depending on your lens, your distance from the group and the way the group is arranged, you should use an aperture of f/4 or more to ensure every face is in sharp focus.

Remove sunglasses – it looks weird if some people in the group wear them and some don’t.

Watch for huggers – if men hug each other in a line, their jackets ride up and look ugly. Ask them to remove their jackets or hug lightly around the waist, if at all.

No hands covering balls – don’t let men stand like defenders in front of a football freekick!

Get girls and close family to ‘connect’ – hands on shoulders, around waists, held together, etc.

Take lots of photos – this is really important. The larger the group, the more chance of ‘blinkers’. Take enough photos to ensure you have a photo with everyone with their eyes open. Narrative Select can help you find the best shots.

14. Learn to pose for dynamic wedding photography

Posing cards loaded onto your camera can help.

If you’re scared of posing the bride and groom, think of it more as ‘directing’. Imagine yourself as a movie director, giving encouragement to your actors in a scene.

Wedding poses don’t need to be stale, awkward and rigid. Provide simple direction cues to the bride and groom as a starting point, then introduce humour, distraction or even some distance to encourage something natural to emerge.

Analyse your favourite wedding photographers’ images to see why their poses work so well.

Pay attention to hands – they can portray a lot of energy and passion if you pose them in the right way, or give the right cues.

Have a shot list of poses to fall back on – an easy way to do this is to use Together Cards, which can help maintain the flow of the photoshoot while allowing you to direct with confidence.

15. Moments are what matter most

A photo can ‘fail’ technically, but still delight your clients.

Despite all those ‘epic’ destination wedding shots you see on Instagram of the bride and groom in front of a waterfall in Iceland or the bride posed dramatically on a cliff edge somewhere exotic, these are not always the clients’ favourite photos.

Remember to concentrate on getting as many candid images of people at the wedding ceremony and wedding reception as possible.

Focus on the couple and their close family – learn to anticipate moments before they occur, and capture something truly unrepeatable.

While it’s great to throw a few epic shots into your portfolio, it’s the photo of the bride’s mother crying as the bride and groom walk down the aisle that your clients will treasure forever.

Magical, emotionally charged moments trump everything else. Don’t be afraid to include photos that aren’t ‘technically’ great – as long as there’s a special moment, your clients won’t care.

Pay special attention to what’s happening during the wedding party – after a few drinks, family and guests will loosen up and show some great emotions.

16. Don’t be afraid to have a shot list

Brides look great when photographed from above.

Among all the best wedding photography tips you’ll see online, it’s often the simple things that get missed.

Until you feel comfortable photographing weddings, it’s OK to have a shot list to remind yourself of the ‘standard’ images to capture.

Must-have images might include the getting ready moments, the bridal portrait, the bouquet, the boutonnieres, the bridal party, the wedding venue, the walk down the aisle (aka the processional), the ring exchange, the first kiss, the exit, the place settings, the cake, the first dance, the bouquet toss, the garter toss, etc.

As long as you cross the ‘basics’ off your shot list, you can concentrate on capturing moments and injecting some creativity into the rest of your wedding coverage.

Eventually, of course, you’ll no longer need a shot list – everything will come naturally.

17. One wedding photo for the client, one for you

Get the ‘standard’ shots then try something different.

During the bridal portraits (photos of just the bride and groom or of the groomsmen and bridesmaids), it’s your time to start experimenting.https://cdn1.extremereach.io/media/42384/90565/58ebacd8-3660-4671-9ac8-5a43471158d8/6b3b6ad6-10c5-4339-a396-ee3358fb2745.mp4?line_item=15767505&cid=263025&e=e.mp4

One fun/safe way to experiment is to think of the session as photos for both you and your couple. Take a few ‘safe’ shots for the couple, then do something more daring and creative – these can be ‘for you’.

Whether you end up delivering the ‘for you’ photos or not isn’t relevant – what’s important is that you step outside your comfort zone to really push yourself creatively.

Break out some off-camera flash lighting techniques. Try shooting through an object. Play around with your tilt-shift lens. Just experiment with something new and see what you can achieve.

The ‘one for the client, one for me’ mentality takes some of the pressure off the process of experimentation and can help you unlock something special with your wedding photography.

18. Find inspiration elsewhere (not just other wedding photographs)

Wes Anderson movies are great for composition ideas.

Amazing wedding photography is everywhere you look on social media.

While it’s nice to get some inspiration from your favourite wedding photographers, there’ll come a time when you need to look elsewhere.

Pay attention to movies, movie posters, commercials, music videos, magazine covers – anything featuring people shot in unusual or creative ways that catches your eye.

Also, follow the work of photographers from other genres – street, sports, portrait, fine art photography – anything that keeps you motivated to keep creating something wonderful for your clients.

Becoming a Great Wedding Photographer | Final Words

Wedding photography has been a wonderful profession for me over the years, and I highly recommend you consider taking it up professionally.

Despite it being a competitive industry and a job that’s often stressful and physically demanding, wedding photography is also enormously rewarding and a lot of fun.

Weddings are unique things. Everyone is happy, well-dressed and emotionally charged. Anything can happen, and it’s your job to capture as much of it as you can!

If you’re just getting started with wedding photography, I really hope these tips have helped. Leave a comment below if you have any questions and I’ll be happy to respond.

Conclusion

We talked through a lot of topics in this deep dive into wedding photography basics and tips for aspiring wedding photographers. You should have a good idea of where to start and how to launch your business. As you learn these elements of wedding photography they will become second nature and then you can expand your skills and your creativity.

Wedding photography is challenging and rewarding. Like with any industry, there are things to overcome or look past as well as many things to fall madly in love with.

Resources

petepixel.com, “Wedding Photography: A Complete Guide.” By Brenda Bergreen; shotkit.com, “WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS: HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH A WEDDING IN 2022.” By Mark Condon;

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