Wedding Photography Survival Tips: The Preparation

Image by Lukas Sowada

To the inexperienced photographer, the first wedding is that single most daunting event that stands as Mt. Everest in one’s profession. It is a feat that could define success or failure for the rest of one’s career. Much preparation is required. Much focus is essential. Much passion is critical.

Every detail of the day is important. The clothes. The favors. The people. Tensions are high. Schedules are tight. Emotions are charged. A wedding shoot is not the time to test one’s people skills or experiment with portraits. It is a day that an experienced photographer must practice everything he or she has ever known.

However, each wedding photographer has had a “first time”. On this day, the photographer discovers the key to thriving in the world of wedding photography: An ability to take the unpredictable in stride and thrive amidst challenges.

What does this look like to an inexperienced wedding photographer? How does a novice go about capturing beautiful shots in unpredictable and varied settings? With a little bit of hard work, these 8 tips will help you cover essential preparations for a successful wedding shoot.

1. Do your research!
Find a local bookstore with a large selection of photography books. Take some time to look at books from Bill Hurter and Amherst Media. These resources will give you an incredible amount of information to walk you through the wedding photographer’s experience.

2. Determine the couple’s style
As a wedding photographer, your job involves more than capturing the events of the wedding day. You must have the ability to do so in the style that signifies the bridal couple. Are they traditionalists? Are they contemporary? Do they want color or black and white? If they aren’t sure what they like, take the time to go through a wedding magazine with them to find clips that match their style. Once you know what they are expecting stylistically, you can shoot to capture just that!

3. Create a Master Schedule
Arrange a pre-wedding meeting with the bride to plan out a 15-minute incremental schedule of the wedding shoot. This should include wedding preparations, bride portraits, bride and bridesmaids portraits; the groom and his groomsmen, the full wedding party, the family portraits, and the bride and groom. If you aren’t experienced shooting weddings, plan for extra time so you won’t be rushed or distracted by the time pressures.

4. Be connected
Be sure to get the phone number of the wedding coordinator, the best man, and the bride’s personal attendant. If (and when) the wedding schedule gets off, you will want to be sure that the wedding coordinator is in the know. And when the time comes to hunt down rogue bridal party or family members who are missing out on the shoot, these numbers are handy for extra help.

Shooting a first wedding is best done with another primary shooter, or at least an assistant. An assistant will help you keep track of your shot list, schedule, managing the individuals for large group photos. In the very least, an assistant is available to carry equipment, keep track of the cell phone, and holding reflectors.

6. Make a shot list
The bridal couple will undoubtedly have shots they want. Generally, the couple will stress the importance of photos with family members attending, and the bridal party. Once you have this initial list, you can build a more detailed list for your own reference. A shot list will keep you focused and on top as you go about the 5-8 hour shooting day. As you refer to your shot list throughout the day, won’t have to worry about forgetting anything.

7. Scout out your locations
Arrive at the venue at least an hour before you are to begin shooting. Once you are on location, map out your location flow. Where will you start out and what shots will you take in that area? Where will you go next? What distractions must you watch out for in each location? Where is the light? Have a flow plan for your shoot and both you and your clients will stay relaxed through the day.

8. Put on your game face!
Remember that no matter what happens on the wedding day, there will be a plethora of uncontrolled variables. Your role is to take the unexpected happenings and run with them! If you are the picture of calm and the voice of reason, everyone else will be ok! The mark of a good wedding photographer isn’t a perfectly planned and executed shoot but rather a wedding shoot in which the photographer was able to adapt to each scenario and still capture the beautiful moments of the day.

No matter how much reading and research time you put into preparing, there is a large degree of learning that will come from that first experience. Above all, set your mind on enjoying the experience no matter what comes your way. While the pressure is on, so long as you can take nervous pressure and channel it to anticipated excitement, you’ll be just fine.

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