Help! I'm Shooting My First Wedding | 17 Pieces of Advice

It's an exciting time for some of you photographers out there!  A lot of you are receiving inquiries for your first weddings...ever!  Cue the confetti! I might add: this is such an exciting yet somewhat scary time, right?! I remember the feeling! ;-)

I have received a handful of Facebook messages and emails that all ask the same question: what advice do you have for me shooting my first wedding? Below is an email we just received:

I had a couple approach me recently to do their wedding. I am not really set up for wedding and explained that to them but they really like my style and want to go with me anyways.  I'll just take that as a compliment! 
I was wondering what your go to gear is on wedding day! Maybe if you could only pick 2 or 3 lenses? Any suggestion/advice you would like to offer and have the time to give I would deeply appreciate! 

Dear Wary Wedding Photographer, 

Whew! You're about to embark on such an adventurous, rewarding, sometimes difficult, fulfilling journey!  Jordan and I will be the first to tell you that we are not perfect and were far from perfect when be first began our photography journey.  However, we also feel that this is an advantage to us, because in hindsight, we wish we had prepped more beforehand. I'm going to summarize a few thoughts of ours and pieces of advice as far as how to prep, what gear to rent/buy, and how to mentally prepare. 

Now, this is a huge disclosure: a wedding photography workshop + experience is what we want to aim for.  To me, those two combined will equip you with numerous tools and confidence for the future. 

For now, I'm going to leave you with some tips that will leave you able to serve your clients well, feel confident in your gear and begin gaining your experience as a wedding photographer! Best of luck to you!  Remember, you can never over serve a client and you can never learn too much.  If you have a passion for this, whether it be the legacy you're leaving the client, the purpose behind marriage, the food it puts on your table--let it drive you!

1. Personally, we feel as though shooting with a full frame camera is ideal. You can read why in our blog post here.  

2. Hire a second shooter to come with you. Whether they have years of experience or not, it's another set of eyes, hands and a brain to reason with you as the day unfolds. In the same note, have two cameras (or 3 ideally for a backup to yours and your second shooters).

3. Rent (or buy) these 3 lenses: 24-70 2.8, 70-200 2.8 and the nifty fifty (50mm 1.4 or 1.8). They'll have you covered from the wide range of 24 to the tightness of 200mm, and that's fantastic! We wrote blogs on each lens that you can click on to read about. To summarize, you can use the 24-70mm during getting ready shots, group shots, the ceremony and the reception. Basically, it's so versatile! I'd recommend the 70-200 for the ceremony shots from far away, some portrait shots (because the compression is unreal!) and capturing expressions during toasts or the ceremony.  I recommend the fifty, because it's a prime lens that's the most versatile, in our opinion! These three lenses will serve you well! 

4. Remember that it will get dark as the day goes on! Have experience for off camera flash (OCF) and make a plan beforehand. We blogged about our set up here, and it should be simple to get you started. If it's too much, simple make sure you have an external flash for your cameras, and that's good to start out with--we did! 

5. Meet with your bride to hear their story and understand her expectations. If you absolutely don't feel comfortable with what her desires are, then I suggest you explain why and refer her away. For example, if you have no experience using OCF and the wedding is indoors and she does not want outdoor pictures, you're just asking for a difficult day and a potentially unhappy couple! Think about what you're comfortable with before accepting. 

6. Have a contract made, have it signed and receive a deposit from your couple before reserving their date on your calendar. We ask for a deposit to reserve the date and the remainder to be paid in full 1 month prior their wedding date. Keep it legal and save yourself in the end. 

7. Give your clients expectations. How many hours is your package? How much is it? Are engagements included? How do they receive their images? USB? PASS gallery? When should their images be finished? Keep this very simple if you can. 

8. I suggest you second (or third) shoot another photographer before you tackle a wedding on your own.  I promise it will be a whirlwind if you don't! Don't expect to be paid. Put your time in, and you'll thank yourself later!

9. Study wedding photography blogs that you enjoy.  Whatever wedding photography style fits yours the best, study hard. Scroll through blog after blog getting ideas and inspiration. When I first started, I would do this for hours the evening before and day of the weddings I shot. That way these ideas are fresh on your brain!

10. Sprinkle them with a couple little gifts throughout the process.  They feel special, and it's not expected, which means...they're little surprises! :-)

11. Be flexible. Be humble. No wedding day is the same, and no wedding day is necessarily "easy". But that doesn't mean that doesn't make it the best part! I tend to enjoy weddings so much, because there are always curve balls or problem-solving to be done. It's kind of a game in a sense, and it's fun to tackle! Just do your best and enjoy the opportunity to capture something so amazing and memorable to your couple and family!

12. Include engagements in your package.  I've found that working with couples beforehand makes interacting with them on their wedding day so much more smoother and natural.  You both have already met and understand the expectations and personalities of one another!

13. Have them fill out a wedding day questionnaire answering questions that might help you navigate their wedding day. For example, "what address do I arrive to?", "what are your colors", "how many are in your wedding party", "what are 5 shots you don't want me to miss?" etc. 

14. Have them fill out a family shot list. We give them a generic list that lists all the shots we suggest and ask that they confirm it AND list first names of the people listed. People--this is SO helpful!!

15. Make sure you have enough memory cards and take care of them.  Make sure you back these images up immediately after your wedding IN MORE THAN ONE PLACE. I really can't stress this enough, because this is gold you have.

16. One thing about wedding days is that you don't have golden hour....all day long. If you've mastered golden hour, that's fantastic! But practice in harsh lighting, dim lighting, shade, and a combination of them all, because on a wedding day, you get what you get and it's up to YOU to explain to the bride and groom WHY you chose location X over Z. Choose the best lighting that you're confident with, because in the end, the creamy skin and lighting is better than a background with harsh shadows across your client's face. This is probably one of the hardest areas to feel comfortable with (for me at least!), because it requires a lot of confidence and practice.

17. Try not to let tips 1-16 overwhelm you. Chances are: 1) you'll have some time before now and your wedding to start gaining knowledge and 2) you'll shoot your second, third, fourth and fifth wedding better than your first. We can't all start out perfectly, but we have to start out somewhere.  Try to prepare yourself as best you can, and then you'll know where to focus on from there!

When Jordan and I first started, we'd tell ourselves, "okay, today we're going to really try to tackle our reception lighting at today", or "let's tackle family portrait time better today". And after every wedding, we were able to better one portion of the wedding day and add that to our arsenal. 

Baby steps :-) We all taken them!

What are 2-3 of these steps that are reachable within the next 2-3 weeks for you? 

Excited for you friend!!! Don't hesitate to ask any more questions along your journey!