1. CONTRACT + RETAINER
One of my biggest + most important tips for shooting your first wedding would be to have a contract! This makes sure that everyone is on the same page + it also eases a lot of anxiety on both ends. The couple doesn’t have to worry if you are going to show up, how many photos they are going to get, etc. At the same time, you don’t have to worry about them asking you when the photos are going to be ready, if they can have the RAW files, etc.
I use Dubsado as my online client management software. It is super easy to use + not that expensive at all! You can make contract in the program easily + send it to your couple through email to sign digitally. The contracts I have installed in Dubasdo are the ones by Laurken Kendall (check them out here: https://laurkenkendall.com/photog-templates/)
I also highly recommend having the couple pay some kind of retainer fee. I require a 50% retainer from all of my couples at the time of signing the contract + all of my retainers are non-refundable. I’ve seen a lot of photographers only require 25%. It just depends on what you want. This ensures that the couple will not cancel on you last minute since they would lose a significant amount of money.
2. ASK QUESTIONS + MAKE A TIMELINE
I usually send a detailed questionnaire to my couples 2 months before their wedding date (I use Dubsado for this as well!). I ask things like…
What is the name of your venue(s)?
What is the address of the ceremony + reception venue(s)?
What is the address of where the bride / groom is getting ready?
Is there travel time to + from your different venues + getting ready locations?
What time are starting to get ready?
What time does the ceremony start?
What time does the reception start?
Are you having a first look?
And lots more!
Once the couple fills out the questionnaire + sends it back my way, I’ll come up with a detailed wedding photography timeline for them to look over + make changes to if needed. They usually look something like this…
12:00 – 2:00 – Detail Shots, Girls Getting Ready, Bride Getting into Dress, Bridesmaids Groups Shots + Individual Portraits (at getting ready location)
2:00 – 2:30 – Groomsmen Group Shots + Individual Portraits (outside church)
3:00 – 3:30 – Ceremony
3:30 – 4:00 – Family Photos (inside church)
4:00 – 4:10 – Group Bridal Party (outside church)
4:10 – 4:30 – Bride + Groom Portraits (outside church + up on mountain)
4:30 – 8:00 – Reception
8:00 – Photographer Leaves
Sometimes they are longer + more detailed. It depends on what package my couple books + how much information they provide.
3. LEARN WHAT TO CAPTURE
I know this may sound hard to do since you haven’t shot a wedding before… but what I mean by this is study other photographers full galleries + blog posts, especially photographers that you admire + look up to! While every wedding is unique, this will help with inspiration as well as give you some insight on what you should be capturing. Some general things I make sure to capture at every wedding are…
Details (shoes, dress, jewelry, bouquet, invitations, boutonniere, etc.)
Getting Ready Time (girls hanging out, putting on makeup, getting hair done, bride putting on dress, guys hanging out, groom putting on tie / shoes / jacket, etc.)
Ceremony + Reception Setup (decorations, signs, cake, wide shots of the setup)
Ceremony (important highlights: bride walking down aisle, grooms reaction, putting on rings + vows, first kiss, couple walking down aisle after ceremony)
Family Portraits (I usually have the couple make a detailed list so that I get all the shots + combinations they want)
Bridal Party Portraits (bridesmaids separate, each bridesmaid with bride, groomsmen separate, each groomsmen with groom, bridal party altogether)
Bride + Groom Portraits (I usually allot at least a 1/2 hour for this + try to take them to 3 different spots around the venue)
Reception (important highlights: bride + groom entrance, bridal party entrances, first dances, speeches, cake cutting, dancing, exit)
Again, every wedding is unique so there’s no cookie cutter way to capture them. However, this will hopefully give you a good idea of where to start! Remember to be creative still + don’t just get the same shots at every wedding. Capture the details in their own way + the real moments as they unfold.
4. USE A VARIETY OF LENSES + A FLASH
I know that when you are just starting out it can be hard to buy multiple lenses. For my first couple weddings I only had a 50mm f/1.4 prime lens! I shot everything on that baby haha. If you do have the option + the money I would highly recommend having a prime lens as well as a zoom lens (bonus if they are good in low light!). I use my prime lenses that I have for all portrait + detail shots throughout a wedding day. I use a zoom lens for the ceremony + first dances because it helps me capture the emotions up close, but not be in the way! No one usually cares or remembers if you walk down the aisle or get up close during the first dances, but I’ve just found that this works best for me.
The first couple weddings I did I didn’t use a flash at all. This makes me cringe just thinking about it now haha. I didn’t really know how to use them + didn’t think they were entirely necessary. However, after using them at every wedding now, I would highly recommend having one! I have 2 (one as a backup) + I use them at inside ceremonies + receptions when they don’t have great window light or it is dark out. Using a flash can help with making your images better quality, not grainy from ISO + can speed up your editing process because the images won’t be dark + grainy!
5. BACKUP, BACKUP, BACKUP!
I can’t stress this enough!
If your camera can do it, record the same images to 2 cards so you have a backup of all the photos! If your camera doesn’t allow that, be sure to record different parts of the day on different cards so that if one corrupts you don’t have ALL the photos only on that one (one for getting ready + ceremony, one for bridal party + couple photos, one for reception + family photos, etc.). My Canon 5d Mark iii’s allow for me to record on a CF card + a SD card at the same time (which is amazing). I use extremely high speed cards – usually 2 – 3 32GBs SD cards as my main ones + 1 – 2 64GB CF cards as backups.
I would also recommend having lots of backup batteries! I usually only use 2-3 for a full wedding day, but it’s good to have extra. I make sure I have at least 5 fully charged batteries for any wedding day.
Be sure to have good quality hard drives to store your images on afterwards as well. I currently use 2 (4 TB) Lacie hard drives to backup all of my work. Having 3 backups can’t hurt either!
I hope this all was helpful. Good luck with your first wedding!
Learn more tips + tricks like this at workshop I’m teaching at this summer!