8 Wedding Photography Tips
A wedding is one of the most important and memorable days in a couple’s life. Wedding photographers have a unique job when it comes to capturing the event while also making the day a great experience for the couple. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or are hoping to break into the market, one thing is certain: becoming a successful wedding photographer includes more than showing up and taking great photos. Other important skills and traits include:
- Personable and friendly. If you’re not a “people person” and dislike interacting with others, this type of photography might not be the best industry for you. It’s important to hone your people skills to effectively communicate and provide a positive experience for couples on their special day.
- Technical skills and understanding. It’s not enough to have a nice camera — you must understand your gear inside and out. You also should have the technical skills needed to adjust camera settings for the best shot in a myriad of different lighting situations.
- Professionalism. It’s important to understand that you are providing an important and premium service to your clients. As such, you should show up with a level of professionalism and assertiveness that allows you to effectively streamline the process.
- Planning and organization. Remember: you’re showing up to capture one of the most important days of someone’s life. You can’t arrive unprepared! Professional wedding photographers approach each event with careful planning to ensure the couple has a great experience.
- Knowing their limits. Be honest about your limitations. If your specialty is shooting intimate outdoor weddings and you have no experience with flash photography, you probably shouldn’t take a large indoor wedding until you’ve improved this skillset.
Whether you’ve shot 300 events or are about to book your first, there is always room for improvement when it involves providing the best experience for people on their wedding day. Here are some tips to help!.
1. Planning, preparing and understanding your gear
For this type of photography, it’s not enough to just have nice gear — you have to understand the ins and outs of how your gear works, including how to use your camera in manual mode, quickly updating your settings depending on varying lighting situations, how to get the best shots using your camera’s autofocus, composition, etc. Weddings are fast-paced events, meaning you can’t be fiddling around with your gear while the action is happening. Being able to adjust settings like aperture, ISO, white balance, and shutter speed at a moment’s notice is essential to understanding how to take wedding photos quickly and efficiently.
It’s also important to understand the value of variety in your gear bag including both prime and zoom lenses with different local lengths and two camera bodies you can wear on a dual-camera harness. Swapping out lenses in the middle of a wedding ceremony isn’t an option when you’re tasked with capturing moments that happen quickly like the first kiss. Other important gear for weddings includes flash and additional lighting for low-light situations like receptions and indoor venues.
Preparing your gear is imperative for success. Ensure your cameras and flashes are charged, pack extra charged batteries, bring plenty of SD cards for file storage, have lens wipes on hand, and bring backups of gear like an extra body and lens in case yours fails. It’s better to be over prepared than to find yourself scrambling to figure out an alternative in the moment when issues arise.
Wedding photographers have specific needs when it comes to choosing the best gear. Here are a few of the best wedding cameras (both DSLR and Mirrorless) we recommend:
- Canon EOS 5D Mark IV - $1,500 for body only
- Nikon D850 - $2,000 for body only
- Sony Alpha a7 III - $1,400 for body only
- Fujifilm X-T4 - $1,400 for body only
2. Getting to know your couple
Though traditional weddings may follow a set schedule, no two couples are alike, so it’s important to get to know each of your couples and understand their personalities, what shots they prefer (more candids or portraits), and how they want their wedding day to feel (stress-free, laid back, fun, sentimental). By getting to know your couples on a deeper level, you’re better able to tell the full story of their big day through authentic and true-to-life photography.
When meeting with your couple, have questions written down (or provide them with a questionnaire ahead of time) to help you get the details you need to best serve them. Some questions I like to ask are:
- How did you two meet?
- How many guests are you expecting? How many people are in the wedding party?
- What shots would you want to prioritize on the day?
- How do you want your photography to feel? Examples include cinematic and romantic, fun and silly, serious and sentimental.
- Are there any sensitive family dynamics I should be aware of?
- Will there be a wedding planner or a day-of coordinator there to assist with the schedule?
- Are there any particular poses that resonate with you?
- Will you be hiring a videographer as well?
In addition to getting pertinent details for their wedding day, asking these questions also shows you view your couple as more than a transaction, making them feel more comfortable with you. And comfortable couples tend to photograph better because they feel at ease with you during the process!
Shooting engagement photos is also a great way to get to know your clients and understand how they interact with one another before the big day.
3. Communicating regularly with clients
Wedding photography involves so much more than showing up on the big day and asking people to smile for the camera. You also need to be an effective communicator and prioritize regularly checking in with your couple prior to the day of the wedding.
We recommend having a set schedule to check in with your clients at key touchpoints. These include an intro and planning call right after they book, a halfway-point check in to ensure nothing has changed, and then a final planning and detail call one month to a few weeks before the day. By doing this, you’re making sure that you can show up and successfully do your job by having all the details and information you need.
4. Scouting the location and connecting with planners
It’s never a good idea to show up to a venue for the first time on a couple’s wedding day. We recommend trying to visit the venue in person if it’s somewhere you haven’t photographed before. Sometimes you can’t visit in person depending on where the location is in proximity to where you live, but even if the wedding venue can provide videos or photos that should help you plan your lighting, shot locations, angles, etc. before the day.
Another tip is to connect with the wedding planner or venue coordinator ahead of time to ensure the photography timeline and shot list you’re putting together aligns with the overall schedule. If there is no planner or coordinator, ensure your couple provides you with a rough timeline so that you can help them craft the photography schedule around planned events and ensure everything moves seamlessly.
5. Planning your shot list
Plan your shot list ahead of time and write them down to bring with you. This helps avoid missing any important shots when you’re in the middle of the excitement. Experiment with different angles and composition ahead of time to get some variety in your shots. Types of photoshoots you should prioritize as a photographer include:
Getting ready/ wedding party shots
Many couples want to have photos of them getting ready, so I like my overall timeline to start at least an hour and a half before the ceremony. That way I can capture candid shots of the couple putting on their dress and suit, writing vows, interacting with their bridesmaids or groomsmen, and get bridal party or groomsmen shots before the actual ceremony. By capturing these photos prior to the ceremony, you give yourself time to focus on family shots and couple portraits immediately after the ceremony.
This is also a great time to get detailed shots of the vow books, bouquet/ boutonniere, rings, accessories, etc.
Arrive early to the ceremony to capture candid photos as they arrive and capture any details of the ceremony spot like florals, an arch, etc.
Ensure you position yourself in a manner that won’t block attendees from enjoying the ceremony. I like to stand at the back so I’m able to capture the groom arriving, the walk down the aisle, and the bride and groom leaving.
I like to ensure I have one wider-angle lens like a 35mm then an 85mm or 135mm lens that will allow me to remain out of the way of the ceremony but also capture close-up images of the ring exchange, the first kiss, and the vows.
Ensure that you have a set spot for formal portraits planned ahead of time. I prefer to schedule the portraits with close friends and family members directly after the ceremony in a spot nearby so that others can proceed to the reception or cocktail hour, while guests expected to be in photos can hang back.
Work with your couple or the wedding coordinator to make sure everyone who is supposed to be part of the formal portraits is aware and ready to begin immediately after the ceremony.
Whenever possible, utilize outdoor locations for natural light when taking group photos. If you know portraits will be taken inside, make sure you’re prepared with a flash or additional off-camera lighting.
After formal group shots, I like to send the larger group to the wedding reception and ask the couple to remain for their solo portraits. I prefer to time this so that it’s during something like dinner or cocktail hour so that the couple feels like they’re able to sneak off for some photos just the two of them while also getting to enjoy their first moments alone after tying the knot!
Candid shots are so important when telling the full story of a wedding day. Keep an eye out for emotional or special moments throughout the day like reactions to the bride walking down the aisle, hugs or shared moments between parents and their children, sentimental traditions, etc. These intimate moments shared will mean more to the couple than a gallery full of posed photos.
Capture key events like the reception, cocktail hour, first dance, speeches, cake cutting, etc. and make sure to get a variety of different people in the shots. If the wedding has a lot of different components the couple wants captured, you may want to recommend a second photographer who will be able to capture moments in one area while you can photograph another.
Experiment with using flash and lighting to create a different mood with your photography throughout the day.
Capture details like the bouquet, rings, and vow books before the ceremony so that you can focus on the events without forgetting those all-important detail shots.
6. Striving for wedding day success
All the planning and preparation in the world can’t prevent issues from arising on the big day. It’s important to expect the unexpected and be able to pivot at a moment’s notice. The bride may take longer to get ready than expected, moving back the ceremony a bit. Weather may force an outdoor wedding to suddenly become an indoor event. Audio and visual equipment may fail. The most successful wedding photographers are problem solvers and know how to be flexible when situations arise that are out of their control.
Another tip is to ensure you have connected with the planner or coordinator to assist with issues.
7. Staying organized during post production
Many people believe that the most time-intensive part of a wedding photographer’s job is the wedding itself. By far, the most arduous piece of the process is post production (or post processing). Post production involves an organized workflow to ensure the photos are safe, cataloged, and properly edited before delivery. Organization is key to streamlining the post-processing phase, which includes:
- Importing images. The photographer must first import the images from their SD memory cards onto an external or internal harddrive. I recommend having the photos on no less than two harddrives in case one becomes corrupted or crashes.
- Backing up files. After importing the files onto harddrives, some photographers will also back their files up onto the cloud. Because these are someone’s precious memories, photographers can’t afford to lose any of the files and will choose to be overly cautious when backing up files.
- Culling. Culling refers to deleting any duplicate photos, images with eyes closed, etc. It makes the editing portion of a photographer’s process easier by weeding out the “no” images before editing. Many will use a culling software like Narrative Select, Photomechanc, or Aftershoot that helps automate the culling process.
- Editing. For most, editing is the most time-consuming phase of the post-production process. Editing a full wedding gallery can take anywhere from 8-20 hours. Some photographers will choose to outsource this piece, while others like complete creative control over the editing process, which includes:
- Adjusting colors and exposure
- Applying presets to achieve the desired style or aesthetic
- Sharpening and denoising images
8. Delivering high-quality wedding galleries
Finally comes the day both the photographer and the couple have been waiting for: gallery delivery day! This is both the most exciting and tense moment of the entire process. The photographer has put a lot of preparation, time, and care into making sure these photos accurately portray the couple’s vision.
When putting together a gallery, make sure to organize the day by scenes to help the couple view the day in chronological stages rather than one large gallery of photos. This practice helps showcase the full story of the wedding, rather than just displaying images. Some scenes to include are:
- Getting Ready/ Details
- Ceremony Shots
- Portraits with Family and Friends
- Portraits of the Bride and Groom
- Dinner/ Cocktail Hour
- Sunset Candid Photos
You can find a gallery delivery service that provides a good experience for the client by allowing for high-resolution downloads, including the ability to purchase prints and albums directly from the gallery. It can also provide key features like the ability to upload videos and GIFs, and it can be a helpful sales funnel for photographers.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are 3 skills a wedding photographer needs?
As mentioned above, the key skills include being personable and friendly, professional and organized, and experienced with technical aspects of photography.
What is the best ISO setting for wedding photography?
Most wedding photographers will opt to keep their ISO lower if possible to avoid noise or grain in the images. We also recommend shooting RAW whenever possible as this will allow you more latitude for color and exposure corrections in post production. Taking the time to properly test with your actual gear is a must for real pros. Shoot test shots at different ISOs with each camera, lens, and flash combo in your kit. Don't just look at the samples on screen, make sample prints at the different sizes you might offer.
What should you not do as a wedding photographer?
Never show up unprepared. This is one of the biggest days of a couple’s shared life and you should approach the job with a sense of responsibility to provide an incredible experience for your couple. Another thing to avoid is taking on an event that is beyond your current skills. Ensure that your experience aligns with each job you take.
What shutter speed to use for a wedding?
There's no one correct shutter speed for a wedding. Your shutter speed options will depend on the amount of light available, your ISO, your lens aperture settings, how much action you're trying to freeze, and how much of the illumination you want to be from ambient light or flash.
What mode do wedding photographers shoot in?
Most will shoot in primarily manual settings with the exception of autofocus. Today’s cameras have autofocus that will save photographers precious time by automatically focusing on the subject through AF tracking and machine learning.
How to get into wedding photography
If you want to know how to become a professional wedding photographer, you must first understand everything that goes into it to ensure it’s the best path for you personally. Even if you’re the right fit, getting into the industry takes patience and practice. Before photographing a wedding on your own, develop your skills through tutorials and by taking as many photos as you can! Offer friends and family discounted or free sessions to practice posing and interacting with couples.
Consider reaching out to more experienced photographers in your area and ask if they would be interested in having you on as a second shooter for any of their events. That way, you can build your portfolio and gain experience before taking on a large wedding yourself.
Network with photographers in your area through meetups and online groups to ask questions and gain knowledge from others in the profession. Once you have a portfolio of images, you can create a website and market your prices and packages. Social media is another great way to showcase your talent and add free value to potential clients before booking them.
Before booking your first wedding, it’s important to hone in on your skills, your personal style/ aesthetic, and your branding. Consider who your target market might be and market directly to them. And whether you’ve photographed weddings for decades or are just starting out, remember the importance of continued education and striving to improve your craft year after year.
Shooting weddings is not for the faint of heart. It takes preparation, professionalism, people skills, and technical mastery to ensure every couple’s wedding photos are cherished memories they will want to revisit for a lifetime. To start, find the right used wedding photography cameras at KEH.