Ten Truths About Wedding Photography

Ten Truths About Wedding Photography

Whether you're an established wedding photographer or aspiring to be, here are some truths about wedding photography that will make you say "yep" or "I had no idea!"

1. You Should Love Weddings

Every time I am asked if someone should go into wedding photography, my first response is always, “Do you love weddings?” There are so many genres of photography and weddings are a beast of their own so my advice is that if you don’t love weddings, you will probably burn out quickly. Why? Keep reading.

2. The Easiest Part of the Process Is Shooting the Wedding

Before I started shooting weddings, I had no idea the hours upon hours I would spend after the wedding culling through thousands of photos and editing. A lot of times, the wedding day was the most social part of my job. The rest of the time I was sitting in front of a computer editing for days on end.

3. It’s Exhausting

Shooting weddings are hard on the body. You are typically running around for at least eight hours carrying a bag full of heavy gear with little time to stop. You can easily go for hours without water and food without even thinking about it. There’s a thing in the industry called post-wedding hangover. It’s true. My body is so worn out the next day that I usually don’t do a thing. Nor do I want to.

4. You'll Be Hungry

Because you are on the go most of the day, there just isn't really time to eat. Sometimes you don't even notice it. You can also easily go without water if you aren't paying attention. This contributes to the exhaustion at the end of the day so I always like to keep a snack on hand in my bag just in case I find a few moments here and there to replenish myself.

5. Everyone Should Do an Engagement Session

I cannot stress this enough and if you are photographer and don’t include this in your packages I would highly recommend reconsidering it. There is a night and day difference in my interaction and relationship with my couples when they would have an engagement session versus when they don’t. Ninety percent of the time couples are not comfortable in front of the camera. Having time outside of the wedding day to get to know each other a little bit, practice posing, seeing how the couple interacts, makes such a difference. Plus, it makes photos go faster on the actual wedding day because the couple is already familiar with the process.

6. A Photo Specific Timeline Goes a Long Way

In the beginning of my wedding career, I would just use the planner's timeline, however I quickly realized that wasn’t enough. I was always running out of time or certain things wouldn’t make sense for photos. I found the more specific I was timing photos, the more the couple was aware of how everything would go and would prepare everyone else. I learned how long it would take me to shoot different parts of the day and if it was at least allotted for on the timeline, I almost always had some time to shoot if the wedding day went awry. My biggest lesson in this was when the couple didn’t do a first look and the ceremony ran behind. When it came to family photos everyone was scattered and it was sort of a disaster. In a situation where I was already short on time, I didn’t need it wasted on finding the people needed to photograph. After that I started naming every single family member that was to be photographed and named every family photograph on the timeline so that everyone knew who was needed and when. It also made it easier for the couple because they got to spend time thinking about what family photos they wanted before the wedding day so on the day of there were far less add on photos and family members couldn’t take over this portion adding a million photos in.

7. Very Rarely Does the Wedding Day Go According to Plan

You can have all the timeline planning in the world but I can guarantee you it won’t go perfectly. Things will run behind, people will panic, you will have to shoot fast and probably not where you planned to. As wedding photographers things can change quickly, but the key is being able to think quick and adapt easily.

8. You Need to Know How to Use Lighting

Just saying you’re a natural light photographer isn’t enough. Wedding photographers have to be incredibly versatile, knowing how to shoot candids, details, portraits, and action while also dealing with constantly changing lighting situations. When the sun goes down and the reception gets going you need to be able to utilize lighting to make the photo look good. Don’t just convert it to black and white because the skin tones are off because you didn’t use flash. If you aren’t comfortable with flash, test it, try it out, and make yourself practice with it. Ask someone who does it the way you like for some advice. If you totally aren’t comfortable with flash, try using LED lights. This can be a lot simpler. The problem is they aren’t as powerful and the battery life. True story. The first wedding I ever shot all I knew about flash was to bounce it. I showed up on the wedding day and it was entirely inside a dark hotel and shooting outside wasn’t an option (seems impossible and it's the only time this has ever happened in my wedding career, but it wasn’t). I had to use flash and really I didn’t know what I was doing. The clients knew they were my first wedding and the risks that came with that. I made it work and I bounced flash all over the place. I cringe at the photos now, but I learned a lot that day and after that was determined to make myself learn and master lighting in any situation.

9. In Addition to a Second Shooter, Hire an Assistant

It took me about eight years of shooting before I finally started doing this and man it makes a world of difference. Having someone there just to help you when you need it is incredible. I would have them help carry my gear, hold a light, or even just make sure I have water. It doesn’t sound like much, but after the first time I did it I was not nearly as exhausted at the end of the day. This isn’t a skilled position, they don’t even need to be a photographer. So it doesn’t need to be paid like a second shooter, but it’s well worth the money.

10. It’s Incredibly Rewarding

This is what kept me photographing weddings for so long. I got to work with some amazing couples. Being able to give them photos from the most important day of their lives up until that point, that they can treasure forever makes it all worth it. Seeing them use the images in books, their homes, and on cards and the joy it brought them made me so incredibly happy that I got to be a small part in such a significant moment.

Wedding Dress: Carrie's Bridal | Models: Andresa Mueller and Evan Hill
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32 Comments

I feel #5 is the most important. It's like a dress rehearsal for the day of the wedding. The wedding shots will be sooooo much better if you had an engagement session beforehand. If I ever did weddings, I'd make in mandatory.

Bill Wells's picture

I do weddings and you hit the nail on the head with every point. We serve the south. In the south folks like to feed everybody so we always have food to eat. I'm a big boy so that is important. But, southern weddings are different than anywhere else. Once you get to the venue it's like everyone is family or VIP company. Guests, family, vendors are all treated much the same.

When I get in after a full day, I start my cards copying to the hard drives and go to bed.

This is a great article simply presented and very informative. Maybe, I have a biased view. Ha Ha

Tom Weis's picture

Yeah wow, it's a lot different in NYC at least with high-end gigs... frequently I'm treated like any of the other "hired help". I was once offered a lousy peanut butter sandwich by kitchen staff while the guests enjoyed lobster dinners.
I carry a snack bar and a bag of peanut M&Ms to stay fueled.

Brock Torunski's picture

That's rough, in Atlantic Canada, we basically feed ourselves until supper time (I keep a cooler with food and drinks in my car for the day). I include in my contracts that I am to be given both a seat and to be fed whatever meal is offered at the reception. It's the only time we get to take a break and every couple fully understands that here.

David Pavlich's picture

Good stuff, Bill! My son is a wedding photographer in Baton Rouge/New Orleans and if you've ever been there, you know the people there 'live to eat'. He never goes hungry at the weddings or events he shoots. My wife and I lived in and around New Orleans for 20+ years and regardless of what sort of gathering attended, you know that there will be food. :-) Tough place to stay slim and trim.

Bill Wells's picture

Gumbo and Jambalaya. I use to live in Bossier City (shreveport) when I was stationed at Barksdale AFB. Those people do know how to part and eat. LOL

Maybe I'll run into him one day. Never know.

David Pavlich's picture

Home of the B52! This is a busy time for him. Not many couples like to get married during the summer months...can't blame them.

And just for yucks, my wife made a King Cake using a bread machine to make the dough...her first official home made King Cake.

Drastically different than the Northeast. I have shot weddings where they stopped and made sure you ate- and others where if you got to eat, it was in the back in another area, away from others. I just pack water, protein bars, and a thermos of hot food that I eat when going from one venue to the next.

Bill Wells's picture

I've heard that, but never experienced it personally. The thing about people in the south, they always think you need to eat.

If you were to just visit someone unannounced, it would be like this, Hey, I'm so glad you came by. We've got some meatloaf that's still hot and some ham if you would like a sandwich instead. I'll put on some coffee how do you like yours.

After much prodding you accept a piece of meatloaf. Then they say, "Do you like that meatloaf?", I've got some more I can wrap up in aluminum foil for you to take with you.

The most important thing and the biggest obligation a Southerner has, is to feed their guests.

Maybe that is changing with the younger generation and take out food. So today, it's likely to be, come on in, we'll run to Taco Bell or KFC which one you like. LOL

I did over 350 weddings in 6 years and every point on here is spot on. And if you are lead photographer, remember that its hard on your 2nd and assistants as well. Be a team leader, keep your workers fed, keep morale up, and you will have an amazing wedding

Oliver Saillard's picture

I don't know if I'm impressed or terrified by your number of weddings. How do you do that ? Do you shoot every single week or do you have weddings on weekdays ?

Bill Wells's picture

I'm with you. According to the The Artist Group (Photographers in NJ,NY), he has shot 100 weddings as a second shooter. Of course whether a person is primary or second does not matter. Both are skilled and both work just as much.

But he may have used the 350 number more as an example instead of actual number.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Yeah, not portfolio to be found so nope.

Just one more...weddings are breeding grounds for germs. One person with the flu has single handedly wiped out 30 out of 100 people that attended. I came home and without showing symptoms yet gave it to my wife and at least two kids....they went to school with no symptoms and who knows now how many it'll affect!

Bill Wells's picture

We take flu shots, which I think helps.

Marcin Świostek's picture

Interesting read. I was thinking of getting into that game, but you got me at point #1. ;)

Brock Torunski's picture

#1 is important to a degree. I suppose my love for shooting couples, sometime trumps my dislike for weddings overall. I'm at an advantage, as where I live in Canada, weddings are seasonal. The only weddings I do during the winter months would be destination weddings to the Caribbean. Otherwise, I shoot essentially every weekend from late May to late November or mid December. Getting mid December to part way through May off from weddings helps keep you sane. I've been photographing and filming weddings for 10 years.

Marcin Świostek's picture

Nice portfolio, Brock. Good point. I have never tried to shoot couples, so it's hard for me to say. What I think I might like is the part of shooting that doesn't involve posing. I shoot concerts and I feel comfortable shooting people who are doing their thing without minding me. (Although they strike a pose sometimes; they're on stage after all). The part I would have problems with is the photo session before or after the wedding. I did it once for my sister and it was ok, but I just didn't feel it.

Brock Torunski's picture

There's definitely posing aspects to weddings, however it isn't too bad. Just reference a few shots online and go from there. Every pose can typically have multiple adjustments to help fill any gaps you may run into. For example if they're just holding hands and standing straight on with you, then change where they're looking. Do one where he looks at her, and she looks at the camera, then vise versa, then both at eachother, laugh, kiss, etc. etc. It becomes pretty much routine after a while. If you want to test the waters, then I'd try 2nd shooting with another photographer. You get to see the ropes and also be the candid photographer (like at an event and whatnot).

Tom Weis's picture

********** Five More Event Photographer Truths **********
1. You give up your weekends, especially the summer ones, way in advance.
2. You have to be a GOOD people person.
3. You have to perform responsibly under pressure.
4. Seasonal income fluctuations, e.g. “Feast or Famine”
5. Event photography is not an easy way to make a buck.

Kelly Lane's picture

Ha all true. I'm sure this list could easily go to 50 :)

spot on! i can relate to all of them.

Travis Alex's picture

Point #11: It will most likely become your niche for life.

This article is accurare though.

user-225853's picture

Up until the mid 1990's, wedding photography was defined by an album with 12 photos, each one a classic pose. I never photographed a wedding longer than 2 1/2 hours, and was ALWAYS invited by the bride and groom to dine with the other guests.

I never hired a second photographer or assistant. Things have changed...

Mr Hogwallop's picture

I sort of LoL that a story with the title "Ten Truths about Wedding Photography" used models in the lead photo.

I wanted to see if I should do weddings, so early in my photography career I did about 30 of them. Although my clients loved my work, I considered myself a B+ wedding photographer. I decided to let those A+ wedding photographers really shine and focus on commercial photography where I felt I was A+.

So with that as my experience background, I would add one more thing: shoot the rehearsal dinner. Here's why.

First, you'll get to see who the very most important people are at the wedding, so you won''t miss them in candids and may even goose their presence a bit in the mix of people you shoot. Second, you'll give everyone a chance to get to know you and your personality, so that by the wedding day they will love you. Even those who "hated having my picture taken" were pretty much posing for a shot every time I went past them, and the wedding party saw me as a fun addition to the energies and spirit of the day.

All great points, and trust me, even those of us outside of the wedding photography arena find the post-shooting work the loneliest and most arduous part of the entire photographic equation.

"There’s a thing in the industry called post-wedding hangover. It’s true. My body is so worn out the next day that I usually don’t do a thing. Nor do I want to."

this is so true. after a wedding I feel so fatigued. carrying heavy gear, 12+ hours that go from 12pm to 2am. 300 guests is the default average of people but almost always goes north of that, not less.

on the whole I agree with this post, which I hardly do because its written by people who have no idea what theyre talking about, but this is exactly what I as a veteran wedding photographer go through

I will add about lighting that if you dont know lighting, dont even start. every single pro photographer, will, when necessary shoot with flashes and will never say ":im a natural light shooter" because he knows hopw critical flash is at times. we all have times when we shoot without them, but every pro knows how to use flashes if and when he needs it. learn to use flash, it will open up your options for creative images.

I dont believe in that "telling a story" nonsense. thats an american made up joke but I LOVE capturing emotions and memories in images for my couples. I also shoot when people look to the camera, but everyone loves images when you capture a moment or even emotion without intruding. thursday I shot a wedding. the mother of the groom passed away. in the ceremony when mentioning her, buckets of tears everywhere and I was capturing all of it. thats what we do. we document the wedding. and btw, those who dont shoot the food because they thing its something minuscule. consider this. the couple payed a lot of money and spent time to choose their food. add a few pictures so in many years down the line they can see that also. there are a lot of small things to photograph that tie the wedding complete.

I will add 11-you MUST connect well with your couple way before the wedding.

Sean Sauer's picture

Every time I think about doing weddings I remember how much I hate them and how miserable I would be shooting them so that's very true. lol!

"Before I started shooting weddings, I had no idea the hours upon hours I would spend after the wedding culling through thousands of photos and editing. A lot of times, the wedding day was the most social part of my job. The rest of the time I was sitting in front of a computer editing for days on end."

Outsource, my friend. It's a game-changer.

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