How to Photograph Your First Wedding

How to Photograph Your First Wedding

As a photographer, at some point a friend, relative, co-worker, or a follower will ask you to photograph their wedding. Regardless of whether you are a product photographer, pet photographer, or any other kind of photographer that has nothing to do with weddings, they will ask you. And at some point, you will say yes, which is probably how you have found this article.

Once you have agreed to this daunting task, the fear starts setting in and you start Googling everything you might need to know. There is a lot of snobbery about photographers starting out who are “not good enough” yet, but in reality, no one is ever good enough or ready for their first wedding. I assisted on several hundred before I shot one alone. After all of my practice I was pretty sure that I was ready, but shooting it as the primary photographer is a very different experience. 

Here are some useful tips to get you ready for your first wedding.

Have at Least Two Cameras

If there was to be a time when you really couldn’t afford for your kit to die, it would be at a wedding. Most hobbyists only own one camera, so head out and rent or borrow a second body. If you own an entry-level DSLR, do not rent two pro bodies for the big day. You will be far better off with two entry-level camera that you know how to use than you will with a high-end pro camera that you have only had 48 hours to be acclimated to. In the high pressure world of weddings, being familiar with your kit is so important

Keep It Simple

Unless you are really familiar with off-camera flash, remote cameras, and elaborate portrait setups, don’t even attempt it. Weddings have an additional level of stress that my day-to-day commercial work does not bring. It is far better to nail loads of natural light portraits where you have focused on how the couples looks than it is to try some fancy flash work and completely mess it up. On the day, shoot within yourself and capture the important moments.

Use Small Memory Cards

Use lots of small memory cards rather than one 32 GB card. If a 4 GB card corrupts, it will be far less stressful than if your 32 GB card dies just after the last dance. If your camera has two card slots, make sure you use them.

Don’t Take Too Much Kit

Yes, you need at least two bodies, a few lenses, and some flash guns. But keep it simple. You don’t want to be forever changing lenses and wondering what the right tool for the job is. I shoot 90 percent of my weddings with a 35mm and 85mm focal length. It keeps everything simple and removes any options for me to worry about.

Take Lots of Batteries

Camera batteries short, wear out, and die. Make sure you have more than enough. I generally have 10 batteries for my camera in my bag at all times. Mostly because I shoot almost every day of the week and I don't always get a chance to charge, but also because they can just randomly die. 

Also, make sure you have plenty of batteries for your flash guns and any remotes or triggers.

Keep a Paper Copy of Everything

When we work on weddings we have the entire schedule and details on our phones. All it takes is for 4G to drop, a battery to die, or for the phone to be dropped and lost and we would be in a pickle. Regardless of the job, I always have a paper copy of the itinerary in a separate bag just in case.

Back It Up

After the wedding, make sure you back up your work before you go to bed. My method is to head to the studio where I import to Lightroom copying the files to both my studio hard drive and cloud and to my “in transit” hard drive that lives in my satchel. Then when I get home I copy the files from my in transit drive to my home drive. Once I have done this I format the cards. This way, if I ever put a card into a camera and see images on it, I know they have evaded back up somehow. This saves the stress of formatting a card whilst thinking, “Pretty sure I have that backed up.”

For those wedding photographers out there, please add any additional point in the comments. Everyone has to start somewhere, and in weddings, it is usually a daunting task.

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11 Comments

Thomas Starlit's picture

Great writeup! I am in fact doing my first wedding this Saturday, and it landed in my lap just the way you described. I was planning to do exactly as the article recommends, so I must be doing something right. Wish me luck!

Mat Tam's picture

Best of Luck @Thomas Starlit on your first wedding
- Bring a small notebook and pen, use it to write down the name of all the important people; the parents, close friends, and family. They will be impressed that you still remember their names after 8 hours.
- Bring plenty of business cards. Tell them they can see the photos on your website in a few weeks.

Great tips. I don't agree with having smaller sd/cf cards though. Max it out to 64gb and be done with it. Use bodies that support dual slots. More likely to lose a card during the day than dual card corruption. Also test newly opened cards prior to an event. If your body doesn't support dual card slots then personally I wouldn't shoot a wedding.

Lee Patterson's picture

I agree completely Tim with your comments. I remember when shooting weddings with my Hasselblad, some of my friends would only shoot 120 film because you could only get 12 frames on that roll, compared to 220 film with a "staggering" 24 frames! LOL. I feel much better having dual card slots and using 64 gig cards. It just keeps things simple with not having to change cards out during the wedding.

Al Koenig's picture

I have to add, "If using flash, carry a backup unit as well". I was shooting, of all things, my daughters wedding...my flash had been bullet proof for years, so I opted to leave my back ups at home, (destination wedding), and carry a back up body instead. About 10 shots in, my flash imploded...I was sick to my stomach...had to use pop up instead and was unable to shoot all the images I had imagined...

That's a bummer, sorry. Indeed, it depresses me how many wedding photographers only have 1-2 flashes. I usually have 8 with me at weddings, mostly backups and a few powerful strobes when needed. I usually run with 1-3 flashes during the day.

Aside from flash backups, I find most photographers clueless on how to create flattering light with flash. Really not that difficult from strategic on-camera bounce flash techniques to off camera lighting. My first paid photo project was 100% studio flash, so I'm biased and also fortunate to learn from the start.

Tom Robertson's picture

nice! Great tips!

Make sure you know who are the important family members. Have a list of the mothers/fathers/grandparents/siblings of the bride and groom. Do not make the error of not capturing everyone on that list. If there are 2 grandparents present, you want to make sure you capture them sometime during the event.

In my day stuff must some how have been much better and more reliable. A single T L R, five rolls of film and every shot had to be a good one, no one with eyes closed. Braun F800 manual flash gun for artificial sunlight/fill in, handled well it was less harsh than these modern things due to the massive flash head....on an important wedding proofs had to be delivered to the reception that evening....before taking more photos. Keep it simple and make the best of the kit you know. If you must hire a camera use a medium format as a standard lens on this will give a wider field of view and better differential focus at the same time. Avoid wide lens use unless you have no other option, you may struggle on APS format to get a Pro look to your images. A good lens is a must. A good prime is better than a cheap zoom. Shoot raw or you may find the dress blown out and that's a catastrophe. Think about the images you are creating and don't get carried away with the equipment.

Scott Choucino's picture

sound advice.

I did my first, and only, wedding many years back. It was a pot luck wedding, with pot luck photographers. No particular stress, 'cause the results didn't matter that much. I won't do it for anything more formal. You get what you pay for.