You have your gear, you have your shot list, so you're ready to go out and shoot the perfect eight-hour wedding, right? Wrong! Being prepared for a wedding day is about more than just having your camera ready to go. Before leaving for your wedding shoot, you need to be prepared to perform at your best. A big part of that is developing a routine, similar to an athlete, that places you in peak performance and the best position to succeed. When I walk out the door for a wedding I have two main things on my mind other than the images that my client needs. One is that I am now a living breathing ambassador for my brand and the other is that the content for this shoot, and every shoot, is future marketing material.
Let's look at each of those items first.
Developing a Routine
Before getting into what my routine is and what things I do before leaving for a wedding or any shoot, let's touch on the importance of a routine. There is the obvious that the steps in your routine are probably essential to you showing up with a camera that is ready to take pictures, but there is more to it than that. I intentionally mentioned earlier that you are developing a routine similar to how an athlete does. In sports it's key for athletes to have a routine for a concept known as anchoring. The simple steps of eating at a certain time, tying your shoes a certain way, and even ticks like cracking your neck or scratching your arm can be keys to one's anchoring system. If you pay attention to combat athletes in particular, you'll notice them consistently do odd things that look like ticks and seem completely insignificant, but these physical habits are putting there mind and body in position to perform. It's almost like reminding your subconscious mind and body that we are about to do this particular activity again so get ready. These routines subconsciously prepare us to be at our best. Develop a routine so that you consciously and subconsciously are prepared to perform at your best.
Living Breathing Ambassador
When you leave for any shoot, you are representing your brand. Furthermore, anyone that is with you is representing your brand including your second shooters and assistants. How you dress, carry yourself, and interact with people all reflect on your company and are huge to your future success. I have an unblemished record on my Knot account, all 5 star reviews, and as awesome as that is, there is also the stress that if one photo assistant has a bad day then that untarnished record could go out the door. Also keep in mind that if you go out and shoot a wedding with 200 guests that there are then 200 people who will potentially talk about you to their engaged friends and each venue and vendor you work with that day will also share their opinions with future clients. My wedding photography brand, Nicoll's Wedding Photography, is built on the idea that we are a refined and elegant brand that brings our clients the love and care that they also bring to their weddings, so it's key that we look like our brand and act like our brand. We need to be a physical representation of our brand. In previous branding articles, I have talked about developing the "who" of your brand. Well when we walk out the door for our shoots, we are the "who."
Future Marketing Material
As photographers, our body of marketing material is comprised of our own work. We can put on styled shoots and promotional shoots, which I think you should, but every wedding, engagement shoot, and bridal shoot is a marketing opportunity. Of course we are shooting for the client, and what matters more than anything else is that the bride and groom get what they want and love the images, but I believe that if you shoot with the mindset that you need to be able to blog and get your shoot published, then the quality of your shoot will far surpass the expectations of your client. Once I know the locations and style leanings of my bride I will try to think of a blog where that wedding may fit (of course you never really know). I will then look at their standards and expectations for that publication or site. So, if I walk out the door on every wedding day with the mindset that this shoot needs to be good enough to get published, then not only do I have a chance for killer marketing material but I know my clients expectations will be exceeded.
What Steps To Take Before Leaving For The Shoot
It's a given that before you leave you are going to pack your gear. Try to run through every scenario in your head for what can go wrong and if it does, what gear you would need for plan B and plan C. The key things I would like to point out is make sure your camera batteries are charged, your flash batteries are ready (and backup batteries), and that (and here is the key) your cards are pre-formatted and ready to shoot. I don't put my batteries in my camera until I'm ready to shoot, but I make sure that my cards are formatted and in my camera, so as soon as I put the battery in I am clicking away. Also, make sure your next set of cards are formatted and ready to shoot as well. We can all easily lose track of how many shots we have left on our cards, but we don't want to lose track, have to change cards, and then format cards while a key moment or event is taking place.
Eat and be prepared to refuel. Evening weddings can be a little bit easier. Make sure you eat in the morning and eat lunch before you leave, but also pack energy bars in case the you need them later in the day. The plan is that you will get to take a break at some point during reception to eat what is being served there, but as you know things don't always go as planned. If you want to be at your best at 11 p.m. while shooting a beautiful exit shot, you want to make sure you aren't miserable or sick because you haven't eaten since you left your house 12 hours earlier. Packing snacks is even more essential for day weddings. The timing of food service is often not ideal for the photographers to be able to eat. This past weekend me, my assistant, and second shooter found ourselves eating Bourbon Street Pizza after we ran through our supply of granola bars during our 9 hour day, but you do what you have to to make sure you are feeling good and can perform at your best.
When shooting back-to-back weddings one day after the other, it is even more essential to hydrate like crazy. It is very commonplace for wedding photographers to get dehydrated. While it is easy to rehydrate and start feeling good the next day, a back-to-back wedding weekend may require you to pay more attention to your water intake.
I know I'm going to lose some of you guys here and maybe even spark a healthy debate, but I'm not a subscriber to the notion that wedding photographers are suppose to dress in all black. For one, I don't think we are blending in or being inconspicuous by dressing in all black, and secondly wearing a uniform so to speak makes me feel like a lower-end service. Remember we are ambassadors for our brands, so dress well. People interact with us in the same manner that we present ourselves. By dressing sharply and looking good we are more prone to acting and interacting with confidence and we are more likely to leave a confident and lasting impression. Take care in how you dress and groom before leaving for every shoot.
Know Their Names
Names are important to their owners. Think of your own experiences. If you see someone for the second or third time and they hit you with the, "Hey you!" how do you feel? You most likely know immediately they don't remember your name and therefore you feel less important to them. On the other hand when someone did remember your name, especially someone you didn't expect, you are pleasantly surprised and you feel like you must be important or matter to that person. Before leaving, make sure you can quickly recall the names of your bride and groom and that your second shooters also know their names. If you have interacted with the bride's mom or best friend, try to keep a list of their names as well. They will be pleasantly surprised and impressed when you call them by their names. Starting off on positive footing can have a snowball effect for the entire day.
Sometimes the morning before a wedding is calm and sometimes it's hurried and hectic, but it's important for me to remind myself that I am heading out to do a creative activity that I really enjoy. I try to set aside at least 15 minutes — either before I get in the car to leave or before I get out of the car to head to the first venue — to sit quietly and get into a centered and creative headspace. I try to get calm and block out anything that may have caused the day to be hectic and to think about the importance of being creative and how much fun and joy I actually get out of these days. I try to think of the client and their experience. Their wedding is this special once-in-a-lifetime day filled with spontaneous and beautiful moments. I try to sit quietly and think about how they are going to feel when the see their future spouse for the first time, when the have their first kiss, first dance, etc. It's amazing how just going from feeling rushed and like you are heading off to get the job done to feeling like there is going to be this awesome set of life moments happening can change your whole mood and perspective. Walking into your day mentally in the right spot is key to capturing the type of images you and your client want.
There's always a few things you should have in your bag that have nothing to do with photography. I already mentioned having backup batteries and an emergency food supply, but here are few other items I had in my bag this weekend:
- Headache Medicine
- Granola Bars
- Wood Hanger
- Small Bungee Cords
- Confetti Sticks
- Business Cards
Now, I don't always carry all of these things with me every weekend, but you get the idea that it's important to think of all the little pitfalls you can encounter. The confetti sticks are something I actually only brought with me this once and it was because the bride and groom had a particularly unique day planned. Once the ceremony ended they had a day planned that was basically one large mobile party that included three venues and two second lines. I thought tossing confetti in the streets of New Orleans was right up their alley so I wanted to surprise them. It's more about letting them know that you are in tune with them and their personality and plans than anything else, but it also makes an impression on your clients.
I would love to hear from you all on little things you do and things you bring on your shoots to be prepared.