Top 10 things to do when a friend asks you to photograph their wedding, but you’ve never photographed a wedding before.
First thing you should do is tell your friend that you really appreciate their vote of confidence, but you think they should hire an actual wedding photographer to cover one of the most important days in their lives.
And then you should go out and second shoot for actual wedding photographers at least twenty or thirty times before taking on being a primary wedding photographer yourself.
But, if you’re dead-set on shooting for them, here’s what you should do:
– Watch the hell out of behind the scenes wedding photography videos on Youtube. Find, follow and watch a ton of videos from prominent wedding photographers about all the different aspects of a wedding day. Memorize timelines, memorize hundreds of poses for the bride, groom, bridal party, families.
– If you don’t already have them, rent a professional quality camera body (Canon 5D Mk IV or Nikon D850 for example, or the equivalent/better), and a 24-70 lens, a 50mm lens and 70-200 lens for the week before the wedding and practice shooting with them. The 70-200 is particularly heavy, so get used to carrying that around. You’re going to want a belt or shoulder harness to carry your bodies on.
– If you don’t already have it, and depending on the size of the wedding, rent two to four light stands, two to four off-camera flashes with umbrellas or soft-boxes, learn to use them to light a dance floor and the bridal table. Use off-camera flash for everything except shots you want with natural light. And no, not everything should be shot in natural light, lol.
– Ask to be connected to their vendors, introduce yourself and let them know your timeline so you can all check for overlaps or conflicts.
– Visit the venues in advance to check for trouble areas when it comes to lighting, for awkward angles and to see best lines of sight.
– On the wedding day, dress professionally, even stylishly, but not ostentatiously. Don’t stand out more than the bridal party.
– Bring a large backpack or bag with scissors, tape, needle and thread, a screwdriver, small hammer, knife or box cutter, band-aids/bandages, extra water, energy bars, pens, batteries, safety pins, bobby pins, hairspray, a comb/brush, basic makeup items, and headache medicine.
– Speaking of batteries, bring extra batteries for all your equipment, too, and way more memory cards than you think you’ll need.
– Charge everything the night before. Don’t charge much earlier than that because some batteries lose power over several days.
– Have an actual contract with your friend even though they’re your friend. Make it a real contract, not something you found online. Have a contract attorney write it or at least verify one that you wrote. Make sure that your contract includes verbiage that specifies your lack of experience and that the Bride & Groom understand that lack of experience and accept it, and that you can’t be held liable for mistakes made due to your inexperience.
– Take part of your payment in advance, the rest the week of the wedding. Yes, you absolutely want to be paid for this. If you do your job correctly, it will be a lot of work with significant stress, and you deserve to earn something for your efforts. You should absolutely not shoot for free. Research wedding prices in your area, and if you want, you can give the Bride & Groom a great discount because of your lack of experience.
– Set deadlines and stick to them. Plan in advance for editing time, and make sure you deliver when you say you will, or sooner. If you find yourself falling behind, don’t wait to contact the B&G, let them know right away and keep them informed as you progress.
– Check in with the B&G often and regularly, both before and after their wedding.
– Have the B&G provide a single person for assisting you during the wedding day – someone who knows the families. It can be the coordinator or a family member/friend.
There’s a MOUNTAIN more that you should know prior to photographing someone’s “big day”, but this should get you started. Really, though, you should consider not taking on this role with zero or very little experience. You don’t get to do a wedding over again. And let’s also be clear: even if you’re an experienced photographer, that experience does not automatically translate to wedding photography.
A comment from a reader: Sure, I’ve never done a wedding before, but I’m a professional photographer and my friend (the bride) knows and is happy with the quality of my work.
Namu: If only it was just the quality of your photography that mattered. What’s probably more important is the experience you have (or don’t have)…knowing when a certain shot opportunity is about to happen, being able to know the best angles to shoot the couple during the ceremony, or knowing specific lighting circumstances that happen in churches, especially when the officiant doesn’t allow flash, or low-light areas or areas where the lighting changes dramatically from one minute to the next. Knowing when it’s time to switch lenses or bodies so you’re ready for the next shot. Knowing how to engage with guests and children in a fun and easy way to get those awesome “wedding party” shots everyone loves.
And most important? Knowing all of these things so well that you don’t have to think about them, and you don’t miss shots because you weren’t sure where to be or where to look or what to be ready for. Why is it so important? Because you can’t do it over. Period.
There are a lot of great reasons to not be the primary photographer for someone’s wedding if you haven’t done it before or if you’re very inexperienced, but if you’re going to take on the job anyway, all I ask is that you work really hard to study and learn as much as possible beforehand. Photographing a wedding event is very different from shooting regular events, and wedding portraiture (especially on a serious time constraint) is very different from regular portraiture when you have plenty of time to adjust and experiment.