Story time. Cue the flashback sequence to about 8 years ago when I photographed my very first wedding. You see a very new photographer who had just booked her first wedding on Craigslist for $300. I thought I was hot shit. I left my house ready to kick ass with my Nikon D3000 and brand new 50mm lens. Unfortunately, I learned pretty quickly this lens did not auto focus on my camera body. I also left the house with my single battery still on the charger!
As you can guess, the wedding was a disaster. I left the venue in tears telling myself I’d never shoot another wedding as long as I lived. Well, 8 years and a LOT of learning later, I’m a full time wedding photographer. I average 20 weddings a year, and I love every minute of it! There were a lot of bumps and learning curves along the way, but in that time I’ve learned invaluable information that I wish I had known when first starting out. I’m here today to share some of the top tips for photographers looking to delve into weddings. Hopefully I’ll help a few people not make the same mistakes I did starting out!
First off, know your equipment like the back of your hand.
I can not stress this enough how important it is to know the in’s and out’s of how your gear works!! It doesn’t matter if you’re shooting with a hand me down DSLR that’s 20 years old, or the latest and greatest camera on the market. You NEED to know how to adequately adjust your settings to different lighting situations, and know what settings will help you to achieve the photo that you want. Weddings move FAST. If you waste valuable time fiddling with the dials on your camera praying for a miracle, then you’re doing a disservice to yourself and to your clients.
Practice as much as possible, read the manuals, watch youtube videos, and/or take workshops. There are a million tools out there for photographers to help you gain the skills and knowledge that you need to succeed! My top suggestion for where to start looking for tutorials is Creative Live. They have lots amazing tutorials on all aspects of photography!
Learn to walk before you can run.
So much more goes into being a wedding photographer than just shooting the wedding itself. Knowing the structure and timeline of a wedding day is CRUCIAL to being successful. Before you start looking for second shooting opportunities, look for assistant roles! Watching another photographer in action while they pose a couple, organize family members for portraits, and style wedding details is one of the most beneficial experiences you can have as a novice. I truly don’t think I would be where I am today if a few amazing photographers hadn’t given me the opportunity to learn from their experiences and guide me along the way.
Once you’ve assisted and have learned the ropes, then you can take the next step of looking for second shooting opportunities. Second shooting should not be the time that you’re learning the skills required. Rather it should be the time when you hone in and put those skills to good use! The more you have to offer, the more likely it is that a fellow photographer will be willing to take you under their wing.
All that being said… don’t be afraid to contact local photographers and ask to assist them! You may get a lot of no’s, or some people may completely ignore you. But you will never know if you don’t put yourself out there!
Preparation is key, and will save you butt in the future!
Every person has their own strengths and weaknesses. For me, organization and paperwork is one of my stronger areas! But, that doesn’t mean I haven’t made some major mistakes along the way. (Look out for a separate blog post for some fun stories about that.) Before you start booking wedding clients, you need to have a strong contract, model release, and questionnaire in place. These items will cover your butt in more ways than one! These things help set clear expectations of what your clients can expect, and what you need to deliver to fulfill your obligations.
When it comes to contracts and model releases, it’s crucial that you have a lawyer review your paperwork. Each state has different legal requirements, and you want to be sure that what you’ve having your clients sign is legally binding. Your questionnaires however, are something that you can build over time. I’ve built my questionnaire up over the course of several years, and I’ve found it covers all the important things that I need to know.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
I know that this bit of advice is cliche, and everyone says it. But they say it because it’s true! I made an insane amount of mistakes while I was new and building my business. I still make mistakes daily! But you take those mistakes and you learn from them. I would not be where I am today without all those bumps in the road. Work hard and be persistent and you will be successful.
I’ll end this blog post with one final story, about the first wedding that I booked for myself after my Craigslist debacle. I had second shot for about a year, learned the information that I needed to learn, and felt ready and prepared to take on a wedding by myself.
The first person to put their trust in my abilities was Kate. I had done family photos for her and her sister before. When she got engaged, she called me! To this day, hers is one of my favorite weddings i’ve ever photographed! I was able to do my job well because I was prepared, even when there were less than ideal situations that day. (Yeah, we got hit with a damn MONSOON, but you’d never know it if you check out their blog!) Unlike my very first wedding, I made it through this wedding day with no tears, and a determination that I had found the job I was meant to do!