For photographers:: how to shoot a wedding, part 1 (BEFORE the day)

THIS POST IS WRITTEN FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS.  That being said, if you’re a future bride stumbling across this, this may help you out too when it comes to choosing your photographer and planning your day! So read on. I promise we won’t say bad stuff about you.   😉

9art photography, joplin mo wedding photographer :: hannah & carl at springhouse gardens


I recently had someone let me know that they’d been asked to shoot their first wedding.

Firstly. WHEW! There’s nothing like being the one chosen to capture life-altering moments that can never be repeated again. That’s awesome and amazing. On the other, more stressful side…

You’re the one being chosen to capture life-altering moments that can never be repeated again.

That’s a lot of stress. And that’s why I know amazing, professional, experienced photographers that will never TOUCH a wedding.

But every photographer is different.  Some absolutely live to photograph weddings, and chances are, whether you plan to make weddings your specialty or not, you’re going to be asked to shoot a few.

So whether this is your first wedding or you’ve been at it for a little bit already, here are some tips on how to go about this thing… including several lessons I learned the hard way and would like you to not have to. (so listen to uncle Mark, kiddies).

#1: when you meet up with the bride to talk about her day, listen. very. closely.  

Yes, you have YOUR style, YOUR approach, YOUR equipment, YOUR favorite shots to take… those are important, and these things probably play a good role in why you’ve been hired.  So there’s that… but one thing to never, ever forget is that this is the BRIDE’S day, not yours. If she’s seen your work and hired you, she already trusts your style.  Now it’s time to ask her what she wants from her wedding pictures, and to listen.

Ask her about her wedding day. How she met her fiancee, what her family is like, her sense of humor, how she’s decorating the reception, what’s unique about her big day, what things she’s seen wedding photogs do that she HATES… watch her get excited. Take notes.  Get excited with her! Get as solid a feel as you can for what is important to her. Showing that you care and are listening will help her trust you more later, and knowing what’s important to her is  what you’ll want to remember on the day of.

9art photography, joplin mo wedding photographer :: epic high five wedding party

#2: Make a contract.

Don’t know legal jargon? That’s ok. Chances are,  the bride you’re working with won’t know it either. There are several ways you can go about this… including checking out sites like legalzoom to see wedding contracts that other photographers and lawyers have already written up. You can use one of these for now, altering it how you want, or you can use a couple of these to help give you an idea of how you want yours set up. There’s some big reasons for having a contract. No-one wants to think about them, but they CAN happen.

  • the bride needs to know EXACTLY what she is paying for. Don’t assume. Don’t let her assume. Spell it all out. Explain it in person. Write it down. If prints or a disk or a book are add ons and not included in the fee you’re getting paid, make sure it’s typed up somewhere.  If you’re only planning to be there X amount of hours, clear that up before the day. Then no-one can misunderstand later, and you’ve got the agreement in writing if she wants to say later that you didn’t provide what you promised.
  • The bride can use all the peace of mind she can get.  That contract isn’t just for you, it’s for her too…  you signing off on statements like ‘I’ll be there at the time we agree on and won’t leave before that’ will help set her at ease.
  • If something goes wrong outside of your control- a zombie army hijacks your camera bag and you never see the big-day-memory-card again- you need a contract in place that basically says you can’t be sued. I know you’ll wrestle zombies to the ground to save those wedding images if you have to, but they can be overpowering. And people can still try to sue you in the midst of an apocalypse.

#3:    Set a timeline meeting before the day.

Shooting a wedding isn’t just shooting a wedding. It’s helping plan one. More important than location scouting, knowing about the color schemes, or what cute props to bring… is sitting down with the bride to hash out EXACTLY how the day is going to roll.

What was the biggest news flash for me as a newbie photographer? The fact that bride and the wedding planner are not the only ones in charge of the flow of the day; so am I. It’s not an egotistical statement- just a realization that pictures take up a fair amount of the day, and no-one is better qualified to plan that, than the one taking them.

This is something that will be trickier when you’re starting out… if you haven’t done it yet, you don’t know as well how long to allow for the bridal portraits and other segments of the day. But chances are, you still have a better idea of how long things will take than the bride will .

There’s nothing worse than running out of time to get pictures, because no-one thought to allow time for them. The closest second to that horrible feeling is the one you get when everyone looks at you to let them know what to do next (bc they all know we’ve got to cram the pictures in somewhere) and you have no idea because you never got to talk it over with the bride BEFORE the day. And the bride is no help on the day itself. She’s got so many things, people, and dress alterations stressing her out that she doesn’t have brain space left (if you’ve gotten married, then you’ll know what I’m talking about)!

This is a HUGE part of what I do when I’m working with the couple. When the time comes around to start setting hair appointments and to tell the family what time of day they’re showing up for the formals, I tell the bride to call me, and we set up that meeting to plan out the whole day. Working both backwards & forward from the ceremony (the only locked in time of the day) we decide how long each segment of the day will take and in what order those segments will go. This discussion will vary a lot depending on if you charge hourly, which I do, so time is a very conscious decision on several levels.

We address things like:

  • are the couple open to the groom seeing the bride before the ceremony? (for everything that’s holy, talk the bride into saying YES to this).
  • are we traveling to any spots AWAY from the ceremony location to take portraits? (that’s up to you to suggest, if you have spots in mind)
  • how much of the reception is it important to have coverage of? Some brides are ok with you taking off as soon as the cake is cut… others would like you there for a couple hours of dancing.

The less questions you have to ask the bride the day OF, the better. The timeline meeting sets it up where the bride still has total control and input, but doesn’t have to think about it the day of. That’s good for both of you.

Once we go over all the hairy details, I e-mail that timeline to the bride so she can use it in her itinerary, or, at the very least, pass it on to her wedding party.

Here’s an example from the last wedding I shot…

2:30- photographer arrives. ‘Getting ready pictures’ begin (everything should be ready for the most part except the actual putting on of the dress)
3pm- ‘first sight’
3:30pm- couple portraits / wedding party portraits
5pm- family pictures
5:30pm- chill time (everyone gets in place)
6:30pm- reception begins (eating, visiting, photog gets detail shots)
7:15- reception ‘events’- cake cutting/toasts/bouquet toss/ 1st dances
8:30- photographer exits

9art photography joplin missouri wedding photographer :: kaitlyn & dak passionate wedding portrait

#4: ask for a ‘family formal’ shot list.

I don’t typically ask the bride for a full shot list; it’s common sense to shoot most of the things that are important to her…. the bouquet, her walking down the aisle, cutting the cake, etc etc. If it’s important to the day, it’s automatically important to your camera. (DO ask if there’s anything unusual or special about the day that she wants captured though, and take notes!)
That being said, there’s one part in particular that I may not be able to predict myself… and that’s which family members she wants in pictures, and what combinations thereof.  It’s obvious that mom, dad, groom, & grandparents are in there… but what about cousins, uncles, great aunts, or, in more complicated situations, dad’s new fiancee if the parents are split up? You don’t want the bride to have to make those decisions on the spot during the day, and you won’t be close enough to the family to necessarily make those decisions yourself either.
That’s why I ask the bride to create a list of the exact family pictures she wants, complete with names. After that, I ask her to choose someone (a sister, a friend) who knows a good portion of the family, and isn’t afraid to grab that list and help yell out names and usher people toward the stage so that this brief segment of the day can go smoothly.  I ask the bride to give that entrusted individual the list and inform (well, ask) them of their job.  Then for good measure, it’s also a great idea to print that list out yourself so that you have it if it’s forgotten.
That’s all for part 1. Next week we’ll go into actually SHOOTING the wedding… which is it’s own animal. Happy planning!
9art photography, wedding photographer, joplin missouri :: bridal party fun

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