Too many times I see people asking how to photograph a wedding, because they were somehow wrangled by friends/family to shoot an upcoming wedding. They are “on a budget” or “loved the photos you did of your kids/pets” and that is fantastic. This blog post is not to discourage those who are qualified from taking on the very important role of shooting a wedding, but to help give you insight of things you need to be aware of. There is nothing wrong with saying you are not ready, not qualified, or uncomfortable shooting the wedding. Hopefully this blog will help you understand where you stand.
So are you ready? These are things that you should consider before answering this question.
Do you have adequate gear and knowledge of that gear?
I hate to start with gear, but it is usually the easiest and most quantifiable criteria for knowing if you are ready.
I posted a few blogs about the gear I use and the equipment I believe is necessary for professional wedding photography but I will go over more of the basic information here, once again. If you are going to be doing this, I honestly believe it is completely necessary to have 2 camera bodies (preferably SLRs) and several lenses. Although its preferable to use L lenses and those with a maximum aperture of 2.8, but most novice shooters do not have this. Shooting in difficult situations, like churches, may limit your gear and require you to use more expensive/specific gear, in which case there is always renting. Lensrentals.com (the place I use) and borrowlenses.com are often the ones that are brought up, but also check your local camera store to see if they rent gear. In addition to the bodies and lenses, make sure you have enough memory cards and batteries. Once you feel you have enough, double that amount and you should be alright. A flash is imperative to shooting a wedding, and if you do not have one, buy or rent one. I have been using Younguno 560 for my off camera flashes and they work great – not bad for a $70 flash. Although they do not have ETTL (basically auto mode) they are still great units and can work for those on a budget. If you are looking for ETTL, I believe the YN-450 has it?
In addition to the previous blogs I linked to, I feel you now have a good feeling on what equipment I recommend and use, and what I feel is absolutely necessary. If you have any questions about gear, feel free to email me any questions.
The most important part of equipment though is knowing how to use it, intimately. If you do not know the functions of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO and how they relate to each other than you should not be shooting a wedding. In addition, knowing the focusing modes, metering modes, the difference and when to use M, Av, Tv, and the difference between RAW and JPG. Without turning this into a JPG vs. RAW blog (they both have advantages and disadvantages) if you are shooting a wedding, especially early on, shoot RAW. Even if you do not know how to edit it yet, this gives you the protection of, if and when you screw up on exposure or white balance, either you or the couple can take the photos to a professional color lab that will be able to improve the quality.
If you do not meet the standards for having the proper gear, or knowledge of how to use it, you are not ready to shoot a wedding.
Are you able to find/manipulate light?
This sounds pretty basic, but takes years to really understand, and longer to master. My minimal tips here – pay attention to light. Try to get the couple or group in consistent lighting, either shade or back lighting, and avoid speckled and direct sun. It looks bad, and it will be obvious that you do not know what you are doing.
If what I have said here has gone over your head, or you dont understand good lighting, you should not be shooting a wedding.
Do you know the flow of the the wedding?
Sounds pretty basic, I know, but it is important. Timelines help with this, but knowing what comes next, especially things that are not on the timeline, is really important. This is also important to know how to catch up when you are running behind. What can you push back a little, where is there cushion built in to the timeline, what is most important, and how much light is left are all important questions you need to know the answers to.
The best thing you can do is to work with other photographers as an assistant or second shooter, but I understand that is not always available. The next best thing is to ask a few of them out to lunch, and not only photographers. Ask a few wedding planners and ask for tips, things they have seen gone wrong and how to prevent some unfortunate mishaps.
If you are unwilling to put in the effort before the wedding to do a little research, you are not ready to shoot a wedding.
Are you comfortable posing and directing people?
Although this may sound easy, it is actually one of the more difficult things in photographing weddings. Often in lower budget weddings the couple could not afford a wedding planner, and people will be looking for you to direct them. Often you will have to tell people where to stand, when to smile, arrange them so they arent standing next to someone they hate, teach the bride and groom how to cut the cake, or make the couple look they best they can possibly look. There is a fine line between bossy and authoritative (like there is a fine line between cocky and confident) and you have to be able to walk this line flawlessly, and often when people are getting tired of standing in front of your camera. If you are fiddling with your camera or look flustered, you will lose their respect and it will be that much harder to manage.
If you cannot direct and pose people in a quick and efficient manner while keeping your composure, you are not ready to shoot a wedding.
Do you have insurance?
Some venues require you to have insurance to shoot, and without it you will not be allowed to photograph as the professional. Liability insurance is vitally important, and if someone trips over your bag or stand and gets hurt, it can save your life financially.
Insurance for your camera gear is another good thing to have. Anyone with any bit of camera equipment should have thing in my personal opinion, but if you do not have it for the wedding it is not the end of the world. You are just putting yourself in danger, not your client.
If you do not have liability insurance, you are not ready to shoot a wedding.
Have you set clear expectations of your performance, and can you exceed those expectations?
Get a contract. I don’t care if it is your brother, best friend, mother or grandfather getting married, get a contract. It doesn’t matter if you are getting paid or not, this gives you legal protection and sets expectations explicitly. The contract should list when the images will be ready, what you will be delivering to them, what conditions will you not tolerate, do you get fed, etc. I found a great contract here. It is drafted by a lawyer, but to get complete legal protection make sure you have a lawyer check it out to make sure it works in your area. $50 for a contract is worth not having to deal with the headache.
Also, make sure they have seen your work. Im not talking about your landscape photos or ones you took at the zoo, but things the apply directly to what you are doing. People, details, and flash photography are all important aspects to getting photos. Invite them to do a free engagement shoot with you. This way you are comfortable with shooting them, they become comfortable with being in front of the camera, and can see the end result of what you can do. This will give them realistic expectations on your skill level, and will be what they can look forward to for their wedding photos. If they do not like them and decide to go with someone else, at least you can still maintain your relationship and you aren’t the person who ruined their wedding.
If you cannot dedicate a few hours to set expectations or are unwilling to look into contracts, you are not ready to shoot a wedding.
Do you have a workflow and plan for editing/delivering the photos?
Editing photos is a lot of work, and be prepared for a good work week in front of the computer. You need to be able to know how to organize your photos, back them up, and deliver them. If you cannot edit them yourself, pay someone to do it. The sites I have seen are about $0.40 an image and will get you presentable images as long as you composed them well and got them in focus within a good range of the exposure. I strongly dislike the idea of shooting the wedding in full jpg and handing the card over at the end of the night. You are the photographer, and you should take your work seriously. If anything, shoot raw, go home and pick out your favorite image, convert them to jpg and give them to the client. It will take a little extra time, but at least you will be giving them a gift they would want to look at. Giving someone who is not a photographer 3000 images to sort through is unreasonable.
If you do not know how to do this, find out before the wedding. If you do not want to, you are not ready to shoot a wedding.
This list is not all inclusive. Even if you can do all of these things on the list, it does not mean you will be able to pull this off successfully. My honest opinion though, if you cannot meet any one of these standards, you need learn to master it before you shoot a wedding. Remember, a wedding is one of the most important days in this couples life, and it is very easy for bad photos to ruin the memory and your friendship.