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Tips for Successful Wedding Photography: The Preparation

June 06, 2018

Liza Gershman

This article was originally published on March 4, 2016 and has been updated to include current product information.

The more organized you are, the more successful you will be as a wedding photographer. A few key steps prior to the wedding will ensure your success. Being professional is an obvious must, and the following tips below will help you with your gear, your clothing, and even your energy level for a wedding day.

Tip: Be organized, checklists help!!

Always have a detailed checklist for the night before you photograph a wedding to make sure that your batteries are charged, memory cards formatted and packed, all of the gear in your bag, you have something to eat before the wedding, and you have matching shoes.

Toolkit for the event:
You never know what you will need at a wedding, and being overly prepared can’t hurt. Pack your gear bag at least the night before, and remember these useful items to ensure a successful day:

  • Charged batteries!
  • Battery charger
  • Extension cord
  • Watch
  • Printed timeline
  • Printed shot list
  • Business cards
  • Rubber bands
  • Comb
  • Deodorant – long days
  • Fresh shirt?
  • Layers – jacket
  • Band-Aids
  • Sunglasses
  • Bobby pins
  • Safety pins
  • Kleenex
  • Lens cleaner
  • Spare batteries
  • Spare AA batteries for your flash
  • Extra cables if you need cables
  • Organizer for memory cards – never want to shoot over a card accidentally but it can happen. When memory cards are full, store them away with the front label away from view so you visually know they've been used.
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • White plastic trash bags – to protect the hem of the bride’s dress if shooting on wet grass

Tip: If you are the main or only photographer, there are a number of classic images that every single wedding photographer should include: couple taking vows, cutting of cake, tossing of garter, tossing of bouquet, parents of the couple, getting ready, the walk down the isle, the ring exchange, the first kiss and the first dance. DO NOT MISS THESE MOMENTS!

As soon as the wedding is over send the person who hired you copies of what you have done- they might be anxious to see the images. They might have waited 10 years for the right partner, but they won’t want to wait for the photos- remember it is typically the biggest day in their life. 

Setting up for these shots in advance is the best way to ensure that you will get the image that your couple will love. If there is a wedding planner, be sure to introduce yourself to them because they will become your best ally for important timing and shot angles. Wedding planners and DJ’s can give you a helpful timeline of the day’s events. Yes, believe it or not, each moment of a wedding is usually highly planned and choreographed. There will be an exact time for the start of the ceremony and it is wise to know this time and to position yourself discreetly so you can get the first shot. Before the ceremony you can photograph the guests, but you will not want to miss the couple walking down the aisle, or the guests’ reactions. Using a long lens like a 70-200mm f/2.8L will allow you to capture intimate expressions while standing far enough away that you are not blocking the view of other guests- this is very important- everyone wants to see the couple more than they want to see you.

What to wear:

• Black
• Dressy
• Wrinkle free
• Layers for hot and cold

Long days can turn into chilly nights even if the wedding begins in 100-degree heat. Comfortable shoes are essential, because eight hours standing is a long time, gear is heavy, and your back will need support.

Dress as nicely, or nicer than the requested level of dress suggested for the wedding guests. If the wedding is black tie, then you are wearing a blazer at minimum, and possibly even a dark suit. Never dress more casually than you think the guests will. This does not mean wearing your prom dress, but it does mean wearing tailored clothing, suit jackets, trousers, and collared shirts. If you think this will prohibit your movement during shooting, then wear a conservative black sweater or shirt with sleeves and tailored pants.

During a wedding, you are often photographing low to the ground, on the ground, high on a ladder, or squatting. Be sure that your clothing covers your bum when you squat, your belly stays hidden when you reach over your head, and your bosoms aren’t in view when you lean down to the floor. Test out your clothing in front of a mirror before the wedding, with enough time to replace them if needed. Things shrink, people gain and lose weight, and clothing shifts.

Pants are the most appropriate clothing item, and will help you not expose yourself to the guests. Additionally they will give you the most comfort and flexibility. Remember, nothing flashy- this isn’t about you. Don’t sparkle, don’t glow, and don’t shine. Don’t let the focus turn to you and what you are wearing. The focus of this event is on one couple, and one couple only. Be sure to have shoes that don’t squeak. Be invisible.

Gear safety? Insurance!!

Liability insurance is valuable to any wedding photographer. Accidents happen: memory cards get corrupted or lost, camera and lenses break.

How much insurance coverage is enough? Many venues require proof of a one million dollar liability policy when agreeing to work in their facility. This does not mean that you need to have a million dollars, nor does it mean that this policy will cost you a million dollars.  It simply means that you will pay a small amount each month to ensure that in the event of a terrible occurrence, you are covered by a payout of up to a million dollars through your insurance. Million dollars seems like a lot? Yes but insurance companies only charge a few hundred dollars per year to give you this sort of coverage.

Indemnity coverage is a must for your own safety. If you are not a professional should you still have insurance? YES. Here’s the worst-case scenario…a mistake or accident with the digital files ruins your life-long friendship, or becomes a lawsuit. Don’t let that happen! Weddings are important – treat them with that level of professionalism even if you are a guest.

Why is having an assistant important? Although you might consider photographing a wedding on your own, and many professionals do, assistants are valuable to you for several reasons.  Assistants can ensure backup for the most important images on the wedding day. When you are photographing the first kiss, your assistant should also be photographing the first kiss.  Get this from different angles, but both get this shot.  If something terrible happens to your memory card, then at least you have one image of the event.

Assistants can help you to visually multi-task during a wedding. Send your assistant to another location during the preparation portion of the day.  While you are photographing the bride getting her hair done, your assistant can photograph the groom and groomsmen playing pool as they wait for the ceremony. One of you follows the wedding couple, and the other focuses on the guests. 

When you work with an assistant you can have different angles for the same moment at a wedding; you can each use different lenses for a similar shot.  If one is using a wide lens, then the other is using a normal or long lens. Assistants can back up memory cards during the meal, they can be someone to laugh with about crazy guest after the wedding (there is ALWAYS at least one), and they can stop you from having cake every Saturday of wedding season.

Should you pay your assistant? Yes, absolutely! Some assistants will work on trade, however it is best to compensate someone for having your back. Find the going rate in your area through the local chapter of Profession Photographers of America (even if you aren’t yet a pro they will help you).  Be sure to include a vendor meal for you and for your assistant, and let them know specifics on what to wear.  They are an extension of you, and of your business name. Let your assistant know your expectations for the day, the timeline, and gear to have.  The more information that you can give your assistant leading up to the wedding day, the more success you will have working together.

Tip: Let them know what to wear. Give them a copy of the timeline.

Tip: What to always do: Be friendly and do your best to be invisible. Pay attention and get the important shots!

What to do with the images after a wedding or a photo shoot?

There are so many ways to give the couple your images and whatever way you select, they are sure to be grateful.  Have you arranged something prior to the wedding? If not, asking them on the actual wedding day is not the best idea.  Give them some time to enjoy the day and talk details and arrangements at a later date.  Also, if you take a bit of time to edit through your images and in the very least remove all of the blurry out of focus images, blinking images, and repeats you will really save them time.

If you have decided to give digital files you can do this in a few forms.  A CD or DVD, depending on how many images you have, is a simple way to get files from your computer to theirs.  The flaw of the CD/DVD is that it is fairly fragile and can be lost or scratched.  CDs hold fewer images than DVDs as well, and you might even need multiple discs for an entire day’s worth of images.  Another method is to transfer your images onto a portable USB drive, which can be purchased inexpensively.  The advantage of these drives is that transfer images almost instantly, whereas burning a CD or DVD can take more than a half an hour depending on your machine and software.  A third method is to transfer the images electronically through a file-sharing site like Flickr, Dropbox, or YouSendIt, and Box.  Note that these sites have limited transfer capabilities and often restrict you to fewer than 2 gigs of information on one upload, or even in one month or day. 

Tip: Lenses you will want to consider having for weddings:

Canon EF 70 – 200mm f/2.8 L II USM: to capture candids from afar
Canon EF 24 – 70mm f/2.8 L II USM: to get group shots, family portraits and detail shots
Canon EF 16 – 35mm f/2.8 L II USM: to capture small room interiors
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM: to photograph the mood in low light
Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM
Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM

Canon EOS camera bodies to consider well suited for weddings and events:

EOS-1D X Mark II
EOS 5D Mark IV
EOS 6D Mark II
EOS 7D Mark II
EOS 80D

Canon Speedlites to consider:

600EX II-RT
430EX III-RT
470EX-AI

Payment? Typically, a couple should expect to spend anywhere from $1,500-$8,000 on wedding photography, depending on the experience of the photographer, the couple’s overall wedding budget, the local market average, and the services provided (like albums and prints, etc.). It is extremely difficult to exchange payment on the wedding day, and the wedding couple is distracted and always very busy with guests at the end of the night. Payment in advance of the day, or after the wedding is best, but be sure to secure payment before you send any images out.

Tip: Always be sure to receive a portion (suggestion of 50%) of the total money due prior to the wedding.

Written agreements? Yes! Legally protecting yourself will make everyone happy in the end, and clearly stating what is agreed upon prior to the date of service doesn’t leave any room for confusion. If in doubt always seek the advice of a legal professional.

After the wedding sorting images can be a daunting task. Tools like Lightroom® make the process much faster and simpler. Too much Photoshop® and too many filters are overload. People want to see what they really looked like on their wedding day: natural,  glowing, and in love.

Expert Tips for a successful wedding shoot:

Always print a copy of the shot list and timeline and have that with you!!!! This will be your guide for the entire day and you will need to keep the flow and time on track as you do your shots. I would also advise keeping copious notes of events throughout the day, it will prove helpful if you ever get questioned about why you didn’t get a particular shot or set of shots.  For example, if Uncle Joe was impossible to find for the family portrait and it put you behind your timeline to get other shots, make note of that.

• Wear a watch- looking at your phone can seem unprofessional. Nobody wants his or her photographer to be checking Facebook.

• Engage in minimal chitchat with the guests- this day is not about you.

• Be friendly, courteous, and helpful. When someone asks you to take a photo smile, and say “yes.” That is what you are there for.

• Bring small props for fun photos (if you ask the couple in advance). People loosen up with hats, boas, and funny mustaches.

• Ask if there will be a photo booth there? Will there be a videographer? It will be important to work with these other professionals as a team. Be sure to give room for them to get the shot too, and hopefully they will pay you the same professional courtesy.

Tip: Work WITH the videographer and not against them. This is not a competition and you both need the same shot.

• If you want to learn more about wedding photography, trends, and the industry go to WPPI (Wedding and Portrait Photographers International), read blogs, subscribe to wedding magazines and do research online.   The more you know about current trends, the more clients you will have.

• Can you get your work published? High-end planners publish images and stories from their top weddings, so always give them a copy of the images. You can also send copies to the venue and the florist - they may refer you to future clients.

Tip: Remember that couples typically book the venue before they book any other vendor, and the music and photographer are typically last.

• Start gathering your “go to” team and your backup assistants. A suggestion is to always have a minimum of three possible assistants in your Rolodex.

• Rent gear if you don’t have that beauty light and want to use one, but practice with it beforehand.

• Lastly, be well rested. Eat a good breakfast. Stay hydrated. Weddings are long, physically demanding, and intellectually challenging as well.  Light constantly changes, people are unpredictable. You need to be ready and prepared for any situation and still have a smile on your face and an “I’d be happy to do that for you” attitude. And enjoy yourself! Weddings are happy days, full of love, laughter, and beauty.  Remember this and let it inform your mood and photography!

Liza Gershman
Liza Gershman

Liza Gershman is an award-winning photographer, Bay Area native, and seasoned world-traveler. Passionate about food, people, and culture, Liza has had the opportunity to photograph in more than 37 countries and 46 U.S. states during her career.

Liza Gershman

Liza Gershman is an award-winning photographer, Bay Area native, and seasoned world-traveler. Passionate about food, people, and culture, Liza has had the opportunity to photograph in more than 37 countries and 46 U.S. states during her career.

Photographing for a wide and varied range of clients has allowed Liza to refine her ability to tell strong visual stories that support both the vision of a creative director and brand integrity. In 2014, she worked as the Senior Digital Photographer for Williams-Sonoma where she helped to define the new look of their eCommerce site, and has also photographed for clients including Restoration Hardware, Party City, Safeway, and Hyatt Hotels, among others. Liza is a Getty Image Contributor, and has photographed eight cocktail and food cookbooks for numerous publishers in the US, including Random House.

In 2010, Liza was Governor Jerry Brown's campaign photographer, and in 2014 was the lead photographer for the RedBull Youth America's Cup Team NZ2. Many of her additional clients have included celebrity chefs, wineries, beverage brands, restaurants and more.

Liza's passion for storytelling extends beyond her photography into writing, with many published essays in top magazine and newspapers.

Liza is honored to contribute to Canon USA.

Published books include:

  • The Good Cook's Book of Tomatoes (SkyHorse Publishing). 2015
  • The Good Cook's Book of Mustard (SkyHorse Publishing). 2015
  • The Good Cook's Book of Oil & Vinegar (SkyHorse Publishing). 2015
  • The Good Cook's Book of Salt & Pepper (SkyHorse Publishing). 2015
  • The Good Cook's Journal (SkyHorse Publishing). 2015
  • More Than Meatballs (SkyHorse Publishing). 2014
  • Be Fabulous At Any Age (Lions Gate Corporation). 2013
  • San Francisco Entertains; The Junior League of San Francisco’s Centennial Cookbook (Favorite Recipes Press). 2011
  • A Taste for Absinthe (Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House). 2010

Liza's Publications include: Maxim.com, SI.com, Outside Magazine, Huffington Post, Wine Spectator, NBC Bay Area, Chicago Sun Times, C Magazine, Daily Candy, SF Gate, San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle PI, Tasting Panel Magazine, Food & Wine.com, Marin Magazine, 7x7, Fairfield County Look, Eater SF, Destination I Do Magazine, Grace Ormonde Wedding Style, Bloomspot, Beer Connoisseur, Wine X Magazine, Publisher’s Weekly, Table Hopper, Nightclub & Bar, Gig Salad, Tasting Table, MindFood (Australia and New Zealand), VSCO, and Food Arts Magazine to name a few.

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