10 Things to Do Before Photographing Your First Wedding

10 Things to do before photographing your first wedding

Did you just book your very first wedding?! Congratulations and welcome to world of wedding photography! It’s exciting, fast paced, emotional, and an all around honor to be invited into your couple’s special day! I’ve been a wedding photographer in Indiana for nearly 8 years! After that many weddings, you learn how to deal with certain situations gracefully and professionally. But to be honest, I can’t believe I made it through my first few weddings without any of this advice! So if you just booked your first wedding and aren’t sure what to do next, I’m sharing my top 10 Things to Do Before Photographing Your First Wedding!

Chances are you and your couple have already come to some agreement about you photographing their wedding. But what many photographers run into when they’re justing getting started is unhappy clients. This is the last thing you want! 

Do you have a contract in place to protect you and your couple? Sadly, a lot of times new photographers don’t think a contract is necessary, especially when shooting for friends and family. But a good contract sets ALL the expectations, leaving any guess work out of it! The Law Tog provides downloadable contracts written by lawyers for photographers! They are rock solid and very affordable! If you forgo using a contract and are accepting payment for this wedding, its important that they put down a retainer fee (deposit)! The retainer fee reserves you for their date! When couple’s make a deposit, they are less likely to back out last minute! And speaking of payments, when would you like their final balance to be paid? The safest option for ensuring you get paid for your hard work is to require the final balance to be paid before the wedding date!

Make sure you discuss with your couple how many images they can expect! Without setting this expectation, your client might expect to receive ALL of the images. You won’t want to give them the test shots or the blinking eyes, because those photos could affect your reputation. Just let your couple know they can expect a certain amount of images per hour! And make sure you under-promise and over-deliver on this one!

Speaking of hours, how long will you be photographing the wedding? Do they expect you to arrive right when the bride starts hair? Do they expect you to stay until the very last song of the night? Once the wedding is said and done, make sure your couple know when they will receive their images! Letting them know that their images will be ready on a certain date will help you avoid your clients becoming impatient! But make sure that whatever date you tell them, that you will absolutely meet that deadline without a doubt! By making sure these expectations are set immediately, you are far less likely to run into issues down the road!

Whimsical Marian Hills Farm Wedding

Once you set all major expectations, it’s important that you learn how to use your camera on manual mode! Auto mode decides for you how the image should look and what the settings will be. And this is a very dangerous game on a wedding day! You need to be the only in control of the shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and white balance! When you’re in control of the settings, you can ensure that your images wont turn out too blurry, too dark, or too blue!

You will be shooting in many different lighting situations and they will all require different custom settings! So its important to be able to adjust your settings quickly and correctly! If you’re moving from inside to outside (such as the grand exit after the church ceremony), you’ll be going from a very dark situation to a very bright situation within a few seconds! It can be scary and tricky at first, but if you practice moving from lighting situation to lighting situation, you will start to get the hang of quickly adjusting your settings for the perfect photo!

If your couple didn’t purchase an engagement session,  now is the perfect time to wow them! Gifting your clients an engagement session is one of the best ways to gain their trust! Not only do they feel extra special now, but they’ll get to be in front of the camera before the wedding day!

This is HUGE! The engagement session is the best way to make a professional impression as well as gain their trust! Give them advice on outfits, locations, and even timing of the session! Afterward the session, your couple will have gotten to see how you work! They will also get to see first hand what their wedding images are going to look like! Check out this post for some of my favorite engagement session tips!

Indianapolis Autumn Engagement

As a wedding photographer, there are classic images you are expected to capture, no matter how new you are to the industry. And the list of classic images is very long and very scary. The list below is just some of the shots you are expected to get! We’re going to tackle any fears you have about it next!  

Looking at this list is probably pretty overwhelming! But most of these photos will happen naturally throughout the day! Just make sure you’re paying attention during critical moments such as the first kiss! I encourage you to not view the wedding day as just a list of photos you need to capture. View the day as a bunch of 1 hour segments! If you can view the wedding day in sections, it will be a lot less overwhelming for you! During the bridal prep, don’t be thinking about what family formals you still need to get, or what ceremony photos you’ll have to capture! Pay attention to what is going on right then, in that moment, and don’t focus on anything else you have to do!

If you’re thinking about the classic shot list, and you know you need to get a full length and close up of the bride getting into her dress, that moment will happen naturally. You don’t have to be reminding yourself to get that photo! As long as you’re around, you’ll capture that moment. Its the photos such as close ups of the bride’s hair & makeup that you’ll need to remember because you will have to pull the bride aside for those! The only list you should carry with you on the wedding day is the Family formals list! Which brings me to…

About one month before the wedding, you should have your brides create a must have shot list of family formals! This list ensures the bride & groom get at least one photo with the most important people in their lives! Occasionally I’ll hear that the bride won’t provide a physical list. The only way to be absolutely certain they get their must have family formals is by carrying a physical list with you!

Your couple may struggle to get a definite list back to you (with all the other hundred things they have to do). It’s so helpful if you can provide a sample list for them! It takes a lot of guess work out of it and gives them a place to start! Bonus tip, have your couple write the names of the family members next to each grouping! Not only will you be able to impress their friends and family by calling them by name throughout the day, but family formals go much more smoothly when a family member hears you call out their name rather than “cousin” or “mom”! 

The Loft at Walnut Hill Farm Wedding

Phew! We are over half-way through the 10 Thing to Do Before Photographing Your First Wedding! How do you feel!?
Aside from sending your couple a sample family formals list, you should also help them prepare a wedding day timeline! Most brides & grooms have no idea how long something will take. By helping with their timeline, you can be in control of how much time you have based on how much time YOU need. Every photographer is different. One might need 15 minutes for wedding party photos, another might need 30 minutes. It takes a bit of trial and error to figure out how much time you specifically need. With this being your first wedding, how are you suppose to help with their timeline?!

A good starting place is to allow yourself at least 30 minutes for each portion of the day! Below is a sample timeline you can refer to while customizing your own! Each wedding day is different, so you might have to include time for a first look or for travel from the ceremony location to the reception location. 

This is your first wedding! No one expects you to have en entire lineup of lenses! But it is important to have certain equipment on the wedding day in order to maximum the variety of images you delivery! First things first, you do need to rent, borrow, or buy a BACKUP CAMERA! This is big big big. Unlike a regular portrait session, you can’t just go back and redo later it if your camera malfunctions on the day of. What if half way through the ceremony your camera stops working? Or you drop it accidentally and it breaks? Having a backup camera will ensure that even if something were to happen on the wedding day, you still have an extra tool for you to finish your job.

You’ll also need at least two batteries, three just to be safe! While you’re at, invest in a few additional high speed memory cards. You will be shooting thousands of photos, so it never hurts to have extra memory if you start to run out! Theres nothing worse than going back through the memory card deleting images because you ran out of space on your card! Bonus points if you have a camera that has dual memory card slots! Its just extra protection in case one of your memory cards becomes corrupted! 

As far as lenses you go, you don’t need much! You can get through a wedding day with just one lens if it’s a 35mm or a 50mm. While you don’t NEED two lenses, I do recommend a combo of a 35mm & 85mm or a 35mm & 70-200mm. By having a wider lens and a longer lens, you’re able to capture a wider variety of images! The 35mm can be used throughout the entire day! But you will want a longer focal length lens for candids, ceremony moments, and some reception moments. Longer lenses allow you to remain more unobtrusive than a wide angle does! Trying to get a close up of the ring exchange with a 35mm will require you to stand very close to them while your couple is at the alter.

The last piece of equipment you might want to consider renting or purchasing is an external flash! Throughout most of the day you will be able to utilize natural light. But receptions can be pretty dark (a scary situation for a natural light photographer). Using just one on camera flash can add so much more light to your images. Especially if the ceiling or walls are white! Check out this blog post for the best lenses on a budget

Abram Farm Wedding in Spencer, Indiana

On the wedding day, it’s important to be confident in what you’re doing! You will most likely be at least a little nervous. But remember, you will be in charge of most of the situations throughout the day! It’s very easy for something to get wild and out of hand if you don’t command authority! During wedding party portraits or family formals, if you don’t make it clear that you are in charge, its easy to get walked on and questioned. And THAT is a frustrating situation that you can avoid just by pretending to know what you’re doing! Even if you’re not 100% confident, fake it ’til you make it! Handle all situations politely, with an upbeat attitude, while maintaining authority, and people will really know who’s boss!

The moment you get home from the wedding, you need to upload the images to your computer! And then either upload them again to an external hard drive or don’t delete them off the memory card. Accidents happen and its possible that your computer (where the images are saved) fails and you lose everything. This happens a lot, so don’t risk it! Just make sure you have two copies of the images! 

I’ve heard photographers, on more than one occasion, pleading for help when one month after the wedding, they go to begin editing and can’t find the memory cards. I’ve even heard horror stories of the photographer leaving their gear and cards in the vehicle and their car gets broken into overnight. This is an awful situation to be in so don’t leave it to chance! Back up the images the moment you get home so you can sleep soundly knowing your couple’s images are safe! 

The Willows on Westfield Wedding

Alright guys. I know that was really extensive! But I truly wish I had this information when I first started shooting weddings! Save this link so you can come back to it later! Work on just one thing at a time! Learning to shoot weddings takes time! Just remember to stay calm and focused during the wedding! Do the best you can and give them the best experience possible! Your couple will love the images! If you have any questions or need advice, please feel free to get in touch with me! But for now, get to it! You’ve got a list of 10 Things to Do Before Photographing Your First Wedding! 

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