So, you want to be a wedding photographer: 8 tips for shooting like a pro

Being a wedding photographer can certainly come with its perks: every day’s a celebration, and the moments you capture will live on with those clients forever. But with that position comes pressure: how do you ensure you’re ready for such a milestone moment? What if you miss the kiss, or the framing is off? What if the lighting is poor? You can’t exactly ask for a do-over.

At Focal, we’re lucky to know and work with some of the most talented wedding photographers in Canada. Many bring over a decade of experience to the craft and, collectively, have shot thousands of ceremonies. They know what works, and what doesn’t — what’ll spare you time and save your neck. Read on for our guide to shooting weddings like a pro.

1. Landing the client

So much of the work in wedding photography — especially in the early stages, as you’re making a name for yourself — is spent on this part: building up your client bookings. Requests come in. (“What’s your availability? How much do you charge?”) You provide an answer. The cycle repeats.

But how do you turn that initial request into a booking? How do you avoid the dreaded ghosting client who never replies?

Credit: Marlboro Wang Photo

One way to avoid wasted time on emails: clearly state your pricing on your website. There’s debate about this. (Won’t it scare customers away?) Only the ones who were unlikely to book with you anyway. Being up front on your website about your pricing can actually help you in attracting your dream clients: the ones who are thrilled to pay what you’re worth.

But you have to convey the value you provide — both on your website and in your emails.

“I used to do the [typical] thing. People would ask for my prices, I’d send them a package list, and then just wait for them,” says Marlboro Wang, a Victoria-based wedding and portrait photographer. “If they didn’t get back to me within a couple days, I’d send them another email to remind them.”

But here’s the thing.

“It wasn’t a good approach,” he says. “It’s like I was turning into this lifeless person, just posting prices.”

Now, Wang’s focus has shifted to building a relationship in that first email response. Instead of replying with rates, he’ll ask questions: what’s the plan for the wedding day? What part of the day — getting ready, the first look, the ceremony — does the couple care about most for photos? What’s the venue? How large is the wedding party? What does the schedule look like?

Credit: Marlboro Wang Photo

"You're showing them you know how their day’s going to go,” says Wang. “It shows you’re a professional, that you’ve been doing this for a while — because you’re asking the right questions.”

Speaking of which...

2. It’s all in the details

So, you’ve booked the gig. Here’s where the details become important. The more information you can get ahead of time from the wedding couple, the better.

There is no shortage of things to ask about in the build-up to the ceremony, says Victoria-based wedding and family photographer Naomi Maya: 

“What's the expected wedding attire? How long is the ceremony? Are the couple going to see each other ahead of time, or do you need to arrange a ‘first look’ before walking down the aisle?”

Credit: Naomi Maya Photography

Having a schedule on-hand — and a watch on your wrist — will save you tons, says Wang: 

“I’ll know when their ceremony is, and how much time we have for getting ready and the first look. And then I’ll remind them every five minutes or so: ‘we’re ten minutes away [from this happening],’ so I can have enough time to get the photos for them.”

The more you can memorize the itinerary, the better you’ll be able to plan your shoot around it. It’ll help you keep in mind where you’re at in the proceedings, what you need to do next, and how much time you have to do it.

3. Set expectations

Find out what the wedding couple’s expectations are for the day. 

“Do they think you will pose them, but actually you plan on staying in the background to capture candid images? Do they think you'll come up with lots of fun and creative Pinterest-type shots? Will you?” asks Naomi Maya.

Being clear with their expectations — what your shooting style is, how long you’ll be on-location, what’s feasible with or without a second shooter — will help you get happier customers in the end.

“If you can't [match what they were expecting], then align their expectations to what you are actually providing,” Maya adds.

Credit: Naomi Maya Photography
4. Ask for a shot list

Have your clients put together a shot list in order of most-important to least-important. Do they want the most attention spent on first-look photos? Or maybe it’s the “getting ready” stage they want to capture.

“I usually ask the couple to start a Pinterest account, then collect the shots they like and share them with me,” says Marlboro Wang.

(This list can apply to wedding guests, too — find out who the couple definitely wants included in photos, and who’s less important to worry about.)

Keep the shot list with you on the wedding day, and you can check off the shots as you go. And don’t be hard on yourself. Weddings are chaotic. It’s hard to nail the perfect shots.

“In the past six years, I’ve probably missed a couple thousand good shots,” Wang adds. “If you have 80 percent of the list checked off, you’re a champ.”

5. Do a location scout

“Even fifteen years onward, I would never get rid of the location scout,” says Calgary-based wedding photographer Sarah Murdoch. “The cool part is, I’ve had clients take me to places I didn’t even know existed.”

Credit: Sarah Murdoch (Modern Photography)

For Murdoch, the process begins with an in-person consultation: “We’ll meet, and I will have asked for their creatives locations if they have any ideas or any vision for that. It could be stuff like, ‘Do you want a natural location, or do you want an urban location?’ And then together, we will go and look at the locations. What I find that this does is it makes it a collaborative process.”

Read more: Scottish ceilidhs and safe spaces with Sarah Murdoch

Marlboro Wang takes a similar approach.

“I always do a location scout with the couple before their wedding, if possible,” he says. “I’ll even return to venues I’ve shot before just to see if anything has changed, and to find out where the sun will be on the wedding day.”

You can use this time to find the best photo spots at or near the venue. Apps like Sun Position and PhotoPills can help when it comes to planning the sun’s course.

6. Find your ally

Before the wedding, it’s worth asking if there’s anyone in charge of organizing and ensuring the day goes smoothly. That person can help you when the time comes to corral family members for formal photos. They’ll know the aunts and uncles and grandparents, and which side of the family is which. Think of them as your lifeline. Befriend them, and they’ll be willing to look out for you. (Bonus points if they’re loud — and better, too, if they’re sober.)

Credit: Marlboro Wang Photo
7. Master your settings

You know that part in Star Wars: Rogue One“I am one with the force and the force is with me?” That needs to be you with your camera on wedding day: unbothered by any distractions; in tune with shutter speed, aperture, and ISO at all times. If you can walk through a field of stormtrooper fire and still nail the perfect shot, you’re ready.

(Okay, forget the Star Wars stuff. Just get to know your camera.)

The point, says Naomi Maya, is to learn your settings to the degree that they become second-nature under pressure: “Most weddings I've shot have had lots of variations in lighting and move from outdoor to indoor and back.”

The time you spend practising switching between camera settings will pay dividends when you’re on your feet and the wedding frenzy is reaching its peak.

8. Backups are your friend

“Things always go wrong in a wedding,” says Victoria-based wedding and lifestyle photographer Rob Wilson.

It’s a good idea to build redundancies into your wedding camera kit.

Credit: Rob Wilson (Arcas Media)

“[I used to carry] maybe eight batteries — just stupid amounts of batteries,” adds Wilson. “I have quite a few memory cards, and now I bring a backup camera, extra flash batteries.”

Read more: Chasing summer with photographer Rob Wilson

It’s nothing exciting. And sure, it adds weight to your camera bag. But the peace of mind is worth the inconvenience. Sarah Murdoch agrees: she takes two Canon Mark IIIs with her for every shoot.

“[Part of] reduction of risk and anxiety comes with really good gear and having backups for your backup,” she says. “In my Mark IIIs, I have dual-shooting, so I photograph to an SD card, and I also photograph to CF cards.”

“I meet people all the time that say, ‘You’re a wedding photographer, I could never do that. That’s so much stress and anxiety,’ and now, fifteen years on, it’s second nature,” she adds. “But it’s because I’ve alleviated the risk. So the anxiety of it… there is none. It’s just excitement.”

Looking to grow your photography business, but aren't sure how to get started? Focal's free Business Accelerator program will set you on the path to success. Over three one-on-one video consultations, you'll learn how to identify and reach your ideal clients, creating packages designed to get them to book. Program space is limited.

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