Wedding Photography – Just How Specialized is it?

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Specializing in photography is all the rage right now. Being a specialist is synonymous to being an expert. Being an expert means you are more trustworthy, what you say and what you do carries more weight, and people can have deeper confidence in your knowledge.
A specialist focuses their ability on one area of photography, and concentrates growing their knowledge to a very detailed degree within that area. The words special and specific come from this word, and further drive home its meaning.

To specialize or not to specialize

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To specialize or not to specialize – that is the question. For many photographers wanting to stand out and be different, to be known and able to demand higher prices, this is a question they are facing. There are many genres of photography you can choose to specialize in such as: landscape, black and white, cityscape, macro photography, musicians and bands, portraits, people, events, weddings, baby, newborn, children, families, and fine art, just to name but a few. These areas vary in their specificity so that “people photography” can be as specific as it can be general – depending on how specialized you want to be. Nowadays, specialisms are being pushed into more defined niches such as…

Examples of niches

  • Weddings – outdoors only, city weddings, big weddings, intimate weddings, six hours wedding coverage only, add on a variety of wedding styles such as vintage, modern, contemporary, classic, chic, etc.
  • Family – lifestyle only, portraits only, everyday candid photography, black and white only, active families only, adventures only, sunset and golden hour only, etc.
  • Children – 0-3 years only, 4-11 years only, teens only, newborn, studio, etc.
  • Street photography – black and white only, daytime only, night time only, etc.
  • Portraits – natural light only, studio light only, on location only, etc.

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Just how much of a specialism is wedding photography?

Let’s deconstruct a wedding day to its main components in terms of the subject to be photographed, the skills that may be required, as well as the suggested lenses to use.

  • Subject: scenery and locations
  • Skills required: landscape
  • Lenses needed: wide angle zoom lenses, and fast primes; 16mm, 24mm, and 35mm

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  • Subject: bride and/or groom getting ready
  • Skills needed: candid, reportage, portraits, macro for the accessories, people skills!
  • Lenses: 24-70mm, 35mm, a good macro lens

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  • Subject: the wedding ceremony
  • Skills needed: documentary photography, creative, capturing emotions, special moments
  • Lenses needed: 70-200mm, 24-70mm, fast primes (working often in low light conditions)

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  • Subject: details of the wedding day
  • Skills needed: creativity, an eye for composition and colour, etc
  • Lenses needed: a macro lens, primes with large apertures

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  • Subject: group portraits
  • Skills required: suffice to say you really need to have a solid understanding of the exposure triangle and depth of field
  • Lenses and gear needed: wide and zooms (you may also need speedlights and other lighting gear)

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  • Subject: portraits of the bride and groom
  • Skills needed: portrait photography experience, creativity, wide scenes, night scenes, people skills
  • Lenses: 50mm, 85mm, 105mm, 70-200mm, wider primes and zooms

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  • Subject: reception and leaving
  • Skills needed: lighting and use of flash, cake and food photography, working in low light conditions
  • Lenses: 24-70mm, 70-200mm, macro, large aperture lenses like a 50mm f/1.8

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To be a good wedding photographer, at the very least, you need to know how to shoot each component mentioned above, to a degree better than the average person with a shiny new camera or DSLR can. You are being paid to do the job, and that’s the bare minimum expected of you. To be a great wedding photographer, you need to be confident in your skills to deliver amazing photos in all these areas.

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As a wedding photographer just how much of a specialist are you?

How many wedding photographers wake up one day, pick up a camera, decide to be a wedding photographer, and shoot an entire wedding knowing only one single thing? I would hazard a guess that many successful wedding photographers have spent hours behind the scenes, learning the ins and outs of various types of photography and the appropriate lens to use for each. Or they have done sessions in many, or all of the other areas of photography listed above, to get to a place where they can photograph a wedding and all the elements that come with it, and reach a very good, if not first-class standard.

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Wedding photography is a world of its own, and cannot be compared to something like purely wildlife photography or macro photography, and other highly specialized types of photography. Within the wedding photography world are various challenges, and you have to be a special kind of photographer to meet all those demands, while keeping cool and being on the ball throughout the entire day. Looking at this industry holistically, yes it is a specialism in itself given the amount of variety and skill required.

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But the deeper question is, do you think wedding photographers are specialists, or do they have to be a bit of everything to be considered good, high standard, or even an exceptional wedding photographer? Can someone be a specialist in all these areas and apply these specialisms into one global category such as wedding photography? Does knowing a bit of everything to fulfill the demands of wedding photography make a wedding photographer a jack of all trades, or a wedding specialist?

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It would be interesting to know what you think. Share your thoughts here and let’s start a discussion!

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Lily Sawyer is a wedding and portrait photographer based in London. Her absolute favourite past time is going on "mummy" dates with her kids and husband. Other than that, as a homebody, she is content curled up on the sofa, hot chocolate in hand, watching films with her family whenever she has a free weekend. Check out her work on www.lilysawyer.com Follow her on her fave social media platform Instagram.

  • fjcaceres

    I think wedding photography is hard; having the groom and bride dressed in black and white while cameras think they should make the picture gray, you dont have second chance to capture the significant moments in the colors seen by your eyes.

  • Rik Thornton

    The very thought of shooting a wedding scares me half to death to be honest. I don’t handle ‘pressure’ well, and having had first-hand experience of an inexperienced (the guy was good, but evidently had no idea about weddings) photographer it’s frankly the last thing I’d want to be doing. No 2nd chances. At all. A “Yikes and No Thanks” from me – specialised or not, it certainly takes a special person.

  • Cuttie2b

    As a photographer I would say that wedding photographers must have all the skills a “specialist” possesses and then some! You must be flexible beyond what you might expect. Weddings are dynamic events with unexpected variables that have to be addressed in the NOW. You do not have time to “figure” it out. Each wedding is unlike the last one and nothing like the next one. I don’t actually choose to do weddings as a photographer, but through word of mouth I end up saying yes more than no, but I work harder, push myself to the extreme to get the perfect shot and tend to spend a great deal of time on hundreds of photos afterwards. I personally believe it is a huge speciality and responsibility and should not be attempted by anyone who doesn’t have their knowledge and experience down! You need to be on your game and up on the latest trends, have excellent equipment with you, have an assistant if at all possible, utilizing just about everything you know from start to finish! Wedding photography really should be done by those who have honed their skills in all areas of photography from landscape to portraiture and beyond. You utilize everything you have ever practiced at a wedding and it’s not the time to use it as a learning experience. It’s also not for the unsure either, nothing will blow your mind more than being in a circumstance that challenges everything you know about photography and then having an issue with your camera! Been there done that early on in my career and would not want to repeat that again. I would say wedding photographers have to possess all the skills plus be a people person and sometimes that is the hardest part of all!

  • sandra.doerr
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