The Story of Photographing my First Wedding also Likely my Last

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There’s really no question that wedding photography is one of the most common forms of professional photography and if you’ve recently become the owner of a DSLR odds are sooner or later someone you know might ask you to photograph their wedding. Though this might be a tempting offer, I want you to think long and hard before saying yes, because photographing a wedding is a lot more than pointing a camera and capturing the moments. To help drive home this point I’m telling a bit of a story today.

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My story is about why, even though photographing this wedding was the best experience of my photography life, I more than likely won’t be photographing another wedding anytime soon.

I don’t want you to think that I’m here to tell you that it’s a bad idea to get into wedding photography, or even that my first (and last) time as a wedding photographer was a bad experience. Neither of these are the case – in fact I quite enjoyed photographing this wedding, but there are some things that I learned about myself which would make me hesitate if I were asked to do it again.

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First some background

Like most new photographers these days I created a website, set up a Facebook page, and started sharing my photos on a daily basis. Over time I noticed that my page was growing with not only my immediate friends, but friends of friends, and even people I didn’t know – I guess you could say I started attracting a following.

After a couple of years of sharing landscape and wildlife shots from around the New England area, one of my sister’s friends reached out to me and asked if I’d photograph her wedding.

My first instinct was to say “I’m not a wedding photographer – why are you asking me?”. So I sort of brushed it off as a random thing, but she insisted that she liked my style and wanted to work with someone she knew and trusted. If there’s anything to my credit – I’ve always been a hard worker. So, as this post requires that I photograph a wedding, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that I eventually did commit to the job.

Months of preparation

And I mean months!

The bride-to-be was extremely organized and prepared, having everything booked months in advance – in fact – the photographer was one of her last jobs to tackle. After accepting the job I had nearly a full year to learn as much as I could about photographing weddings and that’s exactly what I did. This three part series here on dPS: Wedding Photography 101 (Part 1)Wedding Photography 101 (Part 2)Wedding Photography 101 (Part 3) should be on every prospective wedding photographer’s reading list. But a quick search for “wedding photography” on dPS will yield dozens of other great reads.

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However, all the reading that I was doing, really couldn’t prepare me for the real thing. Emotions, stress, time crunch, uncontrollable problems, and anything else that you can pack into the ten hour day – you simply can’t read that, so I enlisted the help of a professional. I reached out to a local photographer, who worked closely with a friend of mine, and he was kind enough to allow me to shadow him, and even second shoot for him on a couple of occasions.

This experience gave me a huge boost of confidence going into the event, and I highly recommend reaching out to your own local wedding photographers prior to photographing a wedding on your own for the first time. The experience is priceless.

The final bit of preparation was gear related – I was being paid for this shoot and as a landscape/wildlife photographer my ultra-wide angle and telephoto zooms were not ideal for the task at hand. So I spent a little of the money that I was paid for the wedding to rent a second camera (you can never be too prepared) and a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens which would be my workhorse for the night.

The wedding was a success

Due to my preparation and my commitment to wanting to provide the best possible photographs that my ability would allow, I’d say the wedding was a success. The bride and groom got photos that they will enjoy for the rest of their lives and I learned more than I could ever have imagined in a very short amount of time.

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The day of the wedding I was at my wits end, running on pretty much pure adrenaline at that point. I had a list of ‘must have shots’ which I was able to check off throughout the day and night. It’s hard to imagine that the event lasted as long as it did, as it all went by so quickly, with barely a break for food or drink. All said and done, I left the reception after the last dance feeling confident that I had done the best that I could. So why never again?

Why I won’t photograph another wedding

There’s no question that this was a valuable experience. I learned more about myself as a photographer photographing this wedding than I had in the nearly 3 years of photographing landscapes, but I’d also learned that it wasn’t for me. I enjoy the peace and quite of nature and the ability to go back to the same location to fine tune the shot over a period of time and lighting conditions. Weddings are a one shot deal – you get the light you get – you get the weather you get, and you get one shot to make it happen.

You have to be a people person – something I am not. Going around to get various people that I didn’t know together for photographs was hard enough when there were actually a handful of people that I did know at this wedding (sister’s friend remember?). I don’t think that I could do this on my own, without help, and without a lot more practice. So I urge anyone who’s thinking about photographing a wedding to not take it lightly. It’s an important day for a lot of people – not just the bride and groom – but their parents, extended family, and friends will want to remember this day as well so you MUST get it right.

The moral of this story is that wedding photography can be a very rewarding experience, but you have got to put the work into it. If you are thinking to yourself that it will be an easy job – think again. Oh and please – don’t ever do this for free – being paid to shoot this wedding was what motivated me to find help, rent gear, drive to their location and process hundreds of photos – the experience was a bonus.

Some stats from the wedding

  • hours shot from start to finish on the day – 10 hours
  • number of images shot total – 1500
  • number of images given to the couple – 500
  • how long it took to edit it – approximately 5-6 hours
  • number of hours estimated spent preparing: time with other photographer, etc –  Dozens and dozens of hours of prep time between reading articles and spending time with this mentor photographer I would say easily 50 hours or more went into the prep.

Equipment used to shoot the wedding

  • camera bodies:  rental D600 and my own D7000 as backup
  • lenses:  rented the 24-70 f/2.8 (pretty much used for the entire event) also had my 55-300mm Nikon & 11-16mm Tokina, and a 50mm prime on my D7000 for odds and ends shots
  • flash:  Nikon SB700
  • light modifiers like umbrellas or reflectors – none
  • tripod:  had my Manfrotto 190XBPRO with me but rarely used it
  • other:  nothing else, But Jim (my mentor of sorts) told me that if I were to get into this that it’s a good idea to stock up on things like needles, various threads, safety pins, tape, Advil, Aspirin, Tylenol, scissors, and so much other stuff – not really for you, but you’ll be the hero of the wedding if you pull something the bride needs out of your magic bag of tricks

Editors note: 

Having done somewhere in the neighbourhood of 250 weddings in my time, I can concur that everything John has said is absolutely true, and some of the same advice I give people considering doing one for the first time. Being prepared is the number one thing I can say also. I remember wanting to throw up the entire first year I did weddings, the pressure is THAT intense. These are people’s memories and not something to take lightly. I too, like John’s mentor did carry such an emergency kit and can tell you I’ve used deodorant, men’s black socks, nylons, clear nail polish to stop runs in nylons, safety pins, After Bite for bug bites, Visine, allergy meds, Stain remover (get the stick, takes grease right out of a wedding gown), nail glue, bug spray, sunscreen,  and more. John gives great advice from his experience – heed it well.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

John Davenport

is the creator of PhoGro – Gro’ Your Photography a community that aims to help you grow your photography through engagement with other photographers.

John also offers a free email course 6 Weeks to Better Photos that covers the most important elements for getting started with photography.

  • Lenny

    Thank you very much for this article. I just did a Baptism for a friend and despite many positive comments about how beautiful the pictures came out… Like you it will be the first and last for me to take or tackle that kind of event. I can totally relate. Everything you said was on target. Thank you.

  • Tom Sandlien

    Same here in Thailand. As a foreigner I never know what’s gonna happen. Probably why I stick to landscape and wildlife. 🙂

  • R’laine

    Yay! I’m not alone. I too, have shot one wedding, and that is more than likely my first and last. I’m the same as John, not really a people person, although I had an absolute blast doing the wedding, the time went by so quickly, I was on my feet for far longer than I realised, it was when I sat down at the end of it, I realised I’d been on the go for something close to 12 hours, but what fun. Yes, the couple were very pleased with the photos I gave them, no, nobody was too Bridezilla-ish, but, I’m not a people person, I prefer landscapes, still lifes, abstracts, photos that I can stage, that I can take my time over and go back to try a different perspective/technique another time.

  • Suyanto Raji

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  • Mark Shaw

    Having just shot my first wedding tonight it felt like 6 hours in boot camp. What others have said is so true; if you’re not a natural people person with both a friendly and commanding voice it is difficult to say the least. You are as much a coordinator as you are a photographer for all of the posed shots. It does seem like easy money at first when you hear how much wedding photographers charge but you have to be a certain kind of person with a lot of experience to get to that level and I reckon it is never an easy job as every wedding is different. Shooting my first wedding was truly a humbling experience and very exhausting both mentally and physically as you have to be “on” for hours on end without a break.

    It was definitely an experience for me but the next time someone asks me to do a wedding I will have great hesitation in saying yes. I’m not big on people coordinating and being under tight time pressures to perform. To me, true creativity needs to be in the flow without pressure and wedding photography feels too much like work than art to me.

  • Yves Gagné

    A friend of ours did our wedding, he proposed himself for the task. He did ok. I did’nt know phtography that much at the time. Today after almost two years of reading, taking courses, practicing different techniques, working with shutter speeds, aperture, i would ask a good photographer, because, we don’t have this wow thing of our marriage, like i say he did an ok job, not beeing in photography himself, not even a hobbiest, so the moral of the story, is for a unique day in your life, get somebody unique, like a photographer. You pay for what you get, it did’nt cost us much and the results are like so. It was improvised and not so bad, like i said for that day you want eternal souvenirs and, this we don’t have.

    Very good article.

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