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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.