Wedding Photography Survival Tips: The Preparation

Wedding Photography Survival Tips: The Preparation




To the inexperienced photographer, the first wedding is that single most daunting event that stands as Mt. Everest in one’s profession. It is a feat that could define success or failure for the rest of one’s career. Much preparation is required. Much focus is essential. Much passion is critical.

Every detail of the day is important. The clothes. The favors. The people. Tensions are high. Schedules are tight. Emotions are charged. A wedding shoot is not the time to test one’s people skills or experiment with portraits. It is a day that an experienced photographer must practice everything he or she has ever known.

However, each wedding photographer has had a “first time”. On this day, the photographer discovers the key to thriving in the world of wedding photography: An ability to take the unpredictable in stride and thrive amidst challenges.

What does this look like to an inexperienced wedding photographer? How does a novice go about capturing beautiful shots in unpredictable and varied settings? With a little bit of hard work, these 8 tips will help you cover essential preparations for a successful wedding shoot.

1. Do your research!

Find a local bookstore with a large selection of photography books. Take some time to look at books from Bill Hurter and Amherst Media. These resources will give you an incredible amount of information to walk you through the wedding photographer’s experience.

2. Determine the couple’s style

As a wedding photographer, your job involves more than capturing the events of the wedding day. You must have the ability to do so in the style that signifies the bridal couple. Are they traditionalists? Are they contemporary? Do they want color or black and white? If they aren’t sure what they like, take the time to go through a wedding magazine with them to find clips that match their style. Once you know what they are expecting stylistically, you can shoot to capture just that!

3. Create a Master Schedule

Arrange a pre-wedding meeting with the bride to plan out a 15-minute incremental schedule of the wedding shoot. This should include wedding preparations, bride portraits, bride and bridesmaids portraits; the groom and his groomsmen, the full wedding party, the family portraits, and the bride and groom. If you aren’t experienced shooting weddings, plan for extra time so you won’t be rushed or distracted by the time pressures.


4. Be connected

Be sure to get the phone number of the wedding coordinator, the best man, and the bride’s personal attendant. If (and when) the wedding schedule gets off, you will want to be sure that the wedding coordinator is in the know. And when the time comes to hunt down rogue bridal party or family members who are missing out on the shoot, these numbers are handy for extra help.

5. Have help!

Shooting a first wedding is best done with another primary shooter, or at least an assistant. An assistant will help you keep track of your shot list, schedule, managing the individuals for large group photos. In the very least, an assistant is available to carry equipment, keep track of the cell phone, and holding reflectors.


6. Make a shot list

The bridal couple will undoubtedly have shots they want. Generally, the couple will stress the importance of photos with family members attending, and the bridal party. Once you have this initial list, you can build a more detailed list for your own reference. A shot list will keep you focused and on top as you go about the 5-8 hour shooting day. As you refer to your shot list throughout the day, won’t have to worry about forgetting anything.

7. Scout out your locations

Arrive at the venue at least an hour before you are to begin shooting. Once you are on location, map out your location flow. Where will you start out and what shots will you take in that area? Where will you go next? What distractions must you watch out for in each location? Where is the light? Have a flow plan for your shoot and both you and your clients will stay relaxed through the day.

8. Put on your game face!

Remember that no matter what happens on the wedding day, there will be a plethora of uncontrolled variables. Your role is to take the unexpected happenings and run with them! If you are the picture of calm and the voice of reason, everyone else will be ok! The mark of a good wedding photographer isn’t a perfectly planned and executed shoot but rather a wedding shoot in which the photographer was able to adapt to each scenario and still capture the beautiful moments of the day.

No matter how much reading and research time you put into preparing, there is a large degree of learning that will come from that first experience. Above all, set your mind on enjoying the experience no matter what comes your way. While the pressure is on, so long as you can take nervous pressure and channel it to anticipated excitement, you’ll be just fine.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this 3 part series where we’ll explore shot lighting more in depth.

Update: check out more Wedding Photography Tips

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Christina N Dickson is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography and leadership with

Some Older Comments

  • Tara July 13, 2013 02:06 am

    Great Tips! The only thing I would add is to make sure you have appropriate footwear - you're going to be spending many hours on your feet and you are going to be wishing you had brought better shoes about 2 hrs in!

    Great blog, thank you so much!

  • Suheil Deida September 1, 2012 12:35 pm

    I am going to shoot my first wedding in December with a canon rebel xs!! I am not charging for this wedding! It's for a coworker! Any tips on would help please!!

  • Mike May 25, 2012 09:18 am

    Great post Christina. I've been working with Lynn Brown (in the Atlanta area) for the past year and I have noticed how important everything you talked about is for a photographer. Seriously, it's not the point-and-shoot, "easy business" that some people think it is.

    Thanks for the tips,

  • PLPNO January 28, 2012 09:23 am

    Hello fellow DPS members!

    It's great reading the comments made under the Wedding topic.
    I too have been following the tips here and actually did a wedding (my first) back in August of 2011 as a back-up to a friend and put them into practice.

    The wedding day was great...except the few weeks after. My friend and I had no idea that the bride would accuse us of being money hungry and to add insult, call us liars. It all started with the Proofs...after we compiled all of the images for the proofs and ended up with over a thousand images, we realized that they will not fit Online. We then contacted the client immediately (via email - for paper trail just in case) and gave her 2 options with one having the proofs on a DVD. She then replied giving us approval! We decided not to edit all of the proofs because that is what they really are...PROOFS. The client asked if they were all edited and we replied letting her know that the final selected images (by the client) will be edited via post processing software. Then she asks about how she can show the proofs to her family...which we then explain to her that she can pass the DVD to members of their family after they have viewed and selected the photos they would like on their album, canvas, and 8x10.

    As far as my friend and I know, we've been professionals about it. We never replied negative responses to all of her derogatory emails.

    To date, we are still waiting for her to provide the image numbers so we can do our editing and fullfil our end of the contract.

    If she replies back with another derogatory email, we have no choice but to refund her money...all $1,600*.
    (* Since this is my friend's 2nd and my 1st (and possibly my last...I don't know about my friend) wedding, we worked with her (the client) since she has a tight budget and couldn't afford Professionals!

    Sorry for the lengthy comment!

    Anyone care to share some feedback? Is refunding a good idea? Is there a "fullfilment" contract someone can share?

    Thanks in advance!


  • David Lehner January 16, 2012 01:48 am

    Nice article. I am a Wedding Photographer in Cardiff.( ) I remember my first wedding 10 years ago as second photographer and then when I started on my own I was looking for similar blogs like this to get an idea how to take good pictures

  • wedding dress Orange County January 13, 2012 02:54 pm

    Wonderful tips! Aspiring photographers can use these things to help them out on their first photo shoot to ensure that he/she can capture the most important scene that the couples will be doing their wedding day.

  • Sheldon C. Penny October 22, 2011 10:51 am

    I normally just wing it most of the times. With Weddings, I would much prefer to be more prepared. Especially having a Shot List is very important.

  • orange county wedding photographer August 30, 2011 08:07 am

    I find that scouting location is very tiring but very important for time management on the day of the wedding.

  • Toledo Wedding Photographer August 12, 2011 10:12 pm

    The shot list... a definate must - depending on my memory isn't an option, because it's not so great sometimes! Great information! Thanks!

  • Blackfin July 22, 2011 02:25 pm

    Great info for getting into the photography business, i have some other great tips on my new photography blog Wedding Photography Contract it goes over how to write a photography contract, thanks


  • Heather July 16, 2011 12:52 am

    I'm shooting my first wedding today! Reading this blog and all of these comments keep making me laugh - thanks for the laughter today - I'm so excited and am trying NOT to think of the scariness! Wish me luck!

  • Cindy April 13, 2011 01:35 am

    I really enjoy reading the articles and comments on this thread regarding wedding photography. I am shooting my first wedding in more than 4 years this May, and I have been reading wedding tips, I have a wedding list from the bride and groom, etc. Even had them sign a contract at our first meeting. I also know the bride. The only thing so far, is I didn't charge enough...The wedding is in Philadelphia and I reside a few hours away. I didn't factor in overnight expenses. I hope this can serve as a lesson for others reading my post:)

    To share a story about my first wedding I photographed, most of the wedding party and guests spoke Greek more than English, the wedding, although on Valentine's Day, was very small with very few guests, and the only brides maid did not show up at the reception! I think I only shot one roll of film during the whole event.

    If anyone has any tips for me, please feel free to send me an email! Thank you!

  • Ivey March 9, 2011 12:35 pm

    I did my first wedding in September. In my opinion it was awful at best. Lighting was bad. I just felt that everything was wrong. However the bride was oh so pleased. I am shooting my best friends wedding in Aruba in July. So the pressure is on! Any tips for sunset beach weddings. I have a basic dslr camera. A Nikon D60. Please help!!! Thanks

  • Bryan Agoncillo October 27, 2010 03:58 am

    Wow, our first wedding was extremely scary but when the couple first showed up, the scariness went away.

  • Bryan Grant October 26, 2010 02:27 pm

    i remember my first wedding...... scary. Unfortunately practice makes perfect and the more you shoot the better you are.

  • Destin Weddings June 25, 2010 01:38 am

    Thanks for sharing i love the pictures

  • gracie June 18, 2010 10:16 pm

    I am photographing my first wedding in 8 days and I am extremely nervous. I'm 16 years old, have worked with models, animals, children, you name it, but this is the single most nerve racking expierience yet! Your advice has helped so much though! Thank you.

  • John Gil Bryan Q. Agoncillo June 5, 2010 03:33 pm

    We are having our first wedding photo shoot on June the 5th and it is very scary...

  • Jinger Judd January 24, 2010 09:11 am

    Very good point about doing your first wedding with help - I think no matter how experienced a photographer you are in other genres of photography, your first wedding should without doubt be as a second shooter - if just for your own stress reduction! Thanks for such a great post!

  • Aspen Wedding Photographer December 29, 2009 01:20 pm

    Some really good advice for someone just getting started. This should be required reading before stepping into the industry.

  • Palm Beach Wedding Photographer December 21, 2009 04:51 am

    Oh, the 1st few weddings are the worst. I think its huge to learn you boundaries. Know what you can and can't get by with.

  • Lorraine Foster September 25, 2009 04:33 am

    I am really enjoying all the tips for wedding photography. I am doing my fifth wedding this weekend but have learned a lot through mistakes. My first wedding I used too many filters and a lot of the shots did not come out well. One wedding was outside at a lake but I had to shoot into the sun, which was a problem. Then, the reception hall was so dark that nothing I did could save the pictures. Now I ask that the reception halls be lit and not totally dark. Every wedding I do I learn from my mistakes. This site helps me a lot.

  • Johan September 14, 2009 02:54 am

    Great tips here, thanks!

  • Arunas July 9, 2009 10:54 am

    I missed one tip.
    after wedding when you ready to give the photos, try to look at the rezults together. It will give you an extra points. Speak about your idea, it shows that you care. If everything is good you can get a nice recommendation for further work.

  • Bashfulsue June 23, 2009 03:37 pm

    I have done a few weddings where I didn't get paid and everything turned out great. My first paid wedding was horrible! It was also the strangest wedding I have ever been too. I went to the rehearsal by request. Brides mother wanted pictures. Bride did not. Day of wedding it poured. Bride still did not really want any pictures. The Bride and her brides maids got dresses basically in a bathroom. Not enough room to really take good shots and very bad lighting. Mother of bride really wanted pictures even though Bride did not. Bride would not smile at all during the whole days events. Neither did the groom. Wedding ceremony and reception were both in the same place. A small room with way too many tables set up than there were guest. Tripod was out of the question as there was not enough space to even set one up. Lighting was so bad that the conditions changed with every step you took. I can't stress enough that the "Happy Couple" did not want pictures! Not sure why they were getting married. I was forced to shoot as fast as I possible could. I had guest that kept walking in front of me while I was taking a shot and also had guest that were taking pictures bumping into me. Also, that place was so hot inside that my camera lenses kept fogging up. Now I have to try and fix most all of the pictures because I could not use tripod or take my time taking the shots. Now, I am also very scared to do anymore weddings.
    So, my biggest lesson was: Brides Mother hired me, not the bride. Lesson: Make sure that the Happy Couple really want pictures. Any suggestions for a situation like this?

  • Shanle Photography March 18, 2009 03:41 am

    At one wedding I attended, the photographer gathered up everyone who would be in the photos together and started with the big group. As he took the photos, those who weren't needed anymore were let go in ones and twos and so forth. The result was that no one had to sit around waiting for the photographer to finish.

    This might be a good idea, if you can coordinate it.

  • Julie Harris Photographers September 21, 2008 09:19 am

    I remember my first wedding. Excited, nervous, hopeful, paranoid I would forget to photograph someone or something.

    It definitely gets easier but those first few ones are really important. Just learning about the process, the interractions, the need to be assertive as well as diplomatic. You HAVE to have PEOPLE SKILLS! I can't stress that enough.

    Good article!

  • Chris Ellis June 21, 2008 05:32 am

    Your site has been a tremendous teaching tool for me. I could not have done my first weddings with out you! I am shooting my third tomorrow. Thank you so much for giving back to the photography community. My pics can be seen at

    Chris Ellis

  • Larry May 31, 2008 01:51 pm

    I did a wedding for a good friend's sister. I am not a professional and I made that crystal clear to the bride and groom and realatives prior to the wedding. I went to the rehersal the day before to get the lay of the land and took many pictures that day. I used my Canon 20D with a Tamron 18-200 and a 480 external flash for about 90% of the pics.I had no assistant. I did do a lot of reading on the internet weeks before the wedding and the information there was very helpful. The day of the wedding I was surprisingly relaxed and I think much of that was a result of being relatively prepared and comfortable with my own style. I did not charge them for this shoot even though I spent many hours of my time during and after the ceremony and a bit of money printing a few 8x10s. I love what I do and this "exercise" allowed me lots of shots to critique and ideas on improving future shots. You can see some of these shots on Flickr. My name is fauxtoman.
    Things I learned....Use fill flash outside. The bride has really deep set eyes and while I wasn't so concerned about blur outside, I should have lit up those eye sockets some.
    Use my tripod more than I did. Buy a better tripod....lighter (expensiver) and use a quick release...Get someone to help you. Carrying equipment, regardless of how little and trying to be proactive setting up the next shot when everyone is moving around, talking and laughing can be very taxing. Don't feel like you have to hurry up and get the shot over with because the people are getting tired. Screw'em. You are in control. Not them. Hope this helps. Do and learn.

  • Furious Photographers May 14, 2008 01:58 pm

    I like the last tip a lot about your game face during a wedding =P In the end, if you have all of this stuff in tact, I am sure that one's confidence will radiate during the wedding and the pictures will look awesome.

    I love reading this blog!

    Furious Photographers | Furious Photographers Blog

  • Paulo Jordao Photography May 13, 2008 04:14 pm

    I am a Wedding Photographer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida ( ).
    The first wedding that I shot (around 10 years ago), was for a bride that want to get married at the same time with her other 3 sisters.
    can you imagine it? 4 brides for my first weeding!!! :-)
    I just want to you to understand that Wedding Photography is a lot more than just capture the moment of the event, it is an ART. So... If you realy want to start on this field, buying a couple of good WEDDING BOOKS and WEDDING VIDEO TUTORIALS would be a good start, plust start investing in good camera, lenses, flashes, etc...
    Paulo Jordao

  • Cybasumo May 12, 2008 10:31 pm

    flowers are nice in this photo, kinda felt funny about the tag line.

  • Tia Martyn May 12, 2008 05:28 pm

    It's also very important to know who the photographer is and a scheduled meeting with the photographer can help in many ways.


  • karen garcia May 12, 2008 08:25 am

    Check your equipment, have back up, and get to know who you are shooting. I make it a practice to drop by the rehearsal dinner because it gives me a very good sense as to who is the nearest and dearest to the couple.

  • Jeff & Candace Painter May 10, 2008 05:53 am

    We just recently shot a great wedding! We had so much fun!! The bride and groom were laid back and comfortable, even though we had just met. I was a bit nervous making sure we had all of the shots, but I shouldn't have been we had 1600 images from a 12 hour day. The pose list is a great idea. As is the time to get to know the bride and groom. It makes sense that weddings would be the focus of many articles right now, since it is "wedding season". We could all stand to do more networking. This is a great way to do it and learn from each other.

  • Aaron Snyder May 10, 2008 02:33 am


    What you're asking to do is pretty difficult, but not impossible. If you go with a wide angle lens, get kind of low and place the people in a diagonal line with the smallest in front and the largest in back. Play with the angle and line up a little until it looks natural--- this is the hard part. Once you try it out a bit you'll get the hang of it. If you leave a comment on my website or shoot me an email I'll provide you with a more indepth explanation and some examples.

    Hope this helps--

    -Aaron Snyder

  • Noel May 10, 2008 01:58 am

    Having just started shooting weddings professionally has definitely been an experience! I started out shooting for some of my friends who couldn't afford or didn't want to hire a photographer and I must say that research is the key to understanding what is going on and how to get great shots. Practice a lot too.

    Meggan I just shot a similar wedding and would suggest doing some creative shots of the wedding party controlling your depth of field and staggering people up and down the beach to more evenly proportion them. If you could find a sand dune or small hill and some open space you could probably have a lot of fun with arranging everyone.

  • Meggan May 10, 2008 12:03 am

    I am seeking advice on wedding party group shots that involve a "range" of attendant sizes. For instance, I have a wedding party next Spring that will have a 6 foot 100 lb. MOH and 5'3'' 300lb Bridesmaid and a 5'3'' 125lb Bridesmaid. Also I have NO idea what the groomsmen are like. Does any one have any group shot ideas that will diminish the size/height difference other than just doing face shots? The Wedding will be on a beach in Mexico so I am not sure of the availability of rocks or chairs to do a staggered arrangement.

  • Tim May 9, 2008 10:02 pm

    Something I've often seen recommended to people in these situations is to assist at some other weddings first with an experienced shooter so you do get to see the skills required. Beats going in with a rough idea and risking something going wrong.

  • Kat May 9, 2008 08:28 pm

    I've noticed that DPS has been doing the wedding article over and over the last couple of months.

  • xlt May 9, 2008 07:57 pm

    useful one. i'm going to wedding next week. fortunately not as an official photographer. :)

  • Aaron Snyder May 9, 2008 01:59 pm

    I've just recently shot my first wedding. I did all the research I could and really felt I was prepared-- but I got to the dimly light church, ugly day, and poorly light reception hall and really started to sweat. Then I just told myself that it was like any other event- stay calm, pull out the 50mm f1.4 and fill with the flash. Once I loosened up I started pulling away with some pretty great shots. The one downside was that somewhere along the lines I either lost or had one of my SD cards stolen. NOT good. Anyways if anyone has a minute I'd appreciate it if you took a look at the shots from my first wedding and provide any feedback- I'm always trying to learn. Here are the shots:

    As always another excellent article!

  • Bilka May 9, 2008 01:28 pm

    Your article took me back 40 years. I can still remember the sweaty palms and the pounding of my heart in my chest during the exercise of photographing my first wedding as I went happly shooting with my Yashika D, Twin Lens Reflex, 6x6 camera loaded with Kodak Vericolor film. We survive these first attempts and grow from the experience.

    I kept all the proofs from that wedding and still will thumb through them occationally. I find it very comforting to know where I am now and to see where I once was.


  • Luke May 9, 2008 04:27 am

    These are great pointers! As novice wedding photog, I look forward to reading part 2 and 3!

  • Deck May 9, 2008 02:17 am

    Feel like part of the family, it helps a lot :)
    Good rappor between the photographer and the couple is critical also, it helps if the photographer has made time to know the couple even before the day of the shoot, maybe an informal meeting or even doing their prenup.
    I like the "game face" tip, gonna apply that, thanks! :)

  • My Camera World May 9, 2008 01:00 am

    We often talk about get prepared and ready for the wedding shoot and there is a great deal of preparation needed in order to not just document snap shots but bring life and quality to your images.

    I must admit wedding photography scares me and that is why I never do these types of events.

    The one subject that is never discussed in these how to tips is the Wedding Contract.

    In my view there is so much emotion and expectation with wedding shoots (not all) that it is easy to have a misunderstanding between the photographer and the bride and groom that I would imagine there are many areas that could cause problems.

    A wedding contract should be clear about the services being provided and just as well clear about what is not being provided. (I do have a fair bit of experience with contract law). It should also articulate what are the remedies for the many things that can go wrong.

    Now I know most professional will not just work to the contract but will go beyond this, but I hear too many stores about less than perfect wedding shoots.

    I would never do a wedding shoot unless I had a backup assistant and almost full redundant equipment. There is no time to re-shoot should something go wrong with the equipment.

    Niels Henriksen

  • Raymond Chan May 9, 2008 12:10 am

    I shot my first wedding a couple of weeks ago and blogged about it here.

    It was quite a disaster, but at the end of the day, I had learned so much more during the day itself compared to what I had read about wedding photography online.