Are you considering pursuing this highly competitive field? Weekend warriors, beware: As a wedding photographer, you only have one chance to get it right, so be prepared. Here are 10 things to keep in mind when photographing weddings.
1. Meet with the couple beforehand. You want the bride and groom to feel comfortable with you. It is important that they feel relaxed on their wedding day, because their feelings will emanate in the photographs. Part of your job is to do whatever you can to create an air of calm. Ask questions about where she got her dress, how they met, etc. Be very enthusiastic and thankful that they are letting you be a part of their very special day.
Oftentimes people already have ideas about what sort of imagery they want. Find out if the couple dreamt about having a specific photo taken, i.e. one of the bride arriving in the limo, one of the groom lifting the bride, riding the subway, etc.
2. Be clear on pricing and what deliverables are expected. Make sure to have in writing your fee and the breakdown of what the couple will be receiving. Include: how many hours you will be working, whether transportation is included, an assistant, how many photographs they can expect, when and how you will deliver them, (i.e. 4x6 prints in a box or contact sheets, online, etc.) and the cost of enlargements or an album. Don't forget to include processing fees when shooting film and keep in mind how much time you will need to post process and retouch your digital images. I usually offer two different packages and let the client choose which one is most appropriate for them. Also find out if they prefer black and white or color and if they will want the photos digitally. It all adds up so be sure to get a deposit.
3. Know ahead of time the schedule for the night and the names of the key players and their relation to the bride and groom. You want to make sure you know where to be and when, and whether or not there are any special events going on at the party. Sometimes relatives get up and sing or play an instrument and you want to make sure to be prepared for things like this. Know who is making speeches, what guests are closest to the bride and groom and be sure to include them in the photos. You don't want to be in the way, but you graciously need to do what you need to do to get the best photos. Move around the party and be prepared! Also, remember as much as you plan, things can go wrong. Try not to panic and just go with the flow.
4. On the day of the wedding make sure to compliment how the couple looks. Think of ways to make them feel comfortable with each other in front of the camera. Maybe ask one of them to tickle the other so they begin to feel more at ease and the photos will take on a natural look. If they prefer formal images you can take them as well.
Figure out when the formal photos will be taken and where. Get a list of who they want portraits of and what order you will take them. If possible, have one of the brides' friends help you rally together the group for photos. This part of the event can get very time consuming so move it along as quickly as possible. Also find out if photos can be taken from upfront during the ceremony. You don't want to find out last minute that the officiant will not allow you to stand near the couple during the ceremony and that you will need a long lens to shoot the couple from the back.
5. Remember that you are telling a story. Get basic shots of the location inside and out. Be sure to include the beautiful decor that set the tone for the affair. Think about how the story should be told and how it moves from one scene to the next. Consider what the first and last shot would be in the album. Put these images together in your mind and think about them when you arrive at the location of the wedding. Try and get the moments that the bride and groom wouldn't necessarily notice, i.e. the flower girl having her bow tied before the ceremony.
6. If you are unfamiliar with the venue and live nearby, scout out the location. This can help you figure out the lighting and the amount of space you will be working in. You may need to place lights in the corners of the room or from the ceiling. It is helpful to be able to visualize, and figure out how that would happen and where the events will take place, ahead of time.
7. Have an assistant to help out -- you will need it. This person can help set up lighting and your tripod, load film, shoot photos, etc. During the portraits, things can get crazy and you will need someone there to assist in lining people up and placing them in the appropriate spots. An assistant will help free you up to be creative and to better do your job in the short time allotted.
8. Always be prepared with proper equipment. Make sure to have back-up camera equipment with you in case anything goes wrong. Some essentials are extra batteries, two camera bodies, ladder, tripod, varied lenses, flashes, extension cords, and a light-meter.
9. Remember to take care of yourself. Try to drink a lot of water and have a power-bar with you in case there is no time for you to eat. It is important that you keep your energy level high. Don't forget to wear comfy shoes. It can be a very long day and night.
10. Feel free to experiment with your photos once you feel that you have gotten all the necessary images to tell your story. Lensbabies are a fun thing to try out. It is a lens that creates a soft focus around the edges of the image and keeps the center of the image in focus. The resulting images tend to have a romantic look and feel to them, but choosing when to use different lenses and filters is a whole other story.
Karen Haberberg is the director of photography and digital media at the JCC in Manhattan where she also photographs events, curates exhibitions, and teaches photography. She is a freelance portrait, documentary, and event photographer. Her photographs have been exhibited in various New York City Galleries and published in magazines and newspapers. She holds a MA degree in Art and Photography from New York University and the International Center of Photography, as well as a MA degree in Educational Communications and Technology from New York University. Karen co-founded Media Pros, an organization designed for media professionals in New York. Karen's work can be viewed at www.karenhaberberg.com.