FAQs for First Time Wedding Photographers

20 top questions new wedding photographers ask

Should I take the job?

This is a question that only you can answer, but there are some questions you should ask yourself before you take the job. Do you have experience with, and access to a DSLR camera? We’ll talk about this more later, but a DSLR (that is, NOT a compact, point-and-shoot) is a requirement. Are you a good communicator? Taking pictures is usually the “easy part.” Being a good communicator will make or break your success for the day. Are you politely assertive when you need to be? As the photographer, you will need to wrangle guests, organize group photos, ask people to move out of your way, keep the wedding party on schedule and very often deal with difficult (drunk) people. If you can’t be assertive, your ability to get quality shots will decrease.

What should I charge?

If you are brand new to wedding photography, this is a hard question. Experienced wedding photographers have packages between 2,500 and 6,000 (very experienced or specialized photographers charge even more). But with no previous wedding experience (even if you have a lot of photography experience), you shouldn’t hope to fall in that range. I highly recommend that your first wedding be priced at a point that is very comfortable for the client, while being sure to cover any expenses you have related to the job. I shot my first wedding for $100, but now start my packages at $2,500. If I were to recommend a comfortable range, it’d be between $400 and $900. Your first wedding isn’t about maximizing your profit (that comes later) — it’s about providing a service, and making sure you  do an awesome job.

How long is the day

Long. It’s not uncommon to work for 10+ hours on the wedding day (not including travel time). We’ll get into this much more later, but determining how long your day is is a humongus part of setting expectations with the client.

How to interact with guests / how to act at the reception

Eat, don’t drink, and be merry!

When you agree to photograph a wedding, you agree to be professional. This means you agree to communicate well with the client before the wedding, you agree to be friendly and polite during the wedding day, and you agree to work quickly and transparently after the wedding.

At times, you may start to feel “like a guest,” especially during the reception. When the dancing starts, and you are on the dance floor getting action shots it’s important to have energy — nobody wants a debbie downer wandering around while everyone is doing the ChaCha Slide. However, this is also a time to remember that you are a professional. It’s not a time to jump into the conga line, or try to catch the bouquet. Remember that you’re their to document THEIR party, and while it’s acceptable to enjoy yourself, remember that you are one of few people being paid to be there.

Don’t drink. Nope, not while you’re working. Not even one. We got our start by photographing a lot of friends’ weddings, and we were always told “Feel free to grab a beer or wine if you want!” But remember — no matter how close you are to the bride or groom, guests will see you as someone who drinks on the job.

Is my camera nice enough?

The more appropriate question is “are my cameras nice enough?” On any given job, I would ALWAYS recommend having 2 functional entry level cameras, rather than having only 1 high-end camera. Sure, high end cameras will add value to your photography business, but your number 1 priority on the day of someone else’s wedding is to be prepared with the proper abilities and equipment. For our first 2 wedding seasons, we used 2 Canon Rebel DSLRs with tremendous success. Sure, we love the upgrade in functionality of the 5D Mark III, but we wouldn’t have been able to afford a backup — and that’s just asking for trouble.

That was a little bit of a tangent — let’s get back to actual quality.

  • Camera body: A DSLR is the bare minimum. Even the most entry-level DSLRs on the market today have amazing image sensors. If it has manual settings adjustments and interchangeable lenses, it’ll be just fine!
  • Lenses: If you have money to spend on better quality equipment, spend it on lenses. The lens that came with your camera is fine when lighting conditions are perfect, and when you have the ability to move around. But having an arsenal of higher quality lenses with varying focal lengths and wide apertures will ensure you have what you need in any shooting condition. *If you don’t own, or can’t afford higher quality lenses, rent them. We use Borrowlenses.com  — they have an amazing selection, and great prices. We’ll talk more about specific gear later.
  • Lighting equipment: We love the outdoors. There is no better light than the sun for amazing photos. But again, it’s your job to be prepared for any situation. And believe it or not, the sun isn’t always on your side. So we recommend 2 items (as the bare minimum). An off-camera flash like a Speedlite 480, and a reflector. These two pieces (and some creative problem solving) will be sufficient to get you through the day.

Do I need an assistant?

No, but we HIGHLY recommend a second shooter. Working as a team will make your day a billion times more manageable and fun. Autumn and I constantly talk about how glad we are to have each other on the big day. Not only to cover more ground and get more angles, but also to collaborate and solve problems with.

How do I make sure I give the clients what they want?

The easiest way to do this is to actually understand what your clients want. This can’t be learned from a blog, FAQ page or even a coaching session. The only way to really understand is to meet with your clients, and ask the right questions. We offer a free list of questions to ask in your client, but it really boils down to: “what’s important to your client, and how can you provide it?” When you approach the day with that mindset, you’ll set yourself up for success from the beginning!

Do I have the right personality?

I’m quite an introvert. My wife is outgoing. We are both successful wedding photographers. As long as you don’t have a mean or nasty personality, you can thrive as a wedding photographer! Yes, you will have to be assertive (even bossy) at times, which can be a stretch for some personalities, but if you approach the day with the clients’ best interest in mind, you’ll find that you can step up to situations that you may not normally.

What do I do about nagging guests, or other “photographers”?

Just as technology has become less of a barrier for wedding photographers, it has also become less of a barrier for Uncle Tony and his 5D “toy.” Guests with cameras, phones, or even iPads (yes, we’ve seen guests aiming their iPad cameras at the bride and groom) will always be an issue. That is, unless you are lucky enough to have clients who literally ban their guests from taking photos (We’ve heard about these glorious clients, but haven’t been that lucky — yet). The most important thing to remember in these situations is that YOU are being paid to get the best possible shot. That gives you a higher level clearance than Uncle Tony. Always being polite and professional, you, as the pro, are always given right-of-way to get your shot. So don’t worry about stepping in front of others to get the shot (Just don’t be a jerk about it).

How many pictures should I take?

Professional wedding photographers should take about 100 pictures per hour (To save you from math, that’s 1,000 photos for a 10 hour gig). This is VERY flexible, but it’s a good number to aim for. We’ve delivered 800 pictures for low key or short weddings, and over 1,300 for longer, more extravagant weddings. The important thing to remember is that quality is much more important than quality. You shouldn’t include sub-par photos just to hit some arbitrary number. When you’re done editing, you should only deliver your best images — if that means only 900 images, rather than 1,000, that’s totally fine!

How do I work with extreme lighting conditions?

Yikes — extreme light. Wouldn’t it be great if it was always ideal lighting? Sun low in the sky, open and well-lit church, reception hall with a low, white ceiling for bouncing a flash. Unfortunately, this almost never happens. You might walk into a candle-lit ceremony, take outdoor wedding party pictures at high-noon, or attend a reception lit only by a multi-colored laser light display.

I’ve said it many times already, and I’ll say it again — it’s your job to be prepared for unanticipated conditions. We won’t get too detailed in the technical details of camera settings, but here are some pointers for both high and low light situationsIt’s too bright! It seems like a weird problem to have, but if you are shooting outdoors between 11am and 2pm, you may find that it’s actually too sunny. You’ll notice over exposed foreheads, and dark, harsh shadows under your subject’s eyes. So what do you do? This is actually an easy one… move into the shade! You’ll still be able to get well exposed pictures, even though it feels dark. It only feels dark because the light is so harsh. But you’ll find that the light is much more even, and more flattering on your subjects.

My subjects are squinty! One rule of thumb when shooting in the bright daylight is to keep the sun behind your subjects and to reflect the sunlight back onto their faces (using your reflector).

It’s too dark! Reception venues are notoriously under-lit, and will usually present the most difficult shooting situation of the day. If you can’t use flash, or don’t want to, you’re going to have to lower your Aperture value (which is technically increasing it, but that’s more technically than we’ll get) and increase your ISO setting. Be very careful with lowering your shutter speed, however. The lowest shutter speed you should use to capture moving people is 1/125. It’s tempting to lower it to get a better exposure, but a lower exposure will almost definitely result in blurry photos. You can always recover a little light, but you can never unblur a photo.

Bounce, don’t blast! Whenever possible (which is almost always), bounce your flash off of the ceiling instead of pointing it straight at your subject. We’ve all seen the “deer in the headlights” flash — that’s not a good look. By bouncing your flash, it does a much better job of filling the room with diffused light, rather than blasting a single subject

I hate dealing with money — how do I make this less awkward?

You mean you didn’t get into photography because you love dealing with money? Shocking! The fact of the matter is that if you have to get comfortable exchanging money if you are going to start trading your services for payment. It’s just part of the game. It’s much less awkward if you have a contract. Which reminds me…

Do I really need a contract?

Yes. Absolutely. Always. Even if it’s your sister’s wedding. A contract is the document that outlines exactly what you will deliver, as well as what the client will deliver. Without a document to set these expectations, there WILL be miscommunication, and false expectations. We are not lawyers, nor are we qualified to give legal advice, but we do have a template you can download to give you a good start on your own contract.

What’s the best way to deliver images to my clients?

Obviously, high quality photos are the first priority, but as a professional photographer, you will also be expected to provide packaging that matches the quality of the product. Of course this doesn’t mean you need to drop $150 on a custom leather DVD case, but it does mean that you should put some thought into how you deliver your product. Brides check their mailbox everyday after their wedding, hoping to find a beautiful package containing their wedding photos. An emailed link to your Dropbox account won’t cut it (and it made be barf a little in my mouth to even suggest it). Here’s what your clients will expect:

Something physical. We use DVDs because the cases look great when displayed on a bookshelf, but a custom (Seriously… CUSTOM) USB drive is also a great way to deliver the photo files.

Something online. In addition to the physical product to display in their home, your clients will also expect to view photos and order prints online. There are hundreds of photography studios that offer Online Viewing Galleries which allow you to upload the wedding images, and provide log-in information to your clients. They can then log in, view, and order professionally printed photos. They can also share this gallery with their friends and family. An added bonus is that you usually get a commission from any print your client orders from these services

Social Media! Not only is this an amazing way to market your photography services, clients love being able to share their photos with friends and family on Facebook, Google+ or Twitter. Do not post All the pictures you’ve taken, however. Choose 20-30 of your ABSOLUTE BEST images, and create a Facebook photo album. By instructing your clients to tag themselves, the images will then be visible to all of their networks.

What’s a standard lead time for delivering the images?

Rule of thumb: 45 days, give or take 15 days. Really quick studios will promise a 1 month lead time, while slower photographers will deliver in 2 months. I suggest aiming for for the middle — 45 days. It’s plenty of time to organize, cull and edit your images, and to design and order your packaging materials. The most important thing to remember — whatever deadline you set, DELIVER THEM EARLY! Nothing is more impressive to a client than a photographer who goes above and beyond, and works more quickly than promised. So, if you know you can deliver the finished photos in 30 days, agree to a 45 day lead time. Not only does this build a little contingency into your schedule (just in case you’re infected with swine flu), but it also gives you the opportunity to deliver early, and look like the hero.

To edit or not to edit?

Edit. Photoshop has gotten a bad reputation over the years, but only because of _bad_ editing. Many people reminisce of the “film days” before photoshop, but even then, experienced photographers adjusted each and every image in their darkroom. Adjusting contrast, desaturating, fixing blemishes are all acceptable (and encouraged) edits, and have been around for years before photoshop was invented.

We edit all of our images in Lightroom. We prefer this to Photoshop for 2 reasons:It’s also a photo management software. It allows you to organize, keyword, rename, etc. right in the editing workflow.It’s non-destructive. This means that the original photo file is never changed. Any edits or adjustments made are always 100% reversible.

Do. not. overedit. Especially for beginning photographers, your clients are paying for a crisp and beautiful representation of their day. They are not paying for your artistic outlet, spot coloring experimentation, or pop art manipulation. Remember when we talked about Photoshop’s bad reputation? This is why. Photos should be a 1:1 representation of the event, and what it looked like at the time.

Don’t worry, over time you will be able to develop an artistic style. But this is secondary to being able to deliver high quality, crisp photographs.

Do I get to eat?

99% of the time, yes. But this is something you should bring up at your first client meeting. We’ve never had a client refuse to feed us, so I’m sure you’ll never meet any resistance on this topic, but it’s always a good idea to make sure everyone’s expectations are on the table well in advance of the wedding day. Wedding food (particularly the cake) is one of those perks that we enjoy as part of the job That, and memorizing the Cupid Shuffle lyrics.

What if it rains?

You should always have a plan B if your plan A is to shoot outdoors. Know the area — call coffee shops, bookstores, historic buildings and other cool spaces ahead of time, so in the event of rain, you can direct the bride, groom and wedding party indoors to continue shooting.

What is a second shooter? Do I need one?

We already talked about that.

Should I try to do video?

No. Not unless they’ve requested it specifically, and you have experience with video. There is a reason that couples often hire both a photographer and a videographer — it’s very difficult (not to mention a completely different skill set) to shoot both at the same event. I’ve taken short videos with my DSLR, but only as a fun little addition to the wedding photos — not as a replacement for a videographer.