So, you’ve booked your first wedding! Whether it’s a paid job, or just a favor for a friend, this is one of the most exciting things that can happen to an amateur photographer. But with that excitement comes a set of very high stakes — you only get one chance to do it right, after all. If you’ve spent any time at all on this site, then you know just how important preparation is for a successful first shoot. But instead of talking in generalities, here’s a list of 5 very specific and very common mistakes made by new wedding photographers (and how not to make them).
1. Forgetting that you’re selling a service as well as a product
“The Photos” are the ultimate deliverable (the product) for the client, and are usually thought of as the most important aspect of choosing a wedding photographer. It’s true that the product HAS to be good, but it’s also a given. Delivering good photos is essentially the table stakes for playing in the wedding photography game.
Just as important is the service you provide leading up to the wedding, and on the big day. You have to be someone who the bride and groom won’t mind spending every moment with on the most important day of their lives. I’ll repeat that for dramatics — THE MOST IMPORTANT DAY OF THEIR LIVES. While it’s your job to get good photos, it’s also your job to do everything you can to make sure they are enjoying themselves as much as possible throughout the process.
That means you don’t get to yell at your assistant, you don’t get to glare at difficult family members, and you absolutely don’t get to be confrontational with the bride or groom — even if they deserve it.
One of the best compliments we can receive is when a bride, groom, or anyone else approaches us on the day of the wedding — before they have any idea how the photos will turn out — and tell us that we are doing a good job. This is a sign that our service was good, which is just as memorable as delivering good products.
We have heard horror stories about photographers who were grumpy, short-worded, impersonal, or even flat-out mean. And whether the photos look good or not, that is not a person that will be enjoyable to hang out with on the most important day of the client’s life.
2. Being scared to admit a mistake
We have all been there: We spend 5 minutes coordinating family members into a perfectly composed group, and maybe even get the baby to stop crying. We run back to the tripod and snap a picture before anyone loses their smile or adjusts their hair. Blurry. Whatever the cause, you notice when reviewing the picture that it is simply not sharp (or it’s under exposed, or cropped incorrectly, or whatever). In this moment, you have 2 choices: Convince yourself that “it’s not that bad — I can fix it in Lightroom,” OR you can admit that it was bad, and ask for your subjects to be patient while you adjust your settings and get it right.
The only correct answer is the latter. For some reason, it’s difficult to admit to a client that a single frame didn’t turn out — assuming that they will judge us, and immediately label us as “bad photographers.” But this simply isn’t true! Within reason, you need to take the time you need to configure (and correct) your settings in order to get a good picture.
What makes you a “bad photographer” is delivering sub-par photos that you could have retaken with better results.
3. Not understanding the expectations of the clients
My first wedding was a disaster. Not because the photos I took were bad, but because I had no idea what the clients wanted. I didn’t know how important wedding party photos were to them. I didn’t know that the bride had a sister that she was hoping to have tons of pictures with. I didn’t even know the schedule of events! A wedding day is not the time to guess or assume expectations on behalf of your clients.
Instead, you should OVER-communicate with your clients beforehand to get a solid understanding for what is important to them. The pre-wedding questionnaire is a good start in this communication. When you know what’s expected you have a much better chance of delivering a great product – whether family photos are most important, whether they are looking for traditional, candid, or artistic photos, whether there are unique items or events to capture.
4. Thinking photography is your only responsibility
As the wedding photographer, your job is simply to take photos, right? It’s not up to you to keep the schedule, coordinate travel arrangements between locations, remind the DJ of the cake cutting, or anything else. Right?
This ties in closely with the first point about providing a service on the day of the wedding. As the photographer, you should be the “Wedding Expert.” While it’s not in your contract to keep the DJ on schedule, it is up to you to make sure that you can capture all of the photos you agreed to — and sometimes that means taking leadership in areas outside of photography. In about 80% of the weddings we’ve worked, we had to coach the bride and groom in cutting their wedding cake. Is that in the contract? Nope. But we are the most qualified people in the room, and we always take pleasure in helping with things like that. The added bonus is that the photos you take will almost always look better when things are going smoothly!
5. Missing the human moments
Weddings are often over-planned. There are schedules, vendors, caterers, favors, playlists and uniforms. Because of the lavishness of this “event” it is sometimes easy to focus solely on photographing the key players, and the scheduled events. But what’s just as important is capturing the emotions, reactions and connections made by the bride and groom and their friends and family. This means being “always on” and always ready to take a picture.
Everyone knows that you’re supposed to take a posed photo of the bride and groom on the alter, right? But what about the moment when the groom leans over to whisper in the bride’s ear as they are adjusting their pose? Some of our most popular pictures are the candid “in between” moments that show the human side of a sometimes overly-controlled event.
Whether it’s the look on a father’s face as he gives away his daughter, or the laughter between guests at a reception table, there are countless “in between” moments that will truly add emotion to the photos you deliver and evoke nostalgia when the client sees them.