15 Tips for Wedding Photographers:

PinExt 15 Tips for Wedding Photographers:
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Get the essentials: Thinking outside the box works, Just remember to get the MUST have's. Walking down the isle, standing at the alter, the first dance and many more. What's important to each couple can vary, so communication is important.

Where to start, how to get there, how to stay there. Secrets for professional and aspiring wedding photographers from Gavin & others.

by Gavin Seim: How do I handle my first wedding? How do I become a pro? I get these type of questions fairly often. Weddings aren’t for everyone but most aspiring and pro photographers will photograph a wedding sometime in their career. There’s much to be learned from what’s demanded of us at a wedding. While this article is aimed at those getting started, seasoned pro’s will get ideas too.

Today I’ll give some I’ll talk the basics of how I see and think when I photograph a wedding. Tips 1-6 will focus on getting great images. Then we’ll talk a bit about a  post production and business (which is every bit as important). As we go thru them I’ll post some favorite images and share some thoughts.

The first wedding is daunting. Let me say that I won’t be talking about extreme photography basics in this article. If you’re at that stage there’s no shame in it, but you should gain some experience before tacking a wedding on your own. It’s a one time event and if you get it wrong you will be, at best, a sore spot in the eyes of your client. That’s not good for getting new clients and both you and your client deserve better.

If you can, second shoot aside an experienced photographer it’s a great way to learn, gain better portfolio and get more confidence. In my case that never happened. Though got serious about photography at age 12, my first wedding was cold turkey. I photographed for fun at a wedding and the couple loved them. That pushed me forward and my first paid wedding came awhile after. The rest is… Well the rest is below.

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Try new things: This shot is the result of the first time I used off camera wireless flash (with Radio Poppers) at a wedding. I was just learning them, but made the choice to push myself to get great light in this scene. It paid off and my final image has a neat cinematic feel that fits my style.

Before my first wedding I absorbed the information in at least three wedding photography books. That helped me get a feel for what should happen. Without that study I would have missed a lot of important things. Resources like this are great (I wish I had had them) but a book can help you get perspective and have a reference to review. I’ll list few good books to get you rolling at the bottom of this post.

My first paid gig was back in the film days. I was about eighteen. Armed with my Canon EOS3, a cheap flash, a cheap zoom lens and an old monolight strobe handed down from Doug Miller, a real local pro, I became a wedding photographer. Was I good? No, but I was enthusiastic.

As I set up for alter returns I fried my flash. I had no light meter. Oh well. I hooked up the strobe, guessed at what I “thought” the exposure should be, covered myself with a little bracketing and sayed a prayer. I pulled it off. and the wedding came out OK considering. Looking back I cringe, but the couple got their shots. This all started around 2002. Since then I’ve learned much. Some the hard way, some from other experienced pro’s.

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Light is power. The hour before and after sunset/sunrise is called the magic hour. During magic hour light does wonderful things. I love using it and I'm not afraid to ad my own. Amazing light can happen any other time too, so learn to see light, make it, move it and paint with it. Light is what it's all about.

1: Gear.
Let’s get this over with. Great cameras do not make great photographers. This is coming from a gear nerd. I love cool equipment, but being a pro is a separate issue. Currently I’d suggest starting with a digital SLR (even the cheaper ones are really good), a flash and the best lenses you can afford. Glass is probably the most important, but a good photographer can make great pictures with poor glass. It’s just not as ideal. You’ll also need backup gear. Bought or borrowed, make sure you have it.

Things change so fast it would not make sense to delve deep into gear talk. Those questions are great for the forums. There’s also plenty of gadgets and tools listed in the PPS Amazon store, so look there if you want to ideas.

2: Be professional, be fun.
You’ve been hired to be a part of the day. Be remember and remember you’re a big part of the day. Contribute and get involved in a fun relaxed way. Don’t be too pushy or rude, but take charge. The couple need the confidence that you know whats coming and how to handle it.

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Have fun: Speaking of fun, this young man sure is having it. Always lookout for exciting and fun moments. Learn to shoot simple scenes. In this shot we see there are others around, yet the eye is taken right to the fun this little guy is having.

3: If you’re bored, so are your images.
A wedding is a party. Nobody really wants to see a picture of themselves standing around looking dopey. I see a lot of this and did it when I was starting out. Showing people having fun, is fun. Showing them looking bored, is boring. Also don’t be afraid to aim the camera and do it with energy. Don’t sit on the sidelines like a blob. Keep moving and stay energetic even when when you’re tired. I get a load of comments about how much energy I have. People love it, it’s contagious, impresses clients and keeps me on my game.

4: Be obvious. And be inconspicuous.
Balance is key. A photographer who stands in between the minister and the couple during the ceremony is gonna look like a boob. Yet a photographer who’s too shy to get involved is going to go unnoticed miss things. Remember the guests could be your next client.

Sometimes it’s time to slip on a long lens and get out of the way. Others get in close, laugh and help the energy pick up. It’s hard to tell you when and where to do what. This is a skill you’ll need to pay attention to and get a sense for. Use common sense. Stay invisible when it’s right (like the ceremony) and get in on the action when it works (like the reception)

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Push your limits: This is and HDR portrait. At the time I took it, HDR was rarely used in portraits. It stands out because of the bold yet balanced mood it strikes. Pushing the limits can take on many directions, yet it always helps you learn. You can see more HDR portraits here. And learn about HDR from our HDR category.

5: Don’t sweat it.
A great photographer needs to stay cool under fire. Unlike many jobs you nearly always have an audience that expects you to know your stuff. Sometimes you’ll have a situation with plenty of time to think. Often we have to act quickly. We all have situations where we think “carp, what am I going to do” Never say it out loud. Don’t be arrogant, but stay confident and make decisions quickly when needed. Sometimes you just have to decide. Do you best and keep moving. It will make a stressful situation less stressful and give you and your client confidence.

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Joy and happiness: Everyone wants their wedding to be the best day of their life. Details, the joy of the bride and emotions, yes even the groom. Their a big part of the day. The focus here is on the rings not the bride by the eye scans back and forth making the shot fun.

6: Overall Quality:
Marketing is a big part of a pro’s work, but your images should be amazing too. Practice and learn from other photographer, books, sites and workshops. Take time to practice. Look out for the big things that can wreck a great image like cluttered backgrounds. Try throwing them out of focus with a longer lens or wider aperture.

Making a “good” shot needs to become second nature, so you can push yourself and make “GREAT” shots. Don’t stop trying new things. Keep looking around all the time (even when your not shooting). Observe light, shadows and framing. Learn to see elements that will add or detract from your subject. Keep an eye on those eye’s and make them POP. Learn the mechanics of your gear to make sure your shots are correctly exposed, sharp and dramatic.

7: Simplicity, Simplicity, Simplicity.
I harp this fairly often, but it deserves a category every time. The most common problem I see in failed shots is distractions. Remember, if it’s not somehow leading the eye to the main subject, it probably does not belong in the frame. Lead the viewers eye to the main subject and make every other element secondary. It’s not always easy, but must be done as much as possible. Learn take in all the details in an instant and make a decision about what a scene needs. It could be anything from straitening a necklace, to moving the subject a step sideways, to changing the entire location. We never arrive. I still miss details that I kick myself for later, but I also learn from them.

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Look closer: Here's a good example of not seeing everything. What's wrong? Yep, I missed something. The grooms head is intersecting with the line of the arch. Still a great photo, but in my professional eye I realize I should have had them take a step backwards.

8: 80/20.
This is a very old rule of the successful photographer. “80% business and 20% photography” we always say. It’s true. In fact it might be more like 90/10. Great images are important and you owe it to your clients to excel at making them. If you want to make photography a business however you have to be more than a photographer.

If you want to get hired you have to learn to sell yourself, make happy clients and promote your work. Being a great wedding photographer encompasses much more than clicking the shutter. If you can’t handle the business end you better hire someone really good, or go to work for someone.

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Emotion: From a strictly technical perspective this shot has some problems. It's redemption however is that it illustrates a real, emotional moment between the father and the bride. I don't know what they were thinking, or saying to each other right here, but I do know that their dance was very emotional and they'll never forget it.

9: Face Time
Connect with your clients before a session. Talk to them, make them comfortable and get to know them as much as you possibly can. This will not only pay of in your sales results, but in the quality of your work. A client who’s become your friend will be more relaxed, a better model and a more satisfied customer.

10: Free Marketing.
The best marketing is free in the sense that you don’t pay an advertiser. You do have to work for it however. This is especially important as a wedding photographer. Truth is there’s a lot of flaky wedding photographers out there who call themselves pro’s. Brides are cautious at best. When starting out your battle is the worst. Go the extra mile to thrill them. Over deliver on your promises. Don’t just make them “satisfied”. If you want that precious  “word of mouth” marketing, you’ll have to work for it.

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Kids: Don't overlook kid moments. This little ring bearer was blowing grandma a kiss and saying "I love you" during the ceremony. I managed to nail the shot and it meant a lot to them. We all have a different style, but remember that emotions sell, not people standing around looking bored.

11: Presentation & Products:
I’m not here to say what products you should offer, but make sure they please your client and help promote you. If you only give a digital disk you’re client is probably putting it in a shelf and doing little with it. It just seems to happen that way. That means their probably not seeing their wedding photo every day, or showing them to friends like they would with wall portraits and albums. Even if they loved their pictures, they may not be raving about you because their not reminded. This is something I’ve learned the hard way.

Take everything to the next level. You probably won’t gain “top dog” appeal overnight, but take time to think it thru. Everyone won’t buy the big album, especially when you’re just starting out, but work out your offering so they get some physical photographs to show to friends. Make your presentation great with nice packaging (that does not always mean expensive, be creative) Think of products to get into your clients hands that they’ll show to their friends and cherish for years to come.

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Passion: Show the couple's love for each other. Don't pressure them into doing what they don't want to, but a few nudges to go a little further than they might normally are OK. Usually they can't keep their hands off each other anyways and all you have to do is give suggestions.

12: Post Processing:
Chances are you’re shooting digital, but even in the film days, the best photographers knew how to edit and manipulate their work. I’ve watched an airbrusher sit in front of a print and remove wrinkles like I would clone them away in Photoshop.

Even great images often need a little something more. It’s pretty much expected you’ll be doing some correction. Don’t think you can shoot and burn and get a reputation for great work. I always take the time to work with my images to make them even better. Dig in and leverage programs like Lightroom or Aperture, to stay creative and speedy. Take the time to get a grip on your editing tools so you can add that special something to the images that can benefit from it. All my images you see here were processed.

Don’t go overboard, just be creative. I often see new photographers adding too much to their images. Getting hooked on faded or vintage effects, applying gimmicks too often. I’ve been there. Over editing is often an attempt to make a great shot out of an image that’s so so. There’s not a set rules, but as always balance is usually the key.

Since I’m talking editing, and somewhat of an expert on it, I’ll mention my own, Seim Effects. These are what myself (as well as photographers all over the world.) use to finish their images. I’m honored they’ve been so well received. Check them out if you like. You can use code WEDDING to get a special discount. You’ll also find some freebies on the site. plus workflow and editing tips. There’s also many other places online to get free as well as paid for effects and add on’s for editing that will help you be faster and more creative. Here’s a list of some companies that give  special discounts to PPS readers.

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Scenes. Always keep your eyes open for settings that set the mood. My style is variety. I like these cinematic settings (this one is an HDR), as well as the emotional and fleeting moments. Find your style and learn to make it shine.

13: Don’t under-value yourself:
Photographers who are just starting to get paid for their work often think their in hog heaven when they get $500 for a wedding. Heck it’s money for doing what you love. Most seasoned pro’s remember those days. While you may have to work cheap at first, don’t hang there. A $500 client will refer $500 friends and in reality it’s not much at all. If you can consistently photograph weddings for $500 and make a good profit then you’re not doing a very good job.

I won’t say where you’re prices should be because it’s a broad question. A good one to ask on the forums. Just remember that you’re time and talent is worth something. Always do your best, but keep kicking up your game. You probably won’t be able to charge high ball prices overnight. Just don’t give yourself away.

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Groups are part of the job. Learn to work well with large groups and stay relaxed. Usually I'll do traditional groups (formals) quickly and then take the couple and bridal party out for some more unique, non traditional poses. No matter what your style, stay fun and stress free.

14: Tips from the Twitter: (quick nuggets from other experienced wedding photographers)

  • Service first gets referrals. Attend to bride & grooms needs, even if their not photo related. From @Mark_Quinn
  • Treat every wedding as your first. Look on it with a fresh eye & don’t let complacency set in. From @mooheremoothere
  • Stay calm, don’t panic when all those around you are. @fhotographer
  • Always give customers MORE than what they expect. From @onephotonerd
  • It’s the biggest day of the Bride’s life. Treat it as such. From M Thresher
  • Expect the Unexpected. Scout Your Locations. From @Scott Greene
  • Bring a sewing kit / Think outside the Uncle Bob box / Carry your memory cards on your person. From @Caledonia
  • Never be without backup gear / You are only as good as your last job. From @bksecretphoto
  • If you have no confidence in yourself, your client won’t either. From @FullMetalPhotog
  • Know how to become an instant wedding coordinator & Befriend the DJ. From M Thresher
  • Bring a set of backup clothes to keep in the car. You never know what’s going to happen. From B Brown
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Again, show the passion. You need the ability to show it beautifully and naturally. This shot was semi staged, but the key was putting the couple in a natural setting, standing back and pushing them in the right direction.

15: Closing thoughts:
It’s hard to stop writing because there’s so much to say. I wish I could sum it all up for you in a few words, but there’s enough information that I could write a book on the subject. Let me just say that if you want to be a wedding (or any) pro photographer you’ll have to work hard at it. Learn to make simple powerful scenes that tell a story.

Remember that growing business is not easy. For some of you, staying an enthusiastic amateur will be more rewarding. If you decide to go pro, learn from other photographers and make friends not enemies. I’m sure some of my future competition will read these tips, but that’s OK because collaboration is powerful and by working together we all move forward.

Never stop learning. Always practice, observe and study. Many consider me an expert, but in my young career I’ve barely scratched the surface of photography and marketing. There’s always something new we can learn. We should always remember that as pro photographers we’re in a service business. Serve your clients with care and attention to detail and it will pay off in the long run.

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Don't forget the details: Dresses, rings, flowers etc. The couple has often put a lot of work into these things and while the shots may not be your biggest sellers they have emotional power and look great in the album. This ring trick is nothing new, but fun. When the ring is in the crease of the bible a light from the rear will cast a heart shadow on the page.

Resources & Notes:
Maybe I’ll have a wedding workshop one day soon, but for now here’s a recap of resources I mentioned as well as a few others that will help you learn.

You can follow my tips and updates on twitter @gavinseim. Here’s the Seim Weddings site and blog. I also have all my projects and content listed on Seim Studios, including the new KungFu Photo where I post tips and analyze images.

Here’s the PPS reader product discounts page I mentioned earlier. And the PPS Amazon store page where you can find our favorite of cool photo tools. You can also check out the Adobe Exchange for lots of free effects add on’s. If you need to learn more in Photoshop (we all do), watch Photoshop TV. For LR check out Lightroom Killer Tips. Also stop by Digital Photography Connection for many good learning videos on various areas of photography. And don’t forget the Wedding Tip Wednesday tips by our own DZ.

Books. This is how I started as a wedding photographer. Even if you have a mentor, reading good photography books cover to cover will help you learn and get a foundation for how and what to shoot. There’s many out there, but here’s a few you might start with.

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Get the action: I keep talking about moments and for good reason. People look to you to nail the shot. Dances, laughter, tears, exits. Get all you can and cull the bad one's later. A great sparklers shot is one of the harder to nail perfectly. I suggest slowing the camera to 1/80 or less at a high ISO and freeze with flash. This was taken at 1/25th @f4.0 ISO 1600 with a freeze/fill flash. Never ignore a good shot because it's hard.

I would personally like to thank all the photographers who have helped me learn over the years and those who helped me with thoughts and ideas for this article and contributed twitter tips. By working together, we grow stronger… Gavin

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  • http://www.ColumbusSeniorPortraits.com/ Adam Squier

    This is really good, Gavin. Not so long that it’s daunting, but enough information to get the point across. Thanks for doing this.

  • David Martschinske

    Great images along with the post. I loved reading/looking at this one.

  • Bruno Monteiro

    Great insights. Gone through most of the things you wrote about. Scary at first, but then it surely gets fun. Fun is never enough!
    Good advices on marketing!

  • Daniel Ogren aka Fast 50

    Gavin, great stuff. Just 2nd shot my 1st wedding last weekend, so alot of this stuff hits home. What a blast it was. Thanks for the info.

  • http://vividphotography.blogspot.com/ Neil Gaudet

    Gavin, if you ever have a wedding workshop I will want to be there. Keep it up, enjoyed this post.

  • http://noneyet Rob Owens

    This was written just for me, I own and operate my own business, not photography ( 28 years now ) everything you say about running a business is true, i am a newish photographer but have my 1st wedding in October and I have been practicing and reading and learning as much as I can. I really enjoyed this wedding article and always enjoy your podcast. I find it very helpful. One of my favorite tips was to find a used or borrowed wedding dress and dress up a few friends, one in black, the other in the white dress and practice shooting. This is an out door wedding that I’m shooting and that was my biggest worry, getting it right, not blowing out the white dress. So I thank you for that and many other great tips and the benefit of your experience. I will continue listening and learning from you. Thanks

  • http://jeremyclarkphotography.com Jeremy Clark

    Thank you. Your the bomb!

  • Eugene

    Good stuff as always Gavin. Thanks for writing this up.

  • http://www.curtiscopeland.com Curtis Copeland

    Great insight into becoming a professional wedding photographer. nice article and well written with practical advice. Thanks for sharing and inspiring!

  • Kobi

    ok, any suggestions for the breakdown of how the shoot should progress? Do you offer your client a list of what shots they will get that are standard poses, then work in your creativity shots? Then post shoot, as with all shoots how do you orginize? what programs do you suggest? CS, Lightroom, Apeture with any hints for orgainization please.
    thank You

  • http://www.JHamlinPhotography.com jessica hamlin

    hi love your post!!!!!!!! can you tell me how to make sure i upload my pictures at the best quality so that they look good for using on my website and not look fuzzy. I use a nikon d 5000 and on the highest megapixels, some just arent as clear as i want them to be for website. ihave seen a lot of others website with clear pictures, but even when i put a picture up on craigslist, it dosent look clear, but they look clear when i print them or view them on my photo album in my folder thats on my computer do u think i need to use a slideshow player on my website to make it better. thanks

    • http://www.prophotoshow.net Gavin Seim

      Hey Jessica. Sounds like you need to increase the JPEG quality you save at. JPEG’s have a 1-100 quality setting when saving. The lower the setting the smaller the file size, but the worse the quality. Usually for good looking web portfolio images I like to stay above 70 in quality.

  • http://www.huertaphotography.smugmug.com Gabriel Huerta

    Thanks for the info, I have booked marked it. Even thou you read, read, read. Sometimes you need a refresher and this the best I have seen. Thanks for sharing.

    Gabriel

  • http://delbert8robertso.zoomshare.com/2.shtml evergreen tree care

    I really liked your writing, please keep it up!

  • http://www.evans-squared.com/ Jackson Feazelle

    Have you thought of adding some videos to your posts to keep the visitors more entertained? I just read through the entire article and it was good…thanks for the share

  • http://www.jubileephotography.com/ destin florida photography

    Hello, I use a Nikon and I accidently used a cloth to clean the inside of my Nikon. Now, I have scratches that show by looking inside my lense but absolutely nothing shows on the images. Is this something I should be worried about that could eventually be a problem? And yes, I love nikon and am not in the canon camp… LOL don’t criticize me! Thanks for your help. Amanda

    • http://www.prophotoshow.net Gavin Seim

      Amanda scratches are never good, though I would question is their not just smudges. Still, if their not showing I guess you’re fine for now. The way to really test is to stop down to sat f22 and make a frame against something white. Then look at the image and see if anything shows up.

  • Jose G

    wow great tips!!! im actually doin my first wedding as a second photographer tomorrow so this all really helps!!!! thank you soooooo much!

  • Corrina P

    I’m doing my first wedding in june!! I’m super excited because I just did a bunch of senior pictures… I’m 16 and doing crazy amounts of photography already and i love it! These tips were great and i think they can be applied to everything, not just weddings! :)

  • Corrina P

    Also, do you have anymore tips for outdoor weddings??