5 Things Every Photographer Should Know Before They Photograph Their First Wedding and My Approach to Wedding Photography

I get asked frequently by new photographers about how to prep for their first wedding… so when a friend of mine reached out to me for help I took it as an opportunity to compile his questions into a post that can hopefully help future photographers too! 🙂

How do you setup and prepare for your wedding shoot in regard to equipment? 

This is such a good question, and honestly, getting things together for your first wedding will be the most difficult.  It just gets easier and easier after that! Soon I’ll be sharing my complete wedding day equipment setup, but in the meantime here’s some points to remember as you’re prepping.

  • The most important thing to remember is this – Gear can be replaced, photos cannot.
  • I shoot completely in RAW and my two Canon 5d Mk4’s record to two memory cards at once. This is not necessary but having the photos immediately recorded in two locations gives me a lot of peace of mind.
  • NEVER separate yourself completely from memory cards that have photos recorded on them. Gear can be replaced, photos cannot. I keep a waterproof memory card case on me at all times for used and fresh cards.
  • Keep the bag you’ll carry around all day as light, and low key as possible.  For me, it’s one camera body, a backup battery, two lenses, my memory card case, wallet, keys, phone, water, and schedule for the day. That’s it! Your feet and back will thank me later.
  • Keep your backups and extra gear in a larger bag somewhere safe.
  • I break out additional gear just before the ceremony starts and for the reception, as needed.
  • Charge your batteries, format your cards, and try not to overthink things as you prep for your first wedding… As long as you’ve got backups, you’ll be fine! 
How to photograph your first wedding

Do you keep a running list of different shots you and the couple want?

Yes! I prep couples in the months before their wedding by working with them to create a family portrait list.  I direct them to this blog post and ask them to edit it to suit their needs. 

I also ask them for their “Photo Wish List (tell me about any other specific photos that I normally wouldn’t know to capture, ie. a special heirloom item, or unique moment you have planned)”

Outside of those two questions, I find that getting a gigantic Pinterest board or list from a client really stifles my creativity and makes the wedding day insanely stressful for everyone.  If you’re working from a long list, it can turn the entire day into a predetermined photoshoot, and leaves no room for celebrating or letting the moment inspire you. Working from a list may work for some photographers but I believe a wedding is about so much more than the photos!  So, unless it’s a scheduled time for me to do portraits and detail photos, I try to blend into the party and go totally documentary style with my approach.  

How do you structure and shoot the big group photos(shoot them ASAP to get out of the way or near end of day)?

For traditional wedding day schedules, it is possible to do the immediate family portraits before the ceremony if the couple is having a first look, but I’ve found it’s completely impossible to try and get extended family all together and photo ready prior to the ceremony. So it’s best to try and do all of the family portraits directly after the ceremony.  I come prepared with my list and shout out in order who’s up. Let’s be honest, everyone would rather be celebrating so the faster these go, the better.

How do you get concepts and ideas from your couple?

I don’t… 😂 At the consultation, I’ll ask them what their priorities are for their wedding day – IE having a huge party, enjoying quality time with their family and friends, an important religious ceremony, etc. and why they were specifically drawn to my style.  I feel like once I understand their goals for the day and what they liked about my work I’m free to just do my thing!

Sometimes during portraits on the wedding day the couple will make a suggestion or have an idea, and i’m always SUPER happy to collaborate and try my best to bring their vision to life. Suggestions from parents, bridesmaids, uncles-with-cameras, or anyone else are usually handled a bit less enthusiastically.

I know when you’re just starting you might not have a defined style, so it’s more comfortable to ask the client exactly what they want. That may be a good way to go for editing if they are friends and you don’t yet have a defined editing style… but go easy on yourself with everything else! Just do your best.

Lastly, when shooting the wedding day what type of shots do you capture? (Like what’s your responsibility? Shooting rings, cake, invitees, decorations etc.)

I work together with the clients in the months before the wedding to create a timeline of the day

In this timeline I set dedicated time for my second shooter and I to document details, but the people in the wedding always take priority so if something interesting happens i turn my focus to that instead. If the couple doesn’t not have enough wiggle room in their timeline the details are the first to be cut out, as they are the least important. So outside of the time specifically set aside for portraits, I spend most of my time photographing documentary style images of the happenings and detailed photos of the venue, decor, etc.

Gaining experience second shooting or assisting other photographers will greatly help you to understand the flow of a wedding day. If first-hand experience isn’t an option, I recommend looking up wedding day photo lists online and picking out the key moments, adding specific shots as notes on your timeline will help too!

Ivinson Mansion Wedding in Downtown Laramie Wyoming by wedding photographer, Megan Lee photography.

The 5 Things I Recommend Photographers Know Before Photographing a Wedding:

  1. How to shoot in manual. This is basic photography knowledge and camera functionality that every photographer should know before they hop into the professional photography arena.
  2. How to expose for different lighting situations and how to adjust exposure quickly. Throughout the wedding day you’ll be switching between many different lighting situations as you walk from location to location. The events of the day wont wait for you to figure out your exposure so it should be second nature for you to adjust as you go.
  3. White Balance. Whether you use Auto White Balance, your camera’s pre-programmed modes, or manually set the Kelvin temp yourself, you need to know the importance of setting the correct WB settings on your camera and how to do so. I recommend starting in Auto WB!
  4. What RAW is and how to change the file settings in your camera. How your camera records your image files is your choice, BUT you need to have an understanding of the file options and make an informed choice BEFORE the event. I shoot solely in RAW.
  5. Flash. Whether it’s at the reception, or in a dark area where the bride is getting ready… It’s almost a guarantee that you will need to provide additional lighting at some point during the day. Having a basic flash setup and knowledge is a requirement in my book.

Final thoughts,

  • Take a deep breath.  You can’t be everywhere at once and you won’t be able to document everything.  So long as you’re with the couple, you’ll be able to tell a beautiful and authentic story of the day. 
  • Try to have fun!  If you’re enjoying it, the people you’re photographing will enjoy it too.
  • Have your list and schedule of the day on paper beforehand.
  • Gear can be replaced, photos cannot. Seriously, do the best you can to safeguard those files.
  • Be honest with the couple that this is your first wedding and charge accordingly. MAKE SURE YOU CHARGE, even if you just use the funds to rent extra gear… newbie or not, you’ll be doing a lot of work!
  • Be respectful of venues, religious customs, and natural areas, clean up after yourself, and leave no trace!
  • Drink lots of water, dress professionally, get sturdy shoes, stretch, take a meal break, and have fun!