A Crash Course on Professional Wedding Photography
By Kenneth William Caleno
Planning the wedding shoot
You must have a timetable to work from, or you will fail miserably. You must always remember:
Murphy, being the Patron Saint of Wedding Photographers, will no doubt ensure that if anything can go wrong, it will. Usually at the most inopportune moment. Allow for plenty of time for each section of the shooting script.
Planning is crucial, so make sure that time has been allowed for photography, and travelling to each location.
A: Who is Paying?
Find out who's paying for the photography, because the person footing the bill is the client, and needs to be consulted. If the bride's parents are paying, they may want nice, classic portrait shots of Bride and Groom. The Bride then wants cross-processed, arty, or black and white images. Regardless, you had better get nice "safe" photos for Mum and Dad!
It is very important to find out and determine EXACTLY what the client wants and is expecting to get. Quite often people do not know what they want until you have shot it.
What you don't want to hear is: "We didn't want half of this stuff, we want a refund!!!"
Whoever is paying, make sure you get paid up front. I usually ask for 1/3 of the fee on signing the contract, and the balance seven days before the wedding date. This saves you wondering if and when you are going to be paid, and saves you chasing clients for payment.
B. Working with schedules and timetables
Once you have found out what is wanted and who is paying, start working out your shooting schedule. I usually type these out and give to attendants in the bridal party, to organise everybody for their photo. This is to save time.
I also type my schedule on small cards for my pocket while I am shooting. This way I know when the next sequence is due, or when to change film/cards.
Let your clients know that formal photos of the bridal party should take between one to one and a half hours. Any longer will drag the proceedings, and any less time will limit the number of set-ups wanted.
Subtly point out that the guests should be advised of what is going on.
It is important to let the client know that if they cut your time, you will need to cut the amount of photography to shoot.
Protocol and family Politics
You need to tread very carefully where family politics are concerned. As you set up groups, think about ex-wives versus new wives, step-children and recently divorced couples for example. Better to let people sort themselves where they want to be. Then just arrange the set-ups accordingly.
If everyone (guests included) know exactly what happens, when, and with whom, it will alleviate the bride and groom's stress, your stress, and you will get results that please your clients.
Once PLAN "A" (beautiful sunny day with no wind) is in place, work out some alternatives. "B", "C", "D", etc. You will need somewhere to photograph if it's raining, snowing, gale-force winds etc. and a choice of idyllic locations.
A Typical Schedule Plan
A) Groom's House
Photos at the Groom’s house happen rarely, but if they are wanted, then you must make sure things run on time in order to get to the Bride’s house on time.
B) Bride's House
Get to the house early, showing you are both organised and professional. The Bride may be very nearly ready, and being the early bird may give you a chance to get things in order without rushing. Confidence is the keyword. Compliment the Bride, say she looks nice, and has nothing to worry about . Do not, under any circumstances tell her she is beautiful. Because if she isn't, she will know and this could turn her against you.
If you can help the bride and her family to be calm at the house, the tone of the whole wedding will reflect on this. Let the family know what you are going to photograph outside the church or wedding venue.
C) Church or Wedding Venue
Get to church, or wedding venue as soon as you can to get set up for what follows.
Once the vows have been made, and the register signed etc, the Bride and Groom will walk down the aisle or things will just finish. This can be an awkward moment and one of two things usually happen:
- 1The Bride & Groom will be surrounded by guests, and if there are lots of guests the crowd may take a time to clear
- 2(Usually at churches) When the Bride & Groom come out there is no-one at first, then all guests file out slowly and stand around the couple looking at them
Some guests will want to take photographs at this point, so set up the shot and let them fire away after you. Work politely and professionally with these people throughout the day. You never know, some of these people could become your next client.
Start the family photos, beginning with the Bride's side, then the Groom's, then all the friends and hanger's-on.
D) The Formal Photos
After all the ceremony "kafuffle", the bridal party will want to relax a bit. Maybe have a drink and a smoke for 10 minutes or so while you are getting ready.
But when you are ready, you need to get them back on track to get all required images of the Bride and Groom done on time. At this point, the couple aren't usually the problem. It's generally the best man who wants another beer, or the maid of honour who wants another smoke, or someone gets loud. You need to gain control of this.
If there are children in the party, use them first. They have a very short attention span.
No matter what happens here, stay calm even when things go wrong. Keep calm because you won't get good photos if you are stressed.
When you think you have finished, better check with Bride and Groom that you have all they wanted. If you were pressed for time, make sure that you have the set-ups they wanted the most.
Now you have to get back to the reception before the wedding party and set up for...
E) Mock Cake Cutting
This is done when budgets are tight, and you aren't required to attend the reception.
F ) The Reception
Get to the venue before the bride and Groom and be ready to catch them arriving.
Things that usually happen at reception are: (in any order):
While there is potential photography, don't eat, or drink. Just in case you miss something worthwhile.
Before leaving, ensure that the Bride, Groom and whoever is paying for the photography, have all the shots they need. With nothing missed.
G ) After it all
Get the finished prints or files to the Bride and Groom as soon as possible, that's good business. You will want them to see the images while the day will be fresh in their memory. Do not get caught in the middle of any disputes. The prints/images are always to be delivered to the married couple, and not to anyone else (unless arranged otherwise).
If someone other than the Bride and Groom is paying for the photography, it should be explained to them beforehand that the Bride and Groom get the prints.
When sorting out the finished prints, take out the blinks, and the ones that aren't up to par.
A blow by blow account of a typical wedding - Ceremony at 4pm
1. Groom's house 10:00 am - 11:30am ( All times can only be approximated)
2. Bride's house - 12:30am - 3:00pm
3. The Ceremony - 3:30pm - 4:45
4. Formal Photos 5:00 - 6:30
5. At reception
About the Author
Kenneth is 64 years old and has been a photographer for 45+ years. He still photographs weddings and portraits and lives in Masterton in New Zealand.