Photographing a wedding can be a daunting task, especially when you are first starting out. You have a handful of senior and family sessions under your belt and feel ready to take the plunge into the wedding world. My wife, Jade, and I have come up with the top 10 things we do in our photography business that has made our job as wedding photographers more fun, and more meaningful. These things have greatly improved both the quality of our work and the satisfaction of our clients.
1. Be choosy: Don't take every wedding
This may sound counter-intuitive when you are trying to start a business from scratch or building your portfolio, but it is imperative to work with the right people. We made the decision to be choosy after a horrible experience with an overly-controlling bride who wanted us to photograph in a style that was completely opposite from ours. She barked orders at the coordinator, yelled at her bridesmaids, and was very demeaning to her soon-to-be husband. That wedding was not worth the little money we charged for it, but the experience taught us that saying NO to certain clients is worth far more than the headaches they'll cause. Meet or talk with clients before they book with you. We typically recognize soon after meeting a couple whether we want to work with them or not.
2. Know your people
When you do find the right clients, get to know them as best you can. We email back and forth with our potential couples, and then set up a Skype meeting or go out to coffee with them to get to know who they are. We do this before they book to avoid another bad client match situation. It is so beneficial to hear what is important to them and get a feel for things we don't want to miss. Her dad's hands as they hold her mother's veil that she's wearing, he and his mother fussing over his jacket, the fact that making the people around them feel special is just as important to them as the ceremony itself. Getting to know your clients and what is meaningful to them will come through in your images.
3. Put it in writing
When your couple is ready to book with you, make sure to have a contract. This is your legal document that lets your clients know what to expect and can save your butt on so many levels. Copyright information, timeline, final picture delivery, retainer and deposit explanations, artistic policies, cancellations or rescheduling procedures, total costs; all of these things should be in the contract. You can point to this binding agreement when your client is unhappy or has questions about something.
4. Be prepared
Go over the wedding schedule the night before. Have an idea of how the day will go and where you need to be at each point in the day. Have addresses and phone numbers handy in case you need them. Pack your gear and double check that you have all you need for the entire day of shooting. Arrive early at the venue to scope out where you will take specific shots, and learn peoples' names.
5. Establish your presence
When it is time to meet up with your bride where she is getting ready, establish your presence in the group. Go up to the bride and tell her how happy you are to be there. Shake her hand or hug her, whatever is appropriate. Be excited with her! Everyone else in the room will see and understand that you are the photographer and will naturally give you respect and attention without you having to say anything. She will most likely introduce you to her bridesmaids. LEARN THEIR NAMES QUICKLY. They are a huge help to you today and possibly future clients. Being kind on purpose and gaining respect early in the day will help loads when you are taking group photos later, trying to get everyone's attention.
6. Meet the Parents!
Soon after you connect with the bride and groom, meet both sets of parents. Express your gratitude towards them for allowing you to be a part of their son or daughter's special day. NEVER EVER disrespect or speak poorly about them. Not to a wedding party member, not to another vendor, not to your second shooter. These are the people paying you. You always want to generate positive reviews and badmouthing parents (no matter what crazy thing they ask you to do) will never help you in the long run. Also, it's tasteless and rude, so don't be that person.
7. Respect the altar
One of our rules, especially during the ceremony, is to never cross the invisible line between the bride and groom, or the line between bride and groom and the officiant, or the line between the bride and groom and their parents. Do this out of respect for them all. We get close to couples, very close, and it makes for astonishingly intimate images, but we try our best not to be obnoxious or too noticeable.
8. Get 'em to the party - Fast Family Portraits
Have a list of the family photos the bride desires and stick to it. Determine beforehand an order that is the most time efficient. No one enjoys cheese and grapes for an hour and a half while waiting on the newlyweds to join the reception. Get through family portraits quickly, and you'll have happy wedding attendants.
9. Under promise, over deliver
This is perhaps the most important tip we have. If you say you will be there for 8 hours, be there 8.5 instead of 7.5. Promise 500 images and give them 600. Did you tell them it would take 6 weeks for final delivery? Give them their photos at 3 weeks, and they'll be ecstatic.
10. Back that thing up
Two is one, and one is none. Make sure to have backups of every image you take. And it is a good idea to have backups of your backups. This may sound redundant but when your hard drive crashes (and drives always crash at some point) you'll save yourself a lot of head and heartaches.
Bonus: Have fun
Finally, have a blast. Photographing a wedding can be stressful, so enjoy yourself while you are doing your job. Loosen up and dance a little. HAVE FUN with the couple on the day they start their life together! Everyone else will be, so you should too!