The best way to Photograph a Wedding Without an Issue

Photographing a wedding can feel overwhelming. There are must-capture moments with no option for a re-do. There are clients who might be extremely stressed, other suppliers who are trying to do their jobs, and drunk visitors at the reception. Welcome to the particular crazy world of wedding ceremony photography! Below are my suggestions for how to photograph a wedding without a problem.

Before we begin, a quick notice. You’ll notice that most of the products on this list are actually things to do before the wedding. This is deliberate, as the right preparation can put you in the best position for success and prevent as many problems as possible.

PL Wedding Image 1
NIKON Z 5 + NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1. 8 S @ 35mm, ISO 2000, 1/250, f/16. 0

Dining table of Contents

Communicate Expectations At the start

So much of a wedding photographer’s business is built on trust. Some one is hiring you to capture what should be one of the most crucial days of their lives. They have to trust that you will actually arrive and capture the can’t-miss moments. But even beyond that, you are going to be somebody they spend a lot of the day around, so they need to trust that you’ll enhance their day and not take away from it. I consider it critical to  prep your clients in advance for what they cand can’t expect from you.

For this reason, I always have a meeting with the couple (usually via Zoom these days) before I even think about sending them the contract. This meeting serves two important purposes. First, it allows us to get to know one another; they can start to get comfortable with me and my demeanor, and I can begin to determine what is most important to them. 2nd, it allows me to clearly explain what they can expect should they choose me as their photographer. During this meeting, I set expectations about:

  • What it’s like to work with me ahead of the wedding
  • What my role will be on the wedding day itself
  • Turnaround times, approximate number of images that will be delivered, etc .

By covering all of this before they sign with me, it allows me to ensure I’m working with people who are confident with me, my style, and what I will deliver for them, which all helps to reduce problems down the road.   A few negative reviews online can create a huge problem for a marriage photographer, and those are much less likely if everyone is on a single page from the start.

PL Wedding Image2
NIKON Z 5 + NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1. 8 S @ 35mm, ISO 100, 1/400, f/5. 0

Have a Good Contract

This item could be its own article, but for the purposes of this article, know that having an excellent contract is important. The contract should support the expectations you’ve set in the pre-hire meeting. It also needs to cover many other things such as compensation and what happens if they postpone their wedding (which has happened a tremendous amount within the last two years).

Many photographers even include what I call a “walk away clause, ” which basically states when the photographer feels unsafe for certain reasons, they can leave and will not have to refund any money. This can be a good item to consider for anyone, but particularly for women, as I’ve heard a few (not many, but a few) horror stories.

The bottom line with your contract is that it should protect both you and the couple. It requires to give them confidence that you will be going to deliver what you said you would, while also giving you confidence that the event is likely to be what the couple said – and that you are planning to get paid for it.

Get a Copy of the Day’s Schedule (Or Help Make It! )

It is essential to really have a copy of the run-of-show for the day. The schedule gives you an idea of whenever you should be where, and it also allows you to plan your time to capture all types of image that you need.

Pro tip: In your first meeting with the couple, offer to help them build their schedule. This provides two huge advantages:

  1. It adds value for the couple who might not yet have a detailed schedule planned.
  2. It allows you to have a voice in when, where, and for how long you will be able to do posed images.

If you’re a wedding photographer who likes to take a lot of posed and/or formal photos, it’s especially important to manage your own time and use the schedule to your advantage. For example , if you plan to take photos of the couple with picturesque light at sunset, you’ll need to make sure that sunset isn’t in the middle of the reception toasts!

This is also why conversing with the couple early is such a big deal, before the schedule is completely set in stone. You have to advocate for what you need in order to fulfill what the couple is hiring one to do. Don’t assume that the couple, wedding planner, or anyone else is going to supply you with the time you need if you don’t ask for it beforehand.

PL Wedding Image 3
NIKON Z 5 + NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1. 8 S @ 35mm, ISO 100, 1/1250, f/3. 2

Do an Engagement Session (If Possible)

Engagement sessions are one of the most important – if not the most significant – steps to a smooth wedding day for my business. Why? It all boils down to comfort and trust. Let me  run through two wedding day scenarios.

Scenario One: You had an engagement session with the couple in advance. They’re comfortable with you already – both being around you and also just seeing your photos of them. You show up on the marriage day (often starting with the bride getting her hair/makeup done), and you are greeted warmly, like a friend.

Scenario Two: You did not have an engagement session or take any photos of the couple in advance. You arrive to the wedding day and introduce yourself to the couple in person for the first time a few minutes before you start taking their pictures.

In my experience, scenario one results in a better experience and better images every time. Discomfort shows in peoples faces in photographs, so there is tremendous value in the couple being comfortable with you from the first shot on your day of the wedding. For this reason, I include engagement sessions with virtually all of my wedding packages. It is as much for my benefit as it is for theirs.

Sometimes, it is not possible to do an engagement session (last minute booking, elopement where they don’t live near to you, and so on). I don’t do them 100% of that time period, but I do them as frequently as I can.

Create a Client Questionnaire

A well thought out questionnaire can avert many potential problems on the wedding day. I send one to my clients about 6 months before the wedding. There are a few major things I’m trying to accomplish with a questionnaire:

  • Figure out unique, important details.   At most weddings, there are details with crucial stories in it that you won’t know unless you ask about – i. e., the bride’s veil is held in place by her grandmother’s pin. Ask questions about important things they’re bringing to the wedding or wearing.
  • Learn the family and friend dynamics.   These can sometimes be complex, so it’s valuable to learn about the couple’s parents, siblings, grandparents, bridal party, and so on. Ask questions about who will attend the wedding and how they relate to the bride and groom.
  • Familiarize yourself with cultural and religious details.   Some religions do not allow photographs for many parts of a ceremony, while other traditions you will want to be sure you are in the right place at the right time to capture the initial moments. Ask if any of these will apply in the marriage you’re photographing.

I print a copy of the completed questionnaire and keep it in my bag on the wedding day in case I need to refer back to it for any reason.

PL Wedding Image 8
NIKON Z 5 + NIKKOR Z 24mm f/1. 8 S @ 24mm, ISO 500, 1/200, f/3. 5

Coordinate With Other Vendors

From an organizational standpoint, there are two main types of weddings: people with a wedding planner and those that do not.

If the couple has hired a wedding planner (and day-of coordinator), it is likely that they will be running much of the show. Chances are good that you will work directly with the wedding planner in cases like this.

On the other hand, if they have not hired a wedding planner (and especially a day-of coordinator), my experience is that I usually become the runner of the show. As the photographer, you will likely spend more time close to the couple thanyone else, family included. You may even be the one keeping them on schedule and reminding them where they need to be next. The task does obtain a bit easier once the reception starts, when I usually find it helpful to coordinate with the DJ and allow them to start running the show.

If the couple has hired a separate videographer, it is especially important to communicate with them. Given that you will both need to capture many of the same moments at the same time (first kiss, first dance, and so on), it is vital that don’t be in each other’s way unintentionally.   I like to reach out to the videographer in advance if I haven’t worked with them before to introduce myself, and usually will suggest we hook up 30 minutes early on the day of the wedding to chat and sync up.

In general, talking with other vendors is always a good way to make certain the wedding goes smoothly and no one steps on anybody else’s toes. The other vendors may also be able to tell you what’s going to happen next so that you can stand in the right spot to capture the photos you will need.

Make a Pre-Wedding Gear Checklist

You will likely be bringing more gear to shoot a wedding than a number of other types of photography, so I believe it is especially helpful to make a day-before checklist. This list does contain the bodies and lenses I want to bring, but the most important part for me are the other items. Here’s my abbreviated checklist:

  • Charge all batteries (including several spares)
  • Clear memory cards and bring spares
  • Sync your camera times
    • This one is critical . The first time I shot a wedding with two bodies, the days on the cameras were off by about thirty minutes. This meant that when I imported all the images from both cards and viewed them sequentially… it was in pretty bad shape. It took me way longer than I care to admit to organize that wedding gallery.
    • Also, if there will be more than one shooter at the wedding (you hire an additional shooter or you are the 2nd shooter), make sure to sync with the other photographer at the beginning of the day, for the same reason.
  • Charge your flashes and/or bring extra disposable batteries
    • The lighting you’ll need will vary dramatically based on time and location, but I always bring at least one on-camera flash and one off-camera flash (Godox AD200) with trigger, in case. Some off-camera flashes will die quickly if you don’t remember to recharge them the afternoon before.
PL Wedding Image 4
NIKON Z 5 + NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2. 8 VR S @ 70mm, ISO 220, 1/200, f/2. 8

Rent Any Gear You Need But Don’t Have

Weddings can be push the limits of your gear. While everyone will have opinions on which you “need” to shoot a wedding – even though it varies based on the type of wedding and location – there are some things you will almost certainly need. Listed here are my recommendations, along with the gear that I typically use for most weddings.

1 . Two Camera Bodies

Having at least two camera bodies is a must for me. I personally shoot two bodies all the time with a double strap, but even although you only intend to shoot with one body, I would still bring a second one with you. That way, if most of your camera breaks or other things happens, you have a backup.

Also, I highly recommend cameras that have two card slots, which you should set to write a duplicate of each shot. Redundancy is nice to have for many forms of photography, but it’s essential for weddings. To me, having the first kiss shots only stored in one place (especially if it’s an SD card you’re likely to load in a few hours) is just too much risk.

I shoot most weddings with Nikon Z5 and Z6 II cameras. If you can get two of the same body, even better, ever since then they will have the exact same settings, features, button locations, etc . This is sometimes a big help when you are switching between bodies throughout the day and need to react quickly.

2 . Lenses That Fit the Situation

You don’t need the holy trinity of – 8 zooms plus a bag full of fast primes to shoot a wedding, but you do need lenses that fit the situation. For example , if the ceremony is in a large church where you have to shoot from the back and cannot move around (this is common), you will need something with more reach. Or, if you know the ceremony will be dark and/or you can’t use flash at certain times, you will need some fast glass to get enough light. (As a side note, these are both good examples of why you should scout the venue ahead of time and figure out its rules for flash while you’re at it. )

The following is not meant to be a “correct” listing of lenses for a wedding. It is great to have your own style and look as a photographer, which includes the lenses and focal lengths you use in different situations. Instead, it’s my typical wedding kit, pending some changes based on timing and location of the shoot:

  • 70-200mm f/2. 8:   This lens is on one of my bodies nearly the entire wedding. I shoot a majority of most ceremonies and bridal portraits on this lens, along with many of the reception shots.
  • 35mm f/1. 8:   This is the other “workhorse” lens for me on a wedding day. For most ceremonies and receptions, 35mm gives me the wider perspective I want without being too wide. The f/1. 8 maximum aperture is helpful in low light, non-flash conditions.
  • 105mm Macro:   It’s a specialist lens that I use for a couple shots and then set aside – but for those few shots, it makes a huge difference. This is not a “must-have” lens, and I shot many weddings before getting one, but I am very glad I got it and it is in my own bag for 100% of weddings moving forward.
  • Other Primes:   24mm f/1. 8, 50mm f/1. 8. You can also get f/1. 4 versions (especially of a 50mm lens) if you expect to be shooting in especially low light, or you want some very dreamy bokeh and shallow depth of field. The 24mm is for cases when I need a wide angle lens without hassle.
  • Other Zoom:   24-70mm for wider shots. You can go with an f/2. 8 or f/4 depending on whether you need to use it indoors in low light or maybe not.

I’ve worked with many wedding photographers whose favorite wedding lens is an 85mm, and you’ll notice I don’t even have one in my bag. Although 85mm is a classic focal length, I find that for my style of photography I rarely shoot at a wider aperture than f/2. 8. Since I always have the 70-200 on one of my cameras, I can already shoot 85mm f/2. 8 and don’t need a separate prime. But if you are all about that 85mm f/1. 4 look, do it now!

I’ve never ever had a client ask me what gear I shoot with – they generally don’t know or care – but this doesn’t mean it isn’t important. They don’t care what you use, however they absolutely care that you create the images they want.

Unfortunately, the cameras and lenses above are expensive, easily $10, 000. If you have the gear already or the means to buy it – great. If not, don’t let that discourage you. Instead, rent the key things that you don’t have.

Renting will do two things. First, it will allow you to get some good higher quality shots for your portfolio, which is important for booking more weddings. Second, it will enable you to experiment with what gear is best suited for you and your photographic style before you spend thousands on that lens or camera body.

PL Wedding Image 5
NIKON Z 6_2 + NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2. 8 VR S @ 200mm, ISO 110, 1/250, f/3. 5

Scout the Location beforehand

If you are photographing a location you haven’t been to before, it’s crucial that you know what type of environment you might be walking into. This helps in what gear to bring, and also with knowing where to take good portraits. Even if you have   been there before, it’s best to visit again, as things can change.

That’s great when the location is a reasonable distance from you. But other times, scouting in advance may not be possible or practical. In those cases, go online. Use maps with satellite and street-level views. Check the venue’s social media marketing to get a feel for the area. This will be time well spent, as it allows you to hit the floor running much better on your day of the wedding (and bring the right camera gear tailored to the location, too).

Arrive Early

This 1 is simple: Get to the wedding early. It’s not just terrible for the wedding if you get there too late, but arriving early also lets you do some last-minute checks and sync up with the other vendors.   Give yourself enough of a buffer to have there no matter what accident or situation will inevitably delay you. My rule of thumb would be to show up early enough that you still have time to drive back again to your hotel room/home in case you forgot a critical item.

Don’t be Disruptive

This is the most important item with this list. No shot is worth ruining the experience of the couple or their guests.

I was a guest at a marriage recently where the bride was walking down the aisle, and the photographer was standing between the bride and groom, blocking their views of each other. Terrible!

If the couple and guests are left with a sour taste about you afterwards, no amount of good images will make up with this. Plus, with long lenses and modern cameras that are good for cropping, you don’t need to be that close to be able to get those types of shots anyway. The best wedding photographers don’t attract attention during the most significant moments of the day, so the couple can concentrate on one another and their family and friends.

PL Wedding Image 6
NIKON Z 5 + NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1. 8 S @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/250, f/2. 8

Bonus Tip – Eat When the Couple Does

This one doesn’t always work out, but when possible, try to eat when the couple does. It might appear like the right thing to do would be to wait until all the guests have gotten their food before grabbing yours, at the least in a buffet situation. But even though this is sometimes the best or only option, I find it’s better to grab food immediately after the couple if possible.

No body wants pictures of themselves eating, so by eating at the same time as the couple, you are not missing anything, and you’re then available and ready when they are done. This can offer you an extra few minutes to steal them away for a few minutes for sunset portraits or any other shots you had in mind  (depending on what they need, of course). It’s a tiny thing that can make a difference.

PL Wedding Image 7
NIKON Z 5 + NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1. 8 S @ 35mm, ISO 1800, 1/250, f/1. 8

Conclusion

I hope that the tips above will help you photograph your next wedding without a problem. Or, maybe they’ll give you the confidence you need when you’re photographing your first wedding! Everyone starts somewhere, and hopefully this helps no matter what level you are.

One final note: It is not possible to eliminate all issues at weddings all the time, because oftentimes they are completely out of your control. What is in your control is how you answer these unforeseen issues. Keep calm, stay professional, and roll with it the very best you can.

I am hoping that you found this list helpful. Any guidelines you’d add, or whatever you want me to get into more detail in a future article? Let me know in the comments below!

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