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Nervous? You should be. It’s a big day for you too!

Butterflies are a part of the day for you as well as the bride and groom. But you are prepared. You know all the ins and outs of the ceremony and reception site and where the bathrooms are, and that is a very important detail: if the bride arrives at the church and has to go, you are the only person in the room who has the capacity for going back and forth between bride and groom and you may from time to time make arrangements for all kinds of things like this.

Once the action starts, your butterflies will go away once you start shooting. You’re going to be exhausted at the end of the day and you should be because a good photographer works hard, gets to every location before anyone else and has the responsibility of directing traffic, especially when it comes to the family portraits. If you are going to make a photo of say, the bride and grooms family together, that may be a lot of people. You’re going to have to be a benevolent dictator: rule with an iron fist in one hand and a sense of humor in the other. It is vital that the family pictures get done quickly, as everyone, especially the kitchen staff at the reception site is working on a tight schedule. You have your list of all the family members to be photographed. This is always the most difficult part of the day. Once the ceremony is over and the family photos are done, the rest of your day is going to be mostly fun and games! Cake cutting, first dance, parent dances and other rituals will make for great photo opportunities and will fill a wonderful album.

Keep Moving!

But one word of caution: don’t sit down for too long! Keep moving and shooting. If you are in a room of anywhere from fifty to one hundred people, there are going to be lots of opportunities to make great pictures and every one of those pictures is an opportunity to make another sale. A bridesmaid is getting married next year. Someone’s aunt is having a family reunion soon; a guest is looking for someone to photograph their children for a Christmas card.

Always carry a ton of business cards with you! Anytime anyone says something about your work or suggests a possible job for you, hand them a card! Don’t be pushy about it, but don’t be shy either.

If meals are being served, eat quickly, not fast, and don’t ever, ever drink alcohol while your working. Nothing will kill your reputation faster than the suggestion that you’re drinking while you’re photographing a wedding. So, stay sober. There will be plenty of time for that after the day is done.

Photo Courtesy of James Schuck

What to Photograph

If you are shooting digital, and you ought to be, you can easily shoot anywhere between one and two thousand frames. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? It may take some time to work your way up to that number, but remember, the more you shoot, the more you can sell. Here’s a list of what you ought to be photographing during a typical wedding day:

  • Getting ready. Photos of the bride and groom getting ready for the day.
  • Individual portraits of the bride and groom: full length, medium and headshots.
  • The bride and groom together: full length, medium and headshots.
  • Family portraits: get a list from the bride and groom. Have it in your pocket. Have a guest, the bride’s sister or aunt who is familiar with everyone by your side acting as a wrangler.
  • The ceremony: coming and going, and during; reaction shots in the audience, especially crying mothers and fathers.
  • Photographs of every kid in the place: playing, sleeping whatever. People love photos of their kids. You can never have too many.
  • Cake cutting
  • First dance
  • Parent dances
  • Table pictures. These can be horrible and time consuming. Sometimes you have to do them. And the only time to do them is at the reception between the time guests sit down and when they start eating. 

Photo Courtesy of James Schuck

  • Guest shots. Go around the room. The first time people will mug for the camera. “Oh, look, the photographer!” Photograph every guest couple if you can. After a few times, people will ignore you. That is when you’ll make great candids.
  • Groups: photograph the bride with her co-workers or sorority sisters, the groom with his college buddies or high school friends. Get as many of these as possible.
  • Dancing. You’ll want lots of photos of the bride and groom dancing with their friends and family. 
  • Details: photograph everything. The church, the limo, the ballroom, the flowers, invitations, the rings. In short, photograph every little detail you can think of: the cake, the bride’s shoes, and the groom’s tie. 

Details are Important

All these details will make wonderful additions to the album. Your clients have spent months, some of them years thinking about all these little details and they will want to see them in pictures. Even if they never use them for anything, they will appreciate seeing them. A wedding day goes by very quickly and for the bride in particular everything will be a blur. She will look through your photos and see things she didn’t get to see on her wedding day. That is what you are there for, to show the whole day and every little detail matters a great deal. Even if it seems ridiculous, photograph it. It may seem so to you, but it may have great meaning to your clients and you owe them all your hard work and respect for those little details.

About one hour before the night is over, go to each set of parents as well as the bride and groom and tell them you will be leaving in one hour and ask each one of them if there are any photos that they would like before you go. Do they have any friends or family members they want a picture with? Did we miss anyone? This one gesture will cover the last of your bases and will guarantee you another thirty minutes of people mugging for the camera. And your clients will appreciate it.

At the end of a long day, your feet hurt, your back is sore and you’re tired and sweaty. Pack up your gear, or better yet, have your assistant pack it for you, if you have one. Once you get some experience, having an assistant can be an extremely valuable asset, if only to pack and unpack your gear. When you get home after a long day’s shoot, nothing is better than having someone else put your gear away.

Before you leave, say goodnight to as many people as you can, particularly the bride and groom. Tell them when they’ll be able to see the photos whether it will take you two days or two weeks to get them edited and uploaded to a website (more about that later). Say goodnight to both sets of parents. Thank them for having you! Thank them for the opportunity to be of service to them and their families. It’s likely you have made a great many friends during the day and you don’t want to leave without saying goodnight and thank you.

James Schuck

James Schuck is a writer and photographer working in Southern California. He is a graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York City and has photographed everything from Architecture to Auto Parts to Cookies to Portraits and Weddings.

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