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Chapter 20

Wedding Photography

Wedding photography is demanding. It requires:
  • A high degree of technical skill. Weddings can never be repeated so your technical, posing, and people skills must be flawless.
  • The ability to pose people to create a pleasing, and saleable photo. This includes having everyone, and I mean everyone, looking at you, or more correctly at the camera, when the shot is taken. This is a skill that you will need to learn.

A good way to do this is to say loudly, "Okay everybody look at me, look at the camera. On three, one, two." Then take the shot.

Quickly say, "Wait, wait, two shots, two shots, here we go, one, two."

Be sure to hold up two fingers when you say this. Soon, all you need do is hold up two fingers and everyone will patiently wait for you to take your insurance shot.

Why two shots?

The second shot is for aesthetics not for technical reasons. The second shot may save you, may earn you a great reputation as the person who gets the job done. If you are thinking this is crazy because you will get left with all the extra proofs. See the comments below about selling the proofs on an album.

    Here is an amusing story. At least now it's amusing. I was photographing a large wedding family shot. I mean large, like 50 people. After the the first picture, to my horror, they started to walk. I waved my arms and moved my mouth, but no sound came out. Finally I shouted, "Wait!" And got the second shot. There is no way I would have ever gotten them all back later on.

Sometimes one opportunity is all you are going to get. Do it right, do it one time. And one opportunity is all you will ever need.

  • As a wedding photographer you cannot be bashful. If you are the quiet type, I am sorry to say, this job may not be for you. Or, get yourself an assistant who is the outgoing type.
  • This job demands that you deal with people.
  • The ability to handle people. I do not mean manipulate. I do mean direct, often under pressure, in such a manner that you offend no one. You need to be able to do this gracefully, tactfully. You must never be rude, condescending, or belligerent. Never. No matter how much the guests deserve it. You are an employee here. So don't get involved emotionally.
  • Do you need to get across a crowded dance floor? Hold the camera over your head and dance your way there.
  • Carry some 35mm print film to give away to the guest who asks if you can sell him or her some film. This is a graceful way to avoid an embarrassing situation, you do not want to say that you can't or won't help the guest out.
  • You are dealing with people here. This is not another job; it is a very personal time for the bride and groom. A joining of two families. Do all you can to make this a successful social occasion.
  • Make no decisions you don't have to. If is raining and the bride asks to go somewhere else for pictures you say sure where do you want to go. See? Do not allow your self to become the solution of everything. How would you know where else to do the shoot?
  • As for the bride and groom. If you have problems or need assistance with anything try to not involve them. Look for someone else in the wedding party to help you out, the best man perhaps? Tell him that you do not want to bother the newly married couple with this, can you help me out? He will be glad to.


As you might guess you actually begin some weeks before the event. You will need:

  • Specific directions to the brides home, the wedding location, and the receiption. Higly recommended is a dry run some days before so that you can easily find each location on the wedding day. There is no chance to duplicate that special day. You do not want to be late.
  • Keep your car in good shape. Be sure you have plenty of gas in the tank to do all the running around on wedding day. Also, be sure to have all the phone numbers you will need with you. And a cell phone with a fully charged battery.

Never hesitate to give direction when you are posing groups. If this takes a few minutes tell everyone that you are sorry to take their time, but you are meticulous when you work. They will love you for being that good.

They will respect you, appreciate that you are professional, and be happy to do what you ask. Look at it this way. Get good pictures and no one will remember your professional attitude. Bad pictures and no one will forget.

Some definitions:

  • Proof: This is what your color pictures are referred to as. They are the color prints you get back from the processing laboratory.
  • Proof album: This is the photo album that you will present the proofs to the customer in. Generally your proofs will be 5 inches by five inches, if you shoot with 120 film. Proofs from a 35mm are three and one-half inches by five inches.
  • $$$ Arrange the photos in the proof album to tell the story of the wedding day. Tip: do not put identical photos next to each other. Insert them here and there. In this way the customer will not, hopefully, complain that the album contains lots of duplicates. You do want to sell the proof album, don't you?


Be sure that all of your photographic equipment is in operating condition. Check all batteries and replace any that are marginal. Charge all of your flash batteries. Be sure that you have extra PC cords for your flash, bring your battery charger, and an extension cord. In the unlikely event that you are using non-rechargeable battery's make certain to bring enough to do the entire job.

How to check your camera - flash for prope r operation.

  • This is important.
  • The camera must not have film in it.
  • Charge the flash. Attach it to the camera. Be sure all electrical connections are properly made up, plugged in.
  • Open the camera back, advance the film to cock the shutter.
  • Aim the camera at a wall.
  • Looking at the shutter. Trip the camera. "Take" a picture.
  • You should see the flash through the shutter.
  • You should see the shutter completely open.
  • If the entire shutter window is not fully illuminated the shutter needs work. Do not use the camera on job.
  • Check this before every job.


Use a professional grade color negative film, not what is on sale at the local drug store. Should you have never done a wedding before go to a professional camera shop and have a conversation with someone knowledgeable. Be sure to have more film than you expect to need.

Find a professional film processing laboratory. Contact them to be sure that the film you choose is one that they process. Not all films and processing chemistry are compatible.

Leave nothing to chance.

You will need to know the lab's location and how to get there, their hours, turn around time, cost, the format of the proofs, and how they will expect payment.

When you drop off the film for processing be sure to obtain receipts for all rolls of film. Note the name of the wedding party on the film receipts.

Check into the availability of a proof album, as many labs sell this sort of stuff, and a presentation album for the final prints.

If you will have a turn around time of three days tell the customer it will be two weeks before they see results. This allows you time to pick up the work and get the prints into a proof album.

Allow yourself plenty of time to sort and put the proofs into the proof album. Remember a wedding is about 20 to 24 hours of work.

Your work. Your time. Leave twice the amount of time that you expect to need in your schedule.

Here is a great tip. Number each roll of film as you remove it from the camera. For you 35mm shooters carry an indelible marker and write right on the film cassette, not the plastic film can. This is an excellent way to keep track of your film. Keep all exposed film in the same place preferably one pocket of your camera bag. Or better yet a special bag for nothing but film.

Money - From The Client

Collect a deposit in advance of the wedding. Should the customer not pay you a deposit do not do the job. Under no circumstances proceed with anyone who does not give you a deposit. The deposit should, at a minimum, cover your cost of film, processing, proof album, and transportation.

No matter what, it is important to your economic well being to get the proof album to the customer in a timely fashion. Let the customer take the proof album but, do not hesitate to call in a few days to follow up on the print order. Collect a deposit that covers your costs. And get the order to the processing lab. The economic realities of marriage are not to be under estimated. Get the work to the customer, bill them, and get your money before they buy a refrigerator, have a mortgage. You get the idea? It is imperative that you obtain a deposit that covers your costs and that you do not release goods until paid for.

The Ceremony

Check out your best vantage points. Remember you are the photographer of record here so you must be polite. If the rules are no pictures during the ceremony, do not take pictures. Under no circumstances be rude or pushy. Remember that the next photographer will pay the price, and sooner or later, you will be the next photographer. You can get the wedding party back inside later on for your shots.

The Families

Ask the bride and groom about their relatives and get a list of all who are special. Here you can ask for the assistance of a family member to assist you in finding these people and getting your photos. Do not expect the bride or groom to assist you. This is their day. Your job is to be someone who solves problems, not someone who is always whining to the happy couple. Be sure to photograph those guests who are elderly, from a great distance, or are special to the bride and groom.

As the photographer people will look to you for all sorts of things, even as to where to stand. Be helpful, caring, and likable, because if they do not like you they will not like your photos. Also if they do not like you they will not be happy to pay for your work nor will never give you a good recommendation.

The Business End of The Business

  • Write up a simple contract and make sure that both you and the customer agree to all major points and that the customer signs and dates it. Here are some of the things you will want to include:
  • Will you begin at the bride's home? If so, at what time are you to be there?
  • The location of the ceremony including street address and town, the date, and time of day.
  • The location of the after ceremony pictures if remote from the ceremony.
  • The location of the reception.
  • Whether a meal for you will be included. Never expect to be fed this must be spelled out and agreed to in writing.
  • How long you are expected to work. Will you be released at a certain time, or are you to stay until 2AM?
  • Agree on an approximate number of proofs to be delivered in the proof album.
  • Agree on a deposit and the latest day that it is due. Expect your deposit in advance. If you do not have the deposit at least two weeks before the ceremony tell the bride that you will not be there. Never photograph a wedding unless you have received a deposit.


  • Call some local professional wedding photographers and check what they get. Be sure to carefully evaluate what their packages include and if they work with an assistant. As a beginner you cannot command top money. So, price your self accordingly. Consider and cost out:
  • Film and Processing
  • Total mileage, including trips for film, processing and your dry run for location and best route.
  • Your equipment
  • Phone charges
  • Your time in getting the job, time with the customer dealing with albums, proofs. Do not forget the time for dealing with the proof album, the final album, meting with the customer and the driving or postage to accomplish all this.
  • A wedding is approximately twenty-four (24) to thirty (30) hours of work. If you want to get into this business get a part time job with an established pro and learn it from the ground up.
  • Some Tricks of The Trade

  • To get both the bride and groom smiling and looking at you, try this, say, "How about a big smile over here!" Delivered with your enthusiastic grin, it never fails. Always double shoot, that is take two pictures.
  • When getting down to the end of a role of film do not hesitate to waste a few shots if you will be busy soon. Go shoot the cake, you need a shot of it anyway, or take a picture of the band or some guests. And reload before you run out of film.
  • Some photographers carry, and give away for free, a roll or two of 35mm non-professional print film. This is for the guest who runs out of film and asks if you have any extra film. It is good public relations. And makes people like you. This sort of kindness will get back to the bride and groom, and can go a long way to making you and your photos very likable. Because if they don't like you, they won't like your pictures.
  • Always appear to be a competent photographer. Answer questions as best you. When a guest is helpful, but in your way, tell him or her kindly that you can't talk just now. Remember who you are working for.
  • Your Photo Checklist

    • Copy this list and tape it to your camera. Start with the bride, then the bride and groom, then mass the bride's parents, then the groom's parents, then both sets of parents, then the bride and groom with the Best Man and Maid of Honor, then the entire wedding party. You cannot take too many pictures, in fact, double shoot all photos. That is take two pictures of each pose it is the cheapest insurance you can get.

    The ceremony:

    • Walking down the aisle
    • At the alter
    • From the choir. If possible, you may not get up here if working alone.
    • The reception line.
    • Leaving the church

    At The Reception:

    • Your first order of business is to get ready to shoot the arrival of the bride and groom. Do nothing before this had been completed.
    • Then introduce yourself to the managemnt and the band or DJ. Ask the band leader not to cut the cake or throw the garter until you are ready, not just there, but ready.
      • Note: At one of the many wedding I photographed the band leader actually did to me without any notice he had the bride throw the garter. I literally whirled around and shot almost blind. And did I ever luck out I got the shot. It seems that the band leader was mad at something and just went ahead.
      So, be warned and be ready.

    • Find the coat room so you can stash your gear and plug in your battery charger.

    • If you are being fed find your table. Be sure to take a seat that allows you to jump and run.

    At the Reception shoot at least:

    • The bride and groom arriving and getting out of the car.
    • Their entrance into the hall.
    • The marriage certificate, when you have time
    • The cake, when you have time
    • Note: In the heat and excitement things can get confusing so think of an increasing hierarchy starting with the bride. Like this:

    Note these shots may or may not be done at the reception. You will likely go to a park or some such place to do these. Whereever you do this does not matter stay with the form below and you will not leave anyone out.

    • The Bride
    • The Bride and Groom
    • The bride, groom, best man and maid of honor
    • The bride, groom and brides parents
    • The bride, groom and grooms parents
    • The entire wedding party
    • The first dance
    • Cutting the cake
    • Feeding cake to each other
    • Taking off the garter
    • Throwing the garter
    • Placing the garter on the woman who caught it
    • The band
    • Guests. Photographing guests at their tables. This is time consuming for you and expensive for the customer. Don't do this if not specifically requested and included in the contract.
    • Copy or write these shot on a piece of paper and tape it to the back of your camera. Think of your photos as a pyramid:

    In this way you do not leave anyone out. Because you don't want to do that.

    Last thoughts:

    • You will be in the middle of family politics. People may become angry, rude, or condescending in their treatment of you. Always maintain a professional attitude.
    • Tell the bride and groom that if you are seen at the bar you are drinking orange juice, ginger ale, or some other soft drink. This is not your party. It is a job.
    • Photographing a wedding is not fun. It's work, a lot of work.
    • The average wedding is about 24 hours of work. Yes that's tight 24 hours. You must:
      • Meet with the customer when they are shopping for a photographer.
      • Handle their deposit.
      • Verify directions to the bride's home, church, reception.
      • Photograph the wedding.
      • Send the film out for processing.
      • Put the pictures into small "proof" albums.
      • Deal with the married couple for the album, send out the negatives with the print order. Order the album. Put the pictures into the album.
      • Deal with the married couple to deliver the album, get your money, and deposit that money into the bank.
      • You need to buy film.
      • Deal with lost film and other disasters.
      • Be able to check your camera-flash to ensure that they are functioning properly. Do you know how to do that? If not click to go to instruction above.
      • Drive to all of the above.
      • Do all the running around to get this and much other nameless, not fun stuff done. And you thought this was fun? Enjoy.

      Here's a good thing to know. You don't want to be left with lots of proofs. Make every attempt to sell them. Like this:

      Even though you will have lots of duplicate photos put them into the proof albums in such a way that you tell a story of the wedding. Use all the proofs.

      Do not put the same photos near each other. The customer will notice.

      Spread the shots out to tell the story of their wedding. You keep the negatives, not pictures. Sell as many pictures as you can. Turn them into money.

        Personal note:A guest at a wedding once asked me why I was not drinking (meaning alcohol). "I'm working." I said, "This is a job and I never drink while I work. Not here, not at my day job."

      The guest went on to say that a photographer he knew drank at weddings all the time. People who tell you things like this are not your friend - they are trouble. Trouble for you. Don't listen to them.

      Go do a good job.
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