Shooting Weddings Part 1 – Getting Started

by Peter Zack


Shooting weddings can be a challenging and rewarding aspect of photography. I hope these articles give you some inspiration and tips that will help you develop your own style and business. I don’t profess to know everything, actually I probably don’t know that much. I have picked up a few things over the years that can make life a little easier for someone getting started. If you’re already shooting weddings I would like to hear your thoughts on this subject and you can e-mail comments here, which may be added in follow up articles.

Note: Several brands may be mentioned and I have no affiliation with any of them but some gear is just better suited than other equipment.

Wedding shot sunset

My introduction to this series may sound harsh or negative but that’s not my intention. I just want to impress upon the reader that this is a serious business that needs to be treated that way. Your clients are trusting you with one of their most important days, which they have been planning for more than a year. I just find it disappointing to hear so many stories about slow delivery or 300 poorly taken shots that really left the client unhappy. It hurts everyone who enters this field with the best of intentions. I would recommend you over-deliver and under-promise. It’s a guarantee of having a happy customer and future referral business.

I don’t want to turn anyone away from the pursuit of a business in Wedding Photography, but I’ll offer a few words of caution in this section before we get to the more fun and creative aspects. I don’t intend to cover every aspect of this field but simply give some general outlines and hints. I won’t deal with contracts or legal issues to any great detail, as every jurisdiction is different. But suffice to say, it’s an area you need to explore and understand. Having a clear, legal contract is a must. Skipping that step is asking for trouble.

Like any career, wedding photography needs to be studied. You need to continually learn the craft, understand the shooting styles of the past and the current trends of today. A good grounding in older and more traditional wedding photography is also a must. Every client has different wishes and tastes. You need to be prepared and adaptable to the client’s wishes.

Wedding shot in tree.Wear good shoes that will allow you to climb trees and be prepared to do some unusual things!

Many photographers will disagree with me here. What you want to shoot, does not matter in the least. I have gotten so many jobs when competing against another photographer that said “this is how I shoot and I won’t do [this or that]”. It’s perfectly fine to tell your clients what your limitations are and that you just don’t know how to do something or are physically incapable. I’m never going to jump out of a plane to shoot a wedding at 10,000 feet, you might not be comfortable taking your gear on a boat. But we serve our clients, not the other way around. You have to pick clients that you can work with (I’ll get into detail about this later) and form a connection to, but once you do, they have to enjoy the work for a lifetime, you don’t. The clients you choose to work with should also understand your style and what you want to capture. They need to be able to work with you as well.

We’ve all been to a wedding where Uncle Fred volunteered to shoot the ceremony. He’s running around taking tons of shots but with no real plan and does not have the equipment to do a proper job. The shots come out horrible and the couple are left disappointed. I’ve been asked on a few occasions to try to fix these packages after the fact. I’ve always refused. As much as I sympathize with the couple that the most important memento of their day is a mess, it’s not possible to take bad photographs and turn them into magazine cover quality. In the end, I’m going to look just as bad as Uncle Fred when I charge hundreds to ‘fix the shots’ and they really are not much better than what came out of his camera.

If you book weddings for every weekend in your wedding season, have enough money set aside to replace a failed setup in a day’s notice while something is in service. Some of us can rent and if that option is available to you, then that reduces the emergency fund. But be prepared to replace or rent equipment quickly if needed.

I read advice from books and web sites that often says something like, “buy the best camera you can afford“. I disagree. Buy the best in your brand choice, period. As I said earlier, this is a serious business and not a hobby. That doesn’t mean you have to buy the most expensive, just the best that suits your work, style and needs. It doesn’t have to have the most megapixels but the camera has to be rugged, good at higher ISO and capable of producing the detail and sharpness in all sorts of situations. The camera resolution needs to be able to enlarge shots to at least 16×20″ size without quality loss. Find the camera that will do what you need and find the money for that system. Look closely at the system as a whole. Does the company have the equipment you need in accessories, lenses and other parts?

Wedding Shot Hi Key

Getting started is often the most challenging aspect of wedding photography. If you can find a working Pro that will let you work as an assistant, that’s great. The tips and pointers you will learn will take you a long way. It’s better to shoot 4 or 5 weddings without the pressure of being the primary shooter. But even though you are not expected to do the wedding on your own, treat it like it were all yours. Study how the Pro works and try to replicate their work without getting in the way. You may be asked to turn over your shots to the Pro, just make sure you can keep copies for yourself to build your portfolio.

If a Pro isn’t available for apprentice work, then take a course at your local community college and volunteer for any friends or relatives that will let you shoot as either a primary or secondary shooter (with the Pro’s permission). The first 2-4 weddings you do on your own should be free. Yes, free. Be straight with the customer that you’re just getting started, show them some of your apprentice work and tell them you want to gain experience. It will help you build a portfolio to show future clients. They get a wedding shot free and you get the needed practice and experience without the tremendous pressure of getting everything shot perfectly. Be honest with your clients and everyone will have the correct level of expectation. Only charge for printing, albums or any other fixed costs.

When you are ready, charge the going rates for your area. This is hard work with many long hours that the client does not see. Doing a wedding for a few hundred isn’t going to cover the hours or cost of equipment, plus the replacement costs and upgrading that will come. Discounting your work just tells the customer you aren’t that good and price is the bargain, not the great work you will deliver for a fair price.

So, in coming articles in this series we’ll touch on as many aspects of this craft as possible. It will be more fun than this first section. I encourage and invite ideas and comments to this and future articles.

Cheers and good shooting. –Peter Zack

If you would like to visit my site, the link is below.

Prince Edward Island Wedding Photography

Continue reading Shooting Weddings Part 2 – Equipment.

17 Responses to “Shooting Weddings Part 1 – Getting Started”

  1. they have to enjoy the work for a lifetime, you don’t

    I think this is a key statement to remember. You’re photographing a wedding for the bride and groom, and they’ll have to look at those photos for the rest of their lives.

  2. I just wanted to told you that I really enjoy your website, much of your ideas/thoughts are moving me on when I’m in lack of inspiration.

    Thanks !

  3. Serious business, indeed! I get a couple of decent shots from time to time but I’m glad nobody’s counting on me for more than that.

  4. (We’ve all been to a wedding where Uncle Fred volunteered to shoot the ceremony.)
    As I tell people who ask me to shoot a wedding “No good having a landscape photographer doing the work of a wedding photographer.”

    • Ben, if only more people understood their photographic limitations, there would be fewer unhappy brides in the World 🙂

      Elsewhere, I’ve read wedding photography described as being sports photography on steroids. Unlike sports photography, you don’t have 100 other guys/gals taking shots next to you, so you really cannot afford to miss a shot.

      I really admire photographers like Peter who crank out great wedding pics weekend after weekend…and survive to write the article 😉

  5. Humm I hope I didn’t insult any “Uncle Fred’s” That wasn’t my intention. Maybe he should have been Uncle Peter 🙂

    Thanks for the read and comments everyone.

  6. Peter, I have the upmost respect for anyone who can make it doing wedding photography!!

    About 25 years ago, a friend of mine who did wedding photography on the side screwed up and got himself double-booked one Saturday. Begged (Begged!!!) me to “help him out” since he knew I was into photography (NATURE photography!!). I was foolish (ok, stupid!!) and agreed. It was the day from hell!! If I could have gotten away with it, I’d have killed the mother of the bride!! Nuff said. Although, I did get compliments on the work and the bride purchased quite a bit. Never did another.

    Anyway, as I said, I have nothing but respect for folks who make a living doing wedding photography. In my mind, it’s some of the hardest and most difficult phtography to do and do well!!

  7. Climbing trees and such?
    Sorry it is not me, I am not running from the cops, dogs and gangsters that chased me as a kid anymore 😉 so no need to climb trees any longer. LOL…..

  8. Chip, Sorry to have laughed at your expense, but ”If I could have gotten away with it, I’d have killed the mother of the bride!!” is classic….

  9. Great article, Peter! As I said in, I am contemplating getting back into this, and I appreciated reading about your perspective and experiences. All good advice…thanks!

  10. The “over-deliver and under-promise” concept is very sensible. For a lesson in “how NOT to do business” go to:

  11. Peter, your secrets is out 🙂

    This is a great article and this is going to be another great resource 🙂

  12. Oh wow, Mike…that is some pretty damning stuff on Glenn Barnett. How someone could run a wedding photography business like this is beyond me…

  13. Wow, I just finished reading many of those comments and wow.

  14. Well done, Peter.
    Very practical and objective advice on the world of wedding photography.
    Great teaching resource.

  15. Very well written, Peter. I look forward to the next in the series.

  16. Thank you for posting a VERY instructional article. I look forward to the next instalment. I also forwarded the link to my daughter who is beginning to ease into the field. She liked it very much. Oh, any idea when we might see the next one? No pressure, you understand!

    Steve N

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