Wedding photography is a challenging, yet incredibly rewarding genre of photography that you can potentially make a living out of. If you want to know how to become a wedding photographer, we’ve got 8 tips to get you started!
That Looks Easy, I Can Do That
You’ve probably seen lackluster wedding images or witnessed a wedding photographer in action and thought “I can do that”. No matter the initial lightbulb moment, if you’re serious about kicking off a wedding photography career, you have to get up to speed in a bunch of different areas.
These areas include kit, technicalities, the order of the day, lighting setups, being able to blend into the background, and speed of execution, to name but a few. The last point is an important one, as the pace of the day is nothing like studio or landscape photography. You simply don’t have the luxury of time to deliberate over lighting and composition for hours. If fast-paced shooting is not your thing, then wedding photography may not be your ideal avenue.
This isn’t to say that the whole wedding day is spray and pray with your shots. The end goal is for each image to be as meticulously crafted as any set piece.
One simple takeaway from the whole process is that the wedding couple is in a meet and greet mode all day. It would be lovely to grab the couple and take them to multiple locations with a good few hours spent at each for shooting and set up time. But the reality is you may only have five to ten minutes at a time to nail the perfect shots.
The scenes, demands, and opportunities are always changing at a wedding shoot. You have to be changing with them.
How to Become a Wedding Photographer: 8 Key Tips
1. Become a Second Shooter
The best way to gain experience in capturing a wedding day is to become a second shooter. For the rank beginner, you will still need an average level of camera gear to produce the goods, along with all the foundations of exposure and composition. However, if you’re still taking your first tentative steps into the world of photography, you can still be an assistant. Holding a light stand or reflector will allow you to see firsthand how everything is done, from lighting setups to compositions.
As you gain more experience as a second shooter, you will quickly get a vibe for all the different aspects of the day. It’s also important to know exactly what the main photographer expects from you. As a second shooter, you need to slot into whatever role you are instantly assigned. In one breath you could be angling a reflector, then in the next, capturing all those incidental shots not covered by the main photographer.
Ask five different wedding photographers what is the ideal kit list and you’ll probably get five different answers. Some like to carry every conceivable piece of gear with them, while others prefer to travel light. Through experience, you start to figure out what gear works for you, but there are some staples for the genre.
Owning a solid and dependable wedding camera (or cameras) is a pre-requisite. A wedding photographer is a location shooter, so you have to take everything with you. The ideal is to have two cameras at your disposal. This is not just in case one breaks down, but also to have different focal lengths (from the lens choices) instantly at your disposal. Ideally, each camera should have two memory cards fitted, writing to both cards at once – that way you always get a backup, should one card fail.
The choice and type of camera can be very subjective. Although APS-C or crop sensor cameras are very capable, it’s best to buy into a full-frame camera for the added low-light and lower noise ISO capabilities.
You also have the option of a DSLR or mirrorless camera. DSLR cameras are very capable but due to the increasing mirrorless competition, they’re becoming a much more affordable option that still offers impressive performance. They also provide the best battery life and some people still prefer an optical viewfinder. However, mirrorless cameras can provide real-time exposure and highlight alerts, which are great features for time-saving and ensuring your images aren’t going to be blown out (and unusable).
The camera options below are some of the top picks for wedding photographers but there are a vast number of capable devices out there.
Canon 5D Mark IV
This is a great all-around camera that offers a high frame rate and top-notch resolution for stunning images.
The Canon 5D Mark IV was released back in 2016, But it still holds up as a very rounded solution. The 30.4MP sensor provides plenty of resolution for prints and the ISO range of 100-32000 is very capable in lowlight conditions. The 7.0 fps of continuous shooting speed means you won’t miss a moment and there’s even 4K video available in short bursts.
Full frame, great dynamic range, and chock full of features. A head-to-head competitor with the Canon 5D Mark IV.
The Nikon D850 is another type of DSLR camera, which features a 45.7MP sensor, 9 fps of continuous shooting and great dynamic range starting at ISO 64. Advanced features such as subject tracking, a fast autofocus system and 4K video makes the Nikon a solid solution for any type of wedding shoot.
Just like the Canon, the Nikon D850 can fit a whole spectrum of prime and zoom lenses, from Nikon themselves or from third-party makers.
Sony a9 II
This top-of-the-line camera offers numerous impressive features. As a mirrorless shooter, you also get all the benefits of the electronic viewfinder.
If you want an all-singing and dancing mirrorless camera, then you can’t go wrong with the Sony a9 II. Sony is a popular choice as they have been building on the mirrorless platform for some time, with ever more rounded features. The Sony a9 II features a 24.2MP sensor, with an incredible 693 AF points, 20fps of rapid shooting, and built-in image stabilization.
The Sony is the most expensive of the three cameras featured here, but if you want the latest and greatest features, look no further.
Some wedding shooters prefer zoom lenses while others like to use fixed focal length prime lenses. In reality, a wedding shoot usually requires a mixture of the two lens types. These lenses will need to cover the wide-angle, standard view, and telephoto range.
Zoom lenses generally have the most versatility, while prime lenses can have wider apertures for better lowlight capabilities, provide a standard look, and offer fantastic bokeh effects. To cover the wide-angle side of things, something like a 16-35mm zoom lens is a good choice. You should aim not to go wider than 24mm, as subjects start to look a bit too bulbous and distorted.
To cover the standard views you can’t go wrong with either a 24-70mm zoom, 35mm, or 50mm prime lens. A 24-70mm zoom lens could serve you for the whole wedding shoot. But, a 35mm and 50mm prime can still be used for environmental portrait shots and can have apertures as wide as f/1.4.
A nice portrait lens is a good option such as an 85mm prime, while the telephoto end of things is usually covered by a high quality 70-200mm zoom.
Having a bag full of lenses at your disposal is ideal. But in reality, two or three lenses are usually enough to cover all bases. These choices can be very subjective. Which one you choose will be dependent on if you like the look of a zoom or a prime lens, the width of apertures, and if the lens has other niceties such as image stabilization. Below are just a few examples of the typical lenses used on a wedding shoot.
The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II can cover the wide to short telephoto zone, with crisp detail. This type of lens is better at the wide-angle end of things but is equally capable of capturing tighter portrait shots. This type of zoom lens is great for capturing candid moments throughout the day.
A 35mm prime lens provides a standard viewpoint with a little more width than the ubiquitous 50mm. This type of lens is good for environmental portraits, group shots, and wide views of the reception or wedding breakfast.
Nikon’s version of this lens is one of the best around. This means if you’re lucky enough to have landed with a Nikon camera, it’s entirely possible to shoot a whole wedding with this lens.
There’s nothing like a dedicated portrait lens, with the 85 mm focal length being a popular choice. The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art DG HSM is available for both DSLR and mirrorless formats for a wide variety of camera mounts. The f/1.4 aperture is excellent in lowlight conditions, with excellent sharpness levels throughout the range.
For those times when you want to step back from the action, capture distant shots or shoot portraits with more compression, a 70-200mm is a fine choice. The EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM is a staple for Canon shooters, providing excellent optics, image stabilization, and other tasty features such as focus limiting.
Lightweight and portable solutions are always the aim of the game when it comes to wedding photography. Having a couple of speedlights is a must, along with a remote trigger for off-camera lighting. Each camera manufacturer produces its own version of a speedlight. These are generally better built and more robust than their third-party counterparts but are also the most expensive.
It’s also handy to have a light stand or two, with attachments at the top for a speedlight and a light modifier. In terms of light modifiers, I usually use a variety of umbrellas, white and silver versions, as they are very quick to set up. Any type of light modifier is viable on a wedding shoot, but it’s not exactly convenient to set up a 2 m wide softbox next to the dancefloor (unless you want some very dirty looks).
Bounce flash will become your best friend for both on- and off-camera lighting. This type of lighting isn’t the most dramatic, but it will provide an even spread of light throughout the day.
There are a few staple accessories that I couldn’t live without on an average wedding shoot. A sturdy camera bag or case, which can fit in and strap on everything you need for the day. A long and solid camera strap is also essential. The length is there to dangle your camera round your hip for better weight distribution, rather than pulling your neck out of place with a shorter length.
A small cleaning kit is essential, along with a plentiful supply of memory cards and batteries.
Once all the images have been captured for the day, they need to be processed in some way. My tools of choice are Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, but there are of course many other types of software available on the market for post-editing. Lightroom is generally used for the general processing of RAW images, while Photoshop is used for finer edits.
There’s nothing wrong with having a tick list of all the basic poses you want to cover, shots, and any other pertinent information. Having a sheet of information detailing all locations, shots, and poses is your autopilot for the day.
You will also have to quickly judge the character of the couple for which posies will work best. Outgoing couples will generally be happy to throw lots of poses, while more reserved types may feel uncomfortable. Allowing a couple to naturally interact with each other is a good first base. Simple things like walking towards you and away, holding hands, and linking arms is a good start point. These types of poses work very well for both wide-angle and close-up shots.
Above all, talk to the couple beforehand about the type of shots they like. Even a brief chat can inform you of the type of poses, their characters, and the images they want to see.
With lots of practice, over time you will start to develop your own style and look of images. However, weddings usually require a light, airy, and romantic feel. This means if you are used to creating the look and lighting of a horror movie or gritty sports shoot, you will have to adapt your ways.
This is where experience as a second shooter at a wedding becomes invaluable. You’ll get to see first-hand the lighting setups being used, essential settings, and what makes or breaks a shot.
6. Putting Yourself Out There: Sales and Marketing
The adrenaline-fuelled fun of a wedding shoot has to be offset with all the serious behind-the-scenes stuff. You will need at least a basic website for your portfolio and a means to promote yourself. From initial contact to final delivery, you will need all the paperwork and methods of delivery in place.
Basic things like an order form, agreements for initial deposits, and final payments, along with the release forms can be easily found as templates online. The marketing side of things can be a topic in itself, but many people find success with promotion on social media platforms, along with contacting wedding venues in your area.
It’s also a good idea to join lots of social media wedding groups, not just for advertising but to also gain a handle on what couples are looking for.
7. Providing the End Product
After your countless hours of meticulous image editing, it’s now time to deliver the final product. Some clients like everything in print, some prefer everything on a USB stick, while others are happy with everything being sent as a download.
Find out what the client wants in advance, then try and deliver a little more. This is the time when you can start selling extra services like prints, photo albums, and nicely packaged USB sticks.
8. Follow Up
Above all, you have to make sure that the couple is one-hundred percent happy with your work. A wedding shoot is about quality and quantity, as the couple wants to see a good amount of images that document the day, with them all having a wow factor. This may seem like a huge task when you have to edit over 600 images in Lightroom. But this is where your post-processing skills will come into play, editing batches of similar images at a time.
If you haven’t done so already, grab the couple’s contact details, like an email address, so you can follow up even months later.
Bonus Tip: Wear a Sturdy Pair of Pants
This area may seem like a given, but this is a wedding day, so don’t turn up dressed like you’re going to the gym. You don’t necessarily need a three-piece suit, but a formal shirt, dress trousers, and shoes are at least the basics. If I know the location is going to be wet and muddy, I will wear a very new pair of well-ironed black jeans, as I’ve lost count of the number of times pants have been ripped or torn. This type of dress wear is more to save embarrassment on the day.
Do You Still Want to Be a Wedding Photographer?
Personally speaking, wedding photography is a great training ground for any type of shooter. The setting makes you think quickly on your feet and encompasses almost every other type of photography. However, the fast pace and rounded nature of shots aren’t for everybody, especially if you don’t like to be physically and mentally drained by the end of the day.
However, there’s nothing like the joy of presenting images to a couple who are simply blown away with the finished product. The kit is important, especially with the choice of lenses, but you also need to practice which shots work the best in this scenario. If nothing else, shoot far more images than you think you will ever need. Out of hundreds or even thousands of images from the day, it can be just those few images that make you worth your weight in gold.
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