At the start of every new year I have my resolution/ to do list. This year like most it is a) eat less cake, b) eat less chocolate and, c) write more blogs! If your list is much more amazing and includes, 1. find wedding venue, 2. have invites designed, 3. try on beautiful dresses, 4. choose wedding suppliers, then you have an exciting, busy time ahead.
Brides often say to me at wedding fayres ” I’m not getting married until next year, I’ve got plenty of time.” There are many excellent websites out there that list what you need to do and when but put simply, once you have booked your venue, if there are suppliers you’ve seen that you must have for your dream day it is never to early to enquire. Especially those that need to be physically there for much of your big day. None more so than your photographer.
If you want a professional, experienced, full time, skilled wedding photographer you need to start looking as early as possible. They will be booked one, two, three years in advance, so finding the right one for you who is available on your wedding date, can take time. However, the first question you need to ask yourself is ….do you need a professional photographer? How important are photographs to you?
How important are wedding photographs to you?
Only you know how important photos are to you and who you would like to take them. You could rely on your guests sending you photos they have taken or posting them on Instagram? Photography by guests is generally not allowed during the ceremony as it is a huge distraction and you certainly won’t have photos of your faces or other guest’s reactions.
The rest of the day from my experience wedding guests tend to take photos at the same time, posed shot after you’ve signed the register, when you walk back down the aisle, leaving in the car, cutting the cake and first dance. They may take a posed photo of the two of you looking at the camera. Possibly a family group shot, someone may take a picture of the cake and bouquet?
Guests tend not to take pictures of spontaneous laughter, emotion.
The quality will vary greatly, from some taken by a photography enthusiast to those with harsh flash taken on a phone. They may not be suitable for printing and you wont know what photos you have until after the day.
Your wedding day is (hopefully) a once in a lifetime experience. Photographs will be a time capsule of your day and will last forever. Something you can share with your children and grand children.
Depending on which style you prefer they will remind you of not only the big events, walking down the aisle, the giving of rings, your first kiss, first moments together as a married couple, the laughter during the speeches your first dance. But all those little moments that make your day unique and special to you. Dad seeing you in your dress for the first time, Mum wiping away a tear, Grandpa blowing you a kiss, Grandma dancing. Mum and Dad holding hands during your ceremony. Even things you didn’t notice, your bridesmaid falling asleep until a pile of coats, the children playing outside. So if these photos are important to you, who should take them?
a)Ask a friend who has a good camera and takes lovely landscapes, street photography or portraits.
b) Choose a professional wedding photographer.
a) Ask a friend
This is all about expectations. Have you discussed the style of photography you want? What is your friend able to do? What happens if the photos aren’t very good or big moments were missed. They don’t really capture the day as you’d remembered it, or all of them are lost? Check with the Registrars or place of worship to see if your friend can take photos during the ceremony. Is your friend happy to organise groups and bride and groom portraits, these don’t happen naturally on the day and need to be co-ordinated? What happens if equipment fails? Will it affect your friendship?
Wedding photography is easy isn’t it? You just turn up and take some photos right?.
Can you take some photos for us?
Let me tell you about my first wedding. Just over ten years ago a friend of mine asked me if I would photograph her daughter’s wedding. I was their first choice as I was a qualified photographer having trained full time and worked in commercial studios in London and in the Av department at a University. I had stopped work for a few years while my children were young but had continued to take photos as a hobby and had just started to take a few children’s portraits for friends.
So I wasn’t just a friend with a good camera, I was a qualified photographer. But I initially said no.
The reason? I was not a wedding photographer.
Wedding day requirements
The pressure of photographing someone’s wedding day was something I didn’t want to take on. I did not have the experience, knowledge, equipment or the expertise to photograph someone’s wedding. The pressure would be huge! It’s someone’s wedding! One day to get it right. No re runs. So stressful. I didn’t have the knowledge of what was going to happen where and when. I’d never posed a bride and groom or organised groups. I had no idea what the photography etiquette was during the ceremony.
Then there was the equipment. I only had one camera at the time plus a couple of lenses. It was a good camera and good lenses but none of it was professional kit. I had no back up camera, too few memory cards and only the internal camera flash. What if the camera broke down, the memory cards failed, the lenses weren’t right for the job. I had some photo software on my computer, but nothing that could edit hundreds of photos to a high standard. Big questions.
What if it all went wrong?
What if I was in the wrong place and missed something. You can’t say to a bride and groom, ” can you just walk down the aisle again, I didn’t quite catch that.”Then I started thinking about things I would potentially have to say to them afterwards. ‘Oh sorry, I didn’t get any photos in the church because it was too dark.’ Or sorry the flash went off during your vows. Or ‘I don’t think I got any photos or your Nan.’ ‘ I had my camera on the wrong setting when we went outside and they are all over exposed.’ The list was endless. This was a big ask.
However, my friend was very persuasive and I eventually said I would do it on one condition. I wouldn’t do posed groups as I didn’t want to organise people and would stay in the background just snapping everything. They said they didn’t want the usual wedding photography and had no expectations of professional wedding photos. So I said yes.
So what equipment did I need?
After I’d said yes I went out straight away and bought a second better quality camera, some more memory cards and one more lens, at my own expense. At least I had a spare camera if the first one failed. I attended their rehearsal at the church, so that I knew where I could stand and when I could or couldn’t take photos. Vital as it happened as their church didn’t allow photography during the ceremony. Good job I didn’t just turn up on the day and start snapping away.
My first wedding
So the day arrived and I don’t mind telling you that I felt very sick. The enormity of it all really hit me. At least I knew about the church! In the end there was an impromptu group photo session, but I had no list so not sure if everyone was included. The rest of the day I just kept snapping away. I had my camera on auto most of the time as everything happened so fast and the lighting changed constantly. I would need to change my camera settings so quickly and I didn’t want to miss anything. However, on auto, the camera sees what it wants to see and subtle lighting conditions were lost and I still missed many lovely moments due to my inexperience. The flash also fired when I didn’t want it to. I continued to feel sick most of the day.
I had taken thousands of photos, many of them not great. I removed those that were under or over exposed and those that just didn’t work. Where people’s eyes were closed or the image was blurred. I also created some in black and white. This took several days. I had certainly underestimated the amount of post processing and editing there would be. I also realised at this point the photos that I didn’t take. Because the bride and groom don’t naturally spend any time on their own on the day there were no photos of them alone. I hadn’t organised some time away from their guests to take some.
I put everything on a disc stuck it in a plastic sleeve and took it to the bride and groom. Not exactly beautiful presentation of their precious photos. They were very sweet and said they loved them. ( I was a close friend of the bride’s Mum!) There were some good ones but there were some awful ones! We looked at them together amid a lot of laughter and not always for the right reasons. But they hadn’t booked me as an experienced wedding photographer and so they hadn’t expected experienced wedding photographer photographs.
However, because of the way I blended into the background on the day and I did get some good shots, I was recommended to someone else who didn’t have high professional wedding photography expectations! That job was better, I was more prepared and as the months went on I received more work from recommendations learning something new each time. I was able to build up more equipment, attend wedding photography training, seminars, conventions, trade shows, until I was confident enough to start advertising. However, it took several weddings to acquire the level of skill, expertise, competence and confidence that makes a professional wedding photographer.
I have been a full time professional, fully insured wedding photographer now for over ten years and have covered hundreds of weddings.
b) Ask a professional wedding photographer.
If your photographs are important to you, the best person to take them is a professional. Wedding photography is a funny thing. It incorporates many different forms of photography. Landscape photography, architectural photography, portraiture, fashion, editorial, documentary, street photography and still life photography. The photographer has to be skilled in all of these, all in one day. Plus they need to change between them rapidly in different locations, lighting and weather conditions. They need to adapt to last minute changes to the day and even completely documentary style photographers have to communicate with you and your guests. They need to be constantly looking and listening all day ( for 8, 10, 12 hours) for those wonderful spontaneous moments that need to be captured rapidly. Working quickly, skilfully and artistically. Only an experienced wedding photographer can do this.
Who is a professional wedding photographer?
A professional wedding photographer earns their main living from wedding photography. Working every weekend photographing weddings (and some week days) and then the rest of the week editing photos, (can be 40 hours) attending meetings with potential clients, pre- wedding meetings with couples, engagement or pre- wedding photo shoots and attending wedding fayres. They may also carry out other photography work.
Then there’s marketing, advertising, social media, up keep of websites, admin and everything it takes to run a business. Software changes rapidly as does equipment. Wedding photographers have to be on top of their game. They will be committed to ensuring your wedding photographs are the best they can by attending further training, seminars, conventions, trade fairs. Be expert in professional editing software to perfect your images in their own style and business tools. They will know the best suppliers for USB presentation and Album printing.
Wedding photography is hard work. Long unsociable hours. They don’t just turn up for a few hours on the day and snap away. A wedding is usually about a week of work. They will be prepared for anything, experienced, skilled, knowledgeable about their craft, an expert in their field.
With all of this there has to be a love for what they do. Only this can keep their photography fresh and your photos beautiful.
Professional Wedding Photography equipment
To do all of the above you need to have not only the skill but the equipment. I have four cameras with me on the day, two as my main cameras and two back up. They are never on auto so that I have complete control and I can adjust settings in the blink of an eye. Several lenses for different purposes are in my kit all selected for their low light capabilities, so that I am not firing off flashes all day. I do have two flash units that I use as bounce flash or off camera for those amazing dancing or outdoor shots in the evening. For high fashion portraits other lights and equipment will be required.
I take lots and lots of memory cards making sure that whole sections of the day are not on one card that could get lost or corrupted and spares of everything!
Then there’s lots of batteries, reflectors, diffusers, filters, tripod, ladder for groups photos, small light for night time shots and loads of other bits and bobs including my guest emergency kit of safety pins, scissors and plasters. (Guests ask me for lots of things during the day).
But it is important to remember a great piano does not make a pianist. It takes, time, practice and dedication, to achieve skill and expertise and all of that gives you experience.
Wedding photography experience
Most importantly you need experience. Experience brings you knowledge. After photographing hundreds of weddings I am prepared for anything. Those constantly changing weather and lighting conditions. From close up photos taken from a distance in a dark church with no flash to avoiding harsh shadows in bright sunlight. Candlelit ceremonies at 4pm in November to group photos in the snow. Plan B when its pouring with rain. Sudden major changes to timings on the day and communication with people who do not want to have their photo taken. Keeping guests happy during the group photos.
From meetings beforehand I know everything about the day from the timings to the unique family dynamic, any special requirements, group photos, hidden items to take photos of and exactly what the couple want from their photos.
I work in a very natural way taking the bride and groom photos as they take a quiet walk alone. A pre- wedding or engagement photo shoot ensures I know their favourite places at the venue and a little bit about their personalities. We discuss the things that make a great photo so that they feel comfortable with the camera and the person behind it.
I have back ups of all equipment, and can change camera and flash settings rapidly without even looking at the camera! Thus keeping my eyes peeled on what is happening around me. I am aware of all the location protocol and regulations. Hold Public Liability and Professional Indemnity Insurance and am a membership of a trade association.
I’ve worked in hundreds of different locations from grand manor houses to farmers fields and photographed weddings of all faiths and styles. As an experienced, confident wedding photographer I have the know how, expertise, skill and knowledge to capture your day perfectly with artistic, romantic, evocative, emotional photographs.
When I look back at my first wedding now I shudder with horror. I’m still not quite sure how I did it. Even though I had trained and worked as photographer beforehand nothing can prepare you for wedding photography.
Professional photographers and what to ask.
Different wedding photographers have different styles and work in different ways. You need to decide on the style of photography you want depending on how you want it to impact on your day and then meet with at least three photographers.
Look at their portfolios, ask lots of questions about how they will work on the day. Find someone that not only takes wonderful photos but that you feel comfortable with. This is so important, especially for the bride when getting ready in the morning. This is a very nervous time and you need to feel totally at ease.
Ask about what equipment they use, how they back up your photos and what happens if equipment fails amongst other things. All the technical bits, but remember, the camera is a tool.
It is the photographers eye that sees the perfect shot and their expertise, knowledge and experience that captures it.
For details of different questions to ask when choosing you photographer, it may be helpful to visit-
Thanks to Fanhams Hall, South Farm, Pendley Manor. Aubrey Park, Hanbury Manor, The Barns Hotel Bedford, The Elvetham, Offley Place, St. Michaels Manor, Maples Flowers, Tiggity Boo Stationary.