Five Tips to Becoming A Wedding Photographer
Photographers! Are you ready to test the waters of wedding photography? Are you lost on where to start? Don’t want to make the same mistakes that I did? Read on.
Tip #1 Evaluate if you’re ready
Now this might sound like a “no-brainer”, but it really isn’t. There are so many things that go into wedding photography that only come with time. The best way to set yourself up for success, is to create a successful setup. Now, you may not have the fund-age for dual Canon 5D Mark IVs. I get it. There are, however, a few things that will make your journey a lot easier.
A full frame camera
One “fast” prime lens
Lightroom or similar equivalent
External hard drive
Okay, so let’s break these down. First, you really should have a full frame camera. Why? The answer is low light capability. Crop sensors are just not capable of handling some of the extreme lighting situations that come with weddings. You may be able to get the image, but it’ll be so noisy that it won’t matter. Having a camera with enough dynamic range to handle difficult lighting is going to be a game changer. The more money you’re able to spend, the more capability you’ll have (usually). For example, the Canon 5D Mark II is a full frame camera, but it’s low light capabilities are not as good as the Canon 6D. Even better yet is the Canon 5D Mark IV. Something else to consider with a camera body is, “does it have dual card slots?” For Canon (you can obviously see my slight bias here) the Mark III and the Mark IV are your options. While you are still learning, and building a portfolio, this isn’t an absolute requirement. Keep in mind that before you can start shooting weddings solo, this is a necessity.
A fast prime lens! You need this! Basically, weddings are all about “how can we put you into the worst lighting conditions possible?” You need to be prepared to handle anything, and here’s a good start. A fast lens is any lens with a wide aperture. f/1.2, f/1.4, and f/1.8 are ideal. f/2.8 is the minimum you will need. Just like bodies, lenses are going to get better the more money you spend. My absolute favorite is the Canon 35mm f/1.4L. This thing is a beast, and handles low light really well. You can get it used for approximately $700USD. You’ll have to do a little research and decide what is an optimal focal length for your style and budget. Renting one before buying is a good way to make sure you like the lens before dropping a large sum into it.
A speedlight is really a good idea, especially for receptions. You’ll want to avoid using it all day and giving yourself shadows and harsh light, but for the reception it will be perfect! There are lots of good brands that don’t break the bank, and will give you good light. If you want to take it one step further, buy two and get a lightstand. At the reception you can set up your off camera light, and trigger it with your on camera light. This gives you way more control! Off camera flash seems to scare everyone, but rest assured, it isn’t as hard as it seems, and you can always find someone to help you.
I’m not going to go into a crazy amount of detail about this one, but a reflector is a great tool to have for portraits. It provides a bounce for sunlight, and can be used to create your own shade like a makeshift scrim.
You need Lightroom! Or a similar photo editing program. In my opinion, Photoshop is too time consuming for batch jobs like a full wedding, but can be useful for more complex edits. Make sure with the program you choose, you can edit exposure, white balance, tint, HSL sliders, tone curve, a clone tool, and brush capabilities. These will help you a ton if you need to make adjustments to images after the fact.
Lastly, an external hard drive is important. Once you’re entrusted with these pictures, it’s a huge job to make sure that these precious memories are safe. Having at least three forms of backup is a good start to ensuring these images stay safe. I personally use my computer, cloud storage, and external hard drives to keep wedding images safe. Hasn’t failed me yet!
Okay, so now that we have a starting point, let’s move onto tip number two.
Tip #2 Learn to use your setup
You can be a decent photographer, and skate by using auto mode and using the “spray and pray” method of taking photos. You don’t want to be decent do you? You want to be excellent! If you’re a beginner who is just getting their feet wet, you will honestly have a lot of work ahead of you. Someone already at an intermediate level will have an easier time jumping in. This isn’t to disuade anyone, this is being honest and realistic. If you don’t know how to shoot in manual mode, you will need to learn. Some of the best ways I have learned include: watching Youtube videos, practicing still life, and classes/mentorship. Everyone learns a little different, but at least one of these ways should work for you, and help you get to where you need to be to think about shooting weddings.
Tip #3 Start assisting and (eventually) second shooting
Once you’ve got some decent equipment built up, and you’re getting more comfortable with the ins and outs of your camera, you’re ready to start assisting. See if there are local photographers or your mentor who would let you tag along. This is not the time to just start shooting. For the first few times, offer to carry their equipment and hold reflectors, etc. You’ll have time to observe posing, direction, styling, as well as learn about the timeline, flow of the day, dos and dont’s, among other things. When you start becoming familiar with how weddings work, see if you can bring your camera along and practice with a few shots. Don’t try and build an entire portfolio from one wedding. Remember, you’re still there to assist, and it is respectful to not get in the way and take over. As you get more and more confident, and begin building up a portfolio, you’re ready to start second shooting. Here you’ll be the right hand man/gal, and call a few of the shots. You need to be familiar with timelines, posing, and your camera/equipment before this can happen because the main photographer is counting on you to capture additional angles they don't have access to. You’ll be paid to second, and make some money on the weekends doing this. It’s a great way to save up money, continue to upgrade gear, and build a strong portfolio. Keep in mind that not every photographer allows their seconds to keep images for their portfolio. This is due to client privacy, and exclusivity. It is in your best interest to find someone who will let you keep and use images; however, there is always a benefit to a second shooting opportunity.
Tip #4 Start taking business classes / becoming business savvy
If you want to be a wedding photographer, 9/10 times you’ll be working for yourself and running your own business. There is a saying that you can be the best photographer, but if you lack business skills, your business will suffer. You can be a mediocre photographer, but if you understand business and marketing, you will flourish. I don’t see why you can’t be both! A kickass photographer with kickass business skills! Community college usually has business and marketing classes that fit different schedules, and are available online. Another resource is the Facebook community. There are tons of great groups centered around the business aspect of photography. Lastly, online resources offer an abundance of info if you’re willing to take extra time to research and implement. Be careful with online schemes, as many photographers offer courses “guaranteed to make you 6 figures in 30 days!” If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Tip #5 Find a mentor
Finding a mentor can make or break your wedding photography career. A good mentor can encourage you, push you, challenge you, and offer you valuable knowledge. You’ll need someone to help you stay accountable. Wedding photography is a tough job, and sometimes you need reassurance that you’re doing the right thing when dealing with difficult clients and situations. Sometimes you’re just unsure of what to do, and need help to get going in the right direction. A mentor can help you achieve every one of these tips. You can get a mentor at any time, and actually the sooner, the better! I don’t want to toot my own horn too much, but I am available for mentoring local Michiganders, as well as Metro Chicago area. If you’re somewhere else, still connect with me and we can see if I can recommend someone in your state! Otherwise, once again, Facebook offers a wealth of knowledge and photographers in your area can offer great recommendations.
So there you have it! This is really just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much to know about wedding photography. It is a beautiful profession in which we are privileged to be able to capture intimacy, emotions, and connections that will never happen again. We must capture them in an accurate and beautiful way that stands the test of time, and proves to be an heirloom. I’m happy to try and answer some questions in the comments, but there’s only so much I can type on this topic before my fingers fall off! If you’re interested in meeting or video chatting with me, feel free to fill out my form!
Copper + Sage Collective is a fine art wedding and portrait photography team serving Grand Rapids, Michigan, and beyond. They are available for travel, and live for intimate weddings, film, and their four cats.