Here we go – we are doing it again – we are diving head first into the ever busy wedding season!
When I first started out as a wedding photographer, it felt like each wedding day was one session of winging it after another. I mean, I would clean and prep my gear, surf the web to get inspired by wedding photography that I liked, show up at the venue feeling like a big sack of nerves and proceed to spray and pray shooting everything and anything 600 times each.
As crazy as it might sound, I don’t regret any of it. I believe this early stage wedding photography process is a rite of passage, a place where every photographer starts only so they can quickly learn what to never do again. Now, with 0ver 100 weddings under my belt, things are so much different, and I get to look back and laugh quietly to myself about those super frantic early days (and don’t worry new wedding photographers, this too shall pass!)
But, in hindsight, the biggest mistake I was making had nothing to do with how my photos looked (some of my earliest weddings remain some of my favourite photos!), but rather the biggest mistake I was making was assuming that my role as a wedding photographer began and ended with taking and delivering photos. The reality is that taking and delivering the photos comprises about 40% of your role as a wedding photographer, and the remaining 60%, the bulk of your job as a photographer is: communicating with your clients.
I definitely wish I knew this fact in the earlier days.
Below I am going to lay the communication process out for you so that you can skip ahead of the line and get straight to the bulk of your wedding photography role, impress and delight your clients, and have the best wedding season ever!
1.) Be Honest About What Works
So often client will joke with me, “This is our first time doing this!”, “We’ve never done this before” and they turn to me for advice. This is the very best case scenario. Another scenario is when your client has a crazy vision for something on their wedding day that you just don’t think will work. Eeeeak, now what? Our job as their wedding photographer and the one with ample wedding experience is to set their expectations from the very beginning. They hired you because they want a professional, not someone who will let things fall apart. If they plan on going to five locations for portraits, ask them what they love about these locations and offer your insight on lighting, time of day, time management and setting. Coach them into choosing one or two locations that are diverse and within close proximity. I will often show clients images from different locations to help them see that any location can look beautiful and take the opportunity to talk about the golden hour or lighting at the time of day they are hoping to do portraits. It’s our job to help narrow their ideas to give them the most stress-free wedding day.
2.) Create a System for Gathering Information
Get every bit of information you need at least a week before the wedding day. When I first started I didn’t have a questionnaire for my clients, this was a huge mistake. Now I have an automated system in which I send out an email to every couple one month prior to their wedding date with a three-page worksheet along with a request for anything else I will need for their wedding day including a schedule, a family shot list, addresses and contact information for vendors and any individuals I may need to reach on the day of the wedding. You don’t want to be calling your bride wondering where they are on their wedding day, you also don’t want to say anything that may be sensitive among the family, or call people by the wrong name. Sending out a worksheet that addresses everything you may need to know prior to the wedding day is a legit wedding photography secret weapon and will definitely ensure that you remain entirely professional all day long.
Oh, and by the way, I am gifting you my exact wedding day worksheet that I send to all of my wedding clients here (or scroll to the bottom)!
3.) Help Create the Wedding Day Schedule
This is something that I work with my wedding clients on right from the very start when they still have ample time to consider and tweak the timeline of their wedding day. During my initial consults, I talk to brides and grooms about the importance of working as a team to create the perfect wedding day timeline. I lay the foundation from the very beginning to ensure that we have covered our photography bases and that we have set aside enough time for me to get the shots I need, at the best possible time of day so that the couple can fully enjoy every ounce of their wedding day. I ask my couples to send their wedding day schedule prior to sending it to the wedding party or family. I then set up a time to talk through the schedule and offer suggestions that may help ease up on the schedule or offer a little cushion should we need one (hint: you always need a cushion.) I used to think that this was too intrusive but my experience has shown that this is critical in creating the best images for the couple while also ensuring that they are on time and present for any and all wedding festivities. Trust me, your clients will appreciate your expert advice and they will be relying on you to help navigate this uncertain territory. It also helps ease my stress, knowing that I have covered my bases.
4.) Get Ready The Night Before
It is no secret that there is so much that goes into shooting a wedding. Always pack your bags the night before. Make sure all your batteries are charged, your memory cards are formatted, your lenses and sensors are clean, and your worksheet is somewhere that you can refer to easily (I actually pop mine right into my google calendar and leave it open on my phone). Have a full tank of gas, the addresses inserted into your GPS, and any phone numbers programmed into your phone. I started these pre-wedding day rituals and it has enabled me to start off the wedding day feeling prepared and relaxed. Some photographers create a checklist, also not a bad idea if you don’t know it like the back of your hand. You definitely don’t want to show up and realize you left your extra batteries on the charger at home, or you left the reflector in the basement. You know, that stuff.
5.) Manage Client Expectations
This is another one that seemed to lag behind after my first or second wedding season. I mean, I was new and excited and I wanted my clients to love me, so I said yes to everything and tried to over-deliver my brains out! But with some experience came the recognition of common setbacks, like not having items like shoes, jewelry, dress, invitations etc ready for detail shots, or not communicating with key players what they are expected to be present for and when. Wedding days can become full of chasing things and people down and your clients are paying precious money for your time. It is your job to help set these expectations so that they aren’t wasting any precious moments doing unnecessary tasks. Setting expectations up front help save you from the challenges that may come up if you aren’t clear on what you need as a photographer. And believe me, your clients will appreciate this!
I hope little insight into how I do things and why is helpful to you. Everyone’s approach is different, and I can tell you that my early approach to wedding photography certainly didn’t look like this. And, it’s all about balance: your clients want to trust you while simultaneously falling in love with you, your approach, and your work.
Please feel free to grab the wedding day worksheet that I use with all of my clients below. It’s FREE and I promise it will become such an essential part of your business process you will wonder how you ever got by without it in no time!