I feel the need to write the post to number one share my experiences in how I got into the wedding photography business, but also serve as a caution to those who are interested in getting into weddings. Shooting weddings is very rewarding. I am honored to be a part of such an important day and a great deal of trust is given to me to capture that day. It is not something that should be taken lightly. It is a lot of fun, but also a very serious event, the merging to two lives and commitment behind a marriage.
I have heard many horror stories of “bridezillas” snapping on new photographers through forums, Facebook groups etc. The story is always the same, a new photographer (or perhaps new to weddings but not photography in general) is convinced to shoot their first wedding. Usually, said new photography charges peanuts because they are new. Despite their inexperience, they shoot the wedding without the proper know-how; a sink-or-swim approach. That is a dangerous game to play with such an important day in someone’s life. The photographer shoots the wedding and delivers the images. The bride is furious at the quality of the photos. Maybe the reception was dimly lit and the photographer didn’t know how to use his or her flash (or didn’t own one at all). Maybe the ceremony started late and the bride walked down in darkness. Maybe a camera malfunction or error caused the photographer to miss a crucial moment. Maybe the photographer did not properly set expectations with the bride and a miscommunication occurred. Maybe the unthinkable happened and the photographer’s memory cards get corrupted or some other disaster occurs.
As a new photographer, can you handle these situations? Does your skill set enable you to successfully diffuse these situations? A lot of photographers like to blame the bride, calling her a “bridezilla” etc, but what would you do if there was something wrong with the professional photos from the most important day of your life? I think some photographers are quick to judge and blame instead of owning up and taking some of the blame- or all if the fault lands solely on the photographer. I am of the opinion that wedding photography is one of the most challenging type of photography because of the stress and the large variety of shots you need to get in a short amount of time.
Now that the serious stuff is out the way, I’d love to share some of my knowledge on what you need to be a good wedding photographer, skills that you need to master before taking on a wedding of your own, as well as how to gain experience and what I look for in a second shooter and my experience as a second shooter.
What do I need to be a wedding photographer?
- A good semi-pro to pro line camera with good ISO performance is a must. Wedding photographers often shoot in unpredictable and low light situations and some venues do not allow flash.
- Good lenses are arguably more important than a good camera. I recommend at minimum a 24-70 2.8 type of lens and a 70-200 2.8. If you are a prime shooter, I recommend at least a 35, 50, 85 and 135 if you can afford them at the lowest aperture you can afford.
- Several flashes are essential for receptions and difficult lighting situations and for variety. Don’t forget the batteries!
- Adequate memory cards of a good brand. I typically go through at least 32-64 GB of memory per wedding depending on how long the event is and if I have a second shooter. Get reliable ones like Sandisk or Lexar because a corrupted memory card is a disaster!
- A back up camera. I recommend shooting with two cameras (bonus points if one or both have dual card slots as extra assurance against memory card failure!). If you leave your back up camera in the car and your camera fails during the first kiss and you don’t have a second shooter, what will you do? Always better to have two cameras on you if nothing else to ensure you get the shot if one malfunctions.
This is the bare minimum I would shoot a wedding with, second shooting or otherwise.
- Canon 5Dmkiii and mkii
- Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 I L
- Canon 17-40 f/4 L
- Sigma 35mm f/1.4
- Sigma 50mm f/1.4
- Sigma 85mm f/1.4
- Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8
- Sigma 50mm f/2.8 macro
- Rogue Flashbender
- Yonguno 560 flashes
- Sandisk CF cards
- SD card for my Mkiii for extra back up
- be able to get a good photo in all lighting conditions
- competency using flash
- be able to work quickly and efficiently
- group posing
- individual posing
- bringing natural emotions forward
- time management
- good editing and retouching skills
There are a lot of awesome resources out there on learning various skills. Some of my favorites are Strobist.com for lighting and off camera flash, free Creativelive workshops on nearly everything photography and business related and many others. Email me for specific recommendations or comment below.
- Business Insurance- This is absolutely essential for wedding photographers. What if a bride tries to sue you? Insurance protects you. Check out PPA for affordable insurance options. It also includes equipment insurance and an indemnification trust in case of card corruption and a host of other situations not covered by insurance.
- Business license– Goes without saying, but you need to be legal. Don’t evade the tax man, he will catch up to you eventually. Protect your business by finding out what the best legal business structure is right for you. Most photography studios are set up as an LLC but talk to a professional to see what is right for you. Also make sure to do what your state requires to collect sales tax.
- Contracts!! Do yourself a favor and don’t ever shoot without a contract. There are a lot of premade contracts available. Don’t even shoot a friend’s wedding without a contract.
Resources: how to form an LLC in Arizona , Professional Photographers Association and one of the many contract bundles by lawyers turned photographers.
- People skills – Yes, if you are antisocial and prefer pets/mountains/scarves/what-have-you to people, I don’t recommend wedding photography- or portrait photography in general. You come into contact with a lot of people in stressful situations, various stages of distraction or drunkenness, etc. You need to be able to direct and control people to a certain extent and get those people who don’t know you to trust you to do what you say.
- Professional manner– People are always watching how you behave and conduct yourself, especially at a wedding. Even if I am stressed, I try very hard to keep calm and wedding on because your stress affects the bride, groom and everyone you come into contact with. Also the vendors and venue staff are also watching you and good impressions on vendors and the venue generates referrals.
- Good communication skills– You need to articulate what you want people to do in a clear and easy to understand manner. You need to be communicating about what to expect, what your clients need to be doing, what is next, how to pose, what you need from your clients, guests, the wedding coordinator etc constantly. This continues beyond the wedding.
- Organization– This goes without saying, but being unorganized and running around like a chicken without a head tends to look bad and elevate everyone’s stress levels. Proper preparation and organization helps the day run smoother.
- Assertiveness– This is something I struggle with, but you need to be assertive when necessary especially during key moments such as the family formals when everyone is everywhere.
- Working well under pressure– I’ve said this a few times now, but weddings are stressful. A wedding might run late or something may happen. You need to take things as them come, stay calm, and work around them to perform your contracted duties.
- Problem solving on the fly– This goes into the former point, but you need to be able to problem solve on the fly. Make up running an hour late? Figure out how to catch up the timeline. Sun setting and you have no light? Figure something out. Your job is to problem solve and deliver stunning, amazing heirloom images that will be cherished for a lifetime. At the end of the day, no one cares that x ran behind, or x happened, just that there are stunning images to tell the story of the day.
Without all of these things, it’s very risky to be a primary shooter. Do the wedding photography industry a favor and don’t shoot weddings unless you are a competent shooter. There are too many horror stories giving wedding photographers a bad name.
Photo credit Annie Gerber
How do I get experience?
If you have all of those skills, start shooting. If not, practice and once you have your skills mostly in place in a non-wedding setting, ask to second shoot with someone.
How I got started second shooting:
I started looking at weddings after I had been successfully running my portrait business for a few years. I had shot a small elopement and committed a few of the above mentioned mistakes. Nothing serious happened from them and I still captured their day to the best of my ability but it convinced me that I needed true experience before shooting a “real wedding”. So I searched for local wedding photographers with similar style and emailed them. I have mixed feelings about calling- on one hand it differentiates you because everyone emails, on the other, email is more convenient and you aren’t interrupting the primary during their day. I don’t like interrupting people during their day, so I prefer email and if the photographer is interesting in having me as a second, I encourage them to contact me at their leisure or meet with me to see my personality etc. What I emailed them was the following:
-little bit about me (not too much),
I had to email a lot of people because most already had seconds or worked with their husbands or wives but I got started with a local photographer Annie Gerber, a phenomenal Mesa wedding photographer and generally awesome person. It was a absolute treat working with Annie and I still work with her to this day. I credit Annie with starting my love for wedding photography and owe her an enormous debt to this day. I only shot a few weddings here and there with other photographers before Annie referred me to a local photographer that had been in the game for a long time, Jen of O Grace Photography based out of Scottsdale. Jennifer is a high volume, high end photographer who has been in the business for nearly 10 years. I have been shooting with her for about a year and a half and was able to shoot nearly 25 or more weddings with her. She taught me a lot and my photography has improved a lot as a direct result of her pushing me and teaching me.
So if you are looking to get started in wedding photography, I recommend asking some local photographers you admire if they need a second shooter or even just an assistant. Other avenues you can use are local second shooter groups on Facebook and the site secondshooters.net (though those are not as active in my experience as Facebook).
What I look for in a second-
-good, solid portfolio with good knowledge of light and composition and flash knowledge
-willingness to help me
-don’t get in my shot
-help me organize the family formals/be where I cannot be- example shooting cocktail hour while I am shooting sunset portraits/family formals/reception details
-have similar gear as me to ease editing- sorry Nikon people, but since I shoot Canon, I prefer fellow Canon shooters, not because I don’t like Nikon, but I don’t have to edit your files separately and we can share gear when needed.
Second’s primary job is to assist the primary, not get shots for their portfolio. That’s what you are hired to do. If you are second shooting with the sole intention of expanding your portfolio, do a workshop or styled shoot. A wedding is a place to understand the flow of a wedding and get real life experience while helping the primary get more complete coverage and angles and allow me to be “in two places at once”. As a second, you are representing the primary’s brand and need to conduct yourself accordingly. Never try to network with guests or other vendors, pass out your own business cards. Seconds are perceived as employees of the primary, when in reality they are independent contractors.
Starting out, pay is low to free. You won’t get rich starting out as a second shooter but primaries do want to make sure you are compensated in some form either by being able to use the images, pay or a combination of both.Pay is highly variable based on location, experience and individual photographer business practices.
Image usage varies from photographer to photographer, some might let you use them on your site only, no portfolio use, no Facebook use, printed portfolio only, no use at all, etc. Clarify before shooting what is ok and what is not.
You still own the copyright. Specific usage should be worked out with the primary but in general, a primary should not claim a second’s work as their own (use in their company’s portfolio without a credit, etc) Blog use is tricky but I always try to credit appropriately or at least give a shout out. Idea is for seconds’ work to blend seamlessly with primary, however primary shouldn’t claim second’s work as their own.
“Rules” of second shooting
Never blog images before primary, never claim weddings as your own or imply such. If you have permission to blog, always credit primary and make very clear you are second shooting. Never friend or tag clients on your personal page working under a primary shooter. In general, just use your common sense.
Editing typically done by primary.
Consider a second shooting contract to spell out what you are responsible for, expectations, image usage etc
Some awesome articles on second shooting:
The Modern Tog Tips for Second Shooters
10 Tips Every Second Shooter Should Know By PhotoMint
26.5 Tips On Being the Perfect Second Shooter by Trevor Dayley at FStoppers
Both of those sites are excellent resources for photographers by the way 🙂
Looking to get into second shooting? Email me and we can see if we are a good fit. I can always add shooters to my list. Got another question for me? Post below and I would be happy to answer it! Maybe I’ll even make a full blog post 🙂
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