How do I become a Wedding Photographer?

Part 2 of “How do I start a photography business?

Firstly, and most importantly, weddings are not a training ground for photographers. Your knowledge of photography, your camera, lenses and other equipment should be beyond “beginner” level before you venture into wedding photography. You need to know how to use your camera in full manual mode and be comfortable with it. You should also know when and how to use aperture priority and shutter priority modes. You should know how to switch between settings in seconds as moments in a wedding go by very quick and a missed shot at a critical moment cannot be repeated. Never experiment or “try” a wedding just because your model and/or other outdoor photography is good. Weddings are very different from other forms of photography in that there is a constant flow of things happening beyond the photographers control which need to be captured as they happen.
Secondly, you need to cover a few weddings as a second, backup or shadow photographer in order to learn how things work and learn the flow of a wedding. You can do this by contacting experienced wedding photographers and offering to do assistant work or shadow photography for them. You may be asked to do more than just take photos, such as move lights, flash stands, hold reflectors, etc. Consider these tasks training! If you are asked to hold and control a reflector it means you are there to see how an experienced photographer does things. You could also offer your services to an engaged couple who already have a hired professional wedding photographer for free as second photographer. It is important that they already have a hired professional wedding photographer and understand that you will only be taking extras as no charge. Follow that photographer, even if you have to do so at a distance. Note how things are done and how they follow the flow of a wedding. Stay behind them at all times as this will be the best vantage point to pick up tips. Don’t bother with trying to take many photos, but learn by seeing what the professional wedding photographer does. Shadowing a professional wedding photographer also gives you an opportunity to build a portfolio of wedding photos to show to future prospective clients!
Thirdly, get backup equipment for everything you have and need to complete any shoot. This means a backup camera, lens, flash, memory cards and anything else critical to taking photos in your style. Take your equipment list and randomly remove a single item and ask yourself if you can complete a wedding shoot from start to finish without that one item. Never believe you are not going to run into problems. I have seen brand new high-end camera bodies fail after less than 200 shots! Backup batteries for each camera body is a must.

The above points are very important, but there are a number of other points which, while important, are less critical. Below are some more pointers which need serious consideration if you plan on moving into the very competitive wedding photography arena.

Camera Bodies
I often see the question: “Which camera is best for weddings” or “Can I use my Canon 550D/Nikon D3100 for weddings?”
The truth be told, yes, entry level camera bodies can be used to do wedding photography! But, and there are many other buts, you must note that you are using entry level equipment which does not equal higher end equipment. Entry level cameras are meant to be used by amateur and hobby photographers. Though in many cases they may almost match high-end bodies under certain photographic conditions they lack the sensor quality and function control found in higher end cameras. An entry level camera body can be a backup, but it is not recommended as your main camera. If you do not own at least 2 camera bodies then you should not be doing wedding photography, you must have a backup. If your camera body fails, and they do, during a wedding you risk not only the photos for the remainder of that wedding and the scorn of the couple, but also your reputation! Once word spreads that you could not complete a wedding shoot you may not only lose opportunities as a great up and coming wedding photographer, but other photographic opportunities as well!

Kit lenses, the one that came with your entry level camera, is not enough to cover a wedding. These lenses are of significantly lower quality than professional lenses, and not only in build, but the quality of the glass too. I still have 2 kit lenses from previous camera bodies, but they are never used (except for demonstration purposes). Once you buy you first “fast” lens you soon realise how bad a kit lens is. A kit lens is usually an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens which is OK for general purpose outdoor sunlight photography, but they all suffer the same problem when lighting is poor in that the maximum aperture of f/3.5 just doesn’t allow enough light in. A “slow” lens (max aperture of f/3.5) in poor lighting conditions force you to use strong unflattering flash light and/slow shutter speeds combined with higher ISO which results in grainy and/or motion blur photos. These lenses are generally not very sharp due to cheaper production and lower quality lens glass. They all have a slight blurriness around edges of images, even when stopped down to f/8 in good light. At the very least you should invest in a 50mm Prime (or Fixed Focal) lens for your backup camera body and a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens for you main body. This combination will bring you joy in most wedding photography situations.

You should own at least 2 flashes with a Guide Number of 32 or better. If you do not know what a flash guide number is you should not be doing wedding photography yet. Search Google for “Flash Guide Number Chuck McKern” to understand how this works.
Learn how to soften the light from your flash and how to bounce light from anything and everything! Remember that bouncing light from coloured surfaces will give a colour cast. In one case I bounced light from a best-mans shirt to get a shot! Do not put your flash on your camera and just keep it pointed at the couple as this results in very flat looking images and harsh background shadows. If you do not own a diffuser, get 2 (you need a backup) and learn to use them. If possible get a set of light stands for your flashes and a wireless trigger set so you can control direction and quality (hard/soft) of the light from your flash units without mounting on the camera. Light from wireless triggered flashes produce flattering shadows when used in combination with soft-boxes (even mini-soft-boxes) and result in photos your wedding couple will love!

Memory Cards
Choose your memory cards for wedding photography carefully. You want high quality cards and more than enough for both your camera bodies. Avoid huge memory cards which can store all your photos from start to finish. If you have done enough photography you will know that memory cards can unexpectedly corrupt, irrespective of quality of the card, and you could lose all the images. I recommend a number of smaller cards to store 300-400 photos (in RAW format) then swap out with another. If a card goes corrupt you will not lose everything. Get a high quality card holder which is weatherproof to store your cards in. Before you go to a wedding your cards should be empty! NEVER format a card at a wedding because you think it just has old photos… I have seen a wedding photographer accidentally wipe the entire pre-ceremony shots this way.

Shoot RAW
If you are not shooting your photos in RAW format you should look this up, study it, and use it. You will soon realize the advantages of RAW once you get the hang of it. Shooting in JPG mode gives you photos which are compressed in a lossy format to begin with. As you edit JPG images their quality degrades further and further with every edit and save. JPG should be reserved for your final images and your working set should consist of only RAW or TIFF images.
Once you are confident you have the above covered your next step would be to set up wedding packages and prices. This is an area which is pretty personal and there are many ways to do this. Pricing your packages is the hardest part, but this is covered in the previous article, so refer back to it if need be (link at top).


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