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This branch of professional photography is not for everyone. There are many photographers that will not even touch it, simply because of the risks involved. However, those that do soon discover that not only can it be very lucrative, it can also be the best fun you can have whilst doing your job.


Maybe we should start with the downside - the risk. People's wedding photographs are very important to them for all sorts of reasons and if you don't produce a decent set of pictures you risk seriously upsetting them - and you won't enjoy that one little bit.


Wedding photography

You might be cynical and think that one or two upset people is not that much of a problem, but you would be wrong. Established wedding photographers get most of their work through word of mouth. If you do a good job, they may tell a few friends. However, if you do a bad job, for whatever reason, they will tell everyone. All successful wedding photographers rely on having a good reputation.


Not that it's any more difficult to take pictures at a wedding. What is different, though, is that with wedding photography, there are absolutely no second chances. If you are in any way unsure of your ability or your camera, you should seriously consider getting on top of those issues before offering your services as a wedding photographer.


The advent of digital photography has actually made the situation in this regard slightly easier. In the first instance, you can actually see how a shot has come out, while you still may have a chance to retake it. More importantly, you don't have to wait (and worry) until your film is processed before you know if the job has been successful, or not.


The major technical challenges you face at a wedding are the amount of light inside a church or registrar's office (not very much) and the extreme contrast between the typical bride's white dress and the groom's dark suit. If you and your camera can easily cope with these situations, then you should have no problems - photographically at least.


The point is that it's not so much your photographic skills that are required at a wedding as your social skills. The way you behave on the day will probably influence your reputation even more than the quality of your photographs. Weddings are all about family and friends and you have to behave like, if not a member of the family, at least one of the couple's very good friends.


If you get on with people well and make friends easily, you should be fine. But you can't be too familiar, you are there to do a job after all. Also, you may find your diplomatic skills being called into use. There will be times when you have to persuade complete strangers to co-operate with you and there won't be much time to do so. You need to be as polite as possible at those times otherwise you will get nowhere.


As most wedding photographers get work by word of mouth and have an extensive portfolio to show potential clients, how do you start? How do you get your first wedding?


If you have a friend who is getting married, you can always offer to do their wedding photography or at least take your own pictures at the wedding. If they also have an official photographer, you can also observe how they go about their business and get some ideas of how to do things (or possibly how not to do things).


If you advertise anywhere as a photographer, you will get people asking if you do wedding photography. This is because, for many people, their wedding is the only time they will ever hire a professional photographer and most people assume that all photographers do weddings.


Although some couples will be put off by your lack of experience, if you initially keep your prices low enough and explain that this is because you are just starting, you will find some folk will be happy to take a gamble on you.


If you are about to do your very first wedding, here are a few tips from an old pro that may help you at least "look the part".


1. Talk to the couple in advance. A few weeks before the day go through the entire day with them, discussing the different photographs you will be taking throughout the day. Make sure you get everyone's names (close family, bridesmaids, ushers etc.) including any special guests. If you are not sure what pictures to take just look at a few complete weddings on a photographer's website for ideas.


2. Make a list. Write down the times and places you will be throughout the day and the pictures you will take, including names, if appropriate. Give a copy of this list to the couple and any other people they want you to. This is in case they have forgotten any important guests.


3. Visit the venue. Try to go there at the same time of day as the ceremony and with the couple if you can. Introduce yourself to whomever is in charge and explain that you will be taking the pictures at a forthcoming wedding. They will be very used to this and should be able to show you exactly where everything will take place and when.


You can assess the lighting and the places where you have access. You should be able to tell what the background of your shots will be and the sort of space you have to work in. If there are a lot of guests, you will need a large area for a group shot. Most shots are likely to be taken outside but you also need to choose a suitable area indoors in case of inclement weather.


4. On the day be on time. Get there early if you can, whether you are starting at the bride's home or the wedding venue. Use your shot list to make sure you get all the important shots. Take lots of extra shots as well.


5. Introduce yourself to the vicar/registrar. They control the ceremony and decide what they will allow you to do and where they will allow you to go. You have to abide by this or they are perfectly entitled to stop the ceremony and throw you out. What they will allow is different for each individual and you may have to negotiate with them. You have to convince them that you will not interrupt their ceremony in any way.


It often helps if you don't use flash, at least during the ceremony itself. Not only will this help in negotiations with the vicar but the nervous bride and groom may also appreciate not being distracted by the flash going off. Unless the lighting is really bad, it’s likely that the pictures will be better anyway.


6. After the ceremony. This is usually the time for formal family photographs and the busiest time for the photographer. You must try to get all the shots on your list quickly and efficiently. If you take too long doing this, some guests may get bored and become un co-operative. This just wastes more time. It usually helps to start with just the bride and groom then bring in attendants, close family etc. Build up the groups like this until you end with the final shot of everyone.


7. Some shots have to be set-up or faked. For example, if you want a shot of the bride leaving home for the ceremony, you have to fake it. This is because you actually have to leave the house before the bride to get to the church/venue ahead of them. The groom and ushers will be waiting there and you will also probably need shots of the bride arriving.


Similarly, a "cake cutting" shot has to be faked. If you took this during the actual cake cutting, you would either be blocking the view for all the guests or not get a very good shot of it.


8. Look after the bride. Make sure she is comfortable and relaxed at all times. If she is concerned about her make-up or dress, get someone to help before you take any pictures. Don't just say "it'll be ok" (even if you know it will). If your bride is worrying about something, however trivial, it will show in the pictures, which is not good.


9. Have fun. Weddings are very happy events so keep the mood as light as possible. This also helps tremendously in getting the co-operation of the guests.


10. Before you go. Check that you have got all the shots on the list. This will be your last chance to rectify any omissions. It is better to apologise at the time and re-take the shot rather than miss it out altogether. You won't get another chance.


If you would like to read more on the subject of professional wedding photography, Bobby Jones has written an excellent guide covering the whole subject of wedding photography from start to finish. It is appropriately called “How to photograph a wedding” and you can read more about the book on his website.


Read about “How to Photograph a Wedding”