15 key things I have learnt as a wedding photographer

Starting out in wedding photography can occur in many different ways. For me, I just enjoyed taking photos’s, and capturing the sunset over the waves at the beach, and my friend looking cool walking in his new jacket, and my new girlfriend standing by that window. Thanks to the power of the internet, people began to notice my photo’s and would realise that they liked my style more than the wedding photographer they were about to book. They would offer to pay me x-amount to shoot their wedding. I said no at least two or three times. Someone else’s wedding is quite a scary place to take a risk, and just “give it a go / see what happens”. Eventually I gave in, and here we are. And I am so glad that I did. I wake up every day motivated, fulfilled and with food on the table.

I have learnt some huge keys along the way, and don’t worry, I’m not about to ask for your email & credit card details. A lot of people helped me and shared their secrets with me. There is a beautiful community in the wedding industry where people generously share their knowledge. I don’t know where i’d be without the openness of many other photographers around me as we share & discuss the things we have learnt together. So naturally, I want to give back, and help you too!

Okay, lets talk 15 things that I have learnt so far, and you can expect a Part II because there is a lot more.


1. OTHER PHOTOGRAPHERS ARE YOUR FRIENDS, NOT YOUR COMPETITORS

We all only have a set amount of dates in each year. There’s enough weddings for everyone. You’re both doing something you love. So connect, talk photography, share funny stories, meet each others wives / husbands. Ps. It can bug me if someone says, “That person is your competitor aren’t they!?, how are you friends??”. In this industry, that mindset really won’t serve anyone. Every photographer brings their own style to the table. You want clients that love & appreciate your style. It is actually better for a client to book with someone else, than to book with you if you really aren’t a good match, for many reasons. Everybody wins.


2. THAT UNCLE WITH THE DSLR & FLASH IS YOUR CLIENTS BIGGEST ENEMY

Yes, you know the one. He stands in front of you when the bride is making her beautiful entrance down the isle, he uses his big flash in the middle of the day just before they’re about to kiss, and stands behind the newly married couple while you’re getting ‘that angle’ in the most immaculate sunset light. He is not just a threat to your photographs - he is actually robbing the Bride & Groom of the money they have paid you to capture their day, in natural light ;), with the best seat in the house. I don’t like being mr. negative and I’m sure that guy is an absolute legend, he obviously has a sideline hobby of photography and that’s great, but we need to call a spade a spade because what he is doing is actually quite a selfish thing to do. In my time, many beautiful moments have been disrupted and photo-bombed and it has been disappointing to say the least. So what have I learnt? Talk to him immediately. In kindness of course, but very clear & direct. He must know that the Bride & Groom’s photographs are your highest priority & he must put his camera away or at least keep his camera for the social part of the evening like the reception, not the key moments that interrupts what you’re there to do. 


3. START SIMPLE, THEN GO CRAZY

The Bride & Groom most likely booked you because of the very cool, yet different images that you take with your own unique style. Keeping this taste and uniqueness is generally in the fore front of your mind when you begin shooting at a wedding. However, don’t let that distract you from the rest of your job. You can be so distracted trying to get the unusually stylistic images, that you actually miss the simple, yet very significant images. I now play it this way; I get what I need, THEN I get what I want.


4. IN THIS CREATIVE INDUSTRY, TAKE ADVICE FROM THE RIGHT PEOPLE

In any other industry, middle aged + will have the most wisdom. However with wedding photography, the old way of business isn’t just a bit out of date, it’s long gone. I suggest it is best to listen to people 1 to 2 steps ahead of you. 3 or 4 steps ahead will talk to you in another language that sounds like gibberish at this stage. But the knowledge from people who are just a couple steps ahead will be as precious as your first full frame camera. 

Having said all this. Mature people you trust obviously have fantastic wisdom, especially how to make some big decisions. I have to say this because my girlfriend at the time (now wife)’s granddad at a family wedding once insisted that I 100% go for it with my photography passion. He told me that he has spent his life in jobs that seemed safe, but weren’t fulfilling. That advice was absolutely golden to me. As I left and said goodbye that day, he leaned in with a “Remember what I said..” and a wink.


5. THE HOTTEST BODY

What do I look for in a camera body? A question worth asking. Full frame is your foundation, I would generally not touch anything else at this stage. Although (Fujifilm x series are super catching my eye atm) But if you’re new to wedding photography, as a general rule, full frame does the job well. I say this because you can be overwhelmed with choice when upgrading and getting all your gear together. There’s definitely some really cool crop frame & mirrorless out there but lets keep it really simple for now. If it’s a full frame, you won’t need to worry about megapixels and all that stuff you may hear, it will have what you need. What you need to focus on now is colours, usability and value for money.

Usability refers to things like auto-focus capabilities. You will find out along the way how you work in such a fast moving, constantly changing environment. You will simply want an auto-focus system that you can trust and rely on. Cross-type auto focus points should make your ears ring at this stage. However, I personally use a focus-recompose technique, so I only need one cross type point, but some don’t shoot that way and need multiple cross type auto focus points for framing.

Value for money is important so you’re obviously not throwing away money into things you don’t really need. Cash flow is very important in any business, so waste it wisely. If you do your homework that extra cash could go into new presets or even getting a new prime lens (hint). A good preset pack that fits your style for instance could be a game changer for you. So make sure you aren’t paying for bits & pieces on a camera that you just don’t need. E.g. For me, video capabilities aren’t necessary, I don’t care. 


6. HOW TO SHOW OFF, WELL.

Which advertisement is worth investing into? Well, social media is free. Take advantage of it. Get your page crisp. Know your target audience. In my experience, women tend to respond to social media advertisement alot more than men, and are more likely to send the enquiry as well as make the booking. Social Media advertisements aren’t free, but are worth it if done well. In my experience, Instagram seems to work better than Facebook; I think there are just too many other distractions on Facebook for the viewer. Google Maps is also free but to get a high ranking, you’ll need to tick every box, upload all your photo’s, enter in your website url, your address, absolutely everything. Google Maps has been worth my time and energy for sure. And finally, Wedding magazines that fit your style can be worth investing into also. Yeah.. this needs to be its own point.


7. WEDDING MAGS, WORTH IT?

Yes! But not for the reasons you might think.. I used to think getting in a high profile magazine would be fantastic because people see your photo’s and send you an enquiry. Sounds good. And that does happen. However, that’s not why it’s worth it. There are easier ways to get enquiries than getting yourself into a wedding magazine, because it isn’t always easy peasy.

A good wedding mag is worth it because it gives confidence to your brand. Rather than just bringing more attention to your brand, a good wedding magazine will enhance the attention you already have. The ones who already know you will now see that your work is well respected and trusted. And that’s valuable. The great thing about that is wedding magazines don’t just put anyones images up there (anyone who is willing to throw some dollars at them). There is a creative standard that the images need to meet, so it’s a good goal to set for yourself and for your business.


8. LOOK AFTER YOUR MIND, AND YOUR MIND WILL LOOK AFTER YOU

Creativity ignites when you are feeling ‘you’. You will work hard, you will run around chasing the last light, you will spend countless hours in front of your computer screen finishing that wedding; that’s fine. But when you are stressed, anxious and irritable, your brain will go into survival mode, and the creativity inside that amazing mind of yours will be put on the back burner. Psychologists say there can be a good level of stress. Yep! It’s not all bad. This level of stress is optimal for working and being productive. Going beyond this level leads to an unproductive level of stress which stops you from concentrating, depletes you and quite simply is a threat to you being able to capture those moments beautifully. On a wedding, you can learn the art of staying focused, and getting the job done well, while also having fun with the people around you. Have a wine with the Bridal Party, share a few facebook meme’s with the videographers, take a seat at the reception and for goodness sake eat some cake. This sounds counter-intuitive, but ultimately, it will result in better photographs for the Bride & Groom, and quite simply, thats the main goal. 


9. YOU ARE SEEING PEOPLE ON THEIR BEST DAY, BUT SOMETIMES, ALSO AT THEIR LEAST TOLERANT

Did that make zero sense? Yeah. If you have been married already you might understand. Your wedding day is the best. It’s so exciting, fun and incredible. However you’re not necessarily in a tolerant mood. You are quite protective of your head space and who is around you. This is good to be aware of. As wedding photographers, it’s important to be extra sensitive to the Bride & Groom. If they are having fun, have fun with them. If they are stressed, help them out. If their bridesmaid who only just made the cut is driving them crazy (even if that bridesmaid is a future client of yours - it definitely happens), on this particular day, your priority needs to be all about looking after the Bride. As you will for future clients on their wedding day. 


10. HOT TIPS FOR YOUR GEAR

If you change SD cards regularly, put your name & mobile number on them offering a reward if found. Personally, I have a big 128GB card, as I don’t want to stuff around on the day. But if multiple smaller sized cards work for you, this is a handy tip. Also, if you can, change your lenses on the grass. Enough said? This actually hasn’t happened to me, thank the Lord Jesus. 


11. PEOPLE WANT TO LOOK GOOD

Of course! Imagine getting your favourite photographer to capture your wedding, only to get the images back and realise that the photo is fantastic, but you look like shit. Haha. It’s very easy to over focus on the image itself; the scenery, the light, aperture, white balance, shutter speed, iso, framing, focus, keeping up with their movements, *now people are asking you questions*, the sun is going down - all the while forgetting, that they want to look gooood. Remember to capture them looking beautiful, handsome, sexy, mysterious, elegant, joyful. Also, when culling your images, this is most important to remember. Choose the images where they look good and everything else is good too. If you can’t have both, because the one where the light was perfect isn’t the one where they look great, then put them both in. 


12. YOUR JOB ISN’T A NINE - TO - FIVE

I struggled a lot to get my head around the different nature of my job. Most of us creatives need to throw off the 9 - 5 mindset. It’s limiting. It can even make you feel like you don’t have a “real job”. Even though technically you may work more than 40 hour weeks, be more energised, more passionate and put in more effort than if you were in a 9 - 5; the difference is, you love it, and it hardly feels like work. I often bounce out of bed because I can’t wait to edit that wedding I shot where the light was magic and the couple looked great and they had that thing at the reception that I’ve never seen… It’s 2018. Work doesn’t have to be a burden or something you complain about. In summer, I often take a two hour lunch break at the beach and have a swim, and then I work into the night instead. I originally felt guilty about this. Why? There is no logical reason except doubt and fear that you’re not doing things “the right way” or the way you should. That mindset simply has to go. It is possible to find what you love, have flexible hours, and make a good living. Business isn’t about hours, its about the value of your product to the client. Focus on that. Embrace your flexibility and enjoy the journey. 


13. IS YOUR CAR HOMELY?

This is a safety first. I strongly suggest getting a car that you can sleep in. Even if you need to sell you current sedan and get the wagon. So many times I have driven from Sydney (or further) home to Newcastle at 1am, almost falling asleep at the wheel with nowhere to pull over. I now have a Subaru Forester so if I am in Sydney or beyond, I let my wife know that i’ll be home in the morning and throw a roll up mattress in the boot. After the wedding I often drive to a local beach like Coogee or Bondi and sleep there. The next day, I get to see the sun rise over the water, get some beautiful shots and go for a nice morning swim & breakfast. Cheering. After a wedding, you can be absolutely buggered so you might need to have a system that can last you week after week, month after month. 


14. BLOAT YOSELF

With the good stuff.. I am often asked how I stay on my feet for often 12+ hours, while only eating one meal at night. Yeah, at the start it’s not super easy. I have found something that works for me. I’ve found that hydration is most important. I can operate without food for a while, but I can’t cope without being hydrated. Coconut water works super well as it also contains minerals to keep you feeling fresh. It’s also not loaded with sugar like powerade, so you won’t just make you drop after a couple hours. What you eat just before you head off to a wedding is really important. I bloat myself big time. I often have a smoothie loaded with kale, tumeric (anti-inflammatory), ginger, banana, passion fruit, coconut water, greek yoghurt etc. because I want energy that’s not going to drop me off in an hour but will last me as long as possible. Healthy, natural, whole foods help you stay mentally sharp longer as well. I used to just cram in a maccas breaky, and to be honest its still better than nothing, but I would just end up feeling heaps foggy about half way through the day. If you are really stuck, and need a quick meal, OAK will get you through in an emergency (kill hungry-thirsty). Obviously thats not a super healthy option, but it will get you through if you’re in trouble. The aim would be to plan ahead and have the foods you need at home and in your car before the day. 


15. COMMUNITY

It is definitely worth staying personally connected to other people in the wedding industry. Not just photographers, but small business owners like yourself. I know a very successful business man who has a small group of other business owners who have lunch together regularly. They meet up, solve each others personal and business problems, talk family, house, car, vay-cay. Running your own business becomes such an influential part of your life that it is differently worth building genuine, sincere relationships with people who work in the same field as you.

And lastly, its good to know that clients can turn into friends. I’m sure this will happen naturally. I am sometimes at a dinner party, and I stop & realise that I shot about 50% of the people in the room’s weddings. I almost forget! You build such fantastic relationships through this journey, and that is absolutely priceless.

So remember, don’t do this business journey solo! Relationships are what really make life rich.

Sam Colthorpe