Wedding photography can present unique challenges and stress points that discourage many photographers from ever venturing into the genre, and many are choosing a less pressured route. However, there are ways we can alleviate some of that stress. Perfect planning and preparation prevent poor performance. A mantra that we can all follow a little more in our lives.
Another commonly used buzzword regarding the planning process is that failing prepares for failing. Again, I am inclined to agree. When the photos we take are not just personal images, our work will impact our clients’ memories of their wedding day and mistakes due to poor preparation will not be tolerated. Even if you don’t shoot weddings, some of the following points come in handy when working with clients.
I must point out that these are my preparations for the weddings I shoot in the UK. As a documentary wedding photographer, I avoid anything set up on the day and don’t do pre-wedding or engagement shoots. My workflow and equipment are relatively simple. Maybe you have things to add that I’d like to hear about in the comments.
In the months leading up to the wedding
Our wedding preparations don’t start the morning of the wedding or even the week before. Once the wedding is booked (with the contract signed), a series of emails are automatically sent out from my business management software, Pixifi.
One of the most important of these automated emails is the wedding questionnaire, which serves as a collection form for information about the wedding. It is emailed five months before the wedding and the client can fill it out in their own time.
In this form I add:
- The couple’s contact details if they have changed their number or have moved.
- Locations with zip codes.
- A rough timeline of the day.
- I ask for the phone number of someone who will be with the bride that day. It’s usually a bridesmaid, someone I can call if I need to contact the party.
- Approximate number of guests, whether they will have confetti, what the arrangements for my meal will be.
- A list of family group shots. My style is documentary; Sometimes there are no group photos, but I allow them to add a small amount.
- A list of suppliers and an option to give me any additional information you think I will need.
As a result, I can often avoid several time-consuming customer meetings and only have to make up for them periodically.
More points before the wedding week
Six weeks before the wedding, Pixifi sends the couple a final payment request.
I will also book all hotels around this time. At the request of the couple, my second photographer will be hired.
A week before the wedding
An email is automatically sent to the customer a week before the big day. This email will address a few points.
The first is to ensure that the customer has completed the questionnaire and paid their balance. Next, I have a polite note asking the couple to advance their party to my natural and candid style of photography. This point can be of utmost importance in preventing parents or older siblings from trying to take control and helping to manage expectations of the day.
I also ask the bride to ensure all details to be photographed are together with the dress which can be photographed if they wish.
Finally, I’ll offer a Zoom call if they’d like to finalize final details.
My controls, a week before
A copy of this email will be sent to me as a reminder to manually verify that the detail questionnaire is complete and payment is complete. I will also take the time to confirm my second photographer.
A day before the wedding
This section may be the reason you opened the article. These are the things I will do the day before the wedding. I don’t like doing any of these things in the morning before I leave the house. I better grab my bag and go. Of course this isn’t feasible on back-to-back anniversaries, but I still try to be as organized as possible.
I’ll make sure all my batteries are charged early in the day: batteries for cameras, flashes, LED lights, pocket fans, shutter releases, etc. The chargers have a special shelf in my office and I can watch to see if anything isn’t charging .
Printing the details
Do you remember the questionnaire we asked the customer to fill out? It’s now time to print this. Any notes I need to make regarding the upcoming wedding will now be on this sheet.
Plan the route
You need to plan your way to the wedding. I’m often at a wedding (longer than this, and I’m staying in a hotel) at 9am after a 2 hour drive. So I need to know when to leave, how long it will take to get there, and when to go to the ceremony.
I usually plan on making a meal stop on the way to the wedding, as close to the venue as possible. This stop also acts as a buffer. When I hit traffic en route, it’s my breakfast that suffers first, not the time I spend at the wedding.
Have your clothes ready
There’s nothing worse than realizing your favorite wedding pant is still in the wash when you have 10 minutes to leave the house. Okay there are some worse things but you get my meaning!
I take three cameras to weddings. The third is a rarely used backup. You can use less or more, but this step is still important.
Sit down with each camera individually. Treat each camera as if you only use it and make sure it’s ready before moving on to the next.
I grab a fully charged battery and two memory cards and turn on the camera. Format each memory card. Check if the battery is full. Check all basic settings. I have a small list of camera settings that I like to make sure are correct, which I’ll detail in this article.
Finally, take a photo with the camera. When you take a photo you can verify that the camera will fire and write to the card.
Once I’ve done that, the camera goes into my bag and I move on to the next one.
I have a ritual similar to the rest of my essential gear. I’ll make sure it works and is ready, it goes in my bag and I’ll move on to the next article. I’ll clean my lenses, put batteries in my lights and make sure I have my essentials.
My Simplr strap and Spider Black Widow holster are packed in my bag, a Billingham Hadley One.
Pack your spare batteries, SD cards, flashes and a lens cloth.
I think I covered my pre-wedding ritual here. I left out food because I’m usually well taken care of on the wedding day. I also make sure to drink plenty of ice water from the bar. Finally, go early and don’t stay up until 3am reading Fstoppers.
Many of the points covered will be helpful for any photography, but personally I can only speak for weddings. A portrait or advertising photographer can make completely different preparations.
I will leave a checklist below for your reference.
Five months before the wedding
- Customer questionnaire sent.
Six weeks before the wedding
- Send final payment request.
- Book hotels or trips.
- Book a second photographer.
A week before the wedding
- Meet the couple.
- Confirm that the payment has been made.
- Confirm your second photographer.
The day before the wedding
- Put all the batteries on the charger in the morning.
- Print out the details and schedule.
- Plan your trip to the wedding.
- Get your clothes ready.
- Prepare cameras with batteries, memory cards and basic settings individually.
- Clean and prepare lenses and other equipment.
- Make sure your spare parts are packed.
On that day
- Eat a hearty breakfast and have fun.