9 Lessons Learned as a new Wedding Photographer

Being a new photographer can be a little intimidating. Being a first-time wedding photographer can be downright terrifying! Call me crazy, but I was never horribly nervous to break into wedding photography. Personally, I like pressure. I thrive under stress. Not everyone does. I had several colleagues tell me that they hated weddings, and I probably was going to also. Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  

If you are debating getting into shooting weddings, let me tell you a few things I learned from my first two weddings:

  1. At the end of the day, you are going to be TIRED. VERY TIRED. Okay, maybe exhausted would be a better word. Don’t plan anything the next day except sipping pina coladas by a pool. (Unless of course, you have kids, like me, and then….well, God be with you!)
  2. Listen to the little voice inside you that nags you about details. It’s easy to get focused on the big picture of checking off every shot, and managing time, and overlook the little things. I wish I could go back and move that one groomsman over just an inch or two to get the renegade ray of sunlight off his face. Healing brushes and clone stamps take way longer than attention to detail up front.
  3. You have to be assertive (bossy even), but it has to be coated with lots and lots of smiles. 
  4. This may seem like a no-brainer, but make sure you have a plan. Go over it with the bride several times before the wedding, because she has a million things on her mind, and it will put her at ease to know that you are on top of things! It’s great to develop a system for family photos. Start with the bride’s immediate family and add in progressively, or something similar, and do it at every wedding so that people aren’t standing around saying “well, should we do one with Uncle Tim? or how about one with Grandpa George, but oh wait, where is Grandpa George?!” Knowing when family photos will occur and in which order will help everyone.
  5. Don’t be afraid to assert your professional opinion about lighting or timing for doing photos, but be very sensitive to the bride’s wishes. I was at an outdoor wedding and I knew that the golden hour would occur right during their ceremony. I let them know that I’d love to steal them for a few additional photos – IF it worked for them to sneak away. Fortunately it did, and they thanked me for letting them know ahead of time. The images we took in those 10 minutes ended up being some of their favorites!
  6. You are going to be under-paid for your first few weddings. My first wedding was my little brother’s and I shot it for pennies, but it was a perfect scenario: they couldn’t afford a professional photographer, and I needed someone who would book me with very few wedding portfolio images.
  7. Everyone has to start somewhere! It’s great to be a second-shooter for a few weddings to get a feel for things, but being on solo duty is inevitably going to feel different. Be confident in your skills as the paid professional. 
  8. There are going to be other cameras, tablets & cell phones everywhere, so make sure you are bold enough to stand where you need to be. I’ve heard stories of professional photographers getting shoved out of the way by uncles. I pray that never happens to me, but if it does, I might bust out my ninja skills.
  9. Every wedding is not created equally. Some will be mild dessert receptions in a church, and some will have bottomless kegs and drunk groomsmen. Really drunk groomsmen. Be prepared for anything.
  10. I have a million more things to learn, and I can’t wait!

You may or may not like weddings like I do (so far!) but you do have to try a few things before you find your passion!  I wish you the best in finding yours!

Shannan Painter is a newbie photographer who has spent the last 5 years working with the left side of her brain helping small businesses organize their accounting and taxes. She decided to take the big step and pursue her dream of becoming a professional photographer in 2013 after adding a third boy to her house that was already full of super heroes, trucks, and sports equipment. She and her husband, who is a local TV meteorologist, play pick-up games of basketball in their free time and like to take road trips to Lake Minnetonka with all 3 boys, and their dog Growler.  Visit her on Facebook!