FAQ Friday: Starting Out As A Wedding Photographer

I've been approached several times now by wedding photography novices asking for advice for their first shoot. I've compiled some general information for anyone and everyone interested in wedding photography. As a disclaimer, I am not claiming to be a highly seasoned expert on all this--every wedding is different and this is all just what I know from my years shooting weddings so far:First off, the sad and unfortunate truth about getting into wedding photography is that the easiest and best way "in" is from the inside itself. It is highly advisable to assist and shoot alongside an already-experienced professional before going it alone. This is not as difficult to do as you think...as soon as spring hits, online classifieds are flooded with pleas for second shooters and wedding assistants, at least in my area. Try answering a few and see what happens. Shooting as an assistant not only accustoms you to common wedding ceremonies and wedding shooting conditions, it also familiarizes you with popular poses, techniques, and tricks. The best part is, if you royally screw up because you're a complete novice, you haven't ruined a couple's special day because the bulk of the photographic responsibility rests on someone else.That said, I also must chastise those who take the plunge and try to shoot a wedding completely green, particularly if they do not feel confident enough to actually do it. By accepting the job in the first place, you may not only cheating a bride out of worthwhile photos of "the best day of her life," but also a professional wedding photographer out of a paying job in his profession. Many brides try to recruit friends into photographing their wedding, or hire inexpensive amateurs, but 99% of the time the quality of their images suffers, and 40 years from now, they may not believe that the low price was worth it, after all.Similarly, if you are a bride or groom-to-be, then think twice before hiring someone for cheap or free! This is ABSOLUTELY an industry in which you get what you pay for, and since photos will be the ultimate lasting momentos of your wedding day, you want to make sure they'll be AMAZING!Warning aside, if the bride insists that you shoot her wedding regardless of whether you are inexperienced or unprofessional, the best advice I can offer is perhaps get some practice. Try to assist some local wedding photographers and get comfortable in the setting. Ask a couple friends to go to a park with you (have one of them wear white), and have them pretend to be a couple and act out some "wedding scenes" for you. This way you can discern what angles and lens lengths make up the best shots for different activities. Every wedding is different, but generally the ceremonies (as far as a photographer is concerned) are as follows:BEFORE THE CEREMONY:The bride prepares by getting dressed and made up. If you have access to her dressing room, this is a good opportunity for candids. Think emotional! Look for the "little things," such as her shoes, or her bridesmaids' bouquets.Get some shots of the location and the decorations. Remember they'll all be gone by the next day!Use the time to photograph the groom if he's available. Get portraits of him by himself, with his groomsmen (don't forget the ring bearer!), and his family. I recommend shooting portraits outdoors in the shade.Get the groom out of the way so he doesn't see the bride, and try to take some nice portraits of the bride while her makeup is fresh. Include shots of her with her bridesmaids (and flower girl) and family.DURING THE CEREMONY:-Ushers seat guests of honor (watch for grandparents!)-Mothers light candles (sometimes)-Procession down the aisle-Father gives away the bride*Here's a note: Don't forget the groom's reaction to the bride approaching! Remember, this is the first time he's seen her all day, and in her wedding dress! Some grooms even break down and cry!-Officiant conducts ceremony-Sometimes the bride and groom present flowers to their parents-Vows-Exchange of the rings-Lighting of the unity candle-Kiss (This is usually the end of the ceremony, and I recommend being in the back by this time)-Coming back up the aisle-Sometimes there is a dove or butterfly release, but this is not too commonAFTER THE CEREMONYEveryone is usually very eager to party, but there are some important shots to get first!Photograph the newlyweds with both their families, and with the entire bridal party. The altar usually makes a good backdrop. Dismiss everyone but the bride and groom and go somewhere pretty and quiet if possible to get some "romantic" shots. Play with the veil and try imitating some shots you've seen in magazines or on other wedding photographers' websites.RECEPTIONIf the reception is somewhere separate from the ceremony, try to get there before the bride and groom so you can photograph them getting out of their limo!I highly advise against shooting a reception without an external flash, because 1) they are usually indoors and 2) they are usually at night. Receptions are DARK. Make sure you're prepared.Get some shots of the cake before it's been cut, as well as other details such as floral centerpieces, table settings, engraved champagne glasses, and even a big wide shot of the whole room in its natural light.Check with the DJ for the start time of the grand entrace (which you should already know, anyway), so you're in a good position to shoot it! Keep in mind that there may be people behind you, and you could be obstructing someone's view. Most photographers squat for much of the grand entrance.The grand entrance usually consists of:-Parents first-Bridal party next, including flower girl(s) and ring bearer(s)-Bride and groom lastSome couples enter and immediately begin their first dance, others just go straight to their places at the head table for dinner to begin.During dinner there are usually toasts, traditionally by the best man and maid of honor, and sometimes a parent and the groom will have a thing or two to say.Once the toasts are done, you can relax a little and eat something. Often accommodations have been made for you to receive a plate of whatever's being served.Following dinner there is:-Cake cutting-First dance-Father/daughter and mother/son dance-Dancing in general-Bouquet toss-Garter toss...and this is not necessarily in order.There are other varying traditions during the reception depending on the family (i.e, Jewish weddings, Greek weddings, etc), but you probably won't have to worry about that. All in all I think it's a good idea to have a meeting with the couple at least a month before their wedding (if possible) to go over all the details and their timeline so you're prepared.I also highly recommend looking at successful wedding photographers' websites (type "wedding photographer" into a search engine) to get ideas for some good shots. Also try your library---The Art of Wedding Photography by Bambi Cantrell is a good book to start with.Hopefully this helps! Good luck!!