How to get your portfolio wedding ready.
Wedding photography is something that seems tricky to get into. How do you get clients who will obviously want to see a professional, competent portfolio without having anything in your portfolio - but to get something in your portfolio you need that portfolio. Seems impossible right? Well hold on, there's a way.
Assist an established photographer
Reach out to some photographers you admire and ask if you can assist. Depending on your photography experience already, this work might be paid or you might be working for experience. I'd never suggest that you aren't worth paying, but at this stage it's important to lap up all the experience you can get at first. Don't be disheartened if the photographer you admire doesn't reply - they're super busy and are more than likely swamped with enquiries from couples. This has happened to me and it can definitely be off putting but dust yourself off and carry on.
If you're shooting for a photographer, check the terms and conditions or contract they'll give you before shooting. Check the section on image usage, i.e can you use the photos in your portfolio? This can vary from no usage at all to social media usage with a credit to the primary photographer. Make sure you follow these rules relating to crediting the primary photographer; there's no quicker way to get a bad reputation and no further assisting jobs than breaking the contract with the photographer who you're shooting with.
Set up a styled shoot
A styled shoot is a great way to practice and experiment. A styled shoot is simply a set-up wedding situation where you're working with other suppliers to produce a styled wedding. Obviously nothing will compare to a real wedding where you need to be ready to capture fleeting moments, but it's a great way to experiment and gain new friends in the wedding industry. It's also a great way of getting wedding work in your portfolio if you're an experienced photographer in other industries but have little wedding work. It's important to be transparent however - if a client asks if the work is from a real wedding or styled shoot, it's essential to be honest. You're simply misleading your clients if you don't tell them it's a styled shoot, and if you're not ready to photograph a real wedding it'll be to the detriment of your reputation and your clients' eventual product.
Styled shoots are an excellent way to experiment with ideas and to attract couples that fit with your ideal style of wedding. It's a great way to attract your style of couple - if you want to attract a certain style of wedding, a styled shoot can give you a risk-free environment to test ideas and you'll end up with images that you can use for promotional materials.
Working out your style of couple might seem a bit counter-productive if you've not actually photographed a wedding before, but getting the idea of your brand on track will help you create images that always fit into your brand. Think about the style of weddings you love and work with photographers and other suppliers who will allow you to create these images for your portfolio.
Consider shooting a wedding for free
In an ideal world, everyone would have the wedding budget to pay for everything they wanted for their wedding but this isn't always the case. Some photographers argue that photographing a wedding for free or at a discount devalues the industry, but in reality some couples wouldn't have photography at all if it wasn't for new photographers offering their services at a discounted rate for portfolio images. Sometimes family and friends will ask you to photograph their wedding for free or at a discounted rate and if you're just starting out it's a great way of getting real-world wedding experience.
Make sure you can manage your clients' expectations. Ensure they've seen plenty of your photography work and are happy with what you can produce. Get a contract in place specifying that you'll be using the images for your portfolio, what you'll be providing and how much compensation you'll be providing your services for, even if you're working for free.
So you've got a wedding booked in - now what?
Well done! You've got a happy couple to photograph, the contract is sorted and the date is set. Now's the time to get prepared for the day. Hopefully you've gained lots of experience as a second shooter and supplemented this with styled shoot experience.
Get your kit ready
You'll need to be ready for a few different situations - this means plenty of batteries, plenty of memory cards, flash for the evening reception and chargers. You need two camera bodies. That's pretty much non-negotiable if you're solely responsible for photographing a wedding. What would you do if one of the camera bodies stopped working? It's more than likely not going to happen, but I've heard plenty of stories of cameras going wrong, being dropped. If you don't have two camera bodies, see if a friend can lend you one or go to a rental company.
With lenses, I personally photograph with prime lenses that cover a few focal lengths but I rarely stray from the 35mm and 50mm lenses all day. The default lens on my camera is the 35mm and even the 50mm rarely gets a look in these days. So many incredible photographers shoot with even fewer lenses, so really it's about how you shoot and what you enjoy using. This might take a few weddings for you to get your head around; for so long I thought zoom lenses were the way to go until I realised that I feel far more creative working with primes. Find something that works for you and make sure you know it inside out.
What about insurance?
If you're photographing weddings, you need insurance. This covers you for lots of different situations and is really important when you're taking money for your services. Your insurance will cover you if you damage the wedding venue, someone sues you for injuring themselves falling over your camera bag, you lose all the images and lots of other (hopefully super unlikely) events.
Get your couple to confirm details
I always give my couples a form to fill in confirming the date of their wedding, addresses and timings. This copy lives on my phone and is also printed out and taken with me to the wedding. It's really important to be organised and know what the timeline of the wedding day looks like from when you're going to arrive at bridal/groom prep to when you're leaving.
Work out how long it'll take you to travel
It seems obvious, but work out what time you'll be travelling and how long this will take you and how you'll be travelling. Being self-employed it's easy to forget about rush hour, so use Google Maps to test out how long the journey takes at different times. Always give yourself a bit of extra time to account for a slower journey time, stopping off for coffee; never make yourself feel stressed and rushed.
A wedding is an amazing occasion - you're spending the day with a family during an intimate event and capturing wonderful moments for your couple and their family to enjoy for years to come. Staying relaxed and confident is really important to producing excellent wedding images. Believe in yourself, be extra prepared and enjoy the experience.
Learn everything you can about how a wedding day runs. Preparation and learning really is the key - photography is only about 30% of it! Once the wedding is over, take the time to be proud of what you've produced. Learn and reflect on what you've done and what you'd change for next time. There's always something to learn and you should always be moving towards your next goal.
To finish off, here are some shots from my first ever wedding!