Wedding photography can come with a unique set of challenges and stress points, which will keep many photographers from ever venturing into the genre, many opting for a route with less pressure. That said, there are ways we can alleviate some of this stress. Perfect planning and preparation prevent poor performance. A mantra we can all follow a little more in our lives.
Another much-used catchphrase regarding the planning process states that failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Again, I'm inclined to agree. When the photographs we are taking aren't just personal images, our job will impact our clients' memories of their wedding day and mistakes due to poor preparation will not be tolerated. Even if you aren't photographing weddings, some of the below points will be useful for any client work.
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 do not do pre-wedding or engagement shoots. My workflow and gear are relatively simple. You may have things to add, which I would love to hear about in the comments.
In the Months Before the Wedding
Our pre-wedding preparations don't start on the morning of the wedding or even the week before. Once the wedding is booked (with the contract signed), a series of emails are sent out automatically by my business management software, Pixifi.
One of the most important of these automated emails is the wedding questionnaire, used as a catch-all form for information relating to the wedding. It is emailed five months before the wedding, and the client can complete this in their own time.
In this form, I include:
- The couple's contact details, if they have changed their number, or moved house.
- Locations, with post/zip codes.
- A rough timeline of the day.
- I ask for the phone number of a person who will be with the bride on the day. It's usually a bridesmaid, somebody I can call if I need to contact the party.
- Approximate number of guests, whether they will have confetti, what the arrangements will be for my meal.
- 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 vendor list and an option to give me any more information they feel I will need.
With this, I can often avoid multiple time-consuming consultations with clients and only need to catch up with them periodically.
Other Points Before the Wedding Week
Pixifi will send the couple a request for final payment six weeks before the wedding.
I will also book any hotels around this time. If the couple has requested one, my second photographer is hired.
One Week Before the Wedding
One week before the big day, an email is sent to the client automatically. This email will touch on a few points.
The first is to ensure the client has completed the questionnaire and paid their balance. Next, I have a polite notice asking the couple to pre-warn their party of my natural and candid photography style. This point can be paramount in preventing parents or older siblings from trying to take control and helps to manage expectations on the day.
I also ask the bride to ensure any details to be photographed will be together, with the dress ready to be photographed if they want it to be.
Finally, I will offer a Zoom call if they wish to clear up any last-minute details.
My Checks, One Week Prior
A copy of this email is sent to me as a reminder to manually check that the details questionnaire is complete and their payment is finalized. I'll also take the time to confirm my second photographer.
One Day Before the Wedding
This section may be the reason you opened the article. These are the things I will do on the day before the wedding. I never like to do any of these things in the morning before I leave the house. I prefer to grab my bag and go. Of course, this isn't feasible on back-to-back wedding days, but I still try to be as organized as possible.
I will ensure all my batteries are charged early in the day: batteries for cameras, flashes, LED lights, pocket fans, triggers, etc. The chargers have a dedicated shelf in my office, and I can eyeball if anything isn't charging.
Printing the Details
Remember the questionnaire we asked the client to complete? It's now time to print this. Any notes I need to make regarding the impending wedding will now be on this sheet.
Plan the Route
You need to plan your route to the wedding. I will often be at a wedding at 9 am after a two-hour drive (any longer than this, and I stay in a hotel). Therefore, I need to know what time I need to leave, how long it will take to get there, and what time I will need to go to the ceremony.
I usually plan a food stop on the way to the wedding, as close to the venue as possible. This stop also acts as a buffer. If I hit traffic on the route, the first thing to suffer will be my breakfast, not the time spent at the wedding.
Have Your Clothes Ready
There's nothing worse than realizing your favorite wedding trousers are still in the wash when you need to leave the house in 10 minutes. Okay, there are a few things worse, but you get my point!
I take three cameras to weddings. The third is a rarely used backup. You may take less or more, but this step is essential, regardless.
Sit down with each camera individually. Treat each camera like you will only be using that one, and ensure it is ready before moving on to the next one.
I grab a fully charged battery and two memory cards and power the camera on. Format each memory card. Check the battery is full. Check all of the basic settings. I have a small list of camera settings that I like to ensure are correct, which I look deeper into in this article.
Finally, take a photo with the camera. Taking one photo will allow you to check the camera is firing and writing to the card.
Once I've done this, the camera goes into my bag, and I move on to the next.
I have a similar ritual to the rest of my essential equipment. I make sure it's working and ready, it goes into the bag, and I move on to the next item. I will clean my lenses, put batteries in my lights, and check I have my essentials.
Pack your spare batteries, SD cards, flashes, and a lens cloth.
I think I have covered my pre-wedding ritual here. I've left off food, as I'm usually well looked after on the wedding day. I also make sure I drink plenty of iced water from the bar. Finally, get an early night and don't stay up until 3 am reading Fstoppers.
Plenty of the points covered will be helpful for any photography, but I can personally only speak for weddings. A portrait or commercial photographer may have an entirely different set of preparations.
I will leave a checklist below for your reference.
Five Months Before the Wedding
- Client questionnaire sent.
Six Weeks Before the Wedding
- Send final payment request.
- Book hotels or travel.
- Book a second photographer.
One Week Before the Wedding
- Catch up with the couple.
- Confirm payment is made.
- Confirm your second photographer.
The Day Before the Wedding
- Put all batteries on charger in the morning.
- Print the details and timeline.
- Plan your travel to the wedding.
- Get your clothes ready.
- Individually prepare cameras with batteries, memory cards, and basic settings.
- Clean and prep lenses and other gear.
- Ensure your spares are packed.
On the Day
- Eat a hearty breakfast and have fun.