Wedding photographer and educator Jared Platt has photographed weddings all around the globe, spreading from large destination weddings to local weddings in his own hometown Phoenix. Throughout the years, Jared has learned what he believes are the most important things to keep track of if you want to make it into the wedding industry. Here are 10 tips on how to become a successful wedding photographer, in Jared’s own words.
ISO 100, 39mm, f/4, 1/400s. Ambient light.
I am a documentary wedding and portrait photographer, based in Phoenix Arizona. I have photographed weddings now for over 25 years and I still have things to learn, I still practice and seek advice. But no matter how difficult a day is, it’s still good because I get to make photographs, and that’s my job! That’s pretty great.
I'm also an educator who has taught thousands of photographers during the years. I've just finished my wedding course Fundamentals of Wedding Photography where you get to follow me on a real wedding with real clients.
But wedding photography is a very challenging job. On any given job, you are a portrait photographer, a documentarian, a still life, commercial and architectural photographer. You have to be practiced in so many areas of photography. And there is no easy secret or shortcut. Here are a few thoughts on being a wedding photographer that have helped me through the years to be the very best photographer for my clients.
1. Preparation equals success – Practicing and testing your equipment
Wedding photography is fast paced and full of challenges. You are often working on your own or just with a second shooter or an assistant. With a small staff like that, you have to work really fast to get the required shots and still deal with schedule changes, client requests and you need to make it look like you are doing it effortlessly!
- Take your camera and your lights out at least once a week and do a test shoot.
- Try various light setups, positions and modifiers and decide which work best for your style and allow you to overcome specific challenges most efficiently.
- Find at least one method that is beautiful, quick and comfortable that you can fall back to if all else fails.
- Get so comfortable with it that you can accomplish that shot with your eyes closed! But maybe don’t close your eyes on the wedding shoot…
2. Know your equipment – camera, custom settings, lenses etc.
Knowing your equipment is crucial to your success. Reading the manual is a good start, but more importantly is having a good relationship with your camera and your lenses.
- Most new cameras have programmable buttons and menus. Learn how to get to every important function you will use and then set up a quick menu or assign a button to get you to that function.
- Your camera can give you feedback through the histogram and highlight warnings. Get to know your camera and know what it is saying to you. Run tests on your exposures to learn how much latitude you can expect from your camera.
- As a wedding photographer, you will find yourself in widely varying lighting conditions constantly. Often you are back and forth between three or four exposures, like during the ceremony in a dark church. Almost every modern camera has the option to create a set of custom settings. Use these custom settings to pre-set your exposures for the various exposures, flash settings, camera modes and focus methods you will need in each situation then simply turn the camera mode from Custom 1 to Custom 2 and keep shooting.
- How steady are your hands? Find out how well your Image Stabilization works for you. The general rule is that when you shoot with a 200mm lens, you should set your shutter speed at 1/200 of a second (essentially 1/mm of your lens).
3. Master all lighting situations even the tricky ones
ISO 100, 29mm, f/5, 1/320s. Lit with three Profoto B10 with OCF Magnum.
Scouting for the existing or ambient light is best done before you see the client on the wedding day. I like scouting the day before a wedding if that is possible. But even if it is the day of the wedding, you can look for lighting and assess what that light will look like on your client without wasting the bride’s times dragging her around the grounds turning her this way and that.
- You have a little model with you at all times. I like to call him Thumb-kin. Hold your hand out in front of you in a fist with the thumb outside the fist and observe the current ambient light as it falls on your fist and thumb, which make a rudimentary face. Spin around and find the optimal lighting condition for the face, then plan how you will augment that light with your strobes.
ISO 50. 32mm, f/4.5, 1/200. Lit with one Profoto B10 with OCF 2x3' Softbox.
ISO 50, 50mm, f/4.5, 1/400s. Lit with one Profoto B10 with OCF 2x3' Softbox.
- When adding light to your bride or groom, always follow the rules presented to you by the existing light to create a natural looking match. For instance, if the ambient light is coming from the right, light your bride from the right. If the light is tungsten (warm) light, add tungsten gels to your strobe(s) to match the color of the ambient light. And if the ambient light is soft light (like that coming from an overcast sky) light with a soft light source like the OCF 2x3’ Softbox. A bright sunny noon day light should be matched with a bare head or an OCF Magnum Reflector to get that harder light quality. By matching the ambient light that already exists with the appropriate modifier, your subject will look as though they belong in the scene and that rather than being lit by your strobes, they were lit by the existing light.
- The perfect all condition lighting kit for me is a Profoto A1X and a Profoto B10 with an OCF 2x3’ Softbox, an OCF Beauty Dish Silver 2’ (with diffuser) and an OCF Magnum Reflector. This portable, powerful and versatile lighting kit fulfills 90 percent of my lighting needs.
4. Scouting the best locations for wedding pictures
ISO 400, 70mm, f/5, 1/2000s. Ambient light.
Never start a portrait session without doing a little location scouting first. I prefer scouting the locations at the same time as the event the day before the event, when that is not possible, I arrive a few hours earlier than I am expected to get some location scouting in. Knowing where to photograph and having an efficient path to follow will help you to get better images, more images, and it will help you keep your clients on time. If you get a reputation for being the photographer who keeps things on time and still gets a lot of beautiful portraits, you will be at the top of every vendors’ list.
5. Get to know your clients and understand their needs
Your clients have hopes and wishes and needs for their wedding photography, but you will never know them if you don’t have in-depth conversations with them. Discovering those photo needs is not just a matter of asking “which photos do you want me to take?” Ask this question and you will get a copied list from a bridal magazine with all the standard shots you need to take. Instead, spend time asking them about who the most important people are, what have they worked the hardest on, are there special items like a ring from their grandmother. These kinds of discussions will give you a much better list of “must have” photographs to capture.
6. Nailing that epic wedding portrait
ISO 50, 125mm, f/5.6, 1/500s. Lit with one Profoto B10 with OCF 2x3' Softbox and two Profoto A1X with Dome Diffusor.
Nailing that epic wedding portrait requires you to be engaging, humorous, complementary and don’t be too heavy handed on the directions and the posing. Here are a few tips in order to get that shot that will hang on their wall.
- Watch the couple. They will find a natural way to interact with each other.
- Paying attention to the natural light and tracking where the sun will be when the wedding portraits will be taken will give you the best opportunity at finding the perfect backdrop for that epic shot.
- Knowing your camera and lighting gear through practice will ensure that you know how to set up the shot without wasting a moment of time.
- When it is time for the shot, talk to your subjects, show them how to stand, guide them with hand motions and easily understandable directions.
- When the couple has settled into their natural pose, you should have everything else in place, background, exposure, lighting and composition! Praise them, make fine adjustments if needed, and shoot shoot shoot!
7. Never miss a moment
ISO 800, 56mm, f/2.8, 1/200s. One Profoto A1X bounced.
ISO 160, 28mm, f/4, 1/200s. One Profoto A1X bounced.
Wedding photography is documentary by nature and there are no second chances. You must be ready to get the shot whenever it happens. This means your attention must be absolute and your staff should be equally sharp. At a bare minimum, no one should ever be on their phone, texting their spouse or looking up the weather for tomorrow. But what’s more, you must always be camera ready. This means knowing the exposure is correct for whatever scene you are observing. If you are looking at it, your camera should be set to capture it. Both you and your camera and your lights must be ready to take the shot and capture the moment when it happens. And thanks to the Profoto A1X and B10’s fast recycling times, you only need to focus on you and your camera.
8. It’s all about family - this is not your portfolio shoot
ISO 200, 61mm, f/5.6, 1/200s. One Profoto B10 with OCF 2x3' Softbox.
ISO 800, 130mm, f/2.8, 1/800s. Ambient light.
A wedding is first and foremost a wedding. That should seem like an overly obvious statement, yet so many photographers forget that a wedding is not an extended fashion shoot, or a portfolio building opportunity. Remember that your client has hired you to do what is best for them, which is to take beautiful portraits and to document their wedding day without interfering with the wedding day!
9. Understand the power of storytelling - visual, metaphoric and traditional
ISO 1000, 27mm, f/4.5, 1/200s. Ambient light.
ISO 2500, 70mm, f/2, 1/200s. Two Profoto A1X bounced.
ISO 6400, 105mm, f/4, 1/200s. Ambient light.
Telling a story visually requires a lot of thought. Showing up at an event and simply capturing what is happening in front of you is not storytelling. There are visual conventions that help move a story along and provide rhythm to a story, like using establishment shots, relationship shots and emotionally focused shots (wide, mid, and close-up). Pre-planning with shot lists will help you tell a better story, and I am not talking about shot lists from some bridal magazine advice column. The photographer should be developing a shot list based on conversations with the wedding couple. They have a backstory; the photographer needs to know it to tell the story correctly.
10. Editing your wedding photos – how to review and select your images
Once you have finished photographing a wedding, you are left holding thousands of images and your work has only begun. Now you need to get them through your postproduction pipeline, and the very first bottle neck in that pipeline is the selection process. This part of the process causes enough fear in photographers that it inspires days or even weeks of procrastination. Regardless of which software you choose to review your images in, here are a few rules that when followed will get you through the process of selection much faster:
Comparative review: You will make faster and better selection decisions when you compare images as a set rather than looking at them one at a time.
Positive selection: It is a forgone conclusion that you will choose to keep far less images than your reject, so don’t use the “reject” key to remove images you don’t like, instead use the “pick” or “select” or “star” keys to mark the images you will keep.
Use your instincts: Let your instincts be your guide as you select images in post. Don’t fuss over your selects and don’t second guess your decisions.
Remove distractions: You will make decisions faster and better if you remove all distractions from your selecting environment. Turn off your phone, shut down your email and social media feeds.
You can get this done faster, and you will make as good or better decisions than you have in your slower, self-doubting past. Soon you will be selecting a wedding in an hour or two instead of days!
Those are just a few important tips on how to improve your wedding photography game! I know it is a challenging job to do and can be very stressful. Like I said, I have been photographing weddings for more than half my life (a quarter century). But it’s so rewarding to do a great job. There’s a lot more to learn on these topics and more, so don’t hesitate to take my new course, “Fundamentals of Wedding Photography” at Profoto Academy. You will have access to over eight hours of educational content that will help you hone your skills as a wedding photographer.
I wish you the very best of success! Enjoy the journey.