3 Last Minute Things to Do Before Wedding Season Starts (AKA: Holy shi@—is it spring already?)
- Study hard and invest well. Never cut corners. Do you hear me? NEVER CUT CORNERS. A wedding is (hopefully) a once in a lifetime event. If you’re cutting corners and just doing the minimum amount of work to get by then you’re doing the clients a disservice. Be an advocate of their wedding day and do the best job you possibly can.
- Get that back up gear! When I started photographing weddings I couldn’t afford all the fancy lenses and camera bodies that all the big leaders of the time used. Sometimes it felt as though I could never be a real wedding photographer without all the fancy equipment. We know that’s not true. The talent comes from behind the camera and the equipment is just a tool you use to create. Back up gear is essential to making sure your clients are secure and you’ll always get the shot. Camera drops into a fountain? Falls and breaks? You must have extras! The problem is that we don’t all have the financial ability to run out and buy whatever we want. Make sure you build a budget into your business for renting back up gear until you can afford to buy it. That way you’ll never let your clients down.
- Contracts are essential! You’ve probably heard that before. I know legal agreements are daunting. You might be nervous about having clients sign one. Just remember contracts aren’t just for you. You’re not using this tool to hoodwink your clients into submission. This is a tool for both of you. It protects both them and you. It outlines and sets the expectations for the day. A contract makes sure that everyone knows exactly what is happening and precisely what their roles are.
- Be prepared! There are so many levels of preparedness that go into weddings. I don’t think it’s even possible to be prepared enough. Anything that you can do to prepare yourself for this big business step of shooting a wedding is something you should do. If you have the opportunity to go to a venue walk through, do it. The wedding rehearsal? Do it. If those aren’t happening schedule a time to visit the venue on your own. Read anything and everything you can find about photographing a wedding. Second shoot as much as possible or be an intern at a wedding. Take every opportunity to learn and you’ll become more prepared.
- Timelines are essential. A wedding timeline is something you can work together to create with your clients and their planner (if they have one). This timeline will help you prepare for any major lighting traditions and let you know when you have time for a quick bathroom break. You need a timeline. If nobody has created one, talk to your clients about creating one. Everything seems less stressful and rushed when there is a timeline, even if you deviate from it.
There’s this feeling the day after a wedding. The feeling I’m talking about is not “Oh, what a wonderful life I live! I got to photograph the best day of their lives! Rainbows! Unicorns! LiveLaughLove!” The feeling I’m talking about, is the one where you feel like you got hit by a truck. Your back hurts, your head hurts, your feet hurt, your eyes hurt. Your arms are sore. It’s like an actual hangover, with a lot less alcohol. I haven’t found a way to not feel like crap the next day, but there are ways to make it a little more bearable. Decompressing after a wedding is important. There are a LOT of feels and touches and talking on wedding day. So how do you decompress?
I walk into my house, barefoot (because the shoes come off in the car), and take my pants off. Yeah, I went there. It’s true though. I then try and drink a water or Gatorade and eat. Depending on the time I get home, I might also take a bath. And then I SLEEP HARD. I usually end up sleeping 12 hours the night after a wedding.
I asked a group of photographers what they do when they get home after a wedding. Here is what they said.
Sweats, messy bun, and wine
Tequila. Hands down.
Hot bath with one of those bath bombs, LOTS of water, Netflix, and comfort food.
Pants off, food, a drink, bath in that order.
Feed cats. Feed face. Pants off, Golf Channel on. Beer in. Stress out.
Drink lots of water and watch tv.
I take some magnesium, warm shower and relax a little with a cup of tea on the couch before bed.
What are your favorite ways to decompress after a wedding?
As videographers, we have a LOT of gear, which can be both a blessing and a curse. We have the ability to get a lot of incredible and creative shots all day long, but since tripods and other gear are big and cumbersome, it is essential to anticipate the action. Since Bobby and I specialize in wedding videography, that will be the focus in this article. However, a lot of these ideas can be used in commercial shoots, non profit work, and other events.
Talk to the couple in advance about their schedule & any “surprises.” One of our brides had prepared a special dance for the groom, so this was good for us to know about in advance. Another couple had planned fireworks, so once again, it was important for us to be one step ahead.
Have a schedule. For weddings we always tell our couples when we first meet, that we would like the wedding day schedule when it is finalized. Often times this is a week or two (or day or two) before the wedding day, which still leaves us plenty of time to review and make sure we have all the details. We make sure we have all of the addresses, and remind our couples that we will start during prep, to tell the story of the complete day.
Communicating with the planner, photographer and DJ. Those are the three people that will likely drive the day forward, so it is essential to be on the same page. For example, if you are going from the prep location to a new location for the first look, make sure the photographer knows you need a couple of moments to set up (and photographer…make sure to allow us that time). From there, it is important to make sure the planner knows you are there (as not all weddings have videographers), and that you will be there to capture the whole day. Once the reception is about to start, we check in with the DJ not only about audio, but also to touch base about the schedule. It is essential that we are one step ahead for big events such as the grand entrance, first dance or toasts. If we ever has a DJ who just starts toasts ahead of schedule, and doesn’t give us a heads up, we have a very stressful few seconds. However, even if the DJ forgets to tell us (and deviates from the schedule), it is still possible to be ready! This leads us to the next point….
Being aware, always listening & looking. If the DJ goes rogue and doesn’t give you a heads up for the first dance, if you are listening and looking, you will figure it out. Once they are about to make an announcement, they will likely check a schedule and pick up a mic, in which case, you can get there and be ready. We have also learned very important information during weddings days but just being super aware. Once we had a groom that was running very late due to a fire that had closed down the main road. The bridesmaids knew that the bride would get stressed if she found out, so we got on the same page as the bridesmaids by simply listening to them talk to each other (and then checking in with them to get the whole story). Another time we found out that the bride’s grandfather had recently died, so knew to be extra sensitive to that side of the family. A few years ago one of our couples had a family member who was deployed and had prepared a video for the couple. This was not officially on the schedule, but good to know so we could capture the reactions of the couple. Don’t expect someone to always come up to you to fill you in…be aware. And…
Being mobile & ready to move at any time. During prep, get there early and get set up. I generally start shooting on a monopod and Bobby starts with a wide angle on a slider or ronin.. That way, no matter what happens, one of us can capture the action. From there, one of us can easily follow the action in one direction, and the other can stay and capture what is happening in the prep room. If the father of the bride shows up and the moment is about to get emotional, it is key for one of us to easily be able to capture the reactions. We keep our cameras ready the entire day for anything to happen. Can you imagine if we both had our cameras in the corner and something important happened without warning? Be ready and be mobile.
Keep the bride in sight. I stay with the bride pretty much non stop (or at least keep an eye on her and am aware of what she is doing). Don’t worry, I do this in a way where she probably doesn’t realize I’m keeping tabs. I give her space! But this way, if someone appears and gives her a gift, I know and am able to capture it. If she is standing there and looking beautiful, I am able to capture it. Once the reception starts, no key events will happen without her, so if I know where she is, then I can anticipate what is about to happen. I am able to do this, because Bobby is always thinking about what is next and not only shooting but planning for the next thing.
Have 2 shooters. We absolutely love being able to capture the action from two angles, and being able to get set up for the next event. I am able to stay with the bride essentially for the whole day because Bobby is the one getting the audio setup for the ceremony and then reception. He is the one grabbing rad drone shots. He is the one moving gear from one location to the next, and getting additional cameras set up, or shooting time lapses. We know a videographer here in Minneapolis, John Hoel from Vibrant Films, who shoots solo and does absolutely incredible work! However, we have no idea how he does it all. I think he is a ninja 😉
In the end, it is essential to go with the flow, and if things don’t go according to plan, continue capturing the beautiful day. You may have a moment where you are internally freaking out, but take a deep breath, and make it happen. You are being invited into a couple’s story; don’t forget this is an absolute honor.
Most of us in this business have a mentor. I’m convinced that the woman who was my mentor was the best one out there. She started out as simply my wedding photographer when I hired her over 11 years ago. She became my teacher, my friend, eventually my colleague and always remained my go-to for advice and input on all things business and photography. I have gotten input from so many people of the years, but she was my only mentor. Despite being only a few months older than me, she had so much to offer. Tragically, at only a few years into her 30’s, she passed away just two days ago. In her honor, I’m sharing the top 4 things she taught me that absolutely shaped and changed me as a photographer and business owner.
- Find Your Tribe: Have you seen those threads on social media? The ones that start out with “So-and-So said they can’t believe I charge $___ for a 5×7! How do I explain to them why it’s worth this much!?” This usually is followed by a long (looooong) parade of photographers encouraging the OP (“original poster” if you’re not a this-facebook-group-thread-is-so-long-I-forgot-to-feed-my-kids-dinner veteran and you’re lost on that acronym…) to “educate” the client. I mean, we’ve seen the memes, right? The ones that breakdown the “real cost” of photography. The ones that breakdown mileage and hours and editing and the cost of insurance, the cost of education, the cost of gas…. (can you feel my eyes rolling?). Those things are all real. Very very real. And you should know your CODB (cost of doing business…. I’m all about the acronyms today I guess!) in order to set your pricing because most photographers are woefully undercharging. But here’s the thing. None of that means anything to the client that questioned your pricing. One of the best things that my mentor taught me was to let that kind of thing roll off my back. Because if you have to convince someone to pay for you, you’re already lost them. Don’t spend your time wording your website, your social media posts, your emails, your conversations with keyboard warriors defending what you do and what you charge. Spend your energy finding and connecting to your Tribe. The ones that get you already. The ones that understand your value without you ever having to explain. Those are the clients that will keep coming back, will evangelize their friends, will do all that explaining in a way you never could and actually be heard by the potential clients out there. And believe me, it’s a much more rewarding experience, both personally and financially. And they will be so much happier as your clients knowing that your energy, creativity, and efforts are dedicated to them. All the wins right there.
- Be Frugal: This seems like an odd thing (or maybe just a boring one) but it’s huge. I was brand new to the business (when I first started taking lessons with my mentor, I didn’t even know I’d be starting my own business yet!) and she counseled me to be very smart about my purchases, my investments, and to avoid credit like the plague. She offered guidance on investment purchases when needed or asked for, but constantly taught me to think about ROI (return on investment…more acronyms!). Did I want a fisheye lens? Sure. But would that be a smart buy for maybe a handful of images per wedding? NOPE (with a big ‘ol p-pop). Because of her guidance, I started (and kept) my business 100% debt free. I didn’t take out a line of credit, I bought everything for cash, and I kept my overhead low. And I have no doubt that is a big reason why I didn’t sink when business was slow or when I had to cut back on work load from time to time. Boring advice? Maybe. But HUGE. Be frugal people. Don’t buy it just because you like it. If I had done credit I might have some sweet lenses and a whole lotta ONA bags, but I wouldn’t be a more successful business. I’d just be in debt.
- Stay Timeless: When I look back at my wedding photos (over 10 years old now), one of the things I appreciate most about them is that they still look good. There’s no wacky editing, not strange colors/filters/angles/overlays/double-exposures/layouts…. It’s classic. It’s timeless. And other than my choice of dress and hair styles, it will stay that way. The photos will remain timeless because that is exactly the style she shot weddings with. Portraits were a source of artistic expression and a place to occasionally try out a trend, but weddings? No way. Timeless was always the goal. She taught me to see trends for exactly what they are – trends. And much like my poofy bangs in the 80’s, my Lisa Frank trapper keeper (holla!) and my everything-has-glitter makeup choices from the 90’s, trends have a way of becoming embarrassing later. Keep the bulk of your photography clean, classic, and straight ahead and watch it stand the test of time.
- Pay It Forward: This is quite possibly the biggest thing that my mentor taught me. She took me under her wing, with no hesitation (that I knew about anyway) and willingly shared with me everything she knew. She brought me on shoots. She helped me setup my own to test new techniques and get more guidance. She pointed me in the direction of places to learn the things she couldn’t personally teach me. She taught me to love not only learning about it all, but to help others as well. She taught me to not see other photographers – even the local ones – as competition, but as co-workers. She would laugh when talks of “stealing work” came up between catty photographers because she’d always point out that there’s PLENTY of work to go around. She never hesitated to refer people to me (she knew her tribe too!) and she believed that “a rising tide raises all ships”. Because of how she treated me, I promised myself that my business would always do the same for others. I have helped to teach or guide several photographers and photographer-hopefuls along the way this past decade and I have maintained a internship for several years. I operate an online forum for educating underwater photographers and I teach through my local photography meetup group when I can. I never became a “cards close to the vest” photographer because she taught me to be generous with my knowledge, just as she was with hers. Her legacy lives on in the work of so many photographers because of it. It’s a legacy I’m proud to be a part of.
Whether your find your mentoring here on Photography Awesomesauce, or you have a specific person you are able to go to, I hope you one day have the chance to pass on what you’re learning to someone else. This business can be brutal and working from home or running your own business can be lonely. Find your tribe, find your connections, find your colleagues, find your voice, and know that you are creating a legacy that you may never be fully aware of. I wish I had told my mentor more clearly just how much she meant to me. But I hope that my work will honor her investment in me.
Happy February, friends.