A Day in the life of a wedding photographer
I thought this might be interesting for aspiring wedding photographers, and for my clients, to see what goes into a typical wedding. I’ll put in rough timings but of course the timings of a wedding vary wildly so these are just typically average times.
8-10PM the day before.
The day actually starts the night before. I’ll often have to leave pretty early as some of my weddings are 2-3 hours drive away. I also need to leave 1-2 hours spare for things like flat tyres/breakdowns/bad traffic on the way. There are no good excuses for arriving late to photograph a wedding ( other than death! ). So the night before I’ll spend a couple of hours going through the plan for the day, checking equipment and packing it all up so that I can leave quickly in the morning. I’ll also make sure everything is charged up, memory cards are cleared down and lenses are clean. Then I’ll attempt to get a reasonably early night!
6AM: Leave home
I leave early in order to get to the venue an hour before bridal prep begins. Generally this will be 9-10am in the morning. Bridal prep can start very early if there is a large bridal party in need of hair and makeup. This varies massively between weddings, I’ve shot weddings where bridal prep has been an hour, to 5 hours for one wedding this year. I always like to arrive at the venue early to have a look around. Even if I’ve been there before, things can change ( i.e. building work ), so I don’t want any nasty surprises later in the day when I don’t have much time.
Also by this time I’ll have had a large breakfast. I usually find a Toby Carvery near the venue so that I can have a big feed before I get to work. The rationale behind this is that very often I’ll not get the chance to eat before 5pm. Even if I’m being fed at the wedding breakfast I’ll be the last one to eat, and during the day I don’t want to stop to eat lunch in case I miss an important moment. Those moments are bread and butter for documentary wedding photographers, it’s what we live for!). I also like to arrive at least an hour early as sometimes parking can be a problem if the bridal prep venue is in a city.
For a documentary wedding photographer this is an important part of the story of the day. This is one of my favourite parts of the wedding, as everyone is excited, there is usually a good bit of banter flying around and it’s a relatively calm part of the day for me. I get to ease into the wedding and everyone gets used to me being around. I usually have a bit of a chat with them all before even getting the camera out, I don’t want them to feel like they have paparazzi in the room by running in and immediately starting to shoot stuff. Every bridal prep is different, I often see letters from the groom and other family members being read by the bride, although not often with the effect it had on Ali!
OK so things start getting hectic now. I’ll leave bridal prep and go and meet the groom at the ceremony. Usually this involves getting in the car and driving somewhere. In the meantime, my second shooter will have been capturing groom prep. If I don’t have a second shooter I’ll leave bridal prep a bit earlier to go and do it. The grooms party generally don’t want a huge amount of time spent with them by the photographer anyway. I then meet the people officiating the ceremony and establish what the ground rules are. I will have asked the couple to do this anyway, but on the day I need to double check if there is anywhere I need to stand. I’ll then shoot some candid shots of guests arriving, capture the bride arriving, and then get in position inside the room or church where the ceremony is going to be.
If the ceremony is in the same venue as bridal prep it makes it easier to get shots like the one above of Ali and her son going to the ceremony, but I will have asked for a timeline ahead of the wedding so I’ll know wether this is possible.
1.30PM THE WEDDING CEREMONY
This is the sweaty palms ( did you think I was going to say something else? ) time for me, and for everyone else to be honest. We are all hoping everything goes smoothly. I’m nervous because there are shots coming up I absolutely have to get right. My camera will be on silent shooting mode at this point so I don’t disturb the ceremony, I’m trying to be as unobtrusive as possible for this bit, in fact sometimes I won’t be allowed to take photos at all, and that’s fine, I’ll go along with the rules set by whoever is running the ceremony. I’ll have established at this point if there will be confetti afterwards, and instructed the ushers not to let anyone throw any until I’m ready. Then I go about documenting the ceremony and capturing all those moments that occur.
This is where we need our fancy, expensive gear. Ceremony rooms are often very dark, and iphones and cheap cameras just won’t cut it in these situations. You are often not allowed to use flash, and if you did, then it would look terrible unless you really know how to balance your flash with the ambient light. Or there will be a very stark difference between the light outside and inside, like with the photo above this one where Ali is arriving with her son in bright sunlight and then about to enter a much darker room. I can meter for that, a phone camera can also but its much harder to get right and you don’t have very long to do it.
2.30PM After the Wedding Ceremony
Everyone breathes a sigh of relief assuming all went well. I’ll be happy that I’ve got my shots, but I can’t relax, as some of the best moments of the day happen at this point, as everyone goes to congratulate the happy couple. I need to document those moments and not get trapped in the Church behind a long queue of people trying to get out and find the nearest toilet because they went to the pub for a sneaky pint before the ceremony!
2.45 PM – CONFETTI!!
I must admit, I love confetti shots, although they can be very tricky to shoot, as the camera must focus on the faces rather than all that distracting confetti. This is one of the few parts of the day when I will make myself heard and organise things. If you don’t do that then people will throw it randomly at random times and you will end up picking it up off the floor and attempting to reshoot it ( yes, that has happened to me, but only once!!).
3PM – Drinks Reception
The day doesn’t always follow this pattern, but often there is a time after the ceremony to relax and have a drink and a snack. When I first started doing weddings the bride and groom would often want the group shots right after the ceremony. Experience has taught me to avoid this scenario for two reasons. Firstly, everyone is much happier about an hour later having been fed and watered after a potentially long ceremony, secondly, the light is generally a lot kinder later in the afternoon.
There is a sweet spot to doing the group shots/formals, leave it too long and everyone will be too much into party mode to want to bother, but do it too soon and they will be desperate to get to the bar…! So, I usually shoot candid shots for a bit then start to organise the formal/group shots. I’m not really a formal/group shot photographer, I’d be happier to just shoot candidly throughout the day, but I do recognise their importance and if the couple wants these shots then I will do them to the best of my ability.
4.45 PM – Wedding Breakfast – the entrance!
At this point everyone goes into where the meal is being held and sits down, then they stand up again as the bride and groom enter the room. This can be a really tricky shot to get, as people will tend to get in your way, but its often also a great moment. Once they are seated, the meal begins and at this point I down tools for an hour and feed myself, or get fed if the couple have arranged for a meal for me.
By this point I’ll have been on the go for 9 hours on average, sometimes longer, so I will need a break. You do start to feel a bit weary at this point, and everyone else is getting quite merry usually but as the photographer you need to stay sober and stay alert. I generally don’t take photos aside from the bride and groom entering the room and the speeches, as people eating doesn’t make for a great shot, but I will photograph the room, the decorations and the food.
6PM – The Speeches!
Hopefully I’ll have managed to grab something to eat by this point, as otherwise energy levels will be flagging! Speeches are a lot of fun, and if I have a second shooter here it is a real advantage, as I normally ask them to get the reactions of the audience while I focus ( literally ) on the speakers. Although many people go with the traditional set up, I’ve seen all sorts of variations, from brides rapping, to videos by the couple’s parents. The rules are there to be broken, the only one I’d suggest sticking to is, don’t let them go on for too long!
8PM:Cake cutting and first dance
These two normally go hand in hand, although of course, that rule can also be broken. For the cake cutting I’ll normally need to pick my spot carefully, and then get my shot done and let everyone go nuts with their mobiles. The first dance can be the hardest part of the day to capture properly, so I’ll have scoped out the room before hand and planned how best to do this. Sometimes I’ll set up lights in corners of the rooms, being careful to keep them out of the way as I don’t want running kids tripping over them ( I don’t want to test out my public liability insurance thank you! ). Sometimes I’ll just stick a flash on top of the camera and bounce it off the ceiling if it’s white.
I usually also find this is the part of the day my second shooters really struggle to get great images, these are the hardest shots to get right. The main reason for this is quality of light, which is generally quite poor by this time of day, and then the DJ may be using coloured lights ( red is the worst ). Sometimes you can’t use flash, in which case I’ll have constant lights I can set up.
After I’ve captured the first dance, I then wait around for other people to come on to the dance floor, as I like to get shots of the guests having fun. Sometimes this can mean waiting quite a long time, as people in the UK tend to need a few drinks before getting stuck into the dancing! Even though I’ll be really tired, hot and sweaty by this point, this is one of my favourite times as you often get some of the most unscripted shots of the day here, and candid wedding photography is my whole reason for doing this.
10-11PM – Drive Home and then backup photos
So I may b e going back to a hotel if I’m more than a couple of hours drive away, or I may be going home, but either way, the first thing I do when I get back is to back up the photos. This will take a couple of hours to do properly, and I may have had time to partly do this during the day, but it is my number one priority. There are plenty of horror stories on the internet of wedding photographers losing photos. I never take risks with this part, no matter how tired I am.
The next day I’ll move my backups to a different physical location and will also back up files to the cloud or dropbox. It’s not so bad, I’ll usually freshen up, grab a beer and look through the photos while I do this, then finally get to bed around 1-2AM.
It will then take another day to edit the photos, get the album designed and tweak it to the couple’s taste. On average I’d say it takes 30-40 hours effort for each wedding.
So there you go, my typical wedding day! I hope you found the article interesting!