A Day in the life of a wedding photographer

Some wild dance moves at Antsy Hall

I thought this might be interesting for anyone interested in becoming a wedding photographer, 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.

Worthing pier at the crack of dawn – just before I head off to the wedding venue!

 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.

10AM:Bridal prep.

Bridal Prep at Selden Barns near Brighton
This is what a fun bridal prep session looks like!

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!


1PM: PRE-CEREMONY

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 wedding 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.

Bay Tree Hotel wedding – Ali and her son

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 and this is why you need a professional wedding photographer ( well, its not all about the 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!!).  

Confetti run!

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.

rockwell-Farm-Summer-Wedding - drinks reception

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!

Dunchurch-Park-Hotel-Wedding
The speeches!

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.

Cake cutting – it’s not as easy as it looks

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 being a candid wedding photographer is my whole reason for doing this. 

Crockwell Farm summer wedding – the dancing

10-11PM – Drive Home and then backup photos

So I may be 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.

Conclusion and useful links

So there you go, my typical wedding day!  I hope you found the article interesting! If you are looking for wedding suppliers for your wedding I’d start with a site like https://www.hitched.co.uk/, although I’d also recommend reaching out to your friends for recommendations. Nothing beats a good referral when it comes wedding suppliers!

If you would like to contact me about being your wedding photographer please use this form…http://www.croshawphotography.com/contact/

Thanks for reading!

Mike

Why are wedding photography prices so high?

I get this question quite a lot, and I believe it is important to explain the value of good wedding photography, as well as the reason it costs what it does.  I’m talking about the average price for wedding photography here, which in the UK is between £1200-1400 for mid range weddings.  So I’m going to talk about the value of wedding photography first and then go into the costs.  It should be noted that compared to the US, where wedding photographers charge $5000 routinely for mid range weddings in some areas, the UK is actually pretty cheap.

It’s a family thing

Your wedding photography is not just for you.  Think about your parent’s wedding photos, or your grandparent’s wedding photos, and the value they hold.  They are priceless, especially when the people in them are gone. I don’t want to be morbid about this, but there have been numerous occasions when wedding clients have said to me, sometimes years after their wedding, that I captured some of their favourite photos of people who are no longer around.  For your children and grandchildren, these photos may mean even more than they do to you, so yeah, wedding photography is important.  Your wedding is one of the few occasions in your life when almost all your nearest and dearest, both friends and family, are in one place, and its important to capture those moments when everyone is together and ( hopefully ) having a great time.

Think about what will last….

After the big day, the flowers will eventually wilt, and the food will have been eaten, the drink will almost certainly have all been drunk!  All you will have left is each other, the rings, and the memories of one of the best days of your life.  Good wedding photography will transport you back to that day, and really good wedding photography will show you moments you may have missed because you were so busy being, well, married.

It’s not as easy as it looks

Good wedding photography is not always easy.  The pros will make it look easy, but it really isn’t.  Sure, you may get lucky and have beautiful weather, well behaved guests who love being in group photos, and a spectacular venue. However, that doesn’t always work out the way you think it will and it can be very challenging to get decent photos on the day.  A pro will get the photos no matter what happens. An amateur on the other hand, or your best mate who happens to have a DSLR, will need a good slice of luck to come out the other side with some decent shots.

Let your nearest and dearest enjoy the day and leave the camera at home

So why not get your niece or uncle with the nice camera to take your wedding photos?  That may work out if they are skilled and have done a wedding before, but don’t you want them to enjoy the day?  If they are doing wedding photography properly on the day they will be working all day, with barely time to eat, so no, they won’t be enjoying the day in the same way as a guest.  It’s a lot to ask, and there are numerous stories out there of friends or relatives who felt pressured to photograph a wedding and as a result had a horrible time, or at best just didn’t get to be a proper guest and enjoy the day.  I’d never ask one of my friends or relatives to do it, when the time comes for my kids to get married ( a long way off just yet! ) I’ll be budgeting for a pro to photograph it ( they’d better be awesome if they are going to make me look good!).

So why is wedding photography so expensive?

It’s not really that expensive when you think about what you are getting and all that goes into it.  An average wedding takes about 30 hours of the photographer’s time.  It’s not a case of rocking up on the day and taking a few snapshots.  There are timelines to plan, wedding contracts to send out, pre-wedding meetings to attend with the couple and then there is the editing , which can take as long as the wedding day.  For an average wedding I will have between 3500 and 5000 photos to go through.  Then they will need cropping, colour grading, and delivering to the client.  After which there will probably be an album to design. 

Practice makes perfect

There is a lot of training to go through to become a good wedding photographer.  Your wedding photographer will have spent hundreds of hours learning their trade, including things you may not even see them do on the day, such as using flashes or other lighting equipment when the natural light is not good enough.  Before I was the main shooter for my first wedding I’d second shot at 10 other weddings to make sure I knew what I knew what I was doing.

It’s not about the gear..except when it is

Wedding photography gear is expensive, I mean really expensive.  An entry level camera and lens just will not cut it, unless conditions are close to perfect ( lots of lovely natural light, no rain, bright venues ).   Your gear needs to be able to operate in all kinds of conditions and enable you to get the shot when the light is terrible, it’s raining, and there are awful LED lights from the venue making everyone look like Shrek.  And for each bit of expensive equipment you will need a backup, because on the day you can’t afford for your camera to go wrong and not have a backup handy. You then need insurance for all that expensive equipment and that is not cheap.  You also need public liability insurance to operate in most venues.  As a result photographers operating at the cheaper end of the market may well cut corners on some of these things. Can you afford for them to do that if it means they can’t get the photos you want? 

Conclusion:

The recommended amount to spend on wedding photography is around 10% of your budget, though of course if you want a particular photographer you may need to spend a lot more than that.  While every wedding vendor adds a tremendous amount of value to your day, it’s important to be able to capture the memories of all those things, so don’t cheap out on your wedding photography, you will regret it if you do!

Documentary Wedding Photography – the gear that I use

This will probably only be of interest to other photographers interested in the kind of gear needed to photograph a wedding in the always sunny UK..but it might interest a few of my wedding clients as well, who knows!  I’ll start with the cameras, my main camera is a Sony A9.  Please note this gear set was put together for documentary wedding photography, so the whole point is to be unobtrusive and for the couples to not really notice me being there. For that reason, the main camera I use is this one…. 

https://www.sony.co.uk/electronics/interchangeable-lens-cameras/ilce-9

This camera, in my opinion, is the best wedding camera in the world at the moment.  It is completely silent, has amazing low light performance and best in class autofocus.  It also has a very deep buffer.  I’ve used other cameras where I’ve filled the buffer when shooting certain parts of the day, namely confetti shots and the bride walking up the aisle.  That just doesn’t happen with the A9.  It also has eye AF, which means it can pick the eyes out on someone’s face and use that to track them, very useful for confetti shots like this one.  Even though Sam’s eyes were sometimes closed the A9 tracked her all the way through this confetti run.  Battery life is also much better than most other mirrorless cameras.  For weddings the A9 is paired with the Sony Zeiss 35mm 1.4, which is a fantastic lens and I use it for around 70% of the day ( I prefer primes to zooms in general ).   It’s a great low light lens and I love the 35mm focal length, I also find it to be very fast to focus but most of all its the look of the images I get from this lens that I love.

https://www.sony.co.uk/electronics/camera-lenses/sel35f14z


My second camera for weddings is the Sony A7R3.

https://www.sony.co.uk/electronics/interchangeable-lens-cameras/ilce-7rm3

Some people may wonder why I use the A7R3 rather than the cheaper A73.  Well, the A73 was not out when I bought the R3, and I also wanted one high megapixel camera for my commercial work.  I also use it when I shoot fashion and portraits, which I do quite a bit of, and occasionally I also shoot landscapes and wildlife just for fun, and all that resolution can come in handy.  The dynamic range is also better than on the A9 so if I think I will need that range I can always switch to this camera. 

I do also find that for big group shots it is nice to have a very high res image in case the couple want to print it big or I need to crop in for any reason.  It’s not as quick as the A9, but its no slouch and the AF is still very good indeed.  I pair this with the 85mm 1.4 GM lens which is superb for portraits and if I want to keep my distance.

https://www.sony.co.uk/electronics/camera-lenses/sel85f14gm

The 85 1.8 from Sony is also a great lens and not so big and heavy as this one, if I could afford both I’d probably just used the 1.8 for weddings, but I can’t justify having both.   The 1.4 does, like the 35mm, have a certain look to the images that I really love.

The other two lenses I have in the bag are the 70-200 f2.8 GM from Sony and the 28mm f2 from Sony.

https://www.sony.co.uk/electronics/camera-lenses/sel70200gm

This thing is big, heavy and very expensive, but it’s sometimes absolutely essential for weddings.  There have been weddings where I’m only allowed to stand at the back of the church for example, and then I need this zoom.  There was also a wedding last year where the bride and her dad walked down a long slope to get to the outdoors ceremony, and the zoom came in very handy then.  It’s superbly sharp and renders the background beautifully.  I also use it to shoot sports, and its a very fast to focus lens.  But it is heavy, so it doesn’t get used at every wedding ( I know some wedding photographers use this lens all the time for weddings )


Those are the main bits of gear but of course there are a few other lenses that are more situational, and one more camera, the Fuji XT-3.  

http://www.fujifilm.com/products/digital_cameras/x/fujifilm_x_t3/

This is my main backup camera and I have two lenses for it, a 35mm f2 and the amazing 16mm 1.4.  This latter lens I use for close ups and wide shots, as it is a lens that can focus very closely to an object and act as a sort of macro lens, but with more context.  It’s great for wedding details.  I also use the Fuji for family photography ( my family, not other people’s! ), which is very important to me. It’s a bit more fun to use than the Sonys, but still a very serious bit of kit.

Obviously I have loads of spare batteries and memory cards to go with all these cameras, but I won’t list them here.  I tend to use memory cards with a very high write speed as the A9 writes a lot of images, and the A7R3 writes very large images, so they both need very good memory cards, which, as you would expect, are not cheap!

Now, onto the lighting!  Some people may claim to be natural light photographers and not to need flash, but in my experience that usually means they don’t know how to use it.  I have gone through many flash systems over the years in an attempt to find one that works for me, and I’ve finally settled on the Godox system.  It’s relatively cheap, and the flashes mostly use lithium batteries which last all day, so I don’t have to charge up 30 AA batteries before a wedding anymore.  For speedlights I use two of these…

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Godox-V860II-S-Battery-Camera-Speedlite/dp/B01EJBAU6Y

They last all day and are great either on or off camera, providing TTL and HSS should I need them, although I mostly shoot flash manually as I prefer to have more control over the light.  I have a couple of wireless triggers for these, and an AD200, for bigger venues and for when I want to use off camera flash ( generally the dancing ).

I also have a Westcott Icelight in the bag, as there have been a few weddings where someone with epilepsy has asked for no flash to be used ( that never seems to stop people using their phones with flashes though!! ).  This was shot with an Icelight outside in the snow last year…I love this thing, it’s like a mini lightsaber!


I have some more heavy duty lighting, both continuous and flash, for when I need to light group shots indoors.  Luckily that has not happened much recently, but if it is needed, it’s there ( those lights usually stay in the car ).    I’m sure I’ve missed a few things out, like tripods and monopods, but I don’t use them very much.  I hope some of you found this interesting, all this gear has been put together over many years, gradually evolving until it’s now at a state where I don’t need anything else, and feel quite confident going into any wedding scenario that it won’t be my gear letting me down!