My First (paid) Wedding Photo Shoot


Photography: Gil Plaquet

There are few moments more exciting, more thrilling and more satisfying than your first paid photo shoot. And if that first shoot is a wedding, there are also few moments more nerve-wracking. A couple have hired you to document the most important day of their lives. They’ve trusted you to produce the pictures that will spark their memories, record their celebrations and which they’ll show their children and grandchildren in the years to come.

Get a portrait shoot wrong and the client will go to another photographer. Get a wedding shoot wrong and there are no second chances. The couple will have nothing but poor shots to remember their day – and nothing but word-of-mouth criticism to offer other couples instead of positive recommendations.

And wedding shoots aren’t easy. They can last for hours, require the co-operation of dancing, boozy guests and demand lots of preparation and plenty of post-production. But they are the bread and butter of many photography businesses and for good reason. While retail firms may cut back on their product photography and magazines can reduce their budget for editorial images, people will always get married. And they’ll always be willing to splash out when they do.

My Mother’s Friend’s Wedding

Winning that first job though is perhaps the hardest part. Without a portfolio of shots to show a client, persuading a couple that you have the temperament to handle the pressure and the skills to create the photos isn’t easy. Many photographers, in fact, begin by shooting for friends or family, people who already know and trust them.

Gil Plaquet, a journalism student who usually shoots for StampMedia and occasionally for local Belgian newspaper Gazet Van Antwerpen, recently completed his first wedding shoot. He picked up the job through family connections.

“They were friends of my mom’s who knew about my photography and wondered if I wanted to document their very special day for them,” he told us. “I was honored to do so, met up with them, showed them my portfolio and discussed pricing and the itinerary with them.”

To fix the prices Gil contacted a friend who had done wedding shoots in the past and followed his rates, lowering them a little because it was his first job. He also managed to upsell the clients an interactive DVD and a dedicated website to show off their images. Other photographers though have been known to shoot their first job for free in return for the portfolio. Joanna LeMasters, for example, shot her first wedding in December 2008 as a wedding gift to a former colleague. The couple agreed that she would use the photos in her portfolio and they would link and credit each photo to her.

Although she didn’t regret that choice, it took Joanna about half an hour after arriving at the church to decide that the work and planning involved in wedding photography meant that this would be the last time she shot for a gift.

Guests Placed My Posed Photos Online in a Day

When it came to the shoot itself, Joanna did have the advantage of having assisted her father, a professional photographer, at wedding jobs in the past. Gil, despite also coming from a family of photographers, hadn’t even attended a wedding for a number of years. Both were surprised at the co-operation they received from guests. People were generally willing to do as they were asked, Joanna found, and even the minister asked her how the wedding was going to go and when she wanted him for the shoot. The only trouble came when she chose to take the posed photos of the wedding party immediately after the ceremony.

“The subjects were very willing to obey. The guests who remained inside the church caused some problems though,” she recalled. “The groom and bride asked them more than once to quiet down and stop taking pictures. Still, some of my posed photos showed up on the Internet less than 24 hours after the wedding via the other guests’ cameras.”

Joanna can probably put that down to experience and now recommends that photographers get the posing and special requests out of the way as early as possible while there’s still light and before the celebrations begin. She also suggests using a flash for everything to save on post-production, taking multiple shots whenever possible, and above all, remembering that you’re the photographer, not a guest. While that means you have to wolf down the food quickly at the reception — a good opportunity, she discovered, for candid shots — it does provide a little leeway to be pushier than others. You can interrupt the couple to ask them to pose, suggest that subjects adjust their hair and clothes before you shoot and stand with your back to other guests as they take their own pictures. Gil too discovered the value of discussing the itinerary with the couple before the shoot, knowing exactly what they expect, and making sure that you’re properly equipped with enough batteries to get you through the day and either a versatile lens or multiple cameras. The practice at shooting portraits and documenting events was useful, he noted, and of course, the extra money was certainly helpful too.

Despite the difficulties, both Gil and Joanna indicated that they did have a good time shooting their first wedding and would want to do it again the future. And having done it once, winning the second job should be a lot easier too.

“All in all, I enjoyed the experience,” said Joanna. “Giving them the finished product and reading/hearing compliments on your work is very rewarding. The nice thing about shooting a wedding is that there are often quite a few friends of the happy couple who will soon be getting married themselves.”

3 comments for this post.

  1. Raymond Siu Said:

    My first paid job was for a friend's band, and I had such a blast. Will I ever want to shoot a wedding? Definitely, but I want to get more experience and a bit better gear first.

  2. Dave Z. Said:

    It true, "There are few moments more exciting, more thrilling and more satisfying than your first paid photo shoot."

    I remember mine as if it were yesterday. I had a lot of fun (even though I was sweating bullets). But in the end, like you, I delivered and the bride and groom loved their images. Congrats.


  3. Jay Studio Photography Said:

    definitely agree with you. CONGRATS! it's only the beginning of many more wonderful gigs to come. 🙂

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