We are in the midst of the crazy in our 8th wedding season, and I thought it would be the perfect time to share some of my never-before-shared, best-kept secrets, advice and mindset shifts, when it comes to kicking ass at wedding photography. Most of these lessons I’ve either learned the hard way or wished that I had implemented them sooner, which is exactly why this type of stuff is my absolute FAVORITE stuff to share. Ready?
1. Energy Is Contagious
This is number one because I think it’s one of the MOST important things to remember as a wedding photographer, or really, for anyone in the service industry. If you’re a wedding photographer simply to just take pictures and move along, you’re in the wrong industry. We are in the PEOPLE industry, and what you emote is what you receive in return. Weddings are always filled with high levels of energy – at some points during the day the energy is stressful and tense, while other times, it’s energetic and full of anticipation. The minute you step foot into the venue, you MUST bring the same level of energy – positive and calm. It’s human nature to feed off energy, whether we realize it or not, and EVERYONE does it. You need to make sure that your level of energy and the “vibe” you bring is solid, calm and positive – no matter the situation you walk into. It can be SO easy to become manipulated by a stressful environment – zipper is broken, DJ doesn’t show up, officiant is no where to be found, tuxes don’t fit, flowers are totally wrong – just to name a few from this wedding season. Whatever the case may be, you can not let that throw you off your game. If you panic, it ONLY makes things worse. You have to remember that because you work in the wedding industry, people (wedding party, bride, parents etc.) automatically assume that “you’ve seen it all” and when you panic and change your energy, whether or not it’s the worst case scenario, or just a small hiccup, this instills MAJOR panic and distress for them, which is never a good thing. Above all else, things may be chaotic, but you must bring calm to the chaos. People WON’T recognize or appreciate your calm energy until after the crisis, big or small, but they WILL remember how you handled yourself during their time of need.
Controlling your energy is certainly a skill, which takes practice and intention. I’ve found that by creating a routine the day before and the day of a wedding helps me psych myself up and get myself into the correct state of mind. The day before a wedding, I meticulously pack all of my gear, lay out my clothes and get every single thing ready for the next day. Then, the day of, I get up a little early and spot clean my house. Random? Yes, but it puts any nerves or uncertainties at ease and gets me into a positive mindset, prepped and ready for the day ahead. Of course, some people may feel like cleaning adds MORE stress, so this routine or mindset shift will look different for everyone. Determine what gears you up and do it over and over again.
2. Be A Leader
Can I get an AMEN!? This is SOOO so so important when it comes to being a stellar wedding photographer. Being a leader and taking control of wedding days (photo related or not) is CRUCIAL in setting you apart from the rest. This is one area that is all-encompassing and the foundation of CFP, and certainly goes hand-in-hand with number 1 on this list. Being a leader on a wedding day can be difficult, especially if you’re new to the wedding world, because there are A LOT of moving parts. But, this also means that there are A LOT of opportunities to learn, to serve and to be an unexpected blessing on a wedding day. I can not tell you HOW many random tasks I have preformed at weddings that were not “in my job description”, simply because there was a need and I chose to fill it, regardless of my prior experience or capabilities. On wedding days, people want a leader. They want someone to take control and to essentially, tell them what to do. Why do you think wedding planners are a thing? Things can get way off track very quickly at weddings, and it’s important that someone steps up and, kindly but affirmatively, steers the ship.
I hear many photographers say that they’re afraid that they’ll come off as being “bossy” or come off as controlling, but seriously, believe me when I say that YOU will be able to perform your job better if you aren’t afraid to step up and provide solid and clear direction and guidance. This is certainly a skill and the more you practice and put it into the motion, the more confident and comfortable you’ll become. And really, after a while, it does become second nature. Being a leader on a wedding day comes in MANY different forms, and often changes from each wedding to the next, and sometimes, like I mentioned, it comes in the form of solving problems that really, are not “your” problem. Work above your pay grade. ALWAYS. I hammer this mantra to the members at CFP season after season and I will tell you, our ability and willingness to be a blessing in all forms on a wedding day, is JUST as important and crucial as the images we deliver. Again, we are not in the photo business – we are in the PEOPLE industry. To wrap up this point, I’ll leave you with this: people are going to love your photos, they will share, post and rave over them. But what people are really going to talk about with their friends, family and your potential future clients, is how you TREATED them and how you made them FEEL. It’s all of the extra small stuff that doesn’t seem like a big deal in the moment – that’s what your clients will remember and THOSE are the things that will land you your next paying client.
3. Be Confident In Your Abilities
Remember that people hire you because they deem you as an “expert” in your field, or at the very least, the most knowledgable person in photography to be at the wedding. REST ON THAT! You know MORE about photography that anyone else in the room, no matter if this is your first wedding or your 100th wedding. A wedding day is not the time to be indecisive, unsure or wavering in your abilities and capabilities. You know that the photos will look best in the shade vs. out in the blinding sunlight next to the sparkling water, like overbearing Aunt Tammy suggested. Thank Aunt Tammy for her suggestion and simply state that your intention for shooting in the shade is to avoid squinty eyes or uneven shadows on faces, but maybe later on when the sun goes down, you’ll bring the bride and groom out to her suggested spot. And then resume your group photos in the shade, because as a photographer YOU KNOW what’s best. Do not waver your decision on what YOU do best, simply to avoid potentially offending Aunt Tammy. This is all part of doing your job, and really, the bride and groom don’t want squinty-eyed photos, no matter how beautiful and sparkly the water looks in the background.
I KNOW this is so much easier said than done. Believe me, there are times during wedding days that I still feel like it’s my first day on the job. But rest assure, this is ENTIRELY a mindset thing. You must have confidence in yourself because believe me, EVERYONE ELSE at the wedding has confidence in you, or else, they wouldn’t have hired you in the first place!!
I hear about the idea of “fake it till you make it” all the time, and honestly, I’m not sure if I totally buy into this. I believe in showing up, no matter what stage of business you’re in, giving it your DAMN BEST (which is certainly, NOT faking it) and then LEARNING from your success or downfalls EQUALLY. “Making it” is subjective. 5 years ago, if I were to look into the future to where my business is now, I would have said that I have now “made it.” But! Right now, there are STILL things that I am striving for and want to improve. Sure, I’m damn proud of where I am now, but that doesn’t mean that I’ll ever stop working for more. Whatever stage of business you’re in at this point, be PROUD of yourself. You’re doing something that MOST people can’t or are too afraid to try. Know that you’ve got what it takes and that you are certainly kicking ass.
4. Eyes On You
As a wedding photographer, you’ll find yourself in relatively close proximity to the wedding party throughout the entire day. Which also means that considering you’re not in a bridesmaids dress or a groomsmen tux, you’re going to be noticed because wedding guests are mostly always paying attention to the bride & groom and wedding party, so you’re going to stick out a little. Even though wedding guests can be easy to “forget” about on a wedding day, they certainly don’t “forget” or fail to notice you. Obviously your main focus for the day is capturing the bride and groom and the occurrences throughout the day, but remember that how you interact and treat others around you is always on display, and can potentially “make or break” your next potential client’s decision on whether or not they’d like more information on your services.
5. Kindness Always Matters
This one definitely goes hand-in-hand with number 4 on this list, but remember that above all else, kindness matters. Obviously, it goes without saying that you’re going to treat the bride and groom well, but don’t forget about the annoying wedding planner who has been up your ass all day. Don’t forget the tipsy girl in the bathroom who hogged the last of the paper towels, don’t forget about the DJ who is trying to rush the bouquet toss while you’re changing batteries. Be kind to EVERYONE because what you give is often what you receive. Sure, there are times when I get SUPER annoyed with people at weddings, but it’s all about how you react and handle it. It’s all about energy, remember? Kindness can be shown in many different forms on a wedding day, all equally as important as the next. Aside from the fact that being kind is important in being a decent human being, in the photography business, you never know where or from whom your next referral is coming from – the caterer, a bridesmaid, the valet parking attendant, and small act of kindness, patience or integrity are always noted.
6. Prepare For Worst-Case Scenario
Ah, yes. What can go wrong, will definitely go wrong at some point or another. That’s just life, but instead of stressing over the possibility of a fuck-up, better to prepare for and prevent them. I feel like Dora The Explorer when I show up on wedding days. I have anything and everything you could possibly imagine stored in my camera bag, for those “just in case” moments. Bring extras and spares of anything you possibly can. Most importantly: batteries, SD cards, lenses and if possible, a spare camera body. Technology is wonderful, but it does fail. Shit happens for no apparent reason, and I hate to say it, but that is the nature of our business. Investing in extras is CRUCIAL and is NEVER a waste of money. Remember, for the couple who has hired you for this one-day event that can not be re-done, they are investing in you and expect you to be as prepared and invested as they are. Don’t ever take that lightly. Be as prepared and preventative as possible, but realize that sometimes things happen that are totally out of your control. it’s okay and it’s not the end of your career. Don’t let this be a lesson that you learn the hard way – prepare for worst case scenario and rock on.
7. Tag & Share The Shit Out Of EVERYTHING
This is the EASIEST, and CHEAPEST form of online marketing, and yet, this is also the most COMMON area that I see other photographers LACKING in!! I know that the whole algorithm thing freaks a lot of people out and can feel super defeating, which is why I choose to focus my “online strategy” more on relationships and connections versus ideal posting times and hashtags. Personally, I am SO lazy when it comes to hashtags and I rarely use them. I DO believe that they add value and can definitely get your work out there to the digital world, but what I choose to focus most of my energy on is tagging and sharing on social media. Tagging and sharing allows us to push our work out there to the people who are more likely to actually give a shit about it, and who are more likely to become our next client. I will tell you, I have never booked a client who said “I searched #weddingphotographer and saw your post, I’d like to hire you!” No, it’s definitely more along the lines of “Hey, I saw that you photographed my best friend’s cousin’s wedding and I’d like to hire you!” Sure, you can certainly be more intentional and specific with hashtags, but personally, I’ve found that reaching people organically through tags and sharing of people they actually know is MUCH more effective, real and genuine. Facebook knows the people and posts that we care about, so no matter what time I post a wedding preview and tag the bride and groom & wedding party, my post is going to show up on the newsfeed of people who interact with and care about posts related to the people tagged, no matter what. BOOM! There’s my never-before shared algorithm hack!!
The second half of this point is that ALL and ANY type of wedding vendor works super hard on each wedding, and sometimes their work isn’t always showcased after the wedding day is done. Wedding photographers/videographers are the ONLY vendor who’s work is seen and appreciated AFTER the wedding day is done. When you tag vendors, you’re putting their work in front of your online audience and they will likely share your post, which in turn, gets YOUR work in front of THEIR online audience. It’s a “you scratch my back, i’ll scratch yours” sort of thing, which benefits everyone. Getting seen digitally is what we all want, right? So instead of chasing hashtags and setting auto-posts for the ideal “8:30pm Sunday night” posting time, focus on the actual, real-life people behind the facebook accounts.
Wow! That was a lot, but I hope that some of these ideas resonate with you, and that you start to implement some of these mindset shifts into your own business. I promise, they are all worth the work and they definitely pay off. These ideas are ones that I believe in whole-heartedly and I’m thrilled to have been able to share them with you!