Okay, ready to cringe with me? I’m taking a hard look at some of the biggest mistakes I made nearly 10 years ago when I was hired to shoot my very first wedding. Let’s get right to it, when I opened the email and read that someone was actually inquiring about their upcoming wedding, I was immediately like no, absolutely not, NO WAY IN HELL am I qualified to shoot someone’s wedding. I remember it pretty vividly, I was sitting on my couch in my apartment and pretty astonished that someone even thought I was capable of such a thing. I was actually just scouring my inbox trying to find the email correspondence, but to no avail. Anyway, a few days later, I decided I should probably reply since these people were nice enough to even consider me in the first place. I remember debating whether or not I should tell them that I hadn’t ever photographed a wedding before and I had only been driving past 9pm without an adult for like, maybe a year. I remember they had asked about my availability and pricing, and sinceI had 0.0 things on my calendar, I was free….but I was totally braindead when it came to knowing how much I should charge. For whatever reason, $300 sounded good enough to me. If I remember correctly, I did in fact tell them that I didn’t have any wedding experience because quite frankly, I thought that alone would scare them away and let me off the hook, and if that didn’t work, then SURELY charging $300 would send them into a tizzy and out of my inbox. Uh, no. Neither scared them off and before I knew it, I was in a full blown panic attack because I had actually agreed to photograph somebody’s wedding.
So what did I do? I turned to Pinterest of course! I have since created a new Pinterest account, but I WISH that I could still access the inspo board I created back then in hopes of hyping myself up to create something half as magical as the shit that I had pinned. I don’t think this was a mistake, and quite frankly, I think this is probably something I would do today to start to get the creative juices flowing.
However, what WAS a mistake, is that I failed to do my research on what all needed to be photographed and the order of wedding events. The last wedding that I had attended was when I was 4 and a flower girl in my aunt’s wedding. Yeah, seriously. I had NO IDEA what a timeline was or what was actually happening during a wedding. Sure, I had PLENTY of pinned ideas on how to pose the bride and groom together, but I had no idea that I needed to do detail shots, or photograph the guys getting ready or anything like that. I also failed to set up a meeting or FaceTime with the couple before the wedding. All of our correspondence was via email and I’m assuming, very direct and lacked any sort of personality or bedside manner. I put 0.0 effort in getting to know them or connect with them prior to the wedding, and I let myself remain a stranger until their biggest and most important day of their lives. Ugh, cringe-fest. I also failed to gain any further information about the wedding itself, for example, I didn’t know that the wedding party had like 12 members on each side. I don’t remember exactly how many bridesmaids and groomsmen there were, but I do know that to this day, that is one of the largest wedding parties I’ve ever photographed. Talk about intimidating when I showed up that morning!
Mistake number 2: I thought I could do it alone. I had heard of the concept of 2nd shooters, but thought it was pretty unnecessary….spoiler, It’s not. It’s completely necessary. I remember at one point during the wedding day, I needed a step-stool for something, I can’t remember what, but I was panicked and over an hour away from home. At some point, I had told my dad via text about the step stool dilemma when he asked how my day was going, and wouldn’t you know, in rolls Chuck Fenner, an hour and a half drive one way with a step stool. If there has ever been a cheerleader for CFP from literally day 1, it’s him. However, because I was so incredibly stressed out and immature at the time, I was embarrassed and annoyed that my dad had shown up on my first day of school. I mean, first day of shooting a wedding, and instead of kissing the ground he walked on, I hastily thanked him and shooed him the hell out of the building. I didn’t want to feel like my dad had to come to my rescue. That I was a big girl and I totally had it under control, but deep down, it was very clear to me that I couldn’t do this alone. Not just the photography, but everything. I wish I had help with practically everything I was trying to accomplish that day, and I just made my life harder by not swallowing my pride and asking for it.
My next mistake was not forming up an accurate timeline or even a timeframe with the bride. I’m pretty sure I showed up as the poor bride was basically crawling out of bed. However, this actually worked to my advantage, because since there was literally nothing to do at 7am the morning of a wedding, I decided maybe I could photograph the dress and shoes and…. DING! DING! DING! Detail shots! These shots were actually not terrible and I remember thinking that it was SO COOL that the bride’s shoes were flip flops. I had never seen or heard of such a thing. Revolutionary shit, I’ll tell ya.
Speaking of detail shots, something that I literally still think about every time I photograph a dress, is the fact that on this day, I was too afraid of ruining the dress, that I didn’t even take it out of the dress bag. I was having heart palpitations even unzipping the dress bag so in the photo, you can see some of the dress, surrounded by the neon pink dress bag. Oh, and, I accidentally photographed the back of the dress and didn’t get any shots of the front. Face, meet palm. Ok, so here’s exactly what to do if you are uncomfortable handling a wedding dress during photos: Ask the maid of honor. Go up and say “hey, I’d love to photograph the dress out of the bag, and I was wondering if you’d mind helping me remove the dress and get it hung for a photo.” I STILL almost always ask for help when photographing the dress, because they are usually heavy and hard to finagle out of the bag. And let’s be honest, if something goes terribly wrong, there’s someone else you can blame the disaster on. Just kidding…Kinda. Anyway, so my poor bride only has dress shots of her beautiful dress slightly peeping outside of this massive neon pink dress bag because I was too nervous to take the action to get the dress shot that I actually wanted, and was more than capable of capturing.
Next, let’s talk about my equipment because this is something that I was very ill prepared for. At the time, I owned exactly 1 lens. An 85mm 1.2. If any photogs out there are listening, I know you’re thinking that’s a pretty boujee lens to start off with. And yes, it remains to this day as one of the best lenses a portrait photographer can carry in their arsenal….but it was NOT my friend when it came to trying to photograph all kinds of different situations in various sized rooms. The 85mm is not a versatile lens by any means, and I’m pretty sure I had a 24-70mm lens sitting in my amazon cart before the start of the reception that day. The limitations that this lens had, also limited my creative abilities greatly, and while I did make it work, looking back it was one of my biggest mistakes from this day. I also only had 1 backup battery which thinking about it now, gives me the heebie-geebies. I was lucky that I didn’t find myself sitting in a corner next to an outlet, holding up the entire wedding waiting for a freakin’ battery to charge. Literally by the grace of God, my batteries somehow lasted me that entire day. I also was lacking an off-camera flash, which meant that I was at the mercy of the tungsten yellow overhead lighting during the indoor ceremony and reception. Big no-no. So, now if I were to recommend equipment requirements for a newbie wedding photographer, I would suggest having the following: a 50mm lens and either a 24-70mm lens or a 70-200mm lens. At least 3 batteries AND a battery charger just in case. At least two 64 GB cards, an off-camera flash and a full 16 pack of AA batteries for your flash. This is literally the bare minimum of what I would suggest having at your first wedding, but I highly suggest Googling other items and things to bring to save your ass.
Next mistake, I was afraid of getting in the way, speaking up, providing direction, giving input, and I was pretty much acting like a beat puppy. I was SO out of my element and I know it showed. I had entirely let the concept of “fake it until you make it” go out the window, and I remember feeling like I was frantically treading water so I didn’t drown. I was so afraid that I was going to miss something, that I actually didn’t really enjoy any part of that day. I didn’t allow myself to enjoy the creative side to this job, because that’s exactly what I was treating it as – a job. Get the picture, make sure it’s decent, and scramble to the next random thing I thought needed to be photograph…you know, like the curtain rods or the toiletries basket in the bathroom. I’m sure I wasn’t very openly friendly because I thought of myself as staff. I was there to do nothing but take pictures and keep my mouth shut. Friends, this is not my job description in the least. I missed a lot of great candid and beautiful shots because I was afraid to be in anyone’s way or to be a bother. I waited for the couple or wedding party to suggest things that they wanted photos of and I floundered around that entire day because of my lack of confidence in myself and my work.
Now, I will say that the photos that I took that day, are actually pretty good and ones that I’m proud of to this day. To those of you who know this wonderful couple, or have seen these wedding photos, you may be thinking that I’m being a little too hard on myself. But, it’s because of my ability to recognize my short-comings, flaws and mistakes, and then analyze the ways I was do better, that has allowed me to have now photographed over 120 weddings within the last 10 years. I’m hard on myself because I know I can do better, and this was a very real experience that I’m sure other newbies photographers can benefit from by hearing the actual, not sugar coated truth.
Next mistake, I didn’t take enough of a variety of each shot. For example, when I had the bride and groom standing together side by side, I took one photo of them looking at me, then one of them looking at each other, then one of them kissing and I think that’s it. Small changes make big impacts in photos, so I should have gotten a close up of them kissing, a full body of them kissing, a horizontal of them kissing, a pulled back shot of them kissing with something in the foreground, etc. Now, I’m not going to be too hard on myself for this one, because remembering to shoot variations of the same pose or shot is actually a trained skill that takes time to develop, but for learning purposes, I’m including it in here. Work smarter, not harder. Use the shit out of a location or a pose before you move or readjust your couple, because this gives them plenty of variety in their gallery without much extra work or effort on yours or their part.
My next mistake from the day is that I didn’t pay any attention to the theme or vibe of their wedding day. The wedding was in November I believe, and had very much of a Fall theme. However, the event space that the wedding was held at, already had all of their Christmas decor and garland lit up everywhere. In some of the photos, including the horrid dress bag shot, you can see that I paid no mind to the red bows and garland just chillin’ in the photo. Again, this isn’t exactly something I would have expected myself to intentionally look out for at the time, but I will recommend that you pay attention and make sure that all of the photos you are taking, reflect not what’s there, but what you want to be seen and shown through a photo. For example, crop the damn Christmas garland and red bows out of the fall themed wedding photos. It’s part of our job to curate, visually represent and present what the bride has spent so much time on putting together. Make it cohesive and visually appealing. Be strategic on how and what is seen in your photos.
And lastly, my grand finale mistake, I didn’t eat or hydrate properly. Oooooo girl, this is a huge mistake whether you’ve been a photographer for a day or 10 years. I think it’s easy to underestimate the amount of energy that you burn while photographing a wedding. It is an exhausting job that constantly requires you to be on your feet, up and moving, running around a majority of the day. That day, I brought a regular sized Gatorade with me that I had probably finished right before the ceremony, but then when reception time rolled around, I was incredibly shaky and hangry. I guess I assumed that I would have time to run to McDonalds or something to grab dinner, but I in fact did not, and let me tell you, in the last 10 years, there has NEVER been time at any point during wedding day to stop in at a drive thru. And plus, that is an extremely high risk to run. Can you imagine a couple not having photos of their first dance because you were in the parking lot shoving overly-salted fries in your face? Gives me anxiety even thinking about it. During dinner, I remember I watched either the DJ or videographer, I can’t remember which vendor it was, eat a plate of the reception food!! I was like OMG I can’t believe he’s eating their food!!!! I was just waiting for a bridesmaid to rip him a new one, or for a lightning bolt to shoot down to strike him dead. After 15 minutes of salivating, watching this poor man enjoy a nice hot meal, I decided to chance my luck and sneak over to the remnants of the appetizers table. I have never loved dried out veggies with ranch so much in my entire life. Make no mistake, this was not the couples fault whatsoever. Nobody told me I couldn’t eat, I just assumed that I shouldn’t, and I didn’t plan ahead and pack myself anything to eat or drink. It’s not the couple’s job on the day of the wedding to check in and make sure I’m not twitching over in a corner while my blood sugar levels plummeted. This was my fault entirely and now, ten years later, here’s exactly what I do to avoid starvation on a wedding day. I put it in my contract that myself and my 2nd shooter will be provided with a guest meal. I know some of you are thinking “wow, that’s ballsy, telling the couple that they have to feed you!” And, I won’t lie, for a little while, I felt uncomfortable including that in my contract, but to my surprise, my couples were actually shocked that I even had to include having a meal within my contact. They couldn’t fathom not feeding their vendors. A few years after my first wedding, Greg and I were shooting a different wedding where the catering company was specifically told that the vendors were not allowed to eat any of the guest food, and that was a hangry disaster. From that day on, I swore that I would never ever bring any member of my team to an event where we were “not allowed” to eat a hot meal. Since then, I’ve raised our standard, and I’ve never had a single couple raise an eyebrow. Here’s the thing: you must fuel your body to preform your best work. I know that I don’t have time to run and grab food, and I’m doing the couple a disservice by chancing the risk of missing important reception photo-ops that I know that they will want. However, I do always bring snacks and an obnoxious amount of water in an insulated canteen. So, my piece of advice here, pay attention to your body, eat and stay hydrated, or else your work will, without a doubt, suffer.
I’m sure there are plenty of other cringy moments from that day that I’ve since forgotten, but what I do remember so clearly is how kind, considerate and patient this couple was to me, despite my short-comings. They definitely set the bar pretty damn high for other CFP couples to come, and I am so thankful that they took a chance on a a very young and unexperienced photographer for the biggest day of their lives. It wasn’t long after that, that I received my very next wedding inquiry, and then another one, and then another. I had a feeling that I might be onto something at the end of the night at my very first wedding. The couple had hired a videographer, some middle-aged guy with one of those HUGE shoulder cameras that you used to see used for news stations. Honestly, at the time it looked like it belonged in a museum, but that’s irrelevant. He came up to me as the reception was wrapping up (again, I was literally there until the END of the day) and he said to me “I’ve got to tell ya, I’ve never seen a photographer run around and photograph as much as you did today. You must have been doing this for a long time, great work!” It took me a minute to determine whether or not he was joking, and might bust out laughing. But he didn’t, he was serious. I looked at him and told him that this was my first wedding ever, and he replied “well, it’d be a shame for you to not to do something like this with the drive you have. Nice working with you.” I instantly felt like such a cold-hearted bitch because I literally had not spoken a word to this man the entire day, and I don’t think I ever even asked him his name, and he had just given me one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever received to this day. He had also inadvertently given me the swift kick in the ass, and the glimmer of confidence that I needed to push CFP to the 10 year finish line this coming May. So, because I didn’t get a chance to say it 10 years ago, Thank you, camera guy.
In conclusion, I want to again, thank the sweet couple, Terri and Joe who took a chance on me ten years ago. Thank you to my dad for always being my #1 hype-guy and step-stool bringer, thank you to the Camera guy who changed my life’s trajectory. And last but certainly not least, thank you to YOU for listening, and allowing me to go from a failed dress shot, to now a podcast, sharing all the juicy and cringy details and lessons alike.
Cheering you on from the neon pink dress bag,