Wedding photography is a very beautiful and fulfilling line of work, but make sure you’re not making these mistakes. So, I’ve been in the wedding industry for about eight years now. And trust me, I have made my fair share of totally stupid mistakes. So, I wanna save you all from making those same mistakes by going over seven mistakes you should never make as a wedding photographer.
Mistake number one is no communication with your couple. And now, you may be thinking, “Well, John, I email my couple.” But a lot of times, that is not enough. When I talk about communication, it first starts with the first meeting you have with your couple, which will either be an in-person or over Zoom meeting. And this is before you book.
Don’t let any photographers tell you, “Oh, don’t meet with your couples ’cause it wastes time.” You want to establish a great relationship with your couple. You’re gonna be taking photos of their most important day. You want to have a relationship with them, not just be some person with a camera who shows up.
After you’ve booked your couple, you also wanna make sure you have clean automation to get emails out to them quickly and easily without even wasting your own time. The way I do this is with HoneyBook. And basically, I can set up workflows for emails to go out for their engagement, pre-engagement, post-engagement, pre-wedding, and to set up any meetings that way.
Generally, couples book about a year before their wedding, so this gives you a chance to keep communicating with them up until their wedding day, rather than just disappearing off the face of the earth and your couple being like, “Uh… What’s happening?” Make sure you have a CRM that can do this for you as well. Because, again, communication is going to be the most important part of wedding photography.
When someone gets in contact with you about a wedding inquiry, you wanna be in touch with them in five to 10 minutes if possible. If not, somewhere on your website should tell them how long it generally takes you to get back in touch with couples. Also, when couples hit you up with any questions, make sure you’re getting back to them as soon as possible, but make sure to never just send emails at any time of the day, like midnight or something of that sort.
You also wanna set expectations and boundaries, which is actually the second mistake that photographers make. Mistake number two is not setting expectations. This is something you should be doing the moment you start talking with your couples, which, again, is why I say to meet with your couples, so you can chat in person and let them know about you, yourself, and your photography approach.
This means talking to your couples about things like how you edit and what you do and do not do. One big thing that I always talk to my couples about is the fact that I don’t do extra, super-auto crazy edits on my photos. And what I mean by that is like a magazine, totally retouched photo editing. And I get this out of the way early on, so I don’t have my couples asking me things like, “Hey, can you make me lose 15 pounds?”. You know, I don’t wanna deal with that and I also don’t do it, so I let them know upfront, “This is how I edit., this is how much I do edit. If I’m gonna do any crazy edits, I’m gonna charge you for it.”
That way, if it ever comes up, no one feels blindsided by anything that happens. Also, this is the great way to determine if I’m the right photographer for this couple. If they want a photographer who’s gonna retouch all the photos extremely heavy and do extra magazine edits and just make them lose pounds and all kinds of stuff, that’s not me, and I will tell them that, and they’ll find someone else, and that is okay. Setting expectations is huge.
Like, honestly, this is the most important thing you can do with your couple. Make sure that you all are on the same page about everything so that the wedding day goes smooth, no one has issues with anything, and if issues come up, you can talk about them in a nice adult mannerly way.
Mistake number three is a huge one and that is not using a contract. Y’all. Always have a contract. Always have a contract. I cannot say it enough. No matter what you’re shooting, you should always have some type of contract. Contracts protect you and also your couple, and you should never be shooting weddings, especially a wedding, without a contract.
I mean, even if I’m working with a model for free, there should be some type of contract, like a model release form or something. I can send my models, my couples contracts and they can sign that stuff digitally. But again, you want some kind of contractual form that says, “I am doing X and you agree that you’re accepting X,” so that when you have issues with your couple, there’s no he-said-she-said or whatever of that sort. It’s very much like, “Well, this is what it is. This is what I did.”
And now, they have no claims against you. And trust me, it is huge. I’ve had a couple in the past who basically stole back 50% of everything they paid me because they were not happy with their photos. And I did have a contract and I could have taken them to court because of it. I ended up not doing it. It’s a long story, I don’t even wanna talk about it, but if I didn’t have a contract at all, they probably would’ve done chargebacks on everything. And then I would have literally been out of money for no reason.
So, seriously, please. Please make sure that you’re using contracts.
Mistake number four is being too hands-off. This is something I hear about all the time. And honestly, a lot of photographers give me slack about it as well. They believe that wedding days are supposed to be so candid, and you’re not supposed to touch anything, and just let the day happen the way it’s supposed to. But let me tell you, moments don’t just happen. You do have to guide them into these moments and that does not take away from the feeling of what’s happening.
But with being hands off, you just don’t get the amazing photos that you want. Trust me, all the photographers that I look up to guide their couples into photos. Now, it doesn’t mean that you’re heavily posing everything and making everything fake. You’re giving guidance. You’re giving direction. Everything is still happening like it should be, but you’re giving direction to get exactly what it is that you want. That is our job as photographers. We’re not just sitting back and be like, “Oh, I’m gonna take photos.” There is a time and place for that. But also you should be trying to make these moments happen a little bit inorganically, and it is okay.
So, seriously. If you feel like you’re bothering the wedding day, or you’re getting in the way, or something like that, drop that mentality. And trust me, it’s something I personally dealt with myself, but my my wedding photography didn’t get amazing the way it is now until I started being very hands-on with my couples, letting them know where they should stand, letting them know where the good light is, letting them know where they should be for the photo, but also letting them live the moment out. I’m just making it and curating it nicely. I’m not running their whole day, so that they don’t even have a fun time. Stop being so hands-off.
Now that we’ve talked about all the customer service and psychological side of things, let’s get more into the actual gear and taking photo side of things with mistake number five, which is shooting wide open. Now, I know a bunch of photographers are immediately like, “What, John? All I do is shoot wide open.” And I, myself, am also guilty of shooting wide open all the time.
However, I do shoot with the Fujifilm f/2 lenses, so wide open is actually not so bad. But what I mean by not shooting wide open is understanding your gear and understanding the purpose of why you’re shooting something. One thing I see all the time, and again, I’m guilty of this myself is when you’re shooting with a wide lens, like a 16mm or a 24mm and you’re wide open. Why? Unless you need the light because it’s dark, why are you wide open? You’re not getting any Bokeh at all from a 16mm camera unless you’re, like, all up in it.
You know what I mean? So stop down. You’re shooting a wide shot from far away. You need it to be sharp all the way through. I used to do this all the time. And my mentor was like, “Bro, why don’t you just stop down?”. And I was like, “Hmm, that actually does make sense because I’m standing, like, 50 feet away from my couple anyway.”
So seriously, stop shooting wide open all the time. Also, for all you full-frame photographers out there or myself shooting on medium format, you have to stop down. A sharper image will always give you better results in wedding photography than mad Bokeh.
Bokeh is always like the entry-level amateur like, “Woo! The background is blur!”. That’s great, like, did you take a great photo? Do you know the meaning of this photo? Can I feel this photo? Is it nice, and sharp, and beautiful? That stuff matters first.
Depth of field in Bokeh is like, it’s secondary, it’s like a cherry on the top, it’s nice, but it’s not gonna make you an amazing photo. So, seriously, if you have the available light, you understand your camera, and you know the look you want, stop down just a little bit. You know, if you’re shooting at f/1.2, stop down to f/1.8 or 2. It’s not gonna hurt you. The background’s still gonna be blurry. Stop shooting wide open.
Mistake number six is shooting with too low of a shutter speed. Now, this is something that happens to photographers, especially once it starts getting dark, they’re just trying to get more light any way they can and they don’t remember that there’s gonna be motion blur on their photos if they’re under like 1/160. This is always the biggest thing, “How do you get your photos so sharp?”. Because I’m shooting at a high enough shutter speed that it stops motion.
The biggest thing with shutter speed is, I like to understand the attributes of my exposure triangle. So, with shutter speed, low shutter speed equals more light, but also equals motion blur. Meaning, if anyone moves at all, you’re gonna get some kind of motion blur. And sometimes, that’s a look that you want on a photo, and that’s okay. But if you’re doing it just for the light and people are moving around, realize your shots are gonna be blurry.
So, the biggest thing here is I know everyone’s always like, “Oh, shoot at ISO 100 so you get the best image quality.” But, like… we want an overall amazing photo. And sometimes, you have to raise your ISO to do that. It is okay, it will not hurt you. All you pixel people out there like, just calm down. It’s okay.
Raise your ISO a little bit so that your shutter speed can stay at a nice consistent place. And then also, shoot wide open if it’s that dark and you should be fine. But just remember, if you drop your shutter speed too low even a little bit under 1/200, and you’re definitely going to start seeing that in your photos. If you’re getting a lot of blurry photos now and you’re not sure why, raise your shutter speed some. Shoot at 1/200, 1/250, and you should be good to go.
And mistake number seven is the biggest mistake that you can make, which is not having an amazing backup process. But if you don’t have a backup process, are you even a wedding photographer? Like, for real.
Your backup process doesn’t need to be totally bulletproof, but you need some type of backup system because if you lose a couple’s wedding photos, you’re basically done. Or you’re either paying back a lot of money ’cause you can’t just come back to a couple, like, “Oops, sorry I lost your photos.” You can’t do that.
One of the biggest things I do for my backups is having a cloud backup as well of everything I have backed up. So, my external hard drives, my network-attached servers, all of that stuff gets backed up in the cloud. This way, if my whole house burns down, at least I have something saved to the cloud as well.
So definitely, definitely make sure you have some type of backup process that also includes cloud backups. Just having a bunch of external hard drives is not good enough, trust me. I don’t want it to happen to any of you all.
Actually, you know what, story time. Seriously, story time. Let’s talk about a videographer that I knew that at one point had a hard drive failure and lost a bunch of couples’ weddings. And I mean… It was super unfortunate and they had to deal with a lot of stuff when it comes to money and possibly being sued. So, again, you don’t want that. You don’t want it. And this is someone I personally know. It is like the saddest story. So, cloud backups, please do it.