9 Tips for Photographing a Wedding Without Dying

Someone once asked me, “Erica, how do you shoot a wedding without absolutely dying?”  After a bit of a laugh, I realized that that is a very good question deserving of a very good answer.  My last blog post provided some very helpful tips for setting yourself up for a successful wedding experience.  This post, however, goes a little deeper.  In this post, I've put together my top tips for things you can do to make sure you can photograph a wedding AND live to see the dawn of a new day.

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Photo by Erica Kay Photography

Prep the Day Before

The day before a wedding is always my prep day.  This is the day where I get all of my ducks in a row, so to say.  My pre-wedding day ritual includes:

  • preparing a solid game plan (more details below)
  • charging all batteries (camera and speed light batteries)
    • Pro-tip:  I love the Eneloop rechargeable batteries for my speed lights!  I'll talk about these and some of my other favorite things in an upcoming blog post!
  • putting freshly charged batteries in all cameras and speed lights
  • charging my IceLight
  • clearing memory cards
  • cleaning lenses and bodies
  • making sure everything is in its correct place in my Think Tank Airport Security roller bag
  • writing a check for payment to my second shooter
  • making any necessary calls to venues or vendors

By getting everything organized and prepared the day before, you're allowing yourself plenty of time to make sure you're not forgetting anything and that everything is in good working order. Further, you're ensuring that the next day, you'll be able to…

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My pup, Mandela, just because she's so cute.

Enjoy the Morning

This is probably my biggest recommendation for wedding photographers.  Please, if you learn nothing else from me, learn the value of a relaxing and enjoyable morning on the day of a wedding.  We all know that weddings can be stressful, no matter how much you prepare and plan in advance.  However, if you give yourself time before the wedding to find some zen and enjoy life, I promise you'll arrive at the wedding happy, relaxed, and level-headed.  And, a happy, relaxed, and level-headed wedding photographer will surely be a successful wedding photographer!

My pre-wedding morning is one of my favorite times of the week.  Because I know that I won't be checking email, editing, or doing anything work related, I can wake up slowly, enjoy a nice breakfast, read, watch TV, go for a walk, play with my dog, or basically do whatever makes me happy.  These are the few hours each week when I'm guaranteed to do absolutely nothing work related.  And, because of that, I look forward to pre-wedding mornings so much!

In past years I actually had a pre-wedding ritual, which included a walk to Starbucks, a super sweet frozen wimpy coffee drink, and a breakfast sandwich.  I swore that this ritual was the key to a successful wedding day and wouldn't go to a wedding without having done this ritual.  Really, it was just an excuse to do something I loved every Saturday morning 😉  This year, I've found myself doing more reading, puppy playing, and homemade breakfasting.  The moral here is, no matter what it is, find what makes you relaxed and happy and incorporate it into your pre-wedding morning ritual.

My challenge to you:  take a few hours before your next wedding to make yourself happy.  Then, let me know if that helps you survive the wedding day!

Have a Detailed Game Plan

By now, you should have done all of the prepping I mentioned in my first wedding prep blog post.  Once you've done that, creating a game plan should be a piece of cake.

My detailed game plan consists of creating my wedding day “bible.”  This “bible” is my itinerary for the day and contains ALL of the crucial information for the wedding day:  names, phone numbers, locations/addresses, timeline, must have photos, family photo lineup, important reminders, etc.

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My “bible”

Once I have this created, I then print 3 copies of it (one for myself, one for my second shooter/assistant, and one backup just in case one gets lost) and immediately put it in my bag.

Pro-tip:  Be sure to email it to yourself in case you show up to a hotel ready to shoot a beautiful wedding and realize you forgot to put them in your bag and have to use the hotel computer to print new copies.  (I may or may not be speaking from experience here.)

I seriously would be lost without this little piece of paper on a wedding day.  I've tried approximately one million different ways to organize myself on a wedding day and this method has proven to be the simplest and best way for me.

It's also a good idea to set the timeline of the day as your phone home screen.  You can never be over-prepared!

Do you use something similar?  I'd love to see how you keep yourself organized on wedding days!

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Photo by Erica Kay Photography

Have a Solid Wedding Day Kit

If you've photographed a wedding before, you should know that we photographers usually turn into planners, seamstresses, florists, makeup artists, hair stylists, and life savers at every wedding.  Because of this, I always carry a couple of homemade kits with me to every wedding.

My first kit is the super hero kit and it includes:

  • scissors
  • a little sewing kit
  • lipgloss
  • bandaids
  • bobby pins
  • flower pins
  • thick paper towels (for removing water from bouquets…you don't want to battle water stained bridesmaids dresses during post-processing!)
  • a travel manicure kit
  • feminine products
  • a stain remover stick or wipes

My second kit has more to do with being a good photographer and less to do with being a super hero.  This kit has the things that I use regularly to jazz up my photos of jewelry, shoes, people, etc.  This kit includes:

  • two tiny LED flashlights
  • a glass prism (shoot through it to produce some seriously rad effects)
  • a glass convex lens (again, shoot through it)
  • dental wax (hello killer ring shots!)
  • a packet of sparkly scrapbooking paper in a variety of colors (great sparkles equal great bokeh)
  • random sparkly and reflective items (yay for more bokeh!)

These two kits give me comfort knowing that I can help out as needed AND create pretty rad photos even if I'm not shooting in the best location.

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My typical wedding day attire.

The Importance of Comfort

There's nothing more miserable for a photographer than spending eight to ten hours in discomfort or pain.  Trust me…I've been there.  After suffering through a couple of weddings in which I was constantly battling a plunging neckline, sweating through a thick sweater, and nursing blisters (attractive, I know!), I decided I would never again shoot a wedding in anything that wasn't comfortable, breathable, and painless.

My wardrobe of choice for pretty much every wedding includes black pants (classy and comfortable), a sheer shirt (classy and breathable), and Dexflex Comfort flats.  Ladies, I swear by the Dexflex Comfort flats.  They are the only shoe I've found that doesn't leave me blistered and aching after a full wedding day.  And, bonus, they're super affordable and come in a variety of colors and materials.  I have 4 different pair of them, although my favorite is the classic black flat.

Avoid Pain

This one seems like a no-brainer, right?  But, if you've ever photographed a wedding, you know that this one is easier said than done.  While I haven't yet found a 100% pain free wedding day routine, I have found a few things that can help you stay as pain free as possible.

  • Use a roller bag so that you're not lugging 50 pounds of gear around on your back all day.
  • If you have to use a carry bag, avoid carrying it around all day.  Always set your camera or lens bag down when possible.
  • Use a waist belt or harness to carry your camera body, rather than a neck or shoulder strap.
  • Apply pain oil (or pop a couple of Ibuprofen) half way through the day.
  • Again, wear comfy clothes and shoes.  Be sure to break your shoes in before the wedding day.
  • Hydrate and nourish yourself.
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Photo by Erica Kay Photography

Stay Hydrated and Nourished

No one wants  a hangry photographer.  Also, no one wants a dehydrated photographer.  So, be sure to pack plenty of water and snacks to keep yourself hydrated and nourished.

I love my HydroFlask water bottle.  These bottles come in a variety of sizes and colors and keep my water cool and my ice cubes solid for an entire wedding day.  There's nothing more refreshing after 4 hours in 90 degree heat than a sip of ice cold water from my HydroFlask!  Pro tip:  make sure you get a sport cap or straw lid so you don't have to unscrew the cap every time you need a drink.

For snacks, I usually bring beef jerky (protein!), mixed nuts (more protein!), granola bars (even more protein!), and chocolate (don't judge).

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Photo by Erica Kay Photography

Include Dinner in Your Contract

If you don't have a warm meal clause in your photography contract, stop what you're doing, go to your computer, and add it IMMEDIATELY.

The key word here is WARM.  When I first began shooting weddings, I did not have a meal requirement in my contract.  I quickly learned that this is a big fat no-no.  After being served a stale sandwich and a bag of chips in a lunch bag, I realized that the “vendor meal” that many venues provide just wasn't going to cut it.

My contract clearly states that I require a full, warm meal for both myself and my second shooter.  This may be one of those things that comes off as pretentious or demanding, but the fact is that by the time dinner has come around, I have worked non-stop for what seems like 37 hours, walked approximately 72,000 steps, and burned more calories than I do while shaking my tush to a Richard Simmons workout video.  So, my body NEEDS some nutrition, and a cold sandwich just ain't enough.

I'm SO lucky that most of my clients think this clause is ridiculous because they wouldn't even dream of making me eat something out of a lunch bag, but my motto is better safe than sorry.

And, while we're on the topic of food, be sure to talk to your couple about WHEN you'll eat.  It's super important that you're fed when the bridal party is fed so that you can be finished with your meal in time to photograph special events.  If you're fed last, you won't have time to finish your meal before special events begin.  By talking to my couples about this and asking them to inform their caterer of the arrangement, I've never had to have that awkward conversation with a caterer in the buffet line asking me why I'm jumping in line behind the bridal party.

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Photo by Erica Kay Photography

Make Sure You're Adequately Prepared to be a Wedding Photographer

My final piece of advice here is to make sure you're adequately prepared to be a wedding photographer.  This preparation comes in many forms, so ask yourself the following questions before committing yourself to such a huge responsibility.

  • Would you hire yourself to photograph your wedding?  (Don't really photograph your own wedding.  It's a terrible idea.  But, you know what I mean.)
  • Do you have experience photographing a wedding?  (I always recommend second shooting at least a handful of times before taking on a wedding of your own.)
  • Do you have the appropriate gear to shoot a wedding?  (Check back in two weeks for my next post, which details the things I think every wedding photographer should have in their bag.)
  • Are you organized enough to shoot a wedding?  (Organization is key!)
  • Are you bold and loud enough to shoot a wedding?  (You have to be a BOSS on a wedding day.)
  • Are you healthy/fit enough to shoot a wedding?  (It's a physically demanding job, which is why the wedding photography hangover is a real thing!  Google it!)

So, what do you think?  Do you have any tips to add to these wedding prep tips?  Or, if you've implemented these tips, how have they affected your wedding day survival rate?  I look forward to hearing your stories!



14 thoughts on “9 Tips for Photographing a Wedding Without Dying”

  1. Thanks Erica, awesome and timely article. I have a wedding to photograph coming up that thankfully is going to be low key, however these tips and suggestions are going to make it that little bit easier to get through.

  2. Kathy Little

    Thank you. I’m doing wedding in July, the first in years since I started declining them due to the incredible physical, technical and interpersonal social stressors. They are so beautiful though so… Great organizing tips and taking care of “me” reminders.

  3. My next post will be released on May 9th and I’ll be talking about lenses and other gear that is necessary for photographing weddings!

  4. Hi Erica, this is probably one of the better articles on wedding photography that I have read. It has a fresh perspective and really practical as well. Thank you 🙂

  5. This is some really good information about how to get good wedding photos. I like what you said about finding an experienced photographer. That does seem like a good way to ensure that you will get good photos. My little sister is going to be getting married in a few months and she hasn’t picked a photographer yet. It seems we should start looking for ones that have a lot of experience.

  6. I totally agree with the whole “enjoying the morning” section! Photographers have no idea how much their demeanor affects everyone else. If the photographer is stressed, the wedding party will likely feel that stress and take some of it upon themselves. On the other hand, having a calm, happy photographer running the wedding pictures will help the whole thing run smoother and assist in keeping everyone in the party feeling calm and reassured as well.

  7. My photographer died before giving us our wedding photos. I was told his nephew and the other gentlemen helping him at our wedding took over his files and job. They said they searched for my photos and cant find them. I’m 34 years old and hes been taking photos of all our events since I was 12 and he was very professional and very organized. So for them to tell me they can’t find anything is very hard to believe. My mother in law made us a special video shout out to us also recently passed … The memories of my husbands last dance with his mom and her video dance with my father is gone. In the back of my head I cant believe it because they asked if I had a receipt which I do in texts and asked for all our info and they said there’s nothing. We offered to pay again anything at this point just to get those memories back. He asked how much and I said 800 she said she will see what she can do and later messaged me back saying there packages start at 1200 … When I laughed like really when I was gonna pay just laughed to hear how it was all about the money she quickly said you know they cant find anything from you event. I gave a higher price and no answers 16 months later. Can someone please tell me what i can do.

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