First thing you should do is tell your friend that you really appreciate their vote of confidence, but you think they should hire an actual wedding photographer to cover one of the most important days in their lives.
And then you should go out and second shoot for actual wedding photographers at least twenty or thirty times before taking on being a primary wedding photographer yourself.
With that said, you’re probably not going to do that, so here’s what you should do:
– watch the hell out of behind the scenes wedding photography videos on Youtube. Find, follow and watch a ton of videos from prominent wedding photographers about all the different aspects of a wedding day. Memorize timelines, memorize hundreds of poses for the bride, groom, bridal party, families.
– Rent a professional quality camera body (Canon 5D Mk IV, Nikon D850 or similar), and a 24-70 lens, a 50mm lens and 70-200 lens for the week before the wedding and practice shooting with them. The 70-200 is particularly heavy, so get used to carrying that around.
– If you don’t already have it, and depending on the size of the wedding, rent two to four light stands, two to four off-camera flashes with umbrellas or soft-boxes, learn to use them to light a dance floor and the bridal table. Use off-camera flash for everything.
– Ask to be connected to their vendors, introduce yourself and let them know your timeline so you can all check for overlaps or conflicts.
– visit the venues in advance to check for trouble areas when it comes to lighting, for awkward angles and to see best lines of sight.
– dress professionally, but not ostentatiously. Don’t stand out more than the bridal party.- bring a large backpack or bag with scissors, tape, needle and thread, band-aids/bandages, extra water, energy bars and headache medicine.
– bring extra batteries for everything, and way more memory cards than you think you’ll need.- charge everything the night before. don’t charge earlier than that because many batteries lose power over several days.
– have an actual contract with your friend even though they’re your friend. Make it a real contract, not something you found online. Have a contract attorney write it or at least verify one that you wrote.
– Take part of your payment in advance, the rest the week of the wedding.- Set deadlines and stick to them. Plan in advance for editing time, and make sure you deliver when you say you will, or sooner.
– Check in with the B&G often and regularly, both before and after.- Have the B&G provide a single person for assisting you during the wedding day – someone who knows the families. It can be the coordinator or a family member/friend.
There’s a MOUNTAIN more that you should know prior to photographing someone’s “big day”, but this should get you started. Really, though, you should consider not taking on this role with zero experience. You don’t get to do a wedding over again.
Some questions/comments since the writing of this article:
Comment. Sure, I’ve never done a wedding before, but I’m a professional photographer and my friend (the bride) knows and is happy with the quality of my work.
Namu: If only it was just the quality of your photography that mattered. What’s probably more important is the experience…knowing when a certain shot opportunity is about to happen, or being able to know the best angles to shoot the couple during the ceremony, or knowing specific lighting circumstances that happen in churches, especially when the officiant doesn’t allow flash. Knowing when it’s time to switch lenses or bodies so you’re ready for the next shot. Knowing how to engage with guests and children to get those “wedding party” shots everyone loves.
Knowing all of these things so well that you don’t have to think about them, and you don’t miss shots because you weren’t sure where to be or where to look or what to be ready for.
There are a lot of great reasons to not photograph someone’s wedding if you haven’t done it before or if you’re very inexperienced, but if you’re going to take on the job anyway, all I ask is that you work really hard to study and learn as much as possible beforehand. Photographing a wedding is very different from shootting regular events, and wedding portraiture on a serious time constraint is very different from regular portraiture. Have fun with it, but take it very seriously. Good luck!