5 Top Tips from The Faircloughs: Surviving a Day as a Professional Wedding Photographer

Nov 20, 2017

Our Top 5 Tips for Surviving a Day as a Professional Wedding Photographer

We’ve learned a lot from shooting weddings over the years. If you’re just starting out as a wedding photographer, you might be interested in what goes into our process. Or you might just want to see how we solve some problems. We hope you’ll find it useful either way and get you through those first weddings without a hitch.

We’ve learned to prepare for almost every eventuality whilst keeping worry to a minimum, and fun to the max. We’re always developing new solutions to make us quicker. To make us more efficient, and able to provide maximum results in the minimum time possible.

So here are our top tips on how to survive a day as a wedding photographer 🙂 

1. Charge, Organise and Clean

It’s fair to say we’re pretty serious about prepping gear when it comes to a wedding day. This section is going to sound all kinds of tinfoil-hat paranoid. But this is the kind of attention to detail we’ve developed so we can fully trust what we use. Having a logical approach to organising our gear means we can concentrate on creativity instead of worrying about technical stuff.

Photographing a wedding is a high-pressure setting. We can’t have our gear letting us down at a critical time. Our equipment goes through a lot in the course of shooting a wedding, and so it’s important to keep it in tip-top shape and always ready for action. The day before a wedding, we start by charging every camera battery, every AA battery, format and number every CF card, and divide them between our bags.

We put a fresh battery and empty card starting from card #1 in each of our camera bodies, and reset settings to our default starting settings. Then we check the time and date are synced to the second between all 4 bodies. This is invaluable for saving time in culling and post processing when working with multiple cameras.

We clean all of our lenses front and back, clean camera screens, viewfinders, and throw out the rubbish and food wrappers out of our bags. Starting fresh and consistently every shooting day means we can have a better muscle-memory response to reaching for what we need instinctively. Things get dirty and messed up during shooting. If you start a shoot with this mess, things get more complicated and frustrating than they have to.

We check the holdfast connectors are screwed in right, and the split rings are still on the strap lugs.

This ensures we’re not going to drop a camera body off the straps when the action gets fast-paced. We fold and bag the holdfasts so they pop out perfectly ready to wear.

For the lighting, we load fresh batteries in each speed light and trigger, set them to their default channels and groups. 1/4 CTO gels are loaded into the gel holders, then gels and grids are alternately stacked together. 

We check the light stands open and lock, and no screws have fallen off the tilt heads. Then we load the bags with the gear so we both know our default starting position. Everything goes in exactly the same place, every time.

This is so we don’t have to worry where things are – we want to just be able to reach into our bags and know instinctively that we’ve pulled out the right thing so we’re not wasting time rummaging on a shoot.

Then we check the spares bag. We check everything’s there, everything works, and we’ve reloaded our medicine bag and snacks.

It’s something we really didn’t think about in the early days. We’d drive ourselves crazy just leaving our gear as we found it and wasting time during the shoot trying to find and clean things. Now we don’t have to worry. It just works, it’s just exactly where we expect it to be, and we can get on with shooting.

And that’s it, we’re ready to go shooting again!

2. Backups

You can’t have enough backups. We got some good advice on this before we even shot our first wedding, and spent a small fortune making sure we followed it. Over the years we’ve had a body completely break due to water ingress from a shoot in the rain the previous day. We’ve had cracked focus helicoids on lenses, and dropped one down a big hill. We’ve had locking screws on a TSE lens shear off during a portrait shoot.

There’s been a camera battery crack in half like a walnut, and the AF/MF switch hanging out of a lens by it’s cables at a critical point in the day. We’ve had cracked filters, broken straps, and a pint dropped in a camera bag. A dog also peed into our lighting bag, and kids smashed half our lights into a hardwood floor from 3m high five minutes before the first dance.

But we were prepared. We spent the extra money on spares. And we made sure we had everything needed to repair, replace and carry on shooting. And nothing got missed. We didn’t miss a second. When you’re starting out shooting, it seems frivolous to spend thousands of extra pounds doubling up on gear. 2 x pro bodies instead of a great body and a backup, extra lights, extra batteries, it all adds up.

Although your professional insurance will cover it if you break something after the fact, if you don’t have an on-site backup you can’t finish the shoot. And that’s simply not an option.

We each carry 2 x matching pro camera bodies with us, meaning we have 4 x identical camera bodies to shoot on between us. In the event of a body failure, we still have 3 x to work with that we instantly know how to use from muscle memory. If you don’t have a backup body, this is the first place to start. Most of you will also find it easier shooting on 2 x bodies rather than having to swap out lenses too. It’s much quicker to drop a body on a holdfast and pick up the other than it is to change lens.

Emergency Backups. We have a little black bag that goes to every wedding. It has chargers, another spare set of fully charged batteries for everything. It has spare strobe mounts, spare camera eyecups, spare gels and grids. There’s ND filters, tripod QR plates, tie-wraps, pliers and screwdrivers. PVC and gaffer tape, a whole host of medication from painkillers to immodium. Anything can happen, and it’s better to be prepared than not. It hardly ever gets opened on a wedding day. But it’s great to know that if there’s a disaster as mentioned at the start, we’re carrying the solution with us to carry on.

3. Hydration and Nutrition

In the early days of shooting weddings, our biggest limitations to being able to fully perform all wedding day, was forgetting to eat and drink. Or thinking we couldn’t make time to do this.

Our nutrition for the day starts early, with a good breakfast. One of our favourite wedding-morning breakfasts is bircher muesli with cacao nibs, chia seeds, peanut butter and sliced banana.

Throw a cup of whole rolled oats (any oats are gluten free so don’t pay extra for GF-labelled ones!), with 3/4 of a cup of milk into a tupperware tub. Add a tablespoon of chia seeds, crush the same quantity of raw cacao nibs in, and a spoon of smooth Meridian peanut butter. Add a teaspoon of raw organic honey and give it a good mix. It will look a bit gross but don’t worry. Sometimes I throw in a small handful of raisins too, but add extra milk if doing this otherwise it will dry out.

Put the lid on and put the container in the fridge the night before a wedding. It takes around 8 hours to ‘develop’ so do it last thing before you go to bed, or earlier. And that’s one less thing to worry about on the morning. All you need to do is tip it out, slice a banana on top and you’ve got a proper start to the day. It’s got enough protein and good carbs to last a hard morning’s shooting, and it’s blummin delicious.

We take 12 x 500ml bottles of water with us to every wedding, and usually supplement this during the day when we can.

It’s really important. Seriously. If you only take one tip away from this article, it’s this: make sure you drink enough water. It’s too easy to forget, and your brain won’t make it in good shape to the party without it.

During the wedding breakfast, we’re usually treated to a meal by our couples; yes, we’re exceptionally lucky and it’s SO appreciated after 7 or so hours on our feet before we get to sit down. A hot meal is exactly what we need at that point of the day, and one of the biggest factors in us being able to maintain our momentum until the end of the night.

When the guests sit to eat, so do we. Don’t underestimate the need for downtime at this point. It’s tempting to go scouting more portrait areas, check through images and plan your lighting for the evening reception. But just take a few minutes to relax, put the gear away and recharge ready to start fresh. At this point we usually have a pint of coke to replenish electrolytes and so we can absorb the water quicker. Although we’ve been drinking water, we still feel dehydrated after so long running around carrying a lot of equipment.

We also carry bars of raw pressed dried fruit and nuts around with us for when we need a boost. Yes, there’s a LOT of sugar in dried fruit, so don’t go overboard as you’ll get a major sugar crash. They’ll keep you going in a pinch though – there’s never an opportunity for lunch during a wedding so you’ve got to make do however you can.

4. Change your perspective

Keeping to the same height, focal length, physical distance, direction and approach can make your images look stagnant on a wedding day. It’s easy to fall into this trap. Even if individually the images are the best you’ve ever shot, together as a set they will have less impact. Essentially you can end up making the same picture over and over again with different groups of people.

Sandon Hall Wedding Photography - J&M - exchanging vows shot from above

Once you’ve got the killer shot with what you’re going for, mix it up. If you’re stood up, kneel down, or stand on a chair, or turn round and see what’s going on behind you that you’ve missed. Often you think you know where the shot is, to find out something even better is happening behind you.

If you’ve just been shooting at eye level, get down on the ground and shoot from there. Then get up to the ceiling and shoot from there. If you’ve been shooting everything wide, don’t forget to change to a long lens and make your next shot with that instead.

Variety in perspective is something that’s really easy to forget about in the heat of the action, but makes for more powerful storytelling imagery. Even if you only have one wide and one long lens (which most wedding photographers tend to have), the varieties in distance, height, direction and focal compression are endless.

5. Just one more thing

Often we’ll be setting up for the evening reception, or getting our cameras ready for speeches. Or even in late summer we’ll be on the dance floor, when we see a killer sunset emerging. Or some really interesting clouds. There might even be a patch of dramatic light streaming in from a window that wasn’t there all day. At this point, no matter what’s going on, we’ll grab our couple and offer to take them out for one last shot. Or two. We get carried away with dramatic light.

Sandon Hall Wedding Photography - J&M - wide shot with gates and flash

When you see that opportunity, just take it. It probably won’t be there in 5 minutes. Those conditions in that spot probably won’t be exactly the same ever again. Even if you’re shooting the same location the next day, there’s a very good chance that won’t happen again tomorrow. Now’s the time to do it.

The allotted portrait time might be over and you might be 100% happy with what you’ve shot. But there’s always time for one more if you spot an opportunity. Your couples will love you for it when they see the extra effort you’ve made to get the best for them.

It’s hard to put down the cameras at the end of a wedding day.

Once the party is in full swing, you just want everything to end with a dramatic bang. You want to fully capture the energy, excitement, and joy of an amazing wedding party.

There has to come a point, however, when you’re confident you’ve got it. So get to a point, and take a moment. Review what you’ve got. Take one last walk around the room. Give one more song a chance to get people up and dancing.

Best gear for professional wedding photography - bride being lifted up at evening reception

Even if you’re the last one standing at the party, you’ll always wonder if there was more you could have done. If you’ve worked the scene as hard as you can, if you’ve tried something new, and if you’ve worked to getting the best shots of your life, then you’re done.

Best wedding photography 2016 - walking through a field at sunset

Congratulations, you’ve survived the wedding day as a professional photographer! You’ve earned yourself a shower, a content drink, and the agony of aching limbs the day after.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading some of our top tips – check back soon for more 🙂

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