Chelsea Cagle is a Chattanooga, TN based wedding + elopement photographer. She loves the outdoors and photographing couples in love in nature. She is a graduate of the New York Institute of Photography and has worked in the industry since 2011. Shooting your first wedding is a daunting task. This article will give you the top 5 MOST IMPORTANT wedding photography tips to know before your first wedding.

When I started in wedding photography I had no one mentoring. I’m the kind of person who jumps in feet first and learns the hard way, but you don’t have to do that. If you study these 5 tips before shooting your first wedding, you will be ready!

You may think that having good technical photography skills is all you need to be a good wedding photographer. This could not be farther from the truth. In fact, there are many successful wedding photographers who barely have any technical skills and yet remain popular year after year.

This is because the business of photography is only roughly 25% about photography.

The other 75% includes:

Having great people skills. Being confident, friendly and having the ability to build rapport with anyone you come into contact with.

Being able to think quickly on your feet. Weddings are usually fast paced and high stress and you never know what will happen. Your bride may show up 3 hours late to her own wedding forcing you to shoot in a less than desirable location you hadn’t planned on. (yes, it happened to me – 3 whole hours late)

You MUST be bold. You have to be the type of person who can get people to listen to you. You will be forced to shoot a large group of hungry, hot and tired people at almost every wedding. You’ve got to be able to control them and direct them without being rude.

You’ve got to be entertaining. During an 8-10 hour period of time (average wedding day) people tend to get annoyed. You have to be able to lighten the mood, crack jokes and keep everyone happy and smiling.


1. Be Prepared

I know what you’re thinking. Duh, of course I’m going to be prepared…. Hear me out. You would be surprised how many wedding photographers are under prepared for their first wedding or even their 3rd or 4th wedding. I hired a newbie wedding photographer for my wedding thinking that I could control the shots and assumed that she had attempted to learn anything at all about her camera. The shots turns out great, but they were all in the smallest possible resolution. Impossible to print clearly on even a 4×6 sheet. I asked her for the raw files, she sent me unedited JPEGS. She didn’t even know what a raw file was. She ruined the entire memory of our wedding day. Should I have known better? Yes. But it was my second wedding and we were not going all out. So, yes, be prepared. Know your gear inside and out. Have backup batteries, flashes, lights, SD cards etc. Be able to change the settings on your camera without even thinking about it. It takes a LOT of practice, but you cannot afford to miss the first kiss because you forgot how to change your shutter speed or white balance etc. Find a willing model and create fake wedding shots until you feel confident that you know what to do in every situation.

2. Scout Your Location

You may not be able to see inside the homes or hotel rooms the couple is getting ready in, but you can assume they are similar to any other average home or hotel room. Practice shooting in your own home with a model in different types of light that happen naturally there.

You MUST scout the location before showing up on wedding day. I try to attend the rehearsal so I can see and understand how they are setting up for their wedding and what the light will be like in that exact location at that exact angle. They may have multiple options for ceremony locations so you want to be sure that you know and understand the lighting in the location your couple has chosen. Before you go to the rehearsal or on your scouting mission, Google some ideas of what other photographers have done in that location and use their ideas for inspiration, but do not copy them, that’s rude.

**Try to visit the location at around the same time of day the wedding is set for.

3.Create a shot list and know it by heart.


. Invitation

. Rings

. Close up of flowers

. Boys Getting Ready

. Best man adjusting groom’s tie

. Beers together in cheers

. Girls Getting Ready

. MOB tying back of bride’s dress

. MOH putting bride’s garter on

. Bride on her own

. Bride in archway

. Back of bride’s hair

. Bride looking the mirror

. Groom on his own

. Adjusting cuff links

. In archway

. Waiting at the alter

. Bride with parents

. Groom with parents

. Etc.

I won’t go into a lot of detail because every wedding is different and so is every photographer.

**Tip – in every scene do a mix of wide angle shots and close up shots. This makes curating the wedding album much easier.


4.Shoot a styled shoot

A styled shoot is any shoot put together by a group of people (sometimes 1 person) in a particular industry. Most of the time they are wedding oriented. There are companies across the country that put on styled shoots and charge photographers a fee to be there. Some see this as unethical as the vendors expect to be gifted the photos so why should the photographer pay? But if that is the only way to build a portfolio and get practice then I say do it. You can also organize a mutually beneficial shoot with other wedding vendors yourself or fund one on your own.

No matter how you go about getting the shoot together, one thing is for sure: it’s one of the best possible ways to get practice.


5. Be a Second Shooter or Assistant as much as possible.

This is one of the best ways to get your feet wet in the wedding industry. Join local photography groups on Facebook and watch for posts of other professionals looking for second shooters. You can learn a lot just by watching the lead photographer work and if they are nice, they will give you pointers too.

Most of the time, under conditions such as waiting until the lead has posted images, you will be able to use the images you took as a second shooter in your portfolio. Make sure to iron out this detail before you sign any agreements.

Thank you so much for reading. Please leave any questions or comments below.

About Me!

I’m a graduate of the New York Institute of Photography. I have worked in the photography and arts industry in Chattanooga since 2010 and I’ve been picture making and painting since early childhood.

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