Tips For Photographing Your First Wedding


the blog

by sarah elrod

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Getting ready to photograph your first wedding ever? Then you definitely need to read this post/listen to this podcast episode!

I remember sitting down at a Starbucks with sweaty hands, and a binder full of papers in front of me neatly placed on the table. Dressed to impress, and I had my sales pitch playing over and over in my head. I’m pretty sure I rehearsed it at least 1000 times. It doesn’t seem like very long ago when I was just beginning my journey as a wedding photographer. And looking back it was such a bittersweet time for me, and funny to think about really. Because these days everything is so different than they used to be!

Starting something new is always scary but as a wedding photographer I believe there is a little added pressure just because you are entering into a world where you are responsible for the memories of someone’s “best day ever”. And believe me when I say, I felt that stress from the start.

Today I want to speak to the new photographers, the up and coming wedding professionals. The people reading this thinking about how cool it would be to get to run around with awesome couples on their wedding day! (And trust me when I say it is TOTALLY awesome!) In this post I want to give you my very best advice for how to succeed on your first official wedding day because I remember what it feels like to be in your shoes.

You are excited but also nervous! Maybe you have not attended that many weddings yourself so you don’t really know the flow of the day. Or maybe you aren’t sure how to handle an Aunt Karen or Uncle Bob constantly getting in your way. Yeah been there too. Perhaps you have been a second shooter before or an assistant to another wedding photographer but now is your time to shine as the lead photographer.

As someone who has been a full time wedding photographer for over 4 years I can honestly say that this career is one of the most fulfilling but hard things I have ever done. I want you to walk into this with an honest outlook on what to expect and what to be aware of in this constantly changing industry. So grab a notebook and a pen and let’s get to work.

Always Use A Contract

  • A contract is crucial to running a successful business. I cannot tell you how many times when I first started out where I would just take someone’s word for something and they would end up bailing. I didn’t have a contract so there was no way to hold them accountable.
  • A contract keeps you and your client protected. You don’t have to feel weird by having someone sign an agreement because it benefits them too. A solid contract should reassure your clients that not only are they being held accountable but so are you as the service provider.
  • Use contracts even with friends and family.
  • You can purchase great photography contract from The Legal Paige or The Law Tog
  • HoneyBook also comes with great starter contracts that are included with your subscription if you cannot afford something more right now. For a free trial of HoneyBook and a discount head to

Bring A Backup Camera

  • The biggest mistake I made at my first wedding was not having a backup camera. I would just bring one camera and shoot everything on it completely solo.
  • The reason why this is sketchy is because something could happen to your camera (it could break, something could corrupt, etc) and then what?
  • If you cannot afford to purchase a second camera right now, see if you can borrow a camera from a friend or family member
  • Another option is renting a camera body. There are all kinds of places where you can do this either in person or online. is a great one!
  • Also while we are on the subject of backup cameras, think about backup SD cards, backup batteries, backup flash’s – pretty much anything you can get a backup of… you should have one just in case!

Bring An Assistant

  • Having a friend, family member or hired assistant tag along on a wedding day can be so helpful!
  • They are there to grab your bags, hold the veil, the dress, whatever you need.
  • An assistant is also just nice to calm your nerves! Having a buddy always helps me feel a little less stressed out on wedding days.
  • This is also assuming you don’t have a second shooter working with you that day because a lot of times a second shooter doubles as an assistant
  • Make sure they know their responsibilities ahead of time and what you expect of them. They need to be aware that this is a very important day and it is your job, not play time.
  • Some duties I like to give assistants are: grabbing my bags, reading out the family photo list after the ceremony, using them as a second set of eyes to watch for sunglasses, awkward looking hand positions, closed eyes, etc.

Make Sure You Have A Timeline Of The Day

  • It’s always a good idea to discuss the timeline of the wedding day ahead of time with your couple
  • You don’t have to be the one to make it necessarily but a lot of photographers. It allows them to make sure there is plenty of time for all the photos they need to take.
  • Chances are wedding day will not stick to a timeline perfectly. But having everyone on the same page for what time specific events such as the ceremony need to happen is always a good thing.
  • Personally I send a questionnaire to my clients ahead of time asking them things like: are you doing a first look? Will there be a cake cutting? Do you want to do golden hour photos? Etc. This helps me better plan out their timeline if I am creating one or at least it gives me a better vision of their wedding day.
  • HoneyBook allows you to create a questionnaire (another reason why I love it) but you could also have a free google form as well. Or you could just call your clients and ask them over the phone/in person.

Show Up Early

  • I like to show up at least 15 minutes early to get all of my gear together, and start scouting locations for photos. I also think it looks more professional.
  • Another reason why getting there early is good is something could happen to your car. Or maybe you hit traffic on the way. Having a time cushion is nice to be able to handle any unexpected issues that may come about.
  • You can meet everyone and set the tone for the day. Also just take a few deep breathes before starting work.

Get A Shot List For Family Formals

  • You will quickly learn that family formals is the most chaotic part of the day. This typical happens right after the ceremony ends, so everyone is really excited to talk to the bride and groom.
  • In most cases, it’s like herding cats.
  • Having a shot list that you can read off groupings makes everything run so much smoother.
  • This is where I would hand that list off to my assistant and start shooting away
  • Family formal lists should be more specific than just: “Brides Family” and “Grooms Family”
  • Have the bride and groom create actual groupings with names included so it’s very clear which person needs to be in which photo.
  • The more organized this process is, the faster it goes.

Be Prepared For Harsh Lighting & Low Lighting

  • Wedding days are full of different types of lighting all day long. Sometimes the bride and groom get ready in dark places without much natural light. Receptions can also be very dark and daunting. Make sure you are prepared for how to handle shooting in these circumstances.
  • If the wedding is outside, a lot of times the ceremony is at the worst time of day (lighting wise). Ceremonies can include lots of harsh light, and dark shadows. Have a plan on how to shoot this the best you can.
  • Practice makes perfect! Try out shooting in different lighting scenarios in your home!

Backup The Images Right Away

  • After a wedding day you will be exhausted! But before your head hits the sheets, I highly encourage you to backup all the images from the day.
  • You never know if a card may corrupt or fall out of your bag, or something totally random!
  • I personally suggest putting all the images onto at least 2 external hard drives and even an online cloud service if you can. Never format over the images on the cards until you deliver the final gallery. SD cards are not that expensive and it’s worth it to save your butt in case of an emergency!


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I'm Sarah Elrod

The Podcast

Rural Lifestyle



I'm a Cowgirl turned serial entrepreneur.
I'm a horse trainer, western wedding photographer, business coach and ranch wife.
I help women in the western industry grow thriving businesses from rural America.
When I am not strategizing new marketing tactics, you will find me riding my horses, cuddling my cattle dog, or kissing my hot husband.
There is also a good chance I am buying way too many outfits from western boutiques.

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