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It’s crazy wild how fast this industry is growing. People ask me “So do you think anyone can be a photographer” and I feel very confident when I answer “No”. I don’t think anyone can do this and succeed at it. However, I do think that everyone has a right to try. We can’t get frustrated with the new photographers entering the industry everyday because at one point in our own lives, we sat down and thought “Maybe I could actually do this! Maybe I could be a professional photographer!”. I had that moment when I was barely 20 and was still in college… for others, they are experiencing that moment in their mid twenties after not being able

to really land a great job after college, some are in high school and some new photographers are mothers and they realized their love for photographer while photographing their children.  Whatever the case, everyone deserves a shot at this. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying EVERYONE can do it, but everyone can try.  Sometimes… actually, more often than you would think, new photographers start shooting weddings on ACCIDENT! I’m serious.  This is how it goes. “Jenny” is going to be our example.

So Jenny gets a Canon Rebel because she wants to take better pictures than what she gets on her iPhone. She’s in college and has some friends that just got engaged and they’re hanging out on the great lawn and she says “Hey let me take some pictures of you two just for fun!”.  She takes some impromptu engagement pictures and the couple likes them! So then they decide to do more of a REAL engagement shoot with Jenny. After that, someone says to Jenny “Hey! You’re good, you should be a photographer” and at the same time, that engaged couple with no money says to Jenny, “Will you shoot our wedding?”.  And that’s how it starts!! What happens next? I get an email from “Jenny” that sounds something like this:

“Katelyn Help! I’m shooting my first wedding in a few weeks and I have no clue what I’m doing!!! Do you have any tips?!”.

Whew! Where do I begin? I don’t even know. My first thought is “Well you need to be shooting 100% manually and know your camera inside and out”… but there isn’t enough time for that! I mean, it takes so much practice to be able to shoot manually on a wedding day and this wedding is going to take place in a matter of a couple of weeks! My next thought is “Well be sure to look for good light!!” But then I realize that it took me YEARS to really learn about light and understand it! Then my next thought is about gear and posing and the timeline!! AH! You just can’t teach all of that in one email. It’s impossible.

It’s also impossible to know everything you need to know before shooting your first wedding. There are some things you need to experience before you can really understand them. Wedding photography is a different world! It’s unlike any other type of photography and it’s high pressure because it only happens once. I don’t say this to new photographers to scare them, I’m just being honest. If you were asked to photograph someone’s wedding, that’s a HUGE honor and it should be taken really seriously. So while I can’t teach a new photographer how to shoot a wedding in one blog post, I can share some tips that will help you make it through your first wedding!

1. Second Shooting! As SOON as you find out you’re shooting a wedding, try your BEST to find someone that will allow you to assist them on a wedding day! You don’t even need to shoot, you just need to experience a wedding day from a photographer’s perspective. I recommend joining local FB groups in your area to find opportunities to second shoot!

2. Watch Online Tutorials! Start finding as many resources online as possible! Creative Live has some AWESOME workshops that you can purchase and watch over and over again! You can actually watch Jasmine Star shoot a real wedding on Creative Live and while I know it’s going to cost you $149, I think it’s important to gain as much knowledge as quick as possible. Videos are the way to do that.

3. PRACTICE! Practice with your kids, your husband/wife, friends… anyone!! Practice shooting in the middle of the day when the light is AWFUL! Practice shooting when the light is soft and glowy an hour and a half before sunset! Practice shooting inside with natural light and no tungsten lights turned on.

4. Communicate with the Bride! Just because you’re barely getting paid anything and you may not be a huge priority to the couple, you still have the right to talk with the bride about a timeline. If you don’t do this beforehand, you’re setting yourself up for failure! That sounds harsh but it’s true. You need to communicate that you need some TIME for their portraits. 30 minutes for the bride and groom, 20-30 minutes for the bridal party and 30 minutes for family formals is what I ask for. However, most of my couples share a First Look and so we knock out a whole hour of portraits beforehand and all I have to worry about after the ceremony is family formals and then taking extra portraits of the couple!

5. Rent a camera, lens and a flash! If you just have a Rebel or a starter SLR with a kit lens, I recommend renting another camera that will do a better job in low light AND so that you have two cameras. Now I can only recommend lenses from my experience. I love primes and so I shoot with nothing but primes (except for the 70-200). For someone that’s just trying to make it through their first wedding, a 24-70 2.8 lens may be a smarter lens to rent first. If you have the money to rent a macro and a lens with a longer focal length for the ceremony too, then you should do that! Make sure you have enough cards to handle a wedding day as well. If you have no experience shooting RAW, you probably don’t have enough card space to shoot a whole wedding RAW. The last thing we want is for you to run out of cards! If you have a lot of card space AND have an editing program that will convert CR2 files, then by all means, shoot RAW!!

6. Don’t Let your Nerves get the Best of You! The first thing to go when you’re nervous is your creativity. Try to remember that the people that hired you know that this is your first wedding. They don’t expect you to produce award winning images. However, you should try to produce images that are clear, well exposed and and well composed.  Don’t crop off feet at the ankles, don’t shoot terribly crooked images, and don’t try to be “too artsy” at your first wedding. Hopefully, if you shoot beautiful images at this first wedding, you’ll have a ton of other weddings coming your way where you can start to get “artsy” and more creative!

Well that was a fast crash course but it wasn’t nearly enough to fully educate someone on how to handle their first wedding. If you’re like “Jenny” and you have been asked to shoot your first wedding without any prior experience, I hope you find this helpful!!

xoxo, Katelyn
30 Comments Ask Anything, Education
  1. Amanda reply

    I love the “communicate with the bride” one! Seriously should have done this my first wedding!!! Pictures don’t just “happen” they require planning and time. I didn’t realize how much time when I started. also, if you don’t know how to shoot manual, shoot in program and meter off the eyes of the bride, but learn manual as fast as you can! Great advice Katelyn!!!

  2. Elizabeth Cox reply

    I was “Jenny” 100%! The wedding has come & gone by now but all your types make me feel affirmed that I didn’t blow it. Thank you for sharing this, Katelyn! Very helpful.

  3. Caity reply

    It’s amazing how spot on your timing is this week! I’m shooting my first wedding this weekend, and to say I’m freaking out would definitely be an understatement! Your advice made me feel so much better, and it makes me feel good to know that I’m heading in the right direction with the planning and communication aspect. Thank you so much for this post!

  4. Elizabeth Cox reply

    *tips

  5. Katie reply

    This is an awesome post! I wish I had this when I shot my first wedding:)

  6. Mary reply

    great advice.. i get asked this question… by new photographers and i never know where to start to help them ….there’s a million things you need to know….but you made it sound pretty easy for them .

  7. Sarah Heppell reply

    I can relate to falling into wedding photography! I already knew how to shoot in manual mode from photo school, 2007 was my first summer.. the pressure and nerves I had didn’t allow me to remember I was shooting at iso 1600 outdoor because I never changed it back down from inside a dark room of their house. DOH! haha we all have little mishaps but at least the images looked okay! Live and learn! great tips for newbies!

  8. Coli reply

    This is so wonderful. Too ofen you hear experienced photographers respond with, “you shouldn’t be shooting a wedding if you’re asking this question.” But everyone has to have a first wedding at some point in their career! It’s terrifying, but it has to happen at some point and it’s nice to see a photographer who understands this and offers guidance rather than criticism.

  9. Deborah Zoe reply

    great advice chica, i love your willingness to share always, beautiful!!

  10. Kim reply

    I needed to read this – Thank You!!

  11. Alli McWhinney reply

    Great tips, Katelyn!

  12. Sarah Adams reply

    “Jenny” was totally me in college. Quickly, I fell in love with photography- and YOUR blog was my biggest resource in learning most everything I needed to know to grow into a photographer. thank you, Katelyn, for continually and selfLESSly sharing your wisdom.

  13. Bethany reply

    It’s funny that this post comes up now. I’m currently in a similar situation. I have a friend who was getting married in January. I asked her if I could do some engagement photos for her and her fiancee just so i could practice. I wasn’t going to charge since I’m in no way a pro, I just love taking photos and wanted to do more with portraits. Long story short, they’ve moved the wedding up to next month and have asked me to shoot it! AHH! Even though she has reasonable expectations about my work, I’m super nervous! I’m definitely going to try to put some of these tips into practice.

  14. Bethany McDonnell reply

    My husband and I shot our first wedding in March, but I had been doing portraits for 3 years. The best thing I ever did was watch Jasmine Star’s How to Shoot an Editorial Wedding on CreativeLive. We took lots and lots of pictures our first wedding! But we loved it! We just keep working on our skills and hope we get more opportunities in the future!

  15. Olivia J reply

    Thank you! It looks like I might be shooting my first wedding this year. So I need the advice. :)

  16. Kristina W. reply

    Such an interesting post! Thanks for sharing!

  17. Kymberlyt reply

    Katelyn would you ever consider showing us some images from your very first weddings? I think it would be very interesting to see the then and the nows and your progression of growth and how your style evolved over time.

  18. Erin reply

    thank you katelyn! I am shooting my first wedding in november, for my best friend from elementary school on. thankfully they do know it’s my first wedding. i have purchased two videos of jasmine star’s from creative live, which is one of my favorite sites. i however am finding it difficult to shadow a wedding photographer. any advice on that?

  19. Mia reply

    This was so helpful! I’m assisting my friend with a wedding and it’s my first semi-professional shoot ever. I’ve taken a class, I know my camera, but I’m still nervous. This helped me know a little bit more about what to expect. :)

  20. Julie Sanford reply

    Hi Katelyn,
    I just want to thank you for all the education you have included on your website. I love your style and you and your husband are so talented. I was thrown into doing a wedding this weekend (frantic call from the bride an groom on Monday night) and if it hadn’t been my following your work for the past 2 months I would not have the confidence to do this. I have been a yearbook photographer/editor for 14 years but just started working on my portfolio a few months ago. Thank you for all the knowledge you have been so gracious pass on. I pray blessings for you and Michael for you have blessed me. Sincere thanks, Julie Sanford

  21. Sharon Solt reply

    Awesome tips!

  22. Tierney reply

    I loved this and I wish I had found it before I shot my first wedding! My aunt asked me to take her engagement pictures and that wasn’t a big deal, but then she asked me to photograph her wedding! AHHHH. Luckily my sister in law has a amazing eye for photography so I asked her to assist me. Then I made sure to have my bride “pin” favorite photos on pinterest for me to see what direction she wanted to go. The only thing I screwed up on was not communicating with the wedding party about walking down the aisle SLOWLY! I also didn’t take into consideration the lighting in the building :( so some pictures came out blurry, luckily non of the important ones!

  23. Zoe reply

    What do you do when you have been trying to shoot your first wedding for 18 months but no-one will give you a chance even though photography peers and wedding vendors say my work is great, and I’m charging NO money to shoot my first few? Everyone on this thread has this breathless self-congratulatory tone but seriously, when nobody wants to take a chance on someone who’s never shot a full wedding before, how on earth do you convince someone to pay nothing for you – and why should you have to?

  24. Camacho Roberts reply

    Thank you Katelyn for sharing these tips. My first wedding shoot is coming up December 9, 2017 and I’m very excited about it and wish to present as my gift to the couple some wonderful memories. I have a Nikon D750 with three lens (70-200, 85mm 1.8, 50mm 1.8 primes). I also have an experienced second shooter which I’m happy about and who suggested I get a speedlight. Based on the lens that I mentioned having what would you recommend I use?

    Camacho Roberts
    LenzMazter Studios

  25. Nicole reply

    I am shooting my first wedding ever this summer and to say the least I’m a bit nervous. I figured I’d go on KJ’s website and search if she had advice for this situation and low and behold she did!! You are truly amazing Katelyn! Love the KJ All Access Course!

  26. Evermark Studios reply

    Photography, especially wedding photography, should never be a “fake it until you make it” industry. Sure, everybody has a first wedding but being up front and honest is so important. I love that you took the time to actually help versus acting like those first few clients are supposed to just magically be added to a portfolio.

  27. Emily reply

    Thank you so much for this information I was just asked to photograph a wedding today without prior experience. Since I mainly do portraits.

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