I have a dear and very cheerful friend who always assumes that the worst is going to happen. It very rarely does and so, when things turn out better than expected, she’s always much happier than she thought she possibly could be bearing in mind that things are always turning out better than anticipated!
Photographing a wedding is, in many ways fraught with the potential for things to go wrong. There are so many variable factors involved, many out of the photographer’s control, and it’s important to have strategies to reduce risk as far as possible and also to have mechanisms in place to cope when things do go wrong. It’s good to assume the worst will happen so that you can do your utmost to prevent it, you can cope if it does happen and, if it doesn’t happen you can count your blessings and come out smiling!
Most importantly this type of approach minimises stress. Sometimes stress can be a good thing as it concentrates the mind, creates focus and energy but, on the other hand it can be draining both physically and mentally. Most importantly for the photographer, feeling stressed is not the most creatively conducive condition to be on a wedding day!
I’ve photographed hundreds of weddings over the last twelve years and have gradually evolved a number of routines and strategies to reduce stress and increase my chances of success. I can’t eliminate stress altogether and in many ways that would be a bad thing but I do know how to arrive at a wedding in the best physical and mental shape and how to stack the odds in my favour for things to go well. This applies both photographically and also logistically but I’m going to concentrate on the logistics in this post.
So, bearing in mind that the two only real certainties in life are death and taxes…here we go!
Firstly, planning is key! Planning for a wedding day starts long before the day itself with a face to face or Skype meeting with the bride and groom. I always insist on this even if the bride has emailed me a massive organisational document as there’s little to beat just chatting through timings and expectations and dealing with any potential issues before they crop up on the day.
Timings are vital and I always look at these carefully and realistically discuss what can be achieved in the time available. One of the most critical times is the time that the wedding party go in for dinner. I always check with the venue the day before that they are expecting the couple to go in for dinner at the time I have been told. Surprisingly often the two times don’t tally and I have been able to sort out the problem in advance rather than during the rush of the day.
My planning sheet also includes emergency contact details, the names and contact details of the other suppliers, a list of names of the main people in the wedding and the addresses of the venue.
I’ve heard of wedding suppliers going to the wrong venue on a wedding day – don’t assume that you know which one it is, some venues have the same or very similar names, check out the exact location to be sure.
Group photo list
The planning sheet also includes a list of family group photos that the couple would like. It’s vital to have this discussed before the day itself and also to go through locations and wet weather plans. Work out which one for the attendants will help you organise these and if necessary talk to the venue about access to upper windows if the couple want a large overview shot of the whole party. Don’t leave this sort of thing until the wedding day – it’s too stressful!
My personal planning for a wedding starts a few days before. The more thoroughly I plan, the less stressed I feel and the more brain space I can allocate to being creative on the day.
One of my primary stresses on the wedding day is actually getting there! To a certain extent, once I have a camera in my hand, I’m master of my own destiny but there is little I can do to control traffic, the weather conditions or the fact that the local car park is full.
Plan travel and accommodation
To minimise risk in this area I thoroughly plan my travel a couple of days before. Obviously, if I know that the wedding will include an overnight stay then this all happens a number of weeks before the big day. However, generally I will start planning for a Saturday wedding on the Wednesday or Thursday the week before.
Locate the venues
Primarily this means locating all of the venues and checking their postcodes and locations on Google maps. I then print out a local map for each venue and also a route and timing from one to the other – at this point checking with the time sheet for the day to make sure that there really is enough time to get from A to B. I always plan my route to avoid dual carriageways and motorways wherever possible – my thinking being that, if there is a major hold up on one of these roads I will be completely stuck – least on an ordinary road I have the option of turning round or turning off and am less likely to get completely caught out.
I also check for roadworks or other known issues. If I’m going into London by public transport I check for engineering works and other closures and then I can give myself a realistic time at which I need to leave to get to the wedding on time.
This is the crux of the matter because I ALWAYS leave a huge amount of contingency time. For an hour’s journey I would allow two hours for example allowing me plenty of time to get stuck, lost or whatever might happen and still be on time. I would far rather leave earlier in the morning and arrive an hour early than wait around at home and then arrive just on time.
I actually like sitting in the car waiting – I know that I’m there, I feel less stressed and I often spend the time watching maybe a favourite comedy or something similar on my phone – it relaxes my mind, puts me in a good mood for the day to come and fills the time rather nicely.
Check the weather forecast
At the early planning stage I will always look at the weather forecast as well – this generally isn’t going to cause too many problems but I have been to weddings in the snow and had to make some last minute contingency plans to get there on time.
Check the parking situation
Going back to the planning stage I will always check out the parking situation as well, look for the nearest parking online, I often Google Earth the location if it looks a bit tricky to find so that I have a visual impression of what it will look like beforehand and I always make sure that I always have plenty of change with me for parking as well.
It’s worth mentioning that I rarely, if ever need to use the Google map print outs. Once in the car I rely on my Sat Nav and I rarely have a problem with this. I check that it is updated every year and I also have a back up Sat Nav app on my phone. I also carry a detailed and annually updated roadmap in the car with me for dire emergencies.
Check the car
Obviously my car is really important and it’s regularly serviced and checked. I check the oil, water and tyres the day before the wedding and drive it to make sure everything is OK especially if I haven’t used it for a day or two. I have all of the documentation I would need to hire a car quickly to hand so that if I do have a problem with the car the day before I could hire a car quickly – luckily we are a two car family so I also have that additional safety net as well. The car is covered by comprehensive breakdown cover also should the need arise.
Check Google Traffic
Finally, on the morning of the wedding it’s over to Google maps again to check out the traffic situation. I find the traffic update facility invaluable and I check it on my phone before every journey on a wedding day. It’s saved my bacon on more than one occasion where wedding guests have been caught up in bad traffic and I’ve been able to take another route and not get stuck. It’s free, get it on your phone and use it! In the evening, after the day is done I simply put on the Sat Nav and hit the home button – lovely!
I’m not going to go through a list of equipment as every photographer works in a different way and will take different kit with them. However, there are a number of procedures that we can all do to reduce risk and stress and I will go through what work for me. I shoot digitally, most of this will not apply to film shooters. I started my wedding photography career shooting on film and I have to say that, from a risk adverse point of view, the idea of shooting a wedding fills me with quaking fear!
So first things first, I keep a close eye on the shutter count on my cameras, have them serviced and replace the bodies at regular intervals. Camera bodies are now disposable objects and should be replaced on an ongoing basis. I take three camera bodies to each wedding, one main one, a backup and a complete disaster scenario third body if the other two fail. In 12 years I have had one camera body fail once whilst doing the family group shots at a wedding – I calmly just picked up the back up and the couple didn’t even notice. Terrifying, but it does happen.
Buy the very best branded memory cards. No excuses, no compromise and replace them on an annual basis.
I also ensure that the cards I use are only used in the same camera each time and I format them in camera before each wedding. I never delete anything in camera and I never ever delete anything at all during a wedding – ever. I also don’t change them over whilst the camera is on and I always download using a high quality card reader.
When not in use the cards are in a secure waterproof and shock proof box and, on the wedding day they stay with me for the whole day. As far as I’m concerned, when I’ve shot with them on the day they are worth a lot of money. If I lose them or the pictures from them it’s going to cost me a lot of cash and heart ache so I never let them out of my sight. That includes not even leaving them in the car if I need to get petrol on the way home.
Dual card slots
The particular cameras that I choose to use are dual card slot and I use one slot for RAW files and the second as a back up slot which records duplicate fine Jpegs. I am sorely and deeply tempted to move to a mirrorless system but I do think, as professionals, if we are able to shoot onto two cards at a time that is what we should responsibly be doing. I simply do not understand why in the world it isn’t possible to get a mirrorless camera with dual card slots yet.
Use several smaller cards
I use one large capacity card in the Jpeg backup slot and need to change the main RAW memory cards about five times per wedding. This is deliberate as again it spreads the risk if one card fails. I use the RAW files to work from back at the studio and the Jpeg back up card is simply downloaded in one go as a back up.
Back up to laptop
In addition, I take a small laptop with me to each wedding and I download the RAW files during the wedding breakfast so that when I leave the wedding I have the RAW files on my memory cards, the RAW files on my laptop and a duplicate Jpeg set on the back up memory card as well. As the files download during the wedding breakfast I always have a quick look through them and I do a very rough edit by marking in anything that I think is usable and not flagging anything that isn’t technically correct or is simply not a good image. This is a quick process and I don’t make any judgements in comparing pictures – I’m simply weeding out errors. It’s important to note here that I don’t physically delete any of the pictures at this stage (I’ve just flagged or marked the ones I want to keep) I don’t actually delete anything until I get back to the studio and the back up card has been downloaded onto my main computer.
I leave the wedding with a roughly edited set of RAW files on the laptop, the set of RAW files on the five cards and a duplicate set of Jpegs on the backup card. You may think that some of this is a bit of overkill but I always sleep deeply, peacefully and soundly the night after a wedding – there’s nothing like the reassurance of multiple file backups and a quick edit!
So, my main camera bag consists of two camera bodies, flash unit and lenses. The emergency bag contains the complete disaster scenario third camera body, one spare general purpose lens, a spare flash unit, chargers for all batteries, phone charger, laptop charger, a few less likely to be used medical bits and pieces and emergency cash, contact lenses etc etc.
Everything that I’m likely to need on the day goes in the camera bag and the emergency bag stays in the car – I’ve actually never had to use it but it’s reassuring to know that it’s there.
It’s probably worth saying at this point that all of my equipment basically lives in either the camera bag or the emergency bag. I don’t re pack the bags for each wedding – this way I know where everything is and I’m less likely to forget anything. I do still have a written checklist that I go through before each wedding but 95% of my equipment is already packed and ready to go.
Some of this might sound a bit funny but it works for me! Again most of my preparation is done the day before so that if anything does go wrong I have time to rectify it.
The day before
Firstly, I try to have a relatively quiet day the day before a wedding. I generally exercise on most days but the day before a wedding I just go for a swim – my reasoning being that it’s quite relaxing and I’m unlikely to injure myself. However, I did recently cut my finger really badly in the pool the day before a wedding – unbelievable!
I also avoid curry, beer and other favourite indulgences that could have after effects and try to have an early night as well.
Ironing is done in the morning of the day before– check that the iron is clean so that you don’t have to rush out and buy anything new. I clean my shoes after ironing to avoid getting any polish onto my clean clothes, check I can find a belt, a good pair of socks and a handkerchief and put all of these things out ready. This only takes a few minutes the day before but can seem to take an eternity if you’re in a rush on the morning of a wedding and you can’t find the right pair of socks – avoid the stress!
I also shave the night before rather than on the morning as, if I do cut myself, I can nurse myself and blot my abrasion the night before rather than bleeding down my nice clean shirt rushing to the car – yes, the voice of experience!
On the day itself I set two alarm clocks, eat a good breakfast and make sure that I’m well hydrated. My morning routine includes double checking timings, checking off my written out kit list, checking for travel problems and then relaxing. Everything else is prepared so I just chill out until it’s time to leave.
My lovely partner always makes me packed food even if I’ve been promised food at the wedding as I generally find it’s better to eat several small snacks on the day than to get hungry and then sit down for a big meal. Other personal items include carrying cash, emergency credit card, pain killers, snacks, water, plasters, hayfever tabs, heart burn tabs, scissors, sewing kit, cravat and buttonhole instructions, sellotape, spare contact lenses and solutions and a spare glasses.
So, with everything planned, prepared and packed I head out of the house with my camera bag, my emergency bag and a food bag.
If I’m fully prepared as described above I can arrive at the wedding relaxed, confident and not feeling unduly stressed. I’m in the right frame of mind to work at my best for the couple and to be creative. I can then divert all of my attention to this rather than worrying about things going wrong, not knowing where the right bit of equipment is or stressing about travel arrangements.
Take care during the day
The final part of the plan involves looking after myself. Inevitably the day will be physically and mentally demanding but my goal is to remain as sharp, alert and creative at the end of the day as at the beginning.
I used to rush around like a mad thing all day and end up tired out, hungry and dehydrated. Experience has taught me that slow and steady wins the day and I now deliberately take regular five minute breaks where I step away from things, put the camera down and take stock. I eat and drink regularly during the day, walk and don’t run around like a mad thing and pace myself.
Weddings are frequently 10 hour marathons, it’s about all day consistency and creativity and it’s important not to be dead on your legs by late afternoon!
I really hope that you have found some useful ideas in this. I’m sure that you will also think that some of my ideas are a bit crazy or a bit too cautious and maybe they are but they work for me. I couldn’t enjoy my job as much as I do if I had to deal with the weekly or twice weekly stress that inexperience or just poor planning and organisation brings.
The strategies above alleviate a great deal of this for me and allow me to get on and enjoy what I do best – taking photographs. Everyone will gradually create a system of their own that works for them but if I have helped speed that process up and given you any ideas to reduce your stress, feel more secure at a wedding and free your mind to concentrate on your photography then I will be happy that my job is done.
About the Author
Andrew Hind is a professional wedding photographer based in Cambridge UK. He’s a Dad, a classic car enthusiast and a real ale lover as well as being a keen musician. You can see more of his work on the Lightworks Photography website or catch up on Facebook.