Photographer Ted Kawalerski made the transition from still to motion and has never looked back. Ted takes you through the steps to get started in a medium that will open your photography business to...
The Business of Wedding Photography is an extensive subject, best
answered by a team of professional wedding photographers, who also
happen to be star photo.net members. In this article, these
professional photographers have contributed advice and personal
experience gained from running wedding businesses. They have provided
advice on how to organize your documentation on wedding clients, and
how best to be organized before, during and after the wedding. In
addition, they also included example wedding photos of wedding group
photos, bridal portraits, and ceremony photos. Whether you are just
entering the field of wedding photography, or are a seasoned
professional, the tips and insights shared here should be helpful with
your own business.
We asked our panel of experts the following questions:
How do you organize your documentation on each client?
I use an information form for each client/couple. I use binder clips
to attach other info. I could probably do better at keeping things
together but I've been doing things this way for years with no
problems so far.
Josh Root: I
make use of a simple "manila folder" system. I keep all contracts,
notes, maps, invitations, etc., in the folder. I also have an info
sheet that sits on top listing all of the most important facts, times,
phone numbers, and addresses related to the wedding.
Williams: My contract is two pages. Both the client and myself get
a copy. I place the document on a hard drive and file the hard copy in
a file cabinet. I also keep a calendar with the days marked.
I have a ring binder with an envelope that holds all of the client's
paperwork; basically just their contract and an information sheet.
Mary Ball: I
maintain a database with a calendar. The database holds the contract,
tip sheet, personality/priority/vision questionnaire, wedding info
sheet for details, list of required photographs and timetable,
addresses, contact names and family names. This all goes into their
I use a traditional manila folder and put all the papers related to
that couple in the folder. This includes the contract, my notes from
our consultation, the list of family/formal photographs they want,
directions, the invitation, etc.
Mowery: I create a file on each client on my computer then make
hard copies for the file cabinet.
Wegwart: There are three parts to my paperwork: the contract, the
model release, and the information sheet. The info sheet includes all
details about the couple, the day booked, who will be the contact for
each part of the day/venue, etc. I then archive a digital copy of
everything (I scan the paper copies) and do as much as possible
Nadine Ohara - SF Bay Area/CA
Meetings with the bride and groom
Before the wedding, when and how many times do you meet with the
bride and groom?
I usually have the initial and/or sales meeting with the client
face-to-face, and then proceed to the wedding day. Sometimes I will
meet the client again between the two, especially if requested
to. Otherwise, I keep in contact via mail, e-mail, and phone.
That depends on the couple. Typically we will meet once or twice
to discuss the wedding and sign the contract. Then we will have a
phone call a week or two before the wedding date to re-confirm all
information and double-check anything that hadn't been decided at the
time of the contract signing.
Williams: Once usually, unless they sign-up for a engagement
photo. Sometimes I won't meet them in person until the wedding
The first time I see 75% of my clients is on the wedding day. 25% of
my clients I may see once before the wedding. I haven't seen a client
more than once for many years.
Naturally we have a first meeting unless it is an out-of-town
wedding. Some clients I only talk to once or twice and others can be
up to 10-15 phone calls/emails. I talk to the client 1-2 weeks prior
by phone and spend an hour or so going over the info sheet asking
questions and confirming details.
It depends - usually once or twice, but sometimes we hang out a
few times and become friends before the wedding.
Once to collect payment, then again to go over the details.
Wegwart: I meet once at the initial meeting, then the engagement
session (assuming they have one), then depending on the client once
a week or two before the day.
David Wegwart - Denver/CO.
Preparation time before the wedding
How much time prior to the ceremony/reception do you arrive to
If I haven't been to a venue before, I arrive about a half hour before
the start time to scout around. Otherwise, I plan to arrive about
fifteen minutes before the start time. Most of the time, that start
time is for the getting-ready session, in which case, very minimal set
up is involved. The most set up regarding equipment is before a church
ceremony when I place my tripod and off-camera flashes for use
during the ceremony, and after for the family photographs. Set up at
receptions involves two off-camera flashes.
That really depends on if I have done a wedding at the location in the
past. There are a few locations I have been to so many times I could
almost just show up as the bride and groom were walking down the
aisle. When it is a new location, I try to get there an hour or so
beforehand, particularly if it is a location in a city that I am not
familiar with. You don't want to be lost with five minutes to go
the ceremony starts.
Williams: I get there at the time we agree on. Set up consists of
taking the camera out of the rolling case, if I haven't already done
I usually arrive 30-60 minutes early for a wedding. I have nothing to
set up, so it is usually a walk around, a chat with the event
coordinator, and a few scenic photographs to get my mind focused.
Mary Ball: We
arrive 15-30 minutes prior to the assignment. Most start with
getting-ready photographs, but since we're also doing family/portrait
outside, I check for the best locations when I arrive and then
we go in and start photographing.
We almost never get a chance to see the church or reception site
first unless the whole wedding is taking place at one location. That
is why experience is important. You have to be able to assess the
situation/lighting, etc., very quickly.
Usually 20-30 minutes. I like to have a look around and see where the
ceremony is, what the light will be like, where the power outlets are
if I need to use a monolight, etc.
Mowery: I find 45 minutes before the job is enough for my
to set up and me to scout. One thing to point out is always leave more
than enough travel time no matter where you go just to be safe.
About 15-30 minutes prior depending on how much there is to prep.
Family group photography
How do you organize/approach family group photos?
I use lists, which I find very useful. I give the client a list of
photographs that I try to get at every wedding. It is not meant for
them to check off the things they want, although they can if they
want. However, there are two sections on my list that I require them
to complete. One is a list of their relatives or other very important
people - the ones they want in their formal family group
photographs. The other is a list of any photos or poses or locations
they are particularly interested in having a photo of, and any
others that aren't obvious to me, such as a photograph with
sorority chums, co-workers, etc.
During the family photo session, I know the combinations and go
through them pretty fast. If they listed other groups, I make sure I
get them. I use a cheat sheet for every wedding, which I prepare
before the day, and includes all the info or special requests they
communicated to me, as well as other info I feel is crucial.
Conrad Erb - Philadelphia, PA
Josh Root: I
ask the B&G to make a list of what family portraits they want to have
done. If the list is particularly long, I remind them of how much
time that is going to take. Depending on how important the portraits
are to the couple, and how much time there is during the wedding day
to take them, I may help them pare down the list. I ask
them to designate someone from their family to help corral the various
family members so that everyone is in the right place at the right
time. I typically suggest that this is a good job for a loudmouth
Williams: I arrange for a family member to be the herdsman. I
photograph as much as possible given the time allocated for
are a few mandatories and after that it's a function of time.
I make sure the ushers/groomsmen/MC have a list of the groups and the
time I expect to take each group's photographs. I try and keep to a
maximum of six groups and try to avoid anything larger than ten
Mary Ball: I
have a pre-printed info sheet. The couple just has to check off what
they want. I coach them very carefully on how much time it takes and
encourage certain photographs (friends/aunts and uncles, etc.) to be
done later in the interest of time. I also take a hard look at the
list versus how much time we have in between venues. I also consider
worst- case possibilities, such as traffic, if going to a different
location and advise the couple on what can be done
realistically. Sometimes that means moving the reception up or
extending the cocktail hour.
I tell my couples to give me a list of photographs they want, and
if there are many, we make a tentative schedule to make sure we have
enough time. If they want to play things by ear, that's fine as long
as the total number of groups is small.
Asking for a list is a good way to make sure that the couple isn't
biting off more than they can chew. One couple initially gave me a
list of 35 different arrangements involving more than 50 people, which
would normally take me about two hours! We pared it down
quite a bit and they were happy.
David Wegwart - Denver/CO.
Mowery: I have a family breakdown list and I know all the
heart. If the client provides a check list then my assistant marks
Wegwart: I normally ask who will be in each family photograph and
if there is someone who can help from each family to organize
everyone. This works well as there is always someone in each family
who would love to officially instruct their relatives. Once we
begin, I have the B&G with her family start, then add the groom's
to make the large group, then remove the bride's family for the B&G
with the groom's family.