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Business of Wedding Photography

a guide by photo.net wedding photographers, November 2007


Index | Next Topic

Topic #7: Organization on the Job - Before, During and After the Wedding

Jeff Ascough • Mary Ball • Conrad Erb • Michael Mowery • Nadine Ohara • Josh Root • David Wegwart • Marc Williams

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:

  1. How do you organize your documentation on each client?
  2. Before the wedding, when and how many times do you meet with the bride and groom?
  3. How much time prior to the ceremony/reception do you arrive to set up?
  4. How do you organize/approach family group photos?

Organizing documentation on each client

How do you organize your documentation on each client?

Nadine Ohara: 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.

Marc 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.

Jeff Ascough: 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 file.

Conrad Erb: 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.

Michael Mowery: I create a file on each client on my computer then make hard copies for the file cabinet.

David 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 through email.

Meetings with the bride and groom

Before the wedding, when and how many times do you meet with the bride and groom?

Nadine Ohara: 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.

Josh Root: 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.

Marc Williams: Once usually, unless they sign-up for a engagement photo. Sometimes I won't meet them in person until the wedding day.

Jeff Ascough: 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.

Mary Ball: 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.

Conrad Erb: It depends - usually once or twice, but sometimes we hang out a few times and become friends before the wedding.

Michael Mowery: Once to collect payment, then again to go over the details.

David Wegwart: I meet once at the initial meeting, then the engagement session (assuming they have one), then depending on the client once more a week or two before the day.

Preparation time before the wedding

How much time prior to the ceremony/reception do you arrive to set up?

Nadine Ohara: 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.

Josh Root: 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 before the ceremony starts.

Marc 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 so.

Jeff Ascough: 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 photos 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.

Conrad Erb: 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.

Michael Mowery: I find 45 minutes before the job is enough for my assistant 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.

David Wegwart: About 15-30 minutes prior depending on how much there is to prep.

Family group photography

How do you organize/approach family group photos?

Nadine Ohara: 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 have communicated to me, as well as other info I feel is crucial.

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 busybody aunt.

Marc Williams: I arrange for a family member to be the herdsman. I photograph as much as possible given the time allocated for groups. There are a few mandatories and after that it's a function of time.

Jeff Ascough: 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 people.

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.

Conrad Erb: 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.

Michael Mowery: I have a family breakdown list and I know all the combinations by heart. If the client provides a check list then my assistant marks them off.

David 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 family in to make the large group, then remove the bride's family for the B&G with the groom's family.

Next Topic #8: Working with Assistants and Second Shooters

More


Text contributed by: Jeff Ascough, Mary Ball, Conrad Erb, Michael Mowery, Nadine Ohara, Josh Root, David Wegwart, Marc Williams, ©2007. Edited by Hannah Thiem. All photos are copyright the photographer, and may not be used without written permission.

Article created November 2007

Readers' Comments


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Hannah Thiem , February 12, 2008; 11:18 A.M.

These are just a few perspectives on staying organized for wedding gigs. We'd love to hear your thoughts, tips, advice on this topic.

Denton Hoyer , February 12, 2008; 08:26 P.M.

No photographer mentioned getting "candids" at the brides home or the prep time before the wedding. Is that not a typical request or is that "pricing structure" on another scale. Also, little mention of how to approach getting the B&G alone for more itimate shots. Just wondering how far you go for what level of service expected.

Thanks to the photographers for contributing their experience.

Denton Hoyer

Melissa Hay , December 03, 2008; 07:54 P.M.

I’d like to thank all of the professional wedding photographers who have added their experiences to this article. I appreciate the advice and will use it while I review the organization of my Vancouver photography studio. Thanks, Melissa

Matt Elliott , June 11, 2014; 05:35 A.M.

Wedding Photographer Process

Some really great stuff in here and I've written a blog post about my experience as a professional wedding photographer on what a typical wedding process is like from start to finish. Visit this page: Professional Wedding Photographer


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