Let’s discuss the reality of being a working wedding photographer. I’m not talking about being a ‘rockstar’ photographer who charges 25K and shoots a single-digit amount of weddings every season. I’m writing from the perspective of a hustling wedding pro working day in and day out in the thick of it all to earn a decent living.
Before I dive into how wedding photographers have also become stand-in wedding planners and how I have changed my business to accommodate this need (and create a nice selling point to potential clients), let me tell you where I am coming from.
For years I have been shooting 40+ weddings each season. I’m the photographer who stays up at night worrying about his bookings, wondering if he will hit his goal, and putting in those 10, 12, and 14 hour days to make the business happen. I try to strategically price my services between brides and grooms with ‘healthy’ budgets and those who many not have budgeted much but see a value in quality photos and are willing to stretch a bit for the right photographer.
For this post, I’m going to be writing about one of the biggest hats a wedding photographer wears on a wedding day: that of the wedding planner.
In a perfect world I would show up to the hotel in the morning with my Leica rangefinder and spend the next 6 hours making whimsical black and white art for my perfect clients on their stunning, perfect day. But the reality of being a wedding photographer is that you often also play the role of wedding planner.
It starts in the morning. What time is it? Why is there a bridesmaid missing? How long until the hair and makeup are done? Don’t they realize we have to be out of here at noon? And where’s the mother of the bride? Has she even showered yet? No one can find the brides shoes. Where is the limo? The limo needs a jump in the driveway? Where are my jumper cables?
No matter what the situation is in the morning, one thing is for sure: that ceremony must happen at the exact time it’s printed on the invites. An oftentimes it becomes the photographer’s job to keep everything on track.
This is why I do a very thorough (and ideally in-person) pre-wedding meeting about 30 days before the actual day. It’s at this meeting that I discuss four key areas of the couple’s day.
One, addresses. I want the exact address of every single location we will be that day. The salon, the hotel, the church, the place we’re stopping for photos, the venue, the after party… all of it.
Two, timeline. This is the most important part of my planner. I need a full-day timeline, broken down into 15 minute segments, to help run the day. I need to know when I’m arriving, when should the bridesmaids be ready, when should the bride’s dress go on, when are we leaving the hotel, what time is the ceremony, how long is the trip between each location, when does cocktail hour start, where and when will we do the family formals, etc etc. Most likely, there won’t be anyone else there (except maybe a videographer or two) who will have any idea what is supposed to happen and when. This role is on me, the photographer. If I want time to shoot the bridal party later, I better make sure things are running on schedule beforehand.
Three, family formals. I talk about these in advance, and with a lot of detail. The last thing I want to do is to try and wrangle 30 family members together for photos with no set plan on what groups I am shooting and when. I make sure you get first names of the key people, and if you really want to make things easy, set a go-to person who can help identify the family for you (I almost always ask the Maid of Honor).
Four, details. Did you know your bride spent 18 grueling hours hand-bedazzling the card box that is shoved in the corner of the room? It’s your job to know these things so you can photograph all of those details. Sure every wedding has some of the same details (the dress, rings, flowers, etc). But did you know the bride’s best friend baked the cake? Did you know that there’s a special American flag patch that her father wore in the military stitched into the bottom of her dress? You have to ask these things in order to know to photograph them.
The point of this post is that you should never be afraid to take charge of the wedding. Oftentimes you’ll be walking into a group of people who will all be looking to you to fill the role of planner. Whether it’s fair or not, it’s a reality of being a wedding photographer in the mid-range of pricing.
Sure, brides and grooms who can afford $10,000 photographers probably also hired a really great wedding planner. But what about the brides who have a photography budget of $2,500? Or $3,000? Can they also afford a $3,500 planner? Probably not… and that’s where you come in.
About the author: Eric Brushett is a wedding photographer, husband, lover of black cats and all things New York Jets based in Hamden, Connecticut. You can see some of his work and connect with him through his website, Facebook, and Instagram.