Wedding Photography Survival Guide: Difficult Situations and How to Handle Them

Wedding photography is a fast-paced high-stakes environment, kind of like football or poker, except without all the hitting or sunglasses and hats. It’s actually really hard to shoot with sunglasses on and tackling would damage our gear so try to avoid that too. Luckily, after over a decade of photographing weddings, I’ve picked up a few survival tips that might just help you get through your first wedding season unscathed.

You get one chance to shoot any particular couple’s wedding, and you have to nail it rain or shine despite any gear mishaps or family drama. Sometimes it’s all about proper preparation. Other things require you to practice certain skills and develop systems.

Possibly the hardest situations that might happen on a wedding day are best fixed by a mindset shift. There are simply some things that you as the wedding photographer can’t control. Therefore, change what you can even if in some situations it’s just your approach.

Terrible Light

Terrible light is a major problem that can turn your vision of portfolio-worthy wedding images into a blown-out sweaty mess. If you learn about how to deal with terrible light, you’ll be less stressed when it inevitably happens. You still may not like it when you’re stuck with terrible lighting on a wedding day but at least you’ll be able to handle it.

First, it’s imperative that you learn how to see light and how to photograph it in a variety of conditions. And then, you’ll want to learn how to create light when necessary. Don’t try to master a million lighting techniques at once.

Instead, focus on studying the specific venue and timeline that you’re working with and finding a simple and attainable solution. At the next wedding, you might be able to use the same technique you practiced and you might add another one to your repertoire. Gradually you’ll build a variety of skills that allow you to deal with terrible lighting situations.

Being Creative All Day

Depending on your wedding photography packages you might be working 6, 8, 10, 12, or even more hours on a wedding day. Let me tell you, it’s exhausting. You’re on your feet all day and when you’re not standing you’re squatting in some terrible pose or climbing over things.

Not to mention, you also have to be creative. All day. Therefore it helps to come up with a plan where you won’t run out of steam.

You’ll have to make your own strategy but for me, it helps to take care of my body ahead of time by stretching, working out, and eating in the morning when possible. Then, I also try to pay attention to my body mechanics on the day of as well as making sure I’m hydrated and have enough calories throughout the day. It helps to have a system for packing all of the camera gear (including snacks) ahead of time so that I’m not rushing around.

Beyond that, I try to have a creative goal I’m working towards and let other things roll off my back. Sometimes we listen to some good music before we start and it helps me to be early too. The rest of the tips will also help you have more capacity for creativity.

Things Not Going to Plan (Like the Wedding Timeline)

Wedding days, even the most overplanned and overscheduled ones, will not always go to plan. Someone forgets the forks or gets in a mountain bike accident or it’s raining and you literally have no backup plan for your outdoor wedding. These are all real things that have happened at weddings I’ve been the photographer for.

The trick is to know that things won’t go to plan and have a plan for that. If, correction, when the wedding timeline gets behind you’ll want to already have some buffer time planned in there and strategies for how to make up time. It’s important to stay cool because your vibe can make or break the couple’s vibe.

Sometimes, if you act like something isn’t a big deal your couple will believe you. And even if you’ve got everyone running around in the background to fix it, your couple’s perspective is what matters at the end of the day. Sometimes I walk away thinking the day was complete chaos but my couple is happy and loves their photos, that’s a win.

Gear Mishaps

Gear mishaps might happen too so again, the key is to be prepared. Have backups or alternatives to everything essential. Maybe you can’t afford a complete backup camera kit but you need to budget for some sort of backup camera that can substitute in a pinch.

Have spare batteries and bring a charger too. Shoot on a camera with dual card slots or if your camera doesn’t have dual card slots then change out cards periodically so that if a card fails you don’t lose all of your images. Also, try not to drop your gear.

For me, when something starts functioning improperly, if I start to panic I can’t solve the problem. Stay calm, pivot, wait for a pause in things if you need to, and then think the problem through. Sometimes the problems are easy to solve but you can’t solve them if you can’t see the solution.

Bride, Groom, and Mom-zillas: Unrealistic Expectations

Forget Bridezillas. What about Groomzillas, Maid-of-Honor-zillas, and Mother-of-the-Bridezillas? There’s a good chance that at some of your weddings, you’ll run into some personality that really hinders your ability to do your job. Often it all comes down to unrealistic expectations.

I know you can’t go back and time so it won’t work at the moment, but if you do a good job of setting expectations with your clients prior to the wedding day you can prevent a lot of this type of thing. The more you attract clients who are a good fit for both your personality and your photography, the more likely you’ll end up with awesome clients. We actually very rarely have any Bridezillas, our Brides are awesome, and I think that’s because we’re on the same page,

But sometimes even a fully vetted couple that you thought would be the best couple on the wedding day can pull a Frankenstein. The stress of a wedding can bring out the best and the worst in people and if you find yourself in those situations all you can do is focus on getting the shot. Remind yourself that it’s only one day and remind yourself of your other awesome couples, and then smile and do your job like a professional.

Unavoidable Family Dynamics

The key word here is unavoidable. Accepting that family dynamics are unavoidable is the first step in admitting that you’re going to have to deal with this on a wedding day. I still get really uncomfortable in awkward situations even though I’ve seen a lot of family issues up close. One of the best things to do is get information on what you’re walking into and then walk into it with a plan.

We straight up ask our couples if there are any family dynamics we need to be aware of. Then, we’re able to put together a family picture list that avoids as much as possible and gets the awkward parts over as efficiently as possible. Essentially, we have a standard efficient, and effective family picture list and then we adapt our standard family picture list to accommodate various issues.

There are simple things like keeping in mind that elderly grandparents or small children should go first when possible because waiting or walking might be hard for them. Then, there are more challenging things like divorced parents that don’t get along. If you plan ahead then maybe you can avoid being in a situation where you’re trying to take a picture that nobody would ever want anyway.

There you have it: a selection of challenging situations you may come across in the course of doing wedding photography and some pointers on how you can survive as a photographer.

About the author: Brenda Bergreen is a Colorado wedding photographer, videographer, yoga teacher, and writer who works alongside her husband at Bergreen Photography. With their mission and mantra “love. adventurously.” they are dedicated to telling adventurous stories in beautiful places.