So you’ve decided you want to learn wedding photography but you want to learn it fast and for free. Luckily there’s no better way to learn than by diving in and making mistakes along the way. Additionally, with countless resources and inspiration sources, you’re bound to find someone to teach and inspire you even if they don’t know they’re doing it.
We have a strong desire for instant gratification, I want something and I want it now. The main barrier to you right now is that you don’t know what you don’t know, there’s a lot more that goes into running a photography business than most people realize. The best way to learn what you don’t know is to immerse yourself.
Whether you want to hear it or not, the absolute fastest way to learn wedding photography is to shoot some actual real-life weddings. You’re going to want to read the article on how to shoot your first wedding so that it’s not your last and prepare as much as you can. But at some point, you’re going to have to jump in.
There’s a reality to the fact that this is an important day for the couple and if you mess up, they’ll never get another chance. But there’s also a reality to the fact that wedding photography is a luxury and while a lot of couples have a big budget for it, there are also many who don’t. If a couple is willing to take a risk on you, at some point you’re going to have to risk it.
Sure, practice your photography a lot, second shoot, and do a mock wedding. And yet you still won’t be prepared for everything that happens on a real-life wedding day. But every time you shoot a wedding, you will be closer to understanding the ins and outs and all the things that can happen.
Shoot a Lot
Practice, practice, and yes, more practice. The best way to learn photography is by taking photos. You can study and read and take notes but until you put it into practice you haven’t taken the tests.
Eventually you’ll want to be more intentional about what you’re shooting, but in the beginning you’re learning. The more you shoot the more you’ll discover what works and what doesn’t. And then you’ll have more files to learn from too, as we’ll talk about in the next section.
I’m sure you were hoping for some quick hacks and secrets of the trade, but most things require you to actually do the thing in order to learn it. In fact, if you’re like me, you’re probably sitting behind your computer pretending you’re researching when in fact you are procrastinating.
Stop thinking about the thing and start doing the thing. You can’t get your 10,000 hours of practice without putting in one hour at a time.
When you’re practicing, give yourself assignments or some kind of challenge that will teach you a specific skill. This can come in the form of using a specific lens or focal length, shooting in a particular type of light, or trying to shoot a subject in a new way. Get close, get far, get high, get low.
Most good photography learning is born out of some kind of restriction or limitation. Go out there and learn!
Cull and Edit
As I alluded to in the previous section, not only can you learn from shooting but you can learn from what you shot. One of the benefits of digital photography is that it’s free to take a bunch of bad images in order to learn from them. Don’t be afraid to take bad images, sometimes they’re a window to the good ones.
Culling your photos down to a deliverable image set is one of the most brutal aspects of wedding photography. It’s when you have to see all of your worst images and they tend to stick in your head more than your best ones. However, this is also a great time for learning about what you did right and what you did wrong.
As you cull and edit your images you’ll learn a lot about how you think while you’re shooting. If you have the opportunity, go through the process with a friend too so that you can see how their brain works and vice versa. Then, use what you learned in the process to set a goal for the next time you’re out shooting.
Analyze Your Work
As an extension of the last tip where you have to look at all the images you shot, next you’ll want to spend some time looking at your best images. Analyze why you like them. What makes them strong, and what could make them even stronger?
Then find someone you trust to look at your images too and tell you what they think. Someday you might hire a mentor to help coach you, but for now, just find a peer. Sometimes we can see what someone else needs to do better than we can see what we want to do.
Talking about your photography and looking at your photography will help you understand why some images work better than others. Maybe there was something you were trying to achieve, some thought going through your head. If you didn’t quite accomplish your goal, figure out why so that you can try again.
Study Other Photographers Work
It can be helpful after you’ve studied your own work to study the work of other photographers. Study competitors that are at your level and study others that are ahead of you. Learn what people are doing and why, and get a feel for different styles and techniques.
Avoid comparison and strive for inspiration. Again, look at what makes an image strong and why it appeals to you. If you don’t like an image, make sure you know exactly why and figure out how to explain it.
Sometimes we look at art and it just speaks to us; we don’t know exactly why. But the trick to building your artistic skills is to figure out why. Sure, some of it is instinct and gut but there are also recipes and techniques that are reliably successful so learn them.
Develop Systems and Then Try New Things
I believe in systems, having a plan will reduce stress. Knowing how to use your gear and achieve certain looks is better than winging it and hoping for the best. Have a plan for how you’re going to shoot the predictable parts of the day, talk it through and visualize it.
Develop systems so that you can create reliably consistent images for your clients. Basically, you’re putting constraints on yourself so that you can then have the freedom to be creative within those constraints or even choose to break the rules. It’s hard to break rules you don’t even know or have.
Once you’ve gotten the safe and reliable shots, trying new things will help you grow your skills. Once you know you have a version of the shot the client will love, try a different version of the shot. Take the expected shot and then you’ll know how to create the unexpected.
Find Free Resources
Keep learning. Nothing I’ve said costs anything beyond the equipment, editing software, and an internet connection. There are a ton of free resources that you can use to start building your knowledge base.
There are books you can get from the library and YouTube videos to watch. While investing in yourself is important, and you might eventually want to, it doesn’t always have to be a $1,000 workshop. If you want to pay back the teachers that put out free resources you can always start with a like, subscribe, comment, share, and sign up for their newsletters.
The more resources you consume the more perspectives you’ll hear. One photographer might teach you how to shoot details while another focuses on reception lighting. If you just listen to the first voice you hear you won’t learn that there’s more than one answer to the question.
Have you learned all you need to know about wedding photography? No. You can read and study, but you need to eventually learn by doing.
Jump in, shoot some weddings, and review and analyze your work and the work of others. Keep learning and then practicing. Learning wedding photography doesn’t have an end point where you say, “now I’ve learned everything.”
The fastest way — and the free way — is to invest your time and grow your experience. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll know what I’m talking about. See you at the aisle.
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.