Story Time – What is the worst experience you’ve had photographing a wedding?
Side note: I wanted to start a story time series in which every week I share a little story with you about this industry, about myself, about anything really. I sat down today trying to think of a topic I could share with you and I kept going back to wanting to share the first wedding I ever photographed and how I made it past my feelings that night. This is less about having a bad experience and more about overcoming the things holding us down as well as a precaution to couples booking a wedding photographer. Enjoy & look for more story time posts in the future! Xoxo – CB.
I remember going in to this wedding absolutely terrified yet simultaneously feeling like I had taken the appropriate measures to prepare for my first wedding. What I learned very quickly is that weddings are the most difficult events to photograph … period. I had grossly underestimated just how difficult photographing a wedding would be.
Even though I had begun to realize that it was quite possible I had bitten off more than I could chew, I rented better camera bodies and better lenses. I even rented them early so that I could have time to play around with them and try to grasp the settings. I photographed in every possible lighting condition (or so I thought) and wrote down the settings for each condition. I tested my off camera flash at least twenty-six times (yes, that’s a completely made up number) and asked a friend to accompany to help ease my anxiety.
The night before the wedding I could not sleep, my anxiety had me up all night and all I could think about was feeling like a fraud who should not be photographing this event.
I had already defeated myself before I even gave myself time to succeed.
In the morning, I tried to prepare myself in the best way possible: pep talks, reassuring myself that I could do this, going over possible scenarios in my head and how I could execute any hiccups, but I learned very quickly that NOTHING can prepare you for hiccups in a wedding if you have no experience with weddings.
Now, in hindsight, I will say that had I not prepared in this way the results would have been a thousand times worse.
I walked in to that church in the morning and instantly felt my defeat. With my notepad in tote lined with every possible lighting condition, except of course for the INSIDE OF A CHURCH, I quickly realized that I should not have been photographing this wedding.
Ironically, this is now one of my favorite churches to photograph in.
But, it is a dark church. It’s dark, it’s yellow, and it required a skill I did not possess to be photographing there: EXPERIENCE.
I couldn’t believe that I had wrote down all these settings in several different lighting conditions and now here I was sitting in this dark yellow church and none of those settings worked. This realization set me up for a snowball effect of problems. The entire day from that point on was Murphy’s Law… or maybe just inexperienced photographer in over her head law?
The worst part of the day was family portraits and formals inside the church. I had prepared to photograph with off camera flash for the formals. But instead of setting up my equipment before ceremony, I set it up when I needed to start and I couldn’t get it set up right.
I was so nervous that I began to shake and my friend looked at me and said “Crystal, you need to caaaaaalm doooooooown.”
I was standing there messing with this device, shaking uncontrollably, with a wedding party of fourteen people and room full of their families staring at me. My face was ten shades of red and I wished in that moment I could have been anywhere else but standing there at that moment realizing I should not be the one photographing this moment they will never get back.
(Random fact: The only reason I feel I can share this in as much detail as I am, is because this couple has since divorced… …. Which hopefully had nothing to do with their wedding pictures….)
That was the point in the day in which downhill had pretty much plummeted to rock bottom and there was no getting it back.
At the reception I felt like I had no idea what to do once the main events were finished. I’d never shadowed or second shot at a reception before in my life (I’d only been present for ceremonies and creatives) and I remember feeling like I was bothering the couple by asking them if there was anything they wanted photographs of. And I remember leaving feeling like they didn’t like me and that everyone knew I had no idea what I was doing.
(Another random fact: Years later, this bride hired me for a small family session with her sister and I will never forgot the shock and amazement I felt when I saw an inquiry come in from her. I had convinced myself there was no way she’d ever hire me for anything ever again.)
I walked out of there and all of the anxiety that had been progressively bottling up throughout the day came in waves of uncontrollable tears and feeling like a complete fraud. The first person I called was my mother (because mom’s solve all our problems) and I distinctively remember telling her “I will never photograph another wedding ever again. This was the worst day I have ever experienced.”
By the time I got home I was bawling. And not like simply crying, like hyperventilating trying to catch my breath between gasps and sobs type of bawling.
And when I edited their portraits, I probably dropped 40 hours in to trying to correct my mistakes.
And they were still …. Not so good.
The point is, I didn’t give up. But I learned that wedding photography is no joke and having known my experience with my first wedding as an inexperienced photographer, I believe it is important to be an advocate against new photographers taking on weddings with no experience. Which is not mean spirited in any way, it’s just knowing my own experience and wishing I had a better understanding that I was not ready to take on weddings.
I know now that I should have been a second shooter for AT LEAST ten weddings before I ever took one on myself.
The possibilities of things that could go wrong are limitless. Without the experience, the likelihood of bombing an event you cannot re-do is very high and way too much risk – especially in this day and age where forgiveness is a dying trend and people are quick to slaughter your name for feeling wronged – it could kill a career. Just. Like. That.
Today, I am never fearful walking in to a wedding. I’m never concerned that I have not photographed in a location because I have photographed in the worst possible lighting conditions in some of the darkest churches in Iowa, much darker venues than the ones at my first wedding.
So as I wrap this up, my advice to brides looking for a wedding photographer: experience matters. And yes, you will pay more for experience but it is the experience that will ensure that your wedding photographer can handle any situation and more importantly the less they are worrying about things going wrong the more creative they can be.
My advice to new photographers or photographers who want to make their way in to the wedding industry: second shoot first. This was my biggest mistake. I photographed two weddings with another photographer before taking on my own. Two. And two was not enough. More importantly, if you second shoot first you’ll quickly know whether or not this is for you and if you want to pursue a career in wedding photography. There exist MANY photographers who will photograph everything except weddings and it is because of the risk involved.
Sorry this was slightly more long-winded than anticipated, but if you know me… that’s kind of my thing (I’m working on it!!) & I hope you enjoyed the first installment of this series!
Have a blessed day!