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Tips & Tricks

Tips For Developing A Wedding Day Workflow {Quitting Your Day Job Series}

By Chris Nachtwey on October 22nd 2014

This is a un-sugarcoated look into what life is really like when you walk away from the steady paycheck and enter the world of being self employed. I will be sharing my experiences, thoughts, and anything else that comes my way as I navigate the waters of being a full-time photographer. I also hope to interview other full-time photographers to share their experiences with you as well. To see the rest of the articles in the series, click here.

Tips For Developing A Wedding Day Workflow

Wedding days, I love them. Maybe it’s the old live television technical director in me, but I love the hustle and bustle that is a wedding day. Anything that can happen might or will happen, and anyone who shoots weddings knows that you’re usually up against the clock. What was an hour to do family formals and couples portraits is now 45 minutes. The limo is late, so now the bride is late…it never ends. As hard as everyone tries to make sure everything is on time and things goes as planned, wedding days naturally tend to change at a moment notice and you need to go with the flow. With that said, that does not mean you cannot still be creative and capture the day in your own way even if you’re under a time crunch.

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[REWIND: QUITTING YOUR DAY JOB PART 5: TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL ENGAGEMENT SESSION]

No matter if you offer set hours or all day coverage, it always helps to have a wedding day workflow that you try your hardest to stick to. Having a set workflow is good because it keeps your mind in the right place, no matter what happens. If you have a workflow that you stick to, you know what you want or need to do next and keep trucking forward no matter how crunched for time you are. Now what I want you to know is this: my workflow is my workflow, it’s what I do and it works for me. It may not work for you, so you need to develop your own workflow that works and is something you can stick to.

My Tips For Developing A Wedding Day Workflow

Take Notes

If you are shooting your first weddings, you will not have a set workflow yet. You will need to learn what works for you. Now, if you assisted or second shot weddings in the past, you are already in a decent position to know some type of workflow that works, but that is not your workflow. You are going to find that what worked for another photographer might not work for you. When I started out, I made notes after every wedding about what worked and what didn’t. My notes covered everything from how long it took me to set up lights at a venue, how much time it took me to shoot formals, how my posing direction was, notes about the venues, etc. Honestly, I made note of pretty much everything. I then took my notes and made adjustments to make my next wedding day move faster or smoother.

I suggest you take notes the day after a wedding, especially if you are new. They will help you to refine how you manage a wedding day, help you know how to work or light in a certain venue, and in the end, help you create an efficient workflow.

Have Your Gear Ready To Go

I cannot stress this point enough; have your gear ready to go the day or days before the wedding. I’m all about preparation: from communication with my clients to having my gear ready to go. Being prepared just makes life easier. There is nothing worse than messing around with gear the day of a wedding. Honestly, it’s just another thing to have to think about on a day that is already full of things to think about. Now I’m a little crazy about having gear ready to go, I pack my gear back in my bag correctly before I leave a wedding, so when I get home all I have to do is recharge batteries and change out memory cards. You don’t have to be that crazy about gear preparation, but make sure you have your gear checked and packed ahead of time. Trust me on this one!

Arrive At The Venues Early

This tip is mostly for the new wedding photographers, but can apply to any wedding photographer honestly. If you have never been to a venue before, do yourself a favor and go to the venue, a little early. You can check in with the other vendors, set up any gear you want, and just get a feel for the venue. As you shoot more weddings, you will start to know what venues are like because you will shoot there more and more, but in the beginning, showing up extra early and getting a feel for the place should be part of your workflow, in my opinion.

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This helped me a lot in the beginning and still does today. I’m still fairly new to the game and I’m still shooting at a lot of venues that are new to me, so I tend to always go early to get a feel for the place and set up any gear I need. You can take some test shots if you want or introduce yourself to other vendors and do a little networking before the day gets into full swing. Any way you shake it, showing up early never hurt anyone.

Developing A Shooting Style That Works For You

This is a big one for me, and every photographer is different, but most of us have the poses and shots we know that just work no matter what the situation is. I suggest developing a shooting workflow that works for you and that you can fall back on if you’re running short on time or just are in a funk when it comes to new creative ideas on the spot. What I have found is that, a lot of times, I will get my must have shots that my couples have seen on my website that I know I can knock out, then I will start to get creative.

For example, when I go to the bride’s getting ready location, I always start with a little conversation with the bridal party and anyone else present. Then, I shoot details like the dress, shoes, rings, etc. This allows everyone to get use to having a photographer there and I get the detail shots I need in the bank. Next, I move onto some hair and makeup images, all the while keeping the mood light and building up a relationship with the rest of the bridal party and family (my brides know me pretty well by the wedding day, but no one else does). Next, I will shoot the bride getting into her dress, then finally create some simple bridal images of her, knowing that if nothing else, I have a few great portraits of just her if time does not allow for any more for some reason.

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That is just one example of how I always try to follow a pattern of shooting for one part of the day. I have a set shooting workflow for each part of the day that I try to follow. Having a set workflow allows me to get the images I know my clients will love, and gets me what I need if time does not allow me to do anything else (usually I have more time and get creative, but sometimes the clock is ticking). If you are new to wedding photography only time will tell what works for you, but after a few weddings you will start to develop a shooting style that fits you and the needs of your couples.

Upload and Back Up Your Images Right After The Wedding

Now, this is just what I like to do, but when I get home, no matter how late it is, I always upload the images from the day on my computer and back them up. I do this for two reasons: One, I’m just excited to see how everything looks – yeah, we have LCD screens, but it’s nice to see your work on a real screen. Secondly, I can relax the next day. After a wedding, you are usually pretty tired and the last thing I want to do the morning after a wedding is uploading and backing up images. I want to have a cup of coffee and relax when I wake up, so I do all the work the night before.

This is even more helpful if you have a wedding the next day. You know the images from the day before are safe and sound and you can go into the day’s wedding without thinking about yesterday’s wedding. This is all up to you, and as I said, you need to develop your own workflow, but I have found I’m just better off to get the images off my memory cards and backed up when I get home because I’m still in work mode at that point.

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Conclusion

Creating a wedding workflow is all up to you. There is not one trick or tip myself or any other photographer can tell you that will or will not work for you. Experiment and see what’s right for you. What I will say is having a set workflow makes the day more relaxed and smooth, for not just you, but your clients. There is nothing worse for a client than a photographer who appears stressed or overwhelmed. So, as wedding season comes to a close for most of us in North America, take some time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t during the wedding season and make changes to improve your workflow for next season.

Till next time, keep shooting, building your business, and embrace the hustle!

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Chris Nachtwey is a full-time wedding and portrait photographer based in Connecticut. He is the founder and creator of 35to220 a website dedicated to showcasing the best film photography in the world. Chris loves to hear from readers, feel free to drop him a line via the contact page on his website! You can see his work here: Chris Nachtwey Photography

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Basit Zargar

    Excellent article with great tips!!!

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  2. Joram J

    Thnx for the tips Chris! I’ve read the whole series so far and used a lot of tips on my first wedding a few weeks ago. So many thnx!!
    On the Venues part, can i add that if you have the time, visit those venues (if you never been there before) a week (or two..) before the w-day so you know a bit better what you will be up against.

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  3. Ben Perrin

    I always love your articles Chris! Well done again. I have a wedding on Saturday and I always find myself trying to absorb as much information as possible the week before so this article came at the right time for me. Even though I do most of these things already it helps to know that you’re on the right track!

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  4. Dre Rolle

    Love how upfront your articles are. Just started assisting and looking for more people to assist, but it’s helped out so much. Things I overlook she tried to shove down my thoart. Photography is a completely different animal compared to designing full time for a agency. Keep up the great work mate :)

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  5. Brandon Dewey

    Chris, once again great tips! I agree with the tip about arriving early to a new venue. When I do arrive early it gives me time to scout out the locations and hopefully get some great shots of the venue itself with out feeling rushed.

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