About a year ago I wrote a post titled 10 tips for an Indian wedding photographer which I though was a good introduction to the field of wedding photography in India. A week later I added a second post with a few more tips  on how to be a better wedding photographer and stand out in the crowd. I think it is about time for the last chapter in the trilogy.

What I want to look at now are a few mistakes I see among some of the young (and some not so young) wedding photographers that I meet and talk to. Many have come into the world of wedding photography with no prior schooling or professional training and have very little knowledge about the business side of things. Other might have a good sense of business but are missing out on some day-to-day things that could make their lives easier. Some of these tips are easy to follow, some are a must-do, and others are very difficult to incorporate into your workflow. In my humble opinion these are all important things to consider.

Wedding Photographer: Do You Make These Mistakes?

To make a long story short, here is a short list of mistakes that I hope you can avoid in the future.

1. Not having a legal contract for wedding photography services!

Photography is a lot of fun and can surely be a great job, but it would be wrong to assume that there are no legal matters to take care of. If you want to be a professional photographer you will need a number of legal documents at your disposal. As an example, let’s say you are asked to cover a wedding for you school buddy. He would be expecting you to hand over all of the images, have the sole rights to your images. What if you missed the ‘ring shot’? Can he now turn around and say he does not want to pay you? What if there where other photographers that were invited too and blocked your view? What if your friend now wishes to use your images to promote his/her business? Who owns the copyright to your images? Issues such as these could be easily addressed if you have formed a legally binding contract with the client, in this case, the wedding couple. Sample agreements for professional photographers are easily available online. To help you start out you can check out this contract for wedding photography services but there are more . A simple google search will give you surprising results.

2. Not limiting the hours of work or charging for extra time.

Having a proper agreement in place will also help you define the scope of work that is expected of you. What if the plan for the day was for a four hour event but due to various reasons the day became twice as long? What if the party goes on until the early hours of the morning but you’ve been working since 8am? Are you expected to stay for the same amount of money? Limiting the hours of work and specifically mentioning the deliverables will make your life a lot easier. If you are forced to stay longer you may now also bill the client for the extra time.

3. Not charging 100% in advance.

“We will pay the difference after we see the pictures”. Have you heard this before? Some of you might feel somewhat embarrassed or uncomfortable charging the full amount before the wedding but this is a very big mistake. What if you have completed the job and the client, with the good intentions to start with, now feels they spent too much money on the wedding and feel the need to re-negotiate? You might get the “You didn’t take enough pictures of uncle Bob” or “Your pictures are not as good as I expected”. What will you do then? Charging the full amount in advance puts your mind at ease and rids you from this head ache all together. When you come to the wedding you are free to be creative and it serves everybody’s best interests. Having an agreement in place can give the client all the assurances they need. If they still do not trust you it might be a good reason to reconsider the whole assignment.

aquatica4. Buy the ‘best’ camera that you do not need.  

I attended a wedding in Gujarat a few years ago and shared the floor with a local team who where there to shoot ‘just in case my pictures did’t turn out good enough’, or something like this. I had my Nikon D700’s which I was using at the time, but the guy from the other team had a D3s. This is obviously a great camera but he had a flash mounted in the shoe and was just walking around firing it at eye level whenever he saw fit. What I’m saying is that unless you really don’t know what to do with your money, stop thinking like an amateur. Buy the camera that best serves your needs and not the one that you think a “real pro” would use. Your work will be judged by the images you produce and not the size of your camera. If you still need an ego boost just bring this gadget with you to your next wedding. This will surely make you look like a pro, or an idiot.

5. Bring you ego to the job.

Which brings us to the whole issue of ego. Wedding photography is not about you and your amazing self. It is about two people getting married and you are the one chosen to document the most important day of their life. Photographers have egos. It’s a given. Leave your ego on the shelf at home and come with an open heart and open mind. I had the misfortune of working along side a famous photographers one. He was not so happy, to put it mildly, that the bride had requested him to let me work and not interfere with my work. He ended up coming in my way on purpose throughout the event. When it was all over I grabbed him for a talk and asked him why he did this when he specifically knew what the bride wanted. “I do not take orders from the bride, or anyone else” he said. “They hired ME and will listen to ME”. Do you think the bride was happy?

6. Agree to work with another (uncoordinated) team

So what do we do when we are requested/forced to work with another team? This happened a lot in Indian weddings. The bride might book you but the groom’s family have booked their own photographer. Both teams come with the intent to do their work the way they are used to and the same way you do not want to be disturbed, neither do they. If you are  starting out you might have to endure and work around it. It is then super important to make sure both teams are coordinated. try to explain the situation to the couple and split the responsibilities between the two teams. As far as I am concerned this is an absolute NO. My agreement (now, after the incident mentioned above) has a clause that says; “no other team or professional photographer will be allowed to shoot at the wedding”.  You cannot expect an Italian chef to make you the best pasta if you supply him with rotten tomatoes. Try to explain this to the couple and cover your back in the contract in case something happens that prevents you from doing your job or missing images.

7. Giving ALL the images you shot, including the unflattering ones

Let’s face it, not every photo is going to come out award winning. As a wedding photographer you will take hundreds, maybe thousands of images on a wedding day. From these, you will cull the very best, the ones that tell the story the way you say it,  the ones most flattering to the bride and have the most potential to make you proud. Once you do this, you will perfect them, edit them until they look they way you consider best. These edited photos will show the client the best possible collection, which is what they really want from a professional photographer. You know how difficult it could be to make a final selection from all the hundreds or thousands of images you shot. This is a hard job even with the latest culling softwares and post production ability. Your couple, most of them at least, do not have the same visual capacity of a professional photographer. They will not be able to see the gems hidden in the hay stack. There is nothing to be gained from wading through hundreds of unedited, sometimes dozens of the same pose with only very small differences. As a professional photographer you need to hand the client the very best shots, edited to the best possible standard. The photos that aren’t chosen to be edited are left behind for a reason. No matter how much the customer promises not to be upset with bad or unflattering images, they will be left with doubts about your ability as a photographer. And remember; unless you’ve educated them as to your process before the event, you can’t blame them for expecting it.

8. Giving the client your RAW images.

Why is giving clients RAW files such a big deal for wedding photographers anyway? I have been getting these requests from some couples but I obviously never share my RAW files. There are many good reasons why I don’t. The RAW are unprocessed camera files that still do not carry my signature post production style. They might sometime be under or over exposed, need cropping or massive post production work to produce the great image that I had in mind. I don’t think that sharing this unprocessed file is something that I wish to do. After all, it might make me look like a bad photographer who ‘couldn’t get it right’ in the camera and had to fix the image so much.
Another reason is that I also do not wish to have other edits to my images circulating the web and being presented like my own work. However, being aware of copyright and moral right you might want to know that the RAW file is what you might need if you ever want to be able to prove that the image is indeed yours. The truth of the matter is that what your bride wants are great looking, fully edited, beautiful shots. She does not need the RAW files and it is your job to explain it. And here is an idea how to tell clients they can’t have the RAW files without loosing them.

“Asking a photographer to hand over a memory card, USB, or DVD of raw images is akin to asking an author to present you with their book in manuscript format: unedited, unformatted, and including the paragraphs and chapters that didn’t make it.” Daniela Bowker

9. Not pay enough attention to post production

Which again, brings us to the next subject of post production. Being a wedding photographer does not end with coming to the event with a camera and taking pictures of the bride and groom. No matter if you are a wedding photographer in India or New York City; post production is an essential part of your work. Not like in photojournalism or documentary photography, we have a lot more creative freedom to play with presets and filters to enhance our wedding images. It is important to know that the pictures we take will eventually rebuild the memories of the couple from their own wedding and will shape them in the colours and feel seen in our images. This is a great responsibility. Just dumping the camera JPG or being satisfied with not colour correcting tungsten or fluorescent is just not good enough. Post production is where you can show your signature style. Master it!

10. Comparing our ‘behind the scenes’ to everyone else’s highlight reel.

One reason we struggle with insecurity is that we are constantly comparing our ‘behind the scenes’ to everyone else’s highlight reel. You see award winning images on the various contest results and feel that you are not as good as this guy or that girl. The truth is that most of what we all shoot is crap. The number of good images is insignificant to the number of just plain normal, if not simply mediocre images. The thing is that we only show the VERY BEST work we produce. If you saw my contact sheet you will feel a lot better. Trust me on that. Stop torturing yourself. Keep struggling to constantly improve your work and be inspired by what others do. Go out there to produce your next award winning image and show it to the world.

A few other mistake include:
  • Over promise and under deliver
  • Not giving enough attention to the family group shots

Now it’s your turn …

Here’s what to do next: Let me know in the comments what you thought of this post and if you found it helpful. If you are a wedding photographer please share your own tips and things you feel can be implemented into a productive workflow. Try to also give a reason why.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the comments!

Sephi Bergerson is an international wedding photographer based in India since 2002. He  conducts regular workshops for professional wedding photographers in India and  is available for seminars and lectures on Indian wedding photography and destination wedding photography worldwide. Please feel free to contact us for further information.

Sephi Bergerson