FAQ: Shooting Your First Wedding

Question from reader:  I got asked to photography my first wedding but I have no idea what to charge or what to include in my packages.  How much did you charge when you first started out?

My first wedding (by myself) was shot in 2009.  However, this was a time when I didn't have a clear direction of my style, if I even wanted to do weddings, and what kind of client I wanted.   So I stopped pursuing weddings for a few years to figure all of this out.  Today's post is to address that VERY first wedding request.  For those that are just starting out.


The question of "what to charge" is like pandora's box.  Ultimately, I would simply ask your client to give you an idea of their budget.  If you don't have a starting package at all, then you need to get an idea of what they can afford.  The reason this is tricky is because you have to take a number and value your work for the first time.  You may choose to not charge them at all, but remember -- even if you lack experience in weddings, your images and your time have value.  For me, in my first wedding, I decided it was $500 -- for you, it might be completely different.  When you have decided on a price, how many hours will that include?  Which leads me to...


As beginning photographers being asked to shoot your first wedding is a heart fluttering moment.  It's exciting and we're willing to give our all for this special honor.  Yes, this is an honor, but if you do not communicate a specific number of hours -- you may end up regretting this and causing tension at the end of the night.  Once you are at the wedding, you are at liberty to stay longer than what they paid you for if you'd like to gift them that time.  But if you never specify coverage time and it's midnight and you've been there for 10 hours and you decide it's time to leave, what if the bride and groom haven't had their official "exit" and want you to stay for that?  Value your time! Which leads me to...


This all begins by asking: a) What time are you starting hair and make up? b) What time is the ceremony? c) What time is the reception?   Once you have those details, create a timeline based on the number of hours they hired you for.  Here's a draft of my 6 hour timeline:

2:00 p.m. – arrive at church for preps and details
Prep + Ceremony Location: address
2:30 p.m. – detail shots, bride getting in dress,  assistant->groom prep shots
2:45 p.m. – First look + couple pictures
3:15 p.m. – Bridal Party pictures
3:40 p.m. – Bridal party relaxes,  prep for ceremony
4:00 p.m. – Ceremony 
4:35 p.m. – Ceremony ends
4:40 p.m. – Family formals 
Cocktail + Reception Location: address 
5:30 p.m. – Arrive at cocktail hour – candids + details + light set up
5:45 p.m. – Possible sunset shots (depending on location)
6:00 p.m. – Reception begins  - (First dances, toasts, candids, etc.)
*make sure cake cutting, garter/bouquet toss is scheduled before 8 p.m. 
8:00 p.m. – coverage ends


So now you know there are a few things to address in your package -- the main one being the number of hours.  This is the best way to offer the couple variety.  Keep it SIMPLE.  You don't have to add prints, albums, or coffee mugs.  This is your first wedding and I'm pretty sure the couple is mostly interested in your images.  They want to hire you for their wedding day.  As your business grows and you begin to develop your style, you might realize that prints and albums are significant to your brand.  You can add them at that point or offer them a la carte.

Package A:
___ Hours of Coverage
A disc with fully edited images of the wedding day

Package B
_(more)_ Hours of Coverage
A disc with fully edited images of the wedding day
5 - 8x10 prints

** will you be bringing an assistant?  Include that in the packages **


I cannot stress this enough.  There is a huge difference between attending a wedding and orchestrating it as a photographer.  If you are charging the couple for your first wedding, at least give yourself (and the couple) the peace of mind that you have been through this once.  Offer your services as a second or third photographer for free to another wedding photographer.


This involves asking the couple questions about the venue, if there is anything you should know about details at the wedding (heirloom items), if flash is allowed, etc.  Visit the venue before hand with the couple if possible.  Start planning where you are going to take the family formals, the bridal party photos, and how much available light there is inside of the room they are getting ready.  Ask where the ceremony is taking place and where the bride and groom are entering.  Get to know the maid of honor -- she can help you with questions on the day-of if the bride is unavailable or stressed.


They asked you to be a part of this incredible day.  Yes, that's just as scary as it is exciting, but you can absolutely do this if you are prepared.  Most importantly, have a vision of what your photos will look like.  Ask the couple about their vision.  Remember you want to tell their story.  And I know you can tell it beautifully :)

Even as a beginner, I have always loved photographing and styling details.  To my benefit, I was engaged and reading wedding blogs everyday so I already had visions of what wedding photos should look like.  I remember for my first wedding I grabbed her shoes, bouquet, and ring and went outside on the porch.  There was no good light inside the house (plus it was raining!) so I placed her shoes on top of a vintage rug that was on the porch and got on the ground to shoot them.  Then I took a vase, turned it upside down, sprinkled petals on top and took my ring shot.  I was working this wedding like a $2,000 wedding because I knew I wanted to eventually be working for that budget.  I wanted to surpass their expectations and make them feel like they paid so much more.  And though my photos weren't $2,000 photos -- I pushed to do my best because I knew one day I would get there.

So congratulations on getting your first wedding booked! :)  Charge all of your equipment the night before, pack some snacks, and remember that you are representing your business -- a potential client may have their eye on you for your next wedding ;)