An average wedding photographer will photograph between 20 and 60 weddings per year. That is 20 to 60 long working days, only 1 to 2 months per year. What do they do with the rest of their time?
The majority of a wedding photographer's time is not spent at wedding venues photographing weddings, but behind a desk editing their images, dealing with enquiries, posting their work on social media and other marketing, plus a myriad of other tasks.
One of the things I do, when I'm not shooting a wedding, is scout out wedding venues. I did just that today, and I thought it was worth talking about now. This morning I visited the Grand Hotel, Tynemouth for a wedding I am photographing later in November.
I used to be a wedding registrar in Newcastle and conducted over 2000 weddings there, so I know all about the wedding venues on my patch. However, since becoming a wedding photographer I have worked at venues in Northumberland, Durham and even in Cumbria. I am not familiar with those wedding venues so I always make a point of scouting each one before the wedding.
I find that there are a number of advantages to doing this.
Meeting the wedding venue staff
It's great to meet the wedding coordinator before the ceremony, even if it is just to say hello. Wedding days can be stressful and both the photographer and organiser can be busy, so we may not have time for introductions and pleasantries on the day. If we have met before we can both be on the same page and ensure we are pulling in the same direction.
I find that it also useful to go through the running order and times of the wedding day. It still surprises me that many couples don't know if they will be doing the speeches before or after the meal, or even what time the meal will be served! The coordinator will have the best overview of the day and how everything fits together. With this information and can really begin to plan my day and work out when to do the group photos, how long I will have for the bride and groom portraits and when I might be able to take a break.
Getting to know the building
Wedding venues might be large hotels, castles or other unique buildings and I find that things run much more smoothly if I know my way around on the wedding day. I like to know exactly where the bride is getting ready, where the groom will be, where the guests will be gathering, where the ceremony will be held, where the wedding breakfast will be and where can stash my gear. It's also handy knowing where the toilets are!
One of the things I checked with today for example, was where I should park on the day. The surrounding streets have permit parking so I will need to get a permit from the hotel when I park up. Having that sorted now, means less stress on the day and no parking tickets!
I also found that the hotel had a roof terrace with views over Tynemouth. I may not use this on the day, but at least I know it is there if required.
Getting ideas for shots
This is a big one for me. I like to take a good leisurely walk around the perimeter of the building to see what I have to work with outside. I'm looking for interesting architecture, colourful foliage and flowers, and interesting light. I try to scout the wedding venue within a couple of weeks of the wedding day, and as close to the time I'll be shooting the group and couple portraits as possible, so that the light will be similar.
I always have two options for the group shots; one location outside if the weather allows, and one location indoors if the weather is poor. I generally pick 5 or 6 locations for the couple portraits, and have a logical sequence for each in turn so they are easy to get to.
Inside the building I take test shots to check my camera settings. I rarely use flashes during the day, but occasionally they may be necessary in a very dark venue. More often the light and the layout of the room dictates the type of lens I have on my camera.
All of this means that I know what kit I need for each part of the day, and I have a plan to keep things moving along swiftly. If something goes wrong, I always have a plan B and alternatives in my head to ensure the smooth running of the day.
Even the act of driving to the venue from my home helps me on the wedding day. I know the roads and I'm less likely to get lost which means I'll arrive at the wedding relaxed and ready to work.
Disadvantages to scouting wedding venues
Some photographers don't scout wedding venues before the wedding day.
Destination wedding photographers often travel great distances to their weddings, sometimes even to different countries, so it is impractical to scout each venue in advance.
Some photographers simply don't have the time to scout each venue. If you are photographing 60 weddings per year, you have to edit all of your photographs, design your wedding albums, and maintain your website as well as actually shoot the weddings themselves, so it might be impractical to visit each new venue before the big day.
The other reason not to scout the wedding venue is for artistic reasons. Some photographers work best thinking on their feet, reacting to the light on the day and that leads them to choosing original locations and more authentic and spontaneous photographs. They argue that having locations selected in advance means there is a danger of shoehorning the couple into poor light because you have an idea of the shot in your head rather than reacting to the conditions of the day.
Neither of these approaches are right or wrong and either can be valid; it all depends on the photographer.
I'm not confident enough in my own abilities to wing it on the day, so I'll continue to scout my wedding venues in advance for the time being! I would be interested to hear from other photographers, though? What do you do?
Similarly, I'd love to hear from couples getting married. Would you prefer a photographer who scouts out the venue or someone who reacts to it on the day? Let me know in the comments below.