Wedding + Portrait

10 Lessons Learned From Photographing 500 Weddings

April 6, 2022

By Jai Long

Updated 11/20/2022

From quiet mountaintop elopements to lavish three-day hurrahs, the wedding industry is evolving faster than free tequila shots being knocked back at an afterparty. Whether it’s by taking Super 8 films or dabbling in new presets or investing in education, wedding photographers are actively investing in their craft to keep pushing the boundaries of creativity. That being said, and with over a decade’s experience of shooting 50 weddings per year as a full-time, high-end wedding photographer, I’ve found that some things don’t really change. Whether you’re just starting out or have been in the game for a long time, here are my top 10 lessons learned from photographing 500 weddings that have stuck with me over the years and that can help do a better job for your clients

huge wedding party in front of reception venue
© Free The Bird

My Top 10 Wedding Lessons Learned from Photographing 500 Weddings in the Last 10 Years:

1. More photos doesn’t mean better coverage.
Rather than stressing out over getting all the shots and all the angles, focus on becoming more intentional with what you want to create. This takes time, of course, and I’ve learned from photographing 500 weddings in a decade, but if you make this your mantra, it will help you to preemptively curate a better selection of images which will also speed up your workflow with less culling required. 

More importantly, remember that not everyone’s comfortable in front of the camera! Instead of stalking their every move, act as though you’re their friend or another guest to craft a more comfortable experience for your clients. The more they’re relaxed and having fun, the better your shots will be! How you make them feel on the day will be just as impactful as their final gallery.

[Read: Upselling Albums to Wedding Clients and Playing the Long Game]

2. You can’t treat every wedding the same.
Assuming is the mother of all stuff-ups. Aside from respecting the fact that your couples come from all walks of life and doing justice to their personal story, you should also treat every wedding differently to challenge your own creativity. Whether it’s testing new gear, trying a new pose or playing with the lighting, give yourself the chance to grow and to create work that you love. 

3. Getting stressed is never helpful. 
As much as we wish that all couples could get hitched without a hitch, wedding days can be chaotic and dramas are bound to happen. Beyond being their photographer, you should aim to be the anchor in the room. If things go wrong, be the calm and confident person that people can look to for support and reassurance during stressful moments. 

4. Never leave your memory cards alone.
Always be prepared for a worst-case scenario and use a camera with two card slots. Whether you’re taking a quick break or stopping at the petrol station on your way home, make sure you take out the second card and keep it on you as a backup copy. While it’s never happened to me, I’ve heard of horror stories where cars have been stolen or gear being left behind and never to be found again. 

5. Upselling is always a good idea.
You don’t need to upsell nor do your clients need to agree to it, but you should always present them with the choice if you believe it will add value to their day. People can’t buy if you don’t give them the option!  For example, if they’ve mentioned they want multiple angles of the ceremony or photos of every single wedding guest, upsell them a second photographer. Explain to them how a second photographer will help you to maximize coverage of their day, rather than them regretting it later on. 

[Read: A Simple Guide to Steering Your Creative Business in the Right Direction]

6. People don’t have a budget for a ‘cheap’ photographer.
This may be a controversial one but never assume that you’re too expensive. In fact, you’re probably too cheap which means you’ll have a harder time convincing them how good you are. Most couples have the budget to afford their dream photographer even if they say otherwise. Your pricing will greatly influence their perceived value. Increase your value by overdelivering and proactively solving their problems from the moment they enquire.

7. I’ve never regretted discounting to shoot a dream wedding. 
Don’t be afraid of selectively discounting your services or offering to shoot an amazing wedding for free if it will get you closer to your goals. Whether it’s an epic destination wedding or at a venue you’ve always wanted to shoot, it’s an opportunity for you to meet people and make new connections.

8. The music is always the same soundtrack.
Over the last 10 years of shooting weddings, one thing’s for sure…the music is always the same! Bit of a random one but I’ve been waiting for a long time to hear something new or different. Maybe one day. 

9. Don’t pretend that you got the shot if you didn’t.
Whether the lighting wasn’t right or there was too much movement, don’t be afraid to ask your couple if you can try the shot again! Twice in my career, I’ve missed the ceremony kiss shot. The first time was because someone walked right in front of my camera and the second time my camera didn’t grab focus. To redeem the moment, I simply asked my couples to kiss in front of the alter again once they were done with signing their papers.

Remember, your couples won’t mind if you ask them to do something again but what they will mind is if you miss it and pretend everything is fine. 

10. New gear doesn’t mean better photos.
You don’t have to chase the latest and greatest camera gear. It won’t make you the best photographer. If you want to build a sustainable business, avoid putting yourself in debt by splurging your hard-earned money on expensive gear that you don’t need. Instead, put in the hard work and learn how to make the most of your current gear! 

While my 10 years’ experience photographing 500 weddings doesn’t come close to our industry’s most respected legends, I’m incredibly grateful to have a seat at the table and have come away with many lessons learned. It’s been a wild ride of ups and downs, and surrounded by all the phenomenal talent that’s out there the learning never stops.

To give back to our amazing community, I’ve since become a full-time business coach for wedding photographers and creatives. Through my signature coaching program, the Six-Figure Business Map, and my ‘Make Your Break’ podcast, I’m committed to sharing my lessons learned in wedding photography along the way to help others make their unrealistic goals a reality.   

I hope you’ve found some practical gems I’ve gathered photographing 500 weddings in 10 years to apply to your own wedding photography business. If you have any tips or advice you’d like to share, please drop them in the comments below! 

Jai Long is the wedding photographer behind Free The Bird in Melbourne, Australia. In 2015 he was named a Rangefinder 30 Rising Star of Wedding Photography. He currently hosts the podcast “Make Your Break for Photographers” and has been a high-level business coach through his Six-Figure Business Map program for wedding photographers since 2015.