How to get an amateur wedding photographer to shoot your wedding and have it not suck!

I often encounter couples who, for one reason or another, end up getting an amateur wedding photographer (usually a friend or family member) to shoot their wedding. (Disclaimer: I am the author of The Queenstown Wedding Blog but I am also a full-time Wedding Photographer over at Fallon Photography.  You can also check out my […]
I often encounter couples who, for one reason or another, end up getting an amateur wedding photographer (usually a friend or family member) to shoot their wedding.
(Disclaimer: I am the author of The Queenstown Wedding Blog but I am also a full-time Wedding Photographer over at Fallon Photography.  You can also check out my listing under Wedding Photography here on the Wedding Blog).
It might be that the couple in question doesn’t have the budget for a pro photographer, it might be they feel more comfortable working with somebody they know well and who knows them well, it might even be that their friend/family member is a working wedding photographer who is awesome and is shooting the wedding dirt-cheap or free.
Whatever the reasons you are considering choosing a friend or relative as your wedding photographer, I’m not going to preach.
Instead I’m going to share with you some simple guidelines that can help ensure you get the best possible photos out of your wedding day no matter who is behind the camera!
Right, now let’s get started with what I call the…
 amateur wedding photographer
1. Make sure your photographer at least has two camera bodies with him/her on the wedding day (and they are both compatible with their other gear like memory cards, lenses, flashes etc and, needless to say, they know how to use both of them).  NO MATTER HOW AMAZING YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER IS IF THEY ONLY HAVE ONE CAMERA AND IT DIES OR THE BATTERY GOES FLAT YOU AIN’T GETTING MANY/ANY WEDDING PHOTOS!!
It’s also advisable that they have a spare/backup of any essential equipment like camera batteries, flash batteries, memory cards etc.
Even though the chance of a camera dying in the middle of a wedding is fairly unlikely, just the thought of this possibility for your poor photographer can really add to their stress levels and stop them doing the best job they could.  And if they’re an amateur or even a pro who hasn’t shot weddings before shooting a wedding can be super-stressful EVEN WHEN EVERYTHING IS GOING RIGHT!
2. If your photographer is lucky enough to have a camera with 2 memory card slots make sure they put a memory card of the same size in each slot and set their camera to record the same images to both slots/memory cards.  That way they are making an instant backup of all your precious wedding photos and if one memory card dies (it does happen) you still have all your photos.  (Often if photographers don’t have enough memory cards they won’t set their camera up to record the same images to both slots/cards as it uses twice as much memory card space.  Make sure your photographer has more than enough memory cards).
3. Get your photographer to shoot RAW files (and make sure they are capable of editing them if they are going to edit the photos for you).  RAW files give you the best possible image quality, and will also survived under-/over-exposure much better than JPEGS or TIFF.  However, you need to edit every single RAW file, they are like a half-baked cookie that needs more work to create a finished project.  So make sure your photographer or somebody who knows what they are doing is willing and able to edit them for you after the wedding.
The other advantage with shooting RAW is they can’t accidentally shoot with the quality set to “Low” (which means the photos won’t even be printable).
4.  If your photographer is going to be shooting anywhere indoors/at night make sure they at least understand the basics of good flash photography.
You or your photographer may be “all about natural light” but if your photographer finds him/herself needing to use flash and either (a) they don’t have a flash or (b) they have no idea how to use it properly those photos are going to suck.
Eg Your reception will usually be indoors and usually be at night.  Even the best cameras may struggle with the low light levels without flash.  Flash can be an invaluable tool on occasion so it’s important to know how to use that tool properly.
Two ways to dramatically improve flash photography is to either get the flash off the camera or use a diffuser to soften the “deer in the headlights” look of direct flash.
One simple solution is a product like the Gary Fong Lithosphere, which allows you to diffuse your flash and also make it less direct without taking the flash off the camera.
5. Even if your photographer knows your chosen venues/locations, get them to scout and shoot them at a similar time of day at a similar time of year.  This is a great way for them to see what the light’s doing when and where and to come up with ideas for camera angles, locations, logistics etc.
6. Get your photographer to shoot getting ready photos on the day of your wedding even if you’re not that fussed about them.  Why?  Because this is a great warm up not only for you and your wedding guests but also for your photographer.  The wedding ceremony is the fastest moving and most high pressure part of any wedding day so it makes sense to get your photographer warmed up and in the groove before you start walking down the aisle!
You could also consider getting them to take some Engagement or Save The Date photos well before the wedding as a bit of a test-run to see how you get on working together.  If it ends up being a disaster you’ve dodged a bullet and you can start working on a Plan B.
7. If you’re not sure about your photographers skill/experience level when it comes to editing photos try to get copies of the unedited originals yourself and see if you get somebody experienced with applications like Lightroom to edit them for you (as long as your photographer is happy with that).  Even if you have to pay for the edit, you will probably get much better results than getting somebody who doesn’t know what they’re doing to edit them for you.
This tip will probably also ensure you get your photos sooner as editing a thousand wedding photos is a daunting prospect even for us pros.
8.  Make sure your photographer follows the 3-2-1 rule of data backups: 3 copies of all your data (photos) on 2 different mediums with at least 1 copy stored in a completely separate location.  E.g. You might have 2 copies on separate hard drives, the third might be in the Cloud or burned to a Bluray disc (different medium) and you might put one of those hard drives or the Bluray discs in a separate house/property (that way if there’s a fire or you get burgled you don’t lose everything).
If your photographer isn’t up to this challenge make sure you get copies of the photos immediately and follow these guidelines yourselves so your data is secure.
9. Remember that if you want your photographer to photograph a fair portion of your wedding day they are now no longer a wedding guest, they are the photographer.  This means they won’t get to be involved in/take in many parts of the wedding day in the same way that they would if they were there purely as a guest.  For this reason it’s usually a good idea that they aren’t a close family member or super important friend.  You want somebody that loves photography and is totally happy to be a wedding photographer instead of a wedding guest on the day.
10. If you or your photographer needs help or advice don’t be afraid to ask for it.  For example, perhaps you know somebody who is a pro photographer who can’t be at your wedding but can give your amateur photographer some advice.  Or it’s quite likely that your venue managers, wedding car company etc, can give you tips on “how people normally do things” at your chosen wedding venues.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help – the worst people can do is say no.
I hope you find this info helpful!

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