My day shadowing a wedding photographer: the hardest job in the world

OK maybe not THE hardest (doctors, lawyers, counsellors, bathroom cleaners… I could go on…) but after spending one whole day of my life shadowing a wedding photographer, I can honestly say that it’s up there. Here’s why, after shadowing a wedding photographer (the incredible Nicky Lejeune – two of my best friends got married so the full spread of her amazing photos is coming soon), I think it’s genuinely one of the most difficult, stressful and admirable jobs out there, and I only got a small taste of what it might be like. As an outsider, wedding photographers, I salute you.

Hand tied bouquet of flowers - Darling Lovely Life blog - My day shadowing a wedding photographer: the hardest job in the world

Artistic neuroses + commercial pressure = aaargh!

Photography is art. I know, as a professional writer that I experience a degree of that. All artists are a little insecure about their work sometimes (to understate it) and the added pressure of having a client who’s paid you for your very subjective, artistic work is enough to cause a great deal of stress and anxiety. You also occasionally have that “what I know is an awesome shot” vs “what the client wants” internal process going on, making life that bit harder.

Once you miss those moments, they’re gone

This is why I specified wedding photographers and not just photographers in general (although sports photographers, I can imagine, would have a similar issue): you can’t miss a trick. You can’t cock up moments like the first kiss, or the cake cutting. You can’t just ask the bride and groom to re-enact the whole thing because you had your lens cap on or (more commonly) they were slightly out of focus. And, unless you’re shooting on full auto (in which case, hand in your camera and your photographer’s badge) you’re having to constantly adjust your settings so that everyone who needs to be is in focus, the depth of field is right, the lighting isn’t over or underexposed, and you can’t reposition someone who’s decided to stand right in front of a window, or shove somebody out of the way for the sake of a good photo. You have to be a photography ninja, working with what’s in front of you even if it’s crap, knowing the camera like it’s an extension of your arm, sneaking through crowds unobtrusively to snap that one money shot.

Bride doing make up - Darling Lovely Life - My day shadowing a wedding photographer: the hardest job in the world

You need the best people skills in the world

From highly emotional families to nervous brides and people who just don’t realise that they’re not the photographer (seriously – stopit) deciding that you should have a picture of the back of their head instead of the couple kissing, wedding photographers have to deal with a huge range of people and their “stuff”.

Not only that, but you have to be able to read them well enough to capture them at their best, to immortalise the emotions they’re feeling, at their very best angles, without letting on that the camera’s on them. A pretty big ask to dip into the human soul and and politely deal with every Tom, Dick and Harry who wants to see the back of your camera.

You have to be able to tactfully work around people, who will move around and get in your way, who will be difficult about their photo being taken, or who will insist you take hundreds of photos of them despite playing a minor part in the wedding.

Basically, you have to become a master in speed-diplomacy, quietly and carefully appeasing and rearranging just in time to make sure you’re there to capture another magic moment.

It’s physically exhausting

I’ve never spent more time cramped in more uncomfortable positions. After twenty minutes hunched over in the baking heat, trying to encourage a butterfly to land on a ring, dangling on a piece of lavender, which had to be held perfectly still, I felt like I’d never need to go to the gym again. Wedding photographers are also on their feet the entire day with very little respite, you have to be in shape and ready to tough it out.

Hair dresser doing hair - Darling Lovely Life blog - My day shadowing a wedding photographer: the hardest job in the world

You have to have serious vision

To photograph a wedding (well), not only do you need to be able to clearly see pictures everywhere as they’re happening, but you also need to see how those pictures are going to come together to create a set of images that belong together AND tell the story of the day, without looking visually jarring as a spread. No pressure, then.

The editing… oh the editing

I’ve recently discovered Photoshop. Which means I’ve also discovered how hard it is to edit raw files, one by one, in a way that brings them together as a cohesive set of pictures and brings out the best in everyone. Honestly, it’s like when I sit down to edit my amateur shots I forgot what a normal exposure should look like, or what someone’s natural skin tone is. I have no idea how photographers get through the laborious task of editing hundreds of wedding shots, making them look incredibly beautiful and making them fit together as a set. All I can say is “wow”.

So, after having experienced the exhilarating, exhausting and inspiring life of a wedding photographer, I can confidently say it’s a job I could never quite hack. So raising an invisible glass to all you wedding photographers out there, capturing the most exciting moments of a family’s life – I really don’t know how you do it!

41 Comments on My day shadowing a wedding photographer: the hardest job in the world

  1. Pauline
    July 1, 2014 at 10:57 am (3 years ago)

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. My daughter is a photographer, and I see how exhausted she is after photographing a wedding, and the amount of time she has to spend in what she refers to as her ‘editing cave’, is quite remarkable. It is a hard job to be sure. I had no idea quite what the work load of a photographer was and I am sure I am not alone in thinking that it was ‘easy peasy’ to take some shots and that was it, all done and dusted, but I now know differently. Hats off to the artists that are photographers :)

    Reply
    • Sara - Darling Lovely Life editor
      July 1, 2014 at 1:17 pm (3 years ago)

      Aaw thank you for the lovely comment, Pauline! I’m glad the post gave you a little insight into your daughter’s work, even if it’s through the lens of a blogger! xxx

      Reply
  2. Alexander Leaman
    July 1, 2014 at 1:40 pm (3 years ago)

    HaHa! Touched on a few things here Sara… Yes, it’s physically tiring, and it’s often also emotionally draining too, especially if you’re shooting two or three weddings back to back. It’s a lot of people’s life to take on and tune in and out of. Quite a performance!
    Nice article…

    Reply
    • Sara - Darling Lovely Life editor
      July 1, 2014 at 2:26 pm (3 years ago)

      Haha thanks Alexander – I had to stop because the article was already obscenely long, but honestly I could have gone on for hours… I really don’t know how you guys do it full time, I’m so impressed! xx

      Reply
  3. Sarah
    July 1, 2014 at 2:48 pm (3 years ago)

    What a great piece Sara, it’s also so refreshing to read an article about this part of the wedding industry from someone who isn’t a cynical weathered old pro ;) thank you for writing this!

    P.S lovely images

    Reply
  4. Tim Bishop
    July 1, 2014 at 3:05 pm (3 years ago)

    It is a challenging vocation but it’s also a very rewarding one! I worry about every wedding, even after I’ve delivered it until the bride comes back happy with the photos and that is the best feeling in the world! Always love the idea that couples will be looking back on them for years to come. I love being a wedding photographer! Tx

    Reply
  5. Samantha
    July 2, 2014 at 1:26 am (3 years ago)

    As a wedding planner I am forever singing the praises of wedding photographers, they are incredible people, so hard working and so worth every single penny they charge too – I’m forever in support of investing in a great photography in your wedding budget because those prices really do reflect a quality of work that many people simply do not realise is involved, not just on the wedding day but in the hours and hours of editing that follows also. Wedding photographers I salute you indeed!

    Reply
  6. Sian Lewis
    July 2, 2014 at 12:42 pm (3 years ago)

    I absolutely love this!! So many people think that all we do is press a button.
    I love how you’ve gotten all the points across without so much as a smidgen of cynicism is it, bravo! x

    Reply
  7. Brett McNally
    July 2, 2014 at 1:54 pm (3 years ago)

    Wow, what a brilliant post Sara and I really loved reading it. What you have said is very true and sometimes our clients don’t realise all that goes into their wedding photography so a post like this will certainly be shared on my website and Facebook page. Thank you :-)

    Reply
  8. Julie Skelton
    July 2, 2014 at 2:39 pm (3 years ago)

    This is such a great article – THANK YOU for communicating how much heart and soul (and hard work) goes into a wedding photography package. I feel all warm & fuzzy & valued! ;-)

    Reply
  9. Sara - Darling Lovely Life editor
    July 2, 2014 at 4:01 pm (3 years ago)

    Aaw thank you all for the lovely comments and feedback! Thought someone should sing your praises, you talented bunch <3 xxx

    Reply
  10. tracy
    July 2, 2014 at 9:28 pm (3 years ago)

    Brilliant blog, so many ppl think it’s a super easy job, but behind the scenes it’s extremely challenging … and extremely rewarding. Thanks for the validation !!

    Reply
  11. Andy Thomas
    July 3, 2014 at 11:30 am (3 years ago)

    Brilliant piece – best I have read!! Thank you! Andy

    Reply
  12. Katherine Ashdow
    July 3, 2014 at 8:07 pm (3 years ago)

    Here here!!! Awesome post and oh soooo true! It is SUCH a hard high pressure job on the day and long hours in front of a computer going bog eyed after the day! Not to mention if you run your own business all the admin, advertising, accounts, social media, networking etc etc and other business dilemmas to sort out!! Thanks for posting!

    Reply
  13. Maisie Brown
    July 6, 2014 at 12:32 pm (3 years ago)

    Brilliant article. I love being a full time wedding photographer but it is exhausting at times!
    I covered a big Irish wedding just yesterday and I can pretty much associate all the points you made to something that happened yesterday! And that was just one wedding!!
    Thank you!
    Maisie @ Capture Photography :)

    Reply
  14. Sarah
    July 6, 2014 at 4:51 pm (3 years ago)

    Thank you for trying it out for a day and giving us all props! People don’t know and assume “how hard can it be?!” Hahaha it’s grueling but we do it because we love it! :)

    Reply
  15. Zanne Montgomery
    July 6, 2014 at 7:13 pm (3 years ago)

    Brilliant article, so much work and personal commitment, but what satisfaction at the end’ I really enjoyed reading this. It gave me so much more insight’

    Reply
  16. Kat Forsyth
    July 7, 2014 at 7:11 pm (3 years ago)

    Wow, thanks for writing this! Especially about how exhausting it is, both mentally and physically. I honestly don’t think anyone who isn’t a wedding photographer realises how completely and utterly *broken* we are after a wedding (never mind a double-header!). It’s so rewarding and such fun, but it’s HARD. That’s why I never understand other people who say they are pro photographers, who show up to their friends’ weddings and take photos all day! If you’re an actual real wedding photographer, you KNOW how exciting a wedding is where you don’t have to take photos! :-)

    Reply
  17. Sacha Miller
    July 8, 2014 at 11:25 am (3 years ago)

    Well said!! Though it is true to say wedding photography is not ‘digging ditches’ for a living, if you’re doing it right you should have aches in all the right places the day after.

    Reply
  18. Pam
    July 8, 2014 at 12:00 pm (3 years ago)

    Well done with this blog. My daughter is a wedding photographer and no one knows how much energy and stress goes into this one incredibly important day. You also mention the amount of time and attention the editing takes afterwards that a lot of people don’t think about. Very interesting reading ..loved it !!

    Reply
  19. Jim
    July 8, 2014 at 1:26 pm (3 years ago)

    Really great an insightful blog Sara. I love my job shooting weddings and try to build a rapport with the couple before their big day so I can spot more easily if they are getting stressed and could do with a “time out” for ten minutes. Really tickles me when I hear a guest say “Wow, that’s a great camera, it must take great photos”. Makes me want to say “you’ve got a great cooker, must make great meals”. We encourage guest photography as it’s part of the fun of their day and doing so helps us get the shots the couple want. I’m going to link to your blog if that’s OK.

    Reply
  20. Sacha Stoyle
    July 8, 2014 at 5:14 pm (3 years ago)

    Thank you so much for writing this article, it is difficult explaining to people how hard we work – though it is so rewarding and to have lovely comments on the day and then to see the Brides & Grooms faces when they see their images and to have parents contact you to thank you really makes it all worth it. However, we are perfectionists and that is exhausting!

    Reply
  21. Kirsten Mavric Photography
    July 9, 2014 at 8:30 am (3 years ago)

    Wow, you really got what makes our job so complicated. I hope this also goes some way to explain why we seem so ‘expensive’ to some people.

    Reply
    • Sara - Darling Lovely Life editor
      July 9, 2014 at 8:36 am (3 years ago)

      Wow thank you, everyone, for the great feedback – I’m so glad I understood it all right, I was watching, mouth agape, wondering how on earth you guys manage it week after week – you must adore your jobs!!! xxx

      Reply
  22. Julia Webb
    July 9, 2014 at 11:00 am (3 years ago)

    Well – you certainly get wedding photography and what we wedding photographers do – thank you for that insight Sara. Warm regards. Julia :-)

    Reply
  23. Louisa Coulthurst
    July 9, 2014 at 12:26 pm (3 years ago)

    Yep, you definitely know you’re tired at the end of the wedding when your ankles start to hurt! And you’re afraid to sit down, in case you are too stiff to get up! On the plus side, you do sleep like a baby when you get home!

    Reply
  24. Sophie Ward
    July 9, 2014 at 1:11 pm (3 years ago)

    Thank you, so nice to read your article while sitting here for day 2 of editing Saturday’s Wedding.

    Reply
  25. Inarie
    July 10, 2014 at 12:46 pm (3 years ago)

    Really love this article and every single one of those points are the reason I love Wedding Photography. It might be physically hard work, but looking through the photos and editing them afterwards is a reward in itself.
    Wouldn’t trade it for anything in this world, so thanks for helping to explain that it’s not just pressing a button! xxx

    Reply
  26. Adam Levy
    July 11, 2014 at 9:22 am (3 years ago)

    excellent article! It’s the fear of missing those key moments that really makes me nervous before every wedding. Also, I’m glad I’m not the only one that always seems to have that Uncle or that family friend who decides that they are actually the photographer and need to stand in front of me the whole time…. one of the many intricacies of shooting a wedding :)

    It is completely shattering photographing a wedding – but quite a privilege though. After people get married, often their first half hour or so of married life is spent with us.

    Reply
  27. Karen - SmashingTheGlass.com
    July 11, 2014 at 10:44 am (3 years ago)

    Thanks for the insight Sara. So many good points and I’d go as far as saying that it’s not only the ability to clearly see pictures everywhere as they’re happening that’s required, but seeing them BEFORE they happen if you know what I mean!

    Reply
  28. Sara Elin Nilsson
    July 11, 2014 at 11:34 am (3 years ago)

    I really enjoyed reading a post like this from an “outsider”. I often hear that it’s outrageous that I, with others, can charge so much when we’re “just taking some pictures”. If it really is that easy money – they should just go ahead and try it.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  29. Nova - Nu Bride
    July 13, 2014 at 11:17 pm (3 years ago)

    I loved reading this! And it’s really lovely to see so many photographers thanking you for acknowledging how hard their work is! I have huge respect for photographers, I still haven’t grown out of the habit of cutting peoples heads off in my pictures. lol!

    With social media and how easily it is to access DSLR camera’s these days I think some people take for granted what photography entails (because we all have experiencing of taking a photograph), but the difference in taking a photograph an skilfully capturing moments before they occur and making you feel and relive every moment through a picture is a art and a skill that cannot be replicated. Professional photographers, take a bow. ;o) (and do some yoga- loosen up those limbs for better contortion! lol)

    Reply
  30. Sean Stanley
    July 19, 2014 at 1:15 pm (3 years ago)

    Hi Sara. It’s a long story how I managed to take on an editorial role for British Bride magazine and blog but somehow it happened. I am also full time wedding photographer and it warms my heart to hear someone admit how hard a job it is. However I would take on wedding photography any day compared to my new role in editorial. Raising a drink right back at you and mucho respect for another difficult job.. Pleased to meet you and thank you for an interesting read now if you don’t mind I have a wedding to shoot x

    Reply
  31. Nick Roper
    July 20, 2014 at 11:07 am (3 years ago)

    Beautifully written article, I think all brides ought to read this as it gives a great perspective.

    Even though I’m some way down on the scale (3rd year pro), I can attest to the physical and emotional rigours of being a wedding photographer. But, I simply love the end results after the wediting.

    And then let’s face it we all love a wedding.

    Reply
  32. Elizabeth | Bridal Musings
    July 25, 2014 at 6:37 pm (3 years ago)

    Such a wonderfully insightful and well written post, Sara! Professional wedding photographers have my utmost respect and admiration. *Raises virtual glass* xx

    Reply
  33. Meghan Fay
    July 30, 2014 at 2:00 pm (3 years ago)

    It’s SO true! Carrying those heavy cameras and the stress of capturing a once in a lifetime event is hard enough!!!

    Reply
  34. Martin O'Neill
    August 5, 2014 at 6:05 pm (3 years ago)

    Spot on! Agree with every word. Great piece! Martin

    Reply
  35. Gerald Molley
    January 6, 2015 at 12:12 pm (3 years ago)

    I’m a recently-inspired aspiring photographer. I was a stand in at my friend’s wedding and ended up having to do more than I bargained for. I didn’t spend time with my wife and son during the whole wedding (7 hours long). I’m gonna shadow next time to get a deeper feel of all it entails.

    I appreciate this article so much because of the level of insight it provides. Thank you Sara.

    Reply

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