Tip • Photographer’s Pre-Wedding Rituals

February 23, 2015

“Whenever there is failure, there is some giddiness, some superstition about luck, some step omitted, which, Nature never pardons.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

I blame the Boy Scouts and their motto: Be prepared.

Throughout my childhood that mantra was repeated. Perhaps it’s my Germanic heritage — an instinctual predisposition for order in the midst of chaos. Maybe it’s my experience shooting high pressure events and seeing just how quickly things can go wrong. The kind of things that give you anxiety and stress dreams because you’ve seen it up close and personal.

The fear you feel when, during formals, your lights aren’t working, not matter what you do and the father of the bride walks up to you and says, “I’ve always wanted to see Plan B!” (true story) You do have a Plan B, right?

Let’s face it— weddings are uncontrolled events. Being prepared and having a pre-wedding ritual is a way to get in front of the uncontrollable. Showing up to a wedding and adding to that chaos by a lack of preparation is the last thing you need, so for the Tip of the Week, I’ve laid out my pre-wedding ritual, and asked some other extremely talented photographers about their rituals as well.

Below is my personal pre-wedding ritual:

Clean my gear with a religious, obsessive compulsive mindfulness. Everything in my camera bag is pulled out, examined and cleaned. Sand, dust, sunscreen, sweat and rain.

Charge batteries (including cell phone) at least two days before a wedding weekend. Storms can knock out power, batteries can fail, chargers quit working.

Check camera settings. You want to be ready to hit the ground running. Literally. There’s nothing worse than finding out your camera is still set for the near dark reception from the night before. This includes connecting my camera bodies to my computer and syncing the time and date. This is especially important if you use second shooters.

Methodically pack gear (memory cards, lenses, bodies, batteries, flashes, Pocket Wizards, cords, filters). I’ve had assistants complain that I’m OCD about packing my case. But there’s a reason for this ritual. I can quickly scan my camera case and tell if something is missing. Everything has its place. This is especially important if you’re trying to pack up after a wedding in the dark. The basic gear (and backups) for shooting a wedding are all in one case.

Review wedding day information and location (timing, traffic, weather, timeline). Does the forecast call for rain, hail, sleet, sunshine? Towels, umbrellas, sunscreen can make or break the success of the day. Do you have T-Mobile as your cell phone carrier like I do? Good luck getting a signal for your turn-by-turn GPS if you’re five miles outside a metropolitan area. Know where you’re going and don’t put all your faith in your phone. Have the entire day’s events planned and envisioned in your head before you ever start.

Pick up dry cleaning, wash car, water and energy bars. The ritual of getting dressed is not isolated to brides, grooms and wedding parties. Nothing is worse than running late for a wedding and trying to figure out what to wear. Washing the car? Impression is everything. You don’t want to get your clothes dirty taking gear in and out of your car. Staying hydrated and keeping your energy levels up are not to be understated because adrenalin will only get you so far.

Hydrate, relax and all that jazz. The night before a wedding is not the time to hit the pubs with friends. Stay home, drink lots of water and get some rest. Celebrate after the wedding. Nothing is better than a hot shower and a cold beer after a dusty, summer wedding. Jazz? It puts me in the wedding mindset. It’s calming and zen-esque.

Are there any special things that you do based on experiences? Any personal habits or routines that you go through to prepare yourself mentally or physically before a wedding weekend? I asked four extremely talented photographers about their rituals and here’s what they shared:

[vc_text_separator title=’Michael Allebach’ title_align=’separator_align_center’ border=’no’ border_color=” background_color=” text_color=” icon_color=” icon=” image=” ]

Allebach Photography

Before weddings I try to find my mojo with an energy drink and listening to a New York Hardcore or Punk Band at high volume. Of course the night before I’ve charged up batteries – possibly the most annoying and least talked about aspect of the wedding photography.

The last photo I take with a couple is a fisheye selfie including my second shooter. It ends the night on a good note. After the wedding I take the backup cards out of both cameras to put in my wallet. The original cards stay with my camera bag, keeping the files are in two locations. My favorite after-wedding ritual is going out with other photographers for a beer. 

(Thanks Mike for the featured image of your gear!)

Mike Allback - Tattooed Bride

Mike Allbach Selfie Tattooed Grooms


[vc_text_separator title=’Brian Mullins’ title_align=’separator_align_center’ border=’no’ border_color=” background_color=” text_color=” icon_color=” icon=” image=” ]

Brian Mullins Photography

So my ritual (and we’ll call it more of an “organizational system”) is a little different as we shoot quite often during the week so it’s imperative we stay on top of the “status” of our camera bags, not just on a wedding weekend. First and foremost, everything has its place. Lenses, camera batteries, flash batteries, memory cards, cameras, etc. At a quick glance, I can tell if anything is missing or needs to be replaced.  If my bag ever gets out of “sync,” we immediately go back through everything to ensure we aren’t missing gear.

Because we shoot a lot during the week (both portrait and commercial jobs), my bag has a few peculiarities. If the camera batteries have been removed from the camera, the cameras are turned on their sides with the empty battery compartment facing up. If our AA batteries are in the charger, the empty cases are left on the top of the bag so we can see the batteries are missing. We don’t ever want to be in a hurry and grab a bag thinking everything was loaded, get to the site and realize we’re missing a camera battery.

Battery charging is something we stay on top of because we use rechargeable (Powerex Imedions) AA batteries for our flashes and of course, rechargeable camera batteries. If we don’t have them charged and we have to leave, we have a big problem. We have two bins, one for “needs to be charged” and the other is “charged.”  The Imedions don’t lose their charge quickly, so unless we aren’t shooting for a few weeks (which is rare), once the batteries are charged they are good to go.  

Brian Mullins Photography

Brian Mullins Photography


[vc_text_separator title=’Anne Almasy’ title_align=’separator_align_center’ border=’no’ border_color=” background_color=” text_color=” icon_color=” icon=” image=” ]

Anne Almasy

I’ve spent most of my adult life shunning ritual. I left the church. I refuse to join a gym. I eat dinner at 9 p.m., or 6 p.m., or not at all. I wake up with the sun – if I feel like it. My favorite hashtag is #IDoWhatIWant. (Thank you, South Park.) My pre-shoot rituals are…anti-ritual.

Sometimes I crank the top 40 station to irritate me and get me moving. Sometimes I sit in the sun in front of the big glass doors in my dining room, inviting the day’s pain and beauty and magic to move me to creativity. Sometimes I eat a huge, carb-loaded meal in anticipation of a physically intense gig. Sometimes I cram a handful of raw spinach in my mouth, chug a latte, and pray for stamina.

Sometimes I carefully, methodically pack every lens, every cable, every heavy black piece of equipment I might possibly need, and puzzle-piece $20,000 of photography gear cautiously into my trunk. Sometimes I casually, recklessly toss cameras and flashes into a smattering of padded bags and sling the whole kit into my hatchback.

Without fail, I count. Two camera bodies. Three lenses. One light bag. Nine flash cards. One timeline. But the process is never the same. I can’t create if it’s the same every time.

For me, ritual is draining, but gut-driven chaos is motivating. Ritual is an anvil chained to my wrist; but the unexpected, the unanticipated, the as-I-feel-it approach is the very soul of inspiration.

Eff ritual. #IDoWhatIWant

Anne Almasy

Anne Almasy


[vc_text_separator title=’Dina Douglass’ title_align=’separator_align_center’ border=’no’ border_color=” background_color=” text_color=” icon_color=” icon=” image=” ]

Andrena Photography

Some photographers travel light, but I tend to travel heavy. Why? Because when I shoot, I want options. Thus, my pre-wedding gear rituals revolve around ensuring that I am prepped for any scenario the day might throw at me. Simply, I never want to run out of lens choices, CF cards, lighting options or the many types of batteries that make various pieces of equipment work.

My pre-wedding rituals start a day or two before a wedding. My first order of business is always to charge endless batteries on endless different chargers for cameras, flashes, strobes, Pocket Wizards, video lights, LEDs and various other lighting tools. I charge every single AA rechargeable battery that I own, as well as five camera batteries and all the various batteries that power my lighting gear. The batteries themselves range from huge to tiny, and together, they weigh a ton.

Another ritual involves going to the dry cleaner and begging him to get my chosen black weekend shooting outfits cleaned for same-day service. My local dry cleaner is very patient with me, and I treat him very well, so he is always very helpful in meeting my same-day clean-black-clothing needs.

Finally, I make sure all my CF cards are formatted and arranged into my DIGI Totty Belt (which is similar to the old GoBee bag). I cannot shoot a wedding without my DIGI Totty Belt, as it holds my phone, my CF cards (in individual slots) and many other little things that I need throughout the day.

I work a lot of 16-hour jobs that start very early in the morning, often located 80 miles south of me. This means I sometimes have to wake up at 3:30 a.m. to shower, get ready, and drive 30 minutes to pick up my second shooter before driving another hour to the wedding venue. The only way I’m able to manage this is through an endless amount of caffeine. I usually start with two tea bags of English Breakfast Tea (with unsweetened almond milk), and then, after I’ve finished that, I put two more tea bags into the same cup and make another cup of double-strength tea for the road.

On a wedding day, my preferred edibles involve protein, so if I’ve been organized enough, I might have a few eggs or some turkey for breakfast before getting into the car. If I’m not organized enough, my second shooter and I make a stop at Starbucks on the way. We now know where all the early-opening Starbucks locations are. We also know where the late-night fast-food restaurants are located. And by late-night, I mean the ones that are open at 2 a.m., when we’re heading home after a 17-hour shoot.

Packing up the car involves lugging a lot of heavy gear out of my residence and into the car. My gear generally includes two regular roller bags (one for cameras and lenses, and one for strobes and strobe batteries), a large golf club bag (for our light stands, tripods and umbrellas) and a ladder. My second shooter generally brings a lighting case and a shoulder bag, but carries his cameras separately.

If driving on a Saturday, my second shooter and I usually enjoy listening to Handel on the Law. It’s a great talk radio show where callers discuss various legal situations and ask if they can sue, or how to proceed with certain actions. If driving on a Sunday, we usually listen to Leo Laporte, The Tech Guy.

Dina Douglass

Dina Douglass-Andrena Photography

What’s your pre-wedding ritual? Inspire a conversation and leave a comment! Thanks Mike Allebach, Brian Mullins, Anne Almasy and Dina Douglass for sharing your rituals! (All photos © 2015 by the contributing photographers)

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