The first wedding I attended as an adult was in 2010. To this day, it stands out as the most extravagantly flamboyant wedding I’ve ever had the privilege of witnessing. In the weeks leading up to it, I had two main concerns, what to bring for a gift and what to wear, in that order. Eventually, my girlfriend and I prepared a thoughtful gift—not cash; sorry, not sorry—in the form of a signed book of nudes photographed by Caitlin Cronenberg. With that out of the way, my brooding turned to the attire because I didn’t own any formal-wear. A similar brooding occurred two years later when I was preparing for my first wedding in a service capacity. (The original suit was out of the question because I had lost weight and it sat poorly. It still does; I should get an alteration.) An established studio had presented me with an opportunity to prove myself, and I didn’t want to let them down—not as a photographer and not as someone representing their brand. Since I had the former covered, it left me thinking about what wedding photographers wear. With this article, I hope to help you avoid the distress involved in selecting the ideal wedding photography apparel.
Have a wedding photography outfit
Over the years, with some experimentation and trial and error, I have settled into a preferred wedding photography outfit, although uniform maybe a more appropriate description. Don’t underestimate the importance of having an outfit that you use exclusively for wedding photography. It should be exclusive for two reasons. First, having a pre-determined outfit helps to dispense with the burden of choice when you’re in the midst of preparing everything else, and this saves time. Then, by not wearing it on other occasions, you can avoid the surprise of a fusty shirt requiring an urgent wash. This guide was written with the purpose of helping you select a befitting and comfortable wedding photography outfit.
Should You Look Like a Guest?
Common advice from around the internet recommends that wedding photographers should dress like a guest. Don’t misinterpret this to imply dress as you would if you were a guest—this isn’t the time to show off your style. It proposes wedding photographers should wear outfits that blend into the average crowd of wedding guests (notwithstanding the cameras, of course).
Wedding photography dress code versus practicality: finding a balance
When deciding what you should wear as a wedding photographer, keep in mind that dressing appropriately for the event and dressing appropriately for the type of physical work you perform may sometimes clash. If you photograph enough weddings, you will inevitably find yourself in a situation where your preferred outfit conflicts with the stated dress code.
For example, I manage my clients’ expectations by describing my intended attire in the general wedding photography questionnaire they receive two to three weeks before the event. It has the following passage:
“With exceptions for extreme weather conditions, such as heat, cold, rain, and snow, your photographer will typically wear medium to dark pants, a button-up dress shirt, and comfortable rubber soled shoes. If this does not meet the minimum dress code expected for your event, or if it happens to exceed it, please explain below.”
Most couples respond in the affirmative, acknowledging that it is appropriate and that they trust my judgement. Sometimes, however, I receive feedback such as the following: “The dress code is formal attire. The above is fine for most of the day, but if seated with guests during the dinner, it’d be preferred to have a suit jacket on.”
The groom’s sentiment was not misplaced. The dress code was very formal, articulated to no uncertainty by the groom and groomsmen wearing long jacket tuxedos (three-piece) accessorised with “tiescots” (a puff tie-ascot hybrid), which is quite conservative by the standards of most weddings I photograph.
Even though I attempted wearing my suit jacket during the dinner (I always request seating with guests), it became immediately apparent that it didn’t sit well with my camera holster, which I don’t typically remove (and didn’t during that event). Under the weight of three cameras, the holster’s two shoulder straps compressed the suit jacket in ways that it was never intended to accommodate, causing it to crumple and fold in an unseemly fashion. Imagine wearing a heavy backpack with a suit or blazer—not an elegant presentation. After a short internal deliberation, and upon seeing that several guests had removed their suit and tuxedo jackets, I decided to break the dress code.
As a wedding photographer, you may find yourself in circumstances where you’ll have to balance the requirements of formality with the need to perform the task for which you were hired and to the standards expected. When push comes to shove, I will always prioritise my performance ahead of my appearance. Plan ahead for such inevitabilities.
What wedding photographers wear. My recommendations
I always wear light-coloured patternless button-down cotton dress shirts, with a bowtie, and a t-shirt underneath. I usually bring a suit jacket, but rarely wear it because of the interference mentioned above with my preferred type of camera holstering system.
Select a dress shirt that neatly fits your frame. Always tuck it in. A baggy shirt is never flattering, so get it darted by a tailor. For years, I had suffered a problem common to many men: my tucked-in dress shirts would flare out above the belt line. Flaring shirts can ruin an otherwise sophisticated presentation by breaking clean lines and looking sloppy. Some men deal with it by constantly re-tucking the shirt while many others simply give up altogether. A minority attempts to solve the problem by tucking their shirts into their underwear. This can work in a pinch, but will quickly lose all pretence of refinement when their underwear starts to peek over the belt line.
The real solution to prevent a dress shirt from flaring above the belt line is to invest in a good pair of shirt stays or garters. Think of them as reverse suspenders: shirt stays attach at four points (front and back, left and right) to the bottom of your shirt on one end and to the tops of your socks at the other end. The elastic bands pull your shirt down into your pants and pull your socks up to prevent scrunching. Shirt garters are a variation that does not rely on socks but instead use an adjustable garter worn above the knees to which the shirt straps are attached. This type works well with a pair of shoes that are meant to be worn with no-show socks.
I highly recommend wearing a cotton undershirt if you tend to sweat easily. It will reduce the likelihood of visible sweat stains on your dress shirt and may also extend its wearable life.
Pants have the potential to make or break an outfit. There is a dizzying array of style and fabric combinations that touch a broad range of price points. Oh, and they’re the only reasonable option for male photographers.
I recommend selecting a pair of formal trousers with a slimmer fit that tapers towards the ankles. Gone are the days when it was common and acceptable to wear suits that were two sizes too big. The 80s and 90s are history, so adopt (and adapt to) a more contemporary fit. The precise fit and style will depend on your unique shape and proportions.
I prefer cotton and cotton blends due to their breathability and tactile qualities. Although linen is technically a better warm weather alternative, it’s far too prone to wrinkling. As these are work pants and more liable to increased wear and tear, feel free to skip out on more expensive fabrics such as silk, wool, and merino wool blends.
Finally, be conscious of the range of motion your style of photography requires and buy pants that offer enough elasticity to handle it. Look for fabric blends featuring Spandex, Lycra, or Elastane.
Because wedding photographers spend most of their working hours on their feet, it’s important not to underestimate the value of quality, comfortable footwear. Since weddings are formal events, your shoes should look appropriate for the affair. I prefer dark leather shoes with rubber soles. These offer significantly more grip than their leather-soled counterparts and are much quiet, too. Keep in mind to select shoes with quality rubber soles that don’t squeak or leave skid marks on smooth surfaces like polished concrete or marble.
Moreover, frequent crouching and kneeling necessitate buying shoes that are flexible. A supple leather or canvas upper will feel much more comfortable when it bends with your toes. The creasing formed by rigid leathers or poorly stitched seams can push against the joint of your big toe and cause lots of pain and discomfort. I’ve been there, done that, and have no interest in going back—quality shoes are a worthwhile investment.
As for particular styles, it’s hard to go wrong with a pair of Oxfords.
Carrying your cameras: slings, straps, and holsters
Every guide about what wedding photographers should wear overlooks the importance of the camera carrying system. Although camera straps are not clothing, they are an obvious part of your outfit and contribute to your overall presentation. For wedding photography, there are three options: slings, straps, and holsters.
Slings are looped straps worn over one shoulder and passing to the opposite hip. Fasteners screwed into a camera’s tripod socket attach to a carabiner (or proprietary coupling) that glides along the strap. It allows the photographer to bring the camera to eye level or higher without disturbing the strap’s balance or position. Slings are awful carrying solutions for wedding photographers because they’re designed for use with a single camera. Two slings slung over opposite shoulders will invariably interfere with one another.
Straps are classic and omnipresent; virtually every camera worth using for wedding photography will come with a branded strap in the box. You can wear them around your neck or hang them over your shoulder. Almost every camera in existence will feature two standard strap mounting points on either side. All of them will work with straps produced by third parties. Although using two cameras is possible—one over each shoulder—it’s also precarious. If you’re confident that neither camera will slide off for an impactful meeting with the floor, then this is the most affordable solution. Adding a third camera to your setup can make things chaotic and dishevel your outfit.
A more ergonomic solution for multi-camera wielding wedding photographers is a camera holster. Spider is a company that makes several hip-mounted solutions that offer secure retention and quick access. Both secure the camera through a pin-in-plate design that attaches and detaches quickly and can be locked, too. And although their belt-mounted holsters help distribute the weight away from your back and shoulders, they look like black utility belts. Lastly, they limit support to two cameras, so if you shoot with three as I do, you’re out of luck.
Alas, it took me about two years to discover the right solution for carrying cameras. The hybrid strap-sling system pictured in the image above is a Holdfast “Money Maker” in tan bridle leather (their most affordable and least ornamented option at the time of purchase). In the time since then, the company has added a synthetic fabric version. I bought mine online from B&H because buying directly from Holdfast’s website would mean inordinately expensive shipping fees and duty charges. Despite its thickness, the leather straps soften with use to become more comfortable. The straps distribute weight reasonably across both shoulders (although a significant disparity in camera weight will quickly negate this). The strength of the system lies in its capacity to expand from two to three cameras. The Money Maker works well and makes for a handsome addition to my wedding photography outfit. Unfortunately, I’ve become a victim of its striking good looks by way of too many compliments and unwanted praise (seriously). A word of advice: if you end up investing in a Money Maker, avoid the coloured buffalo leather varieties because they bleed colour into light fabrics.
What wedding photographers wear can be culturally relative
The modern lounge suit has its roots in late 1700s England. Likely, through some combination of imperialism and the eventual spread of western democracy and globalisation, it’s a firmly established token of general formal wear across the globe. It’s seen throughout boardrooms and halls of power around the world.
Despite this worldwide ubiquity, it isn’t the only option with regards to formal wedding attire for men. Many nations still preserve the use of culturally significant customary formal attire for special occasions such as wedding ceremonies. If you’re photographing a wedding where such a dress code is in effect or available as an option, and you happen to belong to that culture, you may opt to wear something similar. However, given current sensibilities, you shouldn’t appropriate such cultural styles if you aren’t a member of that culture.
While it may be perfectly appropriate to wear your traditional formal attire to a wedding ceremony of the same culture, I discourage doing the same to a wedding whose culture you don’t belong. It’s not a judgement of the validity of your culture’s formal wear so much as it’s a strategy to minimise how conspicuous you appear. Because outfits based on the western lounge suit are so commonly worn my men around the world, they’re effectively discreet.
What do female wedding photographers wear?
Even though the suggestions described above are ostensibly masculine, it can be re-interpreted as androgynous; female wedding photographers can wear similarly-styled outfits to significant effect.
With that said, for better or worse, the concept of what to wear is very gendered. Compared to men, women have an overwhelming array of options with regards to acceptable clothing for formal gatherings. My advice is to avoid most of it; being too noticeable is bad form for wedding photographers.
My general suggestion is to wear pants and button up shirt. If it’s particularly warm on the day, a skirt, dress, or summer dress may be more comfortable. (I wish formal shorts were an option for men). Depending on your style of wedding photography and the photographic angles you skew towards (read: how dynamically you position yourself to get the right shot), you may want to wear a pair of stretchy shorts or leggings underneath the dress. They will ensure that when you are crouching, recumbent, or otherwise stretching to get a once-in-a-lifetime shot, you avoid inadvertently flashing the guests.
A wedding photographer’s outfit should be professionally presentable, functional, and discreet