So you’re getting married, and you’re spending a lot of time, money, and effort on making sure your wedding is the day you’ve always dreamed about. You want things to both go smoothly and look great. Well, I’m here to help! I made a little wedding survival guide to help you make the most of your photography and retain your sanity. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’m happy to help however I can!
Starting from the top…
Getting ready photos are some of my favorite – they’re full of excitement, anticipation, and lots of emotion. They set the stage for what’s about to happen, and though I mostly like to be a fly on the wall during this part of the day, there are a few helpful, easy tips that will make for better photos.
- Hair & Makeup: I’m putting this one right at the top, because if there’s one thing that makes the schedule go off-course, it’s hair & makeup. Allow plenty of time for this – I even recommend telling your team that you need to be done much earlier than you actually do (about 45+ minutes before you actually need to be done). This means that in the off-chance that your hair and makeup are done on time, you get to sit around and look awesome while you sip your mimosa. Win!
- For Grooms: Hear me out on this one, grooms! You deserve to look and feel amazing, too, and most hair & makeup artists offer services for men as well as women. It has always blown my mind that brides spend hours and countless dollars to look their best on their wedding days, but it may never even cross the mind of a groom to think about it. I know y’all want to look like GQ models on your wedding day, because I see the amazing suits and accessories you pick out to look great! Hair & makeup services can be as simple as locking in your signature hairstyle for the day so that it stays just how you like it, or a tiny bit of concealer for those troublesome acne areas. Because sure, I can photoshop out things like pimples, but guess what? They’ll still be in every single cell phone photo your friends take.
- Location: There’s nothing wrong with hotel rooms, but are simply not ideal for photos. They usually don’t have a lot of open, usable space, or natural light, and they’re not memorable or personal at ALL. For a getting ready space as unique as the rest of your wedding, check out boutique hotels, Airbnb and VRBO. There a lot of stylish, well-lit, affordable options out there that can double as lodging for you or your VIPs after the wedding. You can also use your home or your parent’s home for sentimentality and comfort. If a hotel makes the most sense, look into smaller boutique hotels first, and always ask if there’s a corner room available to allow for the most natural light. And speaking of…
- Light: Window light wins, forever. If possible, get ready in the room with the most light. Usually I’ll turn off any yellow-toned lamps and just let the natural light do its thing.
- Get Ready Together: If you’re the non-traditional type, think about getting ready together. It’s romantic and peaceful, and can create beautiful intimate moments. Some of my favorite getting ready photos have been of couples getting ready together, especially when it’s in their own home and therefore 100% their style.
- Simplify: Don’t let your getting ready area turn into a central hub for your whole family and wedding party (and all their stuff). Let your getting ready time be relaxing and calm – let non-VIP family & friends know that you love them, but you’ll see them later. The people who help you get ready should be the people nearest and dearest to you (do you really want your brother’s new girlfriend in all of your getting ready photos forever?). Not only will loved ones help keep you calm and sane, but having them close by makes for lots of meaningful moments.
- Clutter: If your getting ready area is cluttered, it will translate as chaotic in photos. Keeping things clean and tidy puts the spotlight on the people and the action, and not the tornado of clutter in the background. Keep suitcases, clothing, purses, etc, out of sight in closets or in a darker/less photogenic room. Opt for drinking from glasses instead of from unsightly water bottles – me and the environment will both thank you!
- Details: Have your important details ready in one spot for me to photograph when I arrive. This list can include: shoes, jewelry, rings, invitation suite, florals, veil/hair piece, your wedding attire… Really, any things you think are awesome and want photos of. I try to make these shots as simple and personal as possible so I can focus on moments first and foremost.
- Lighting: Outdoor ceremonies are gorgeous, but there are a few important factors to consider. Avoid: spotty light, harsh light, and uneven light. How? A: Try to stay backlit – keep the sun behind you & your officiant, which can give you that glowy, dreamy look in photos. B: Have the ceremony in a well-shaded spot, so everyone in attendance is lit the same. The best advice is to scout your ceremony location during the same time of day and time of year as your wedding date, so you can get an idea of where the sun, light, and shadows fall. Make sure that however you’re lit, it’s the same on both of your faces – try to avoid having one person is in shade while the other’s squinting from the intense sun. An ideal ceremony time is 2-3 hours before sunset, especially in the summer, when intense overhead light can cause raccoon eyes and weird shadows. If you’re inside, you don’t have to worry about this as much – but be mindful of how the light will come into the room at the time of day of your ceremony.
- Feel Your Feelings: Raw, real emotion is a beautiful thing, so don’t be afraid to feel what you’re feeling. I don’t get why people try to suppress their emotions (at all, ever), especially on wedding days. Try to break that instinct to cover your mouth when you laugh, or wipe away your tears, or stop yourself from crying in the first place. Let it all out, and the results will be rewarding because they’ll take you right back to the moment, and how you felt while it was happening. Plus, “ugly crying” is the result of trying to physically keep the tears in. If you feel like you’re going to cry, that’s a beautiful thing – let the tears flow and don’t stress about it.
- Unplugged Ceremony: An “unplugged ceremony” is when you ask your wedding guests to refrain from taking photos or being on their devices during your wedding ceremony. The benefits to this are endless, which is why I offer an incentive to couples who opt to have an unplugged ceremony. Not only are people more present in the moment when they’re not watching it through a screen as they take photos, they also experience more emotion. Instead of grandma trying to zoom in on her ipad camera, maybe she’s smiling or crying as you share your vows. Unplugged ceremonies also help make sure there isn’t a sea of phones blocking your view as your loved one comes up the aisle toward you, or stepping in front of me when I try to photograph these once in a lifetime moments. If all of these reasons aren’t enough to convince ya, there’s also this interesting article about “photo-taking impairment.” There are a few different ways to announce an unplugged ceremony, but I find that the most effective way is to have your officiant make a statement to guests before the ceremony works the best. As with most things, spinning it in a positive tends to also help guests get on board. Instead of just “please put away your devices,” or “the couple has asked for no photos taken during the ceremony,” what can work best is when you invite your guests to participate in the wedding with you: “it means a lot to the couple that you’re all here with them, and they asks that you put away your devices to stay present in this important moment with them.” People love to feel special, and will get on board with an unplugged ceremony more easily when it’s seen as a good thing and not something you’re depriving them of. Psychology is crazy, amirite?
- The Step Aside: Ask your officiant to move aside right before the first kiss. Otherwise, in the gap between your necks you might end up with their face showing through. Kind of hilarious, but probably not what we’re going for during this moment.
- Afterwards: Take as much time as you want right after the ceremony to hug and take a minute, both with each other and with your loved ones. There’s a lot of emotion that comes out right after it’s all official. Some of my favorite photos are taken during these moments, when people are their most genuine selves. Take a couple minutes to really savor this and feel what you feel. I can’t emphasize this enough! A lot of planners and caterers like to whisk the couple away for snacks or a touch-up, but honestly, I think this is one of the most emotional moments of the day, even if it’s only for one minute. Savor it!
- First Look: You’ve probably heard of this one. It’s when the wedding couple sees each other for the first time before the ceremony, in a private setting. It can make for more authentic emotions than you’d have walking up the aisle, with 200 people are staring at you, waiting to see if you cry. Personally, I think they’re wonderful, but I always let my clients decide if they think a first look is the right choice for them. With a first look, often we can finish wedding party and/or family photos before the ceremony, so during cocktail hour you can relax and hang out with your guests. If you opt to skip the first look, I highly recommend having an extended cocktail hour or a gap in the timeline so we have plenty of time to take photos with family (20-30 min.), wedding party (20-30 min.), and the two of you (ideally, 45-60 min.). Good photos take time, even for couples who don’t want a ton of portraits.
- I’ll also mention that when people hear “first look,” they probably envision that classic shoulder tap. Well, I’m here to encourage you to have your first look moment however feels natural to you – the options are endless and we can definitely brainstorm the method that’s right for you.
- Locations: I can work with you to help figure out great locations for your wedding photos. Often, good light is better than a good backdrop, and meaningful locations are better than the popular spots. If we’re doing outdoor portraits during mid-day, brainstorm shady spots near where one of you is getting ready. Squinty and sweaty doesn’t look good on anyone.
- Private Vows: I’ve been seeing more and more couples choose to share their vows privately during their portrait time. This can be a great way to get the nerves out and it makes for great photos of you two, fully focused on each other. I rarely can get this close to couples during ceremony vows, so it can be a really honest and refreshing way to see each other’s expression documented during these moments.
- Sunset Photos: If the schedule allows, I love to take couples outside for just a few minutes during sunset or dusk. Those can be some of the most dreamy portraits, and a bit of variety from any photos we took earlier during dedicated portrait time. Plus, it’s an opportunity for the two of you to enjoy a moment of peace during a non-stop day.
- A Little Dirt: Please don’t be too afraid of getting your wedding attire a little bit dirty! I’ll never ask you to roll in mud or anything crazy, but the reality is, white dresses will get a little bit of dirt on them even from just walking around. There’s really no avoiding it, unless you want to spend your wedding day worrying. You’re only going to be wearing your gown for this one day, so why not make the most of it? It always bums me out to see brides with gorgeous dresses, carrying the train over their arm all day. You bought it because you love it, so show it off!
- List and Group Sizes: Despite how happy you are on your wedding day, standing and smiling at the camera for a long time can get exhausting, and it can be one of the most stressful parts of the day. I recommend keeping your list of photos short, and keeping your group sizes small. Usually family photos are variations of the wedding couple (together) with their immediate families. Keep in mind that large groups and longer lists take more time, so if that’s the plan, schedule accordingly!
- Communication: Usually family photos can be done in 15 minutes, but I always suggest scheduling more time just in case. If your family tends to run late to things, prepare accordingly – tell them 3:00 or 3:15 if you actually need them at 3:30. Make sure you communicate clearly to each and every family member needed for photos, so we’re not waiting on one person and losing valuable time. Sometimes it’s easiest to do family photos right after the ceremony when everyone is in one place, but it’s still important to let them know to stick around to make it as quick and easy as possible.
- Wranglers: I recommend assigning friends or family members as “wranglers” to help gather people for family photos. Even though I’m always prepared with the list my couple has given me, I don’t know who’s who. People tend to wander (especially during cocktail hour), so make sure your wranglers are up for the challenge and know who your family members are. Who’s the most take-charge person in your family? They’re probably the perfect wrangler.
- Wedding Party: For couples that have a wedding party, I split the group shots into a few sections: everyone altogether, one person + their side, then the other person + their side. A lot of couples also like to do individuals – for example, a groom with each of his groomsmen for a smiling photo and a silly/inside joke photo. Let me know your preferences ahead of time!
- Lighting Tips: My ultimate goal is always to capture moments as they looked and felt. I find that photographing with ambient light is best to achieve this, so how you choose to light a space in the moment through decor is worth its weight in gold. Whether your evening is spent outdoors under the sky, under a tent, or in a venue, make sure to consider lighting when planning. String lights and lots of candles can make a huge impact and create a cozy, romantic atmosphere that allows for naturally lit photos and minimizes the need for flash. Bonus: it also means I can easily sneak around and get those candids of you + your guests without you noticing my flash beam going off. Neutral or warm colored lighting is always the best option. I have mixed feelings on up-lighting – some colors can have funky (read: not-so-flattering) effects on skin tone, but every room is different. Spotlights are popular, too, but they can be less than flattering unless they’re soft or have a wide scope (vs. tight pin lighting). When in doubt, skip it. If you have any questions, I’m happy to help!
- Clear View: Wherever the two of you are sitting, try to keep the area in front of you clear of large decor. This will help with candid photos, especially during any speeches or events. Avoid large/tall centerpieces that will obstruct your faces, and if possible, leave the two seats across from you empty so in photos, you don’t see the back of someone’s head in between your faces.
- Dinner: Ideally, I like to eat when you two eat, so I don’t miss any important moments. Usually no important formalities happen while the wedding couple is actively eating, so it’s the most efficient and practical time for my team to put our cameras down and quickly eat for the first time during the day. Most caterers automatically try to serve us after all the guests, which is usually when reception events start to unfold. Just in case, it’s important that we aren’t served too far away from the reception room, so we don’t miss anything, and can be back at a moment’s notice, cameras ready.
All That Other Important Stuff
- Remember What’s Important: I have a whole blog post about this, but try to keep in mind what’s really important at the heart of it all. This day exists for the two of you to celebrate your love for each other. In this world of 7 billion humans, you found each other, and that is so incredible! When your relative stresses you out, when your officiant says your name wrong, or when it unexpectedly starts to rain, remember why you’re getting married, and try to laugh about it instead of letting the little things get to you.
- Buffer: Things on a wedding day take longer than normal. Getting ready may normally take you 10 minutes, but on a wedding day, it might take you 30 minutes just to tie your tie. With multiple locations, always round up with travel times, and factor in things like rush hour and construction.
- General Timeline Considerations: Every wedding is different, and the details of your specific day (group sizes, importance to you, multiple locations, etc) will determine how much time we actually need for each portion of photos, but here are some ranges:
- Getting ready photos: 45-90 minutes
- First look: 10-15 minutes
- Couple’s portraits: 45-60 minutes
- Private vows during portraits: add 10-15 minutes
- Family photos: 15-40 minutes
- Wedding party photos: 20-40 minutes
- Sunset/evening portraits: 5-20 minutes
- Reception: at least 2 hours of reception coverage (not including cocktail hour), more depending on your preference, if there’s an exit or after party, etc
- Feel Your Feelings: Yep, I’m mentioning this one again, because it’s too important. If you missed it, scroll back up to “Ceremony” and read all about it.
- Afterwards: When the wedding’s over and it’s #official, after you’ve laughed and cried and danced the night away, the memories from your day will be there for you to re-live forever through the photographs we’ll create together. I’ll always send a sneak peek within a week so you have something to enjoy, and the full gallery a bit later on. You can easily share with friends, family, and guests. I only ask for you to please not re-edit the photos I’ve worked hard on, and always include a photo credit in the form of a business page tag or link. Awesome clients like you usually bring me even more awesome clients, and everyone wins.
Now let’s get you married and make some photo magic together!