Every wedding is different. That being said, they are also kind of all the same! I’ve been photographing weddings for about 10 years now, and I can say that the below is my compiled list of what your wedding photographer wish you did on your wedding day to make these easy, fun, and run smoothly!
Granted, these are all suggestions. Please take everything I say with a grain of salt. Your wedding day is YOUR wedding day and you should do it how you want! But from a wedding vendors perspective, I hope this list helps you re-think some aspects of your wedding day!
Gather detail items before the photographer arrives.
When I arrive to a wedding, I usually start with the ‘details’ first. The details items may include the wedding dress, the rings, vow books, shoes, jewelry, invitations, heirlooms, etc. Sometimes I walk into a getting ready room and there are 15 people hanging around getting dressed or getting their hair and makeup done. I try to ask around to see what the couple would like photographed, and where those items may be. If they are not already gathered for me, I have to either find them myself, or someone has to do it for me (which usually ends up with a bride interrupting her hair and makeup to find them for me!).
This is why I suggest putting all of these items in a box together before I get there. You can even do this the night before! Or as long as they are in an obvious spot for me to find them, then I can quickly gather them myself and photograph them quickly.
Here is a great article on what to include in your wedding flat lay if you are looking for ideas!
Book a large (or second room) for getting ready with natural light
I see it all the time- couples try to cram all of their wedding party into one room to get their hair and makeup done. This is also where they plan on putting on their dress or wedding attire as well. This usually severely limits WHERE in the room we can get these photos, unless we take the time to move everyone’s personal items around the room to ‘clean it up’ a bit. I try to photograph “getting ready” photos near a window for natural light. Sometime this does mean that I need to move furniture around. With a lot of people in the room, this can get very crammed and quite frankly, very hectic.
If I could give any advice on this matter, it would be to either book TWO rooms for getting ready, or not have your bridal party all in the same room with you as they are getting hair and makeup done. Along with that, try to get a room with large windows with beautiful natural light! Or, save an area within the room for the “getting dressed” photos.
Do a first look
While I do tell all of my couples that it is not REQUIRED to do a first look, I do stress the benefits of why you might want to do one. I know a lot of couples want to save that “moment” of seeing each other for the first time when walking down the aisle, and are afraid that a first look might take away that special moment. I’d like to state this; that “moment” will still move you. It is still a huge deal. The majority of my couples that did a first look STILL cried emotional happy tears when they walked down the aisle.
The main benefits for doing a first look would be;
- More time with your significant other
- Hair and makeup is fresh
- You get the majority of the portraits done before the ceremony (which gives you more time to mingle with your guests during cocktail hour)
- More portrait time
- It eases the nerves to see each other before the ceremony
- Timeline flow
If you’re looking for some advice on how to factor in a First Look into your timeline, here is a helpful blog post on how to plan a wedding day timeline!
Have a moment alone
The majority of my couples say to me at the end of the night; “the day went so fast!”. And it is true, you get pulled into a thousand directions on your wedding day. Most of those directions are for photos, signing the marriage license, mingling with your guests, eating, and so on. A lot of couples forget to factor in a few minutes alone with their partner to just BREATHE and take in the fact that you went through an incredible experience of joining into marriage with each other. It’s a big deal!
I wish all couples spent a few minutes on their wedding day to hide away alone and just be together. Take it all in. Remember this moment!
Do wedding party photos before the ceremony
This one coincides with the First Look advice. If you are having a wedding party with bridesmaids and groomsmen, I highly suggest getting those photos with your friends out of the way before the ceremony. Reasons being;
- They are already “collected” and together in one place. After the ceremony they tend to disperse into cocktail hour and find their significant others.
- Their hair and make up is fresh
- They are sober! (Usually!)
- They would rather be ‘released’ after the ceremony and join cocktail hour than take more photos and fulfill more duties.
- It helps with the timeline flow
Think about ceremony lighting
While with most venues you won’t really have a say in which direction the ceremony will face, if you do, I suggest that you consider the lighting for the ceremony. The lighting would be not only the direction, but the time of day. If it’s an indoor ceremony, that is also something to factor in as well.
If you DO have the option to choose where your ceremony is, (and when!), I try to suggest having a backlit ceremony. This means, the sun would be behind the altar. There are pros and cons to this of course. Pros being that you will have beautifully lit photos of your ceremony. Cons would be that your guests will be facing the sun. You could have it the other way around, where the sun is facing the altar. This would make your guests happier of course, but it would create some harsh lighting on your faces (which isn’t the end of the world). My biggest suggestion though, would be to NOT have side light. This would make one of you have great lighting on you for photos (and the sun won’t be in your eyes), but your partner will be squinting and in harsh light. Not fair!
Throw petals during your processional
I love me a good processional or grand exit! If your venue allows it, it is always fun to have your guests throw flower petals at you while you are walking down the aisle as a married couple. I love this because it creates sound/cheering and emotion and excitement in the photos. It gives your photos an extra little ‘umf’. The same thing can be said for a grand exit! Petals (or sparklers!) create such emotion in photos.
I do not suggest rice as much, as it is harder to pick up in photos. This also goes for bubbles. This is why flower petals are perfect; they are large enough to be seen in photos and your guests love to throw them!!
Do family formals immediately after the ceremony
Of course, this isn’t a rule, but just a suggestion. I’ve done enough weddings now to know what the best ‘flow’ of the day tends to be. I’ve found that having family stay at the ceremony spot for photos immediately after the ceremony ends usually makes the most sense. The reasoning for this is because they are already all gathered in one area. Usually the family is coming from different hotels and are on different schedules, so it’s hard to get them all gathered at the exact same time before the ceremony. There is almost ALWAYS one aunt or grandparent (or whoever!) that either doesn’t show up, or is late, etc.
If we tell all the family members to stay behind after the ceremony, then we know that they will all be there, and all in one location. I even tell my couples to remind them the day before that they will be needed after the ceremony, and to not run to the bathroom, and to not join cocktail hour until after they are done with these photos! With everyone’s cooperation, we can usually get these photos done in 15-20mins.
Keep family formal shot lists short and concise
I know that all families are different. Some are large, some are small, and some are more ‘complicated’ than others. Before every wedding, I ask all of my couples to write out an exact list of all the combinations of family photos they want to take on the wedding day, and I also ask for them to write their names and affiliations with each combination. This way, we can avoid any ‘awkwardness’ of “can we do one without so and so?”. When I have a pre-determined list, I can just shout out names and hopefully this means we won’t miss any important combos.
That being said, you do NOT want to spend your entire cocktail hour time taking family photos. Most couples want to spend 15mins, (20 TOPS), on this part of the day, and then be released so that they can go mingle with their other guests at cocktail hour. The family formal photo time of the day is almost like a ‘step and repeat’ for photos. The quicker we can get it done, the happier you’ll be! To make this happen, I usually suggest to couples to get ONE photo of extended family (one photo for each partner), then excuse the aunts/uncles/cousins, and focus more on the immediate family combinations. Of course, as mentioned before, every family is different. You know your family best and your own family dynamics. But, try to trim as much fat off of those photo lists as you can!
Save time for sunset photos
I love a good golden hour photo session! That being said, we do NOT need to spend 45mins to an hour doing sunset photos. Sometimes, we can easily spend a lot of time on the wedding day doing sunset photos if the timeline allows, or depending on the time of year and when the sun sets. But, in other cases, we do not have that luxury. In cases like this, I try to work with the coordinator, caterer, and/or DJ to schedule about 15mins of photo time for sunset light photos during the reception.
I find the best time to squeeze this in on the wedding day might be when the guests are eating! Usually, the wedding couple gets served dinner first, and therefore, finishes first. It might take another 45 mins to feed the rest of your guests. Why not sneak away with your photographer real quick during this time for those golden sunlight moments? Your guests won’t even know that you are gone!!
Don’t let your friends do open-mic speeches!
Speeches and toasts are one of my favorite parts of any wedding day. I find myself crying behind my camera lens as I hear close family and friends speak so highly of these couples. Of course, some speeches and speech-givers are better than others! But when the people who have been asked to say a few words know that they are going to be stepping up and giving a speech, it works out for the best. That being said, I HIGHLY suggest that after the last scheduled speech is done, do NOT say, “If anyone else has something to say, feel free to grab the mic!”
There are a few reasons for this. Mostly, your wedding day timeline. Weddings, especially the reception part of the day, are usually on a strict timeline. The catering staff is due to set out the food at a very specific time, the photographer might be leaving at a given time, or the DJ might have other events on the reception list they need to get through. Unscheduled toasts can add up to 45 unaccounted minutes into your reception timeline! (I’ve seen it happen!). Once one person goes up, it gives the courage to more people to go up and grab the mic. Soon, you have about 10 extra people that want to speak into the microphone.
Another reason I do not recommend this, is because usually these guests are not prepared! They haven’t written any cohesive thoughts down on what to say, and end up rambling for a few minutes, repeating words that other guests have also already professed. If you feel strongly about hearing more caring words from your guests, I recommend having an open-mic for toasts during a rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding. Leave the scheduled speeches for the wedding day. If you’re looking for some good Wedding Speech Etiquette info, please check out the linked article! I’ve heard DJ’s and coordinators say that speeches should only be 4 minutes long, and to try to cut it down to about 4 toasts at reception.
Skip the table shots
Another piece of advice for reception time is to skip the “table shots”. The table shots are where the wedding couple goes around table to table saying hello to their guests (which I actually DO encourage), but then awkwardly makes everyone get up and grab a photo with them. Here are my reasons I don’t like doing these photos and try to convince couples to skip them;
- It takes time away from the photographer’s break time/dinner time! (When else are we supposed to eat!?)
- These photos almost never end up in the wedding album. The tables are messy with half eaten food on them and just not that flattering
- It’s so rare to have everyone sitting at the table actually BE at the table! Sometimes one or more guests will be in the bathroom or at the bar ordering a drink.
- These aren’t ‘artistic’ shots for a photographer. These photos can easily be taken with a guests camera or an iPhone. Please let your photographer rest during this time!
Instead, let these moments and images happen naturally! If you happen to be walking by a table during reception and want to cheers with your friends, that is a great way to get a similar shot! Let the moment happen organically, as real and raw moments are always better than forced or posed!
So those are my tips and tidbits on what your wedding photographer wish you did on your wedding day. Take it all with a grain of salt though! If you’re looking for more wedding planning tips, I have a bunch!
Check out my post on the difference between a wedding and an elopement (and the pros and cons to each). As well as how to go engagement ring shopping! And a super helpful post; Do I need a Second Photographer for my wedding photos?