When you envision your final wedding photo gallery, you likely picture these perfect Pinterest-worthy shots. Your photographer’s skill-level has obviously a lot to do with how good your images will turn out, but there are a few other factors to consider, and some of them you can help with. Below are a few things you can do to help out your favorite photog and set the stage for beautiful wedding photos:
– PRE-WEDDING –
> LIGHT IS YOUR FRIEND, SO INCLUDE IT IN YOUR TIMELINE & IN YOUR CHOICE OF VENUE
The number one thing that will affect your photographs is light quality. I can’t stress enough how important that is! Cameras now are pretty powerful but even they’ve got limitations, so you’ve got to give us something to work with, and good light is that thing. It will give you sharper, cleaner, overall nicer images. So what is good light? Natural light and lots of it. We need natural light for the obvious (prep time, ceremony, formal portraits) but also to properly document the details of the day (bridal elements, ceremony & reception décor, cakes & deserts.) As your timeline gets drafted, light is what you should work around. Check out How to Put Together Your Timeline to guide you through the process.
Don’t Get Married in the Dark
Your ceremony should have plenty of natural light available, so choose a time and location that will give you that. Generally speaking, an hour before sunset the light is already much dimmer and harder to work with. Google what the sunset time will be for your date and location, then work backwards from there as you draft your timeline. Ceremony (and family photos!) should be completely done an hour before sunset.
However, if you choose to get married in a church, know that they tend to be dark and most don’t allow flash photography. Sometimes they let us use flash during the processional and recessional but that’s it, so unless it’s a particularly bright day and there are lots of windows, your images are likely to be pretty dark and a little grainy.
Leave Time for Formal Portraits
Make sure to talk to your photographer to find out how much time she/he will need to give you some nice family formals. I can’t tell you how heart-broken one of my past brides was when she found out there would not be enough time after the ceremony to get natural-light portraits with her family. She and her fiancé didn’t want to do a first look, their timeline had been put together by her planner, and their ceremony would be done a half hour before sunset. While a sunset ceremony sounds lovely, family photos in the dark (or with flash) aren’t, so communicating your desires with your photographer early on can help ensure you get what you want. In this situation, given that the light starts to dip significantly an hour before sunset and that all the invitations had gone out, there was nothing to be done about it. This is part of why I like to design my clients’ timelines! If you want all your portraits in natural light, they need to be finished an hour before the sun sets.
> THINK OF THE BIG PICTURE | CHOOSING YOUR VENUE
Picking Your Venue
The venue will dictate the general mood of your day, so I would pick something you connect with or that has meaning for you, and something that has plenty of good light. In order to see what the light would look like on your day, try to visit this place as close to your estimated wedding date as possible (it doesn’t have to be the same month, but should at least be the same season) and around roughly the time you would be using it. In places like Florida, where there pretty much is only one season, the light is pretty consistant. But in northern states like Illinois, 4pm can feel like the middle of the day during the summer or be in complete darkness in the winter.
My next advice would be to choose a venue with character and visual interest. Hotel ball rooms feel cold and lack personality (and have no natural light!) Maybe choose an old mansion with antique furniture, a modern building in the heart of your city, a chateau in France, a Tuscan villa, your parent’s house or just Mother Nature herself in one of the great national parks or in the wilderness of Iceland. There is so much out there and plenty to satisfy every taste, just make sure it has charisma!
Consider the Backdrop
As you are touring venues, it’ll be easy to get swept away by the overall look of the place, but remember to think small. Ask where each stage of the day will take place and remember that these places will be the backdrops to your images. Is there an ugly, empty yellow wall or a bunch of wires, exit signs and fire extinguishers behind the ceremony location? An ugly plastic awning by the reception location? Does the dance floor look like a high school gymnasium? How about a bad carpet where you’re getting ready? Cars, street signs & people everywhere?
None of these things are inherently bad, you just have to consider what you’re going for. If you’re getting married in the heart of downtown and you’re going for a cool, edgy, urban feel then cars, street signs and pedestrians are a part of it. But if you’re going for a romantic, timeless feel and you chose an old mansion with character, but the ceremony location will show parked cars, stop signs and random people in the background, it can take away from what you’re trying to accomplish. It seems meaningless but these sorts of small details become incredibly obvious in photos. As much as possible you want a clean, uncluttered backdrop. (And as for the yellow walls, I can’t explain it, they just look terrible in photos lol.)
Choosing the Setting for Each Scene
We’ve just touched on your consideration for an attractive backdrop (walls, floors, room décor, what’s in the background…) What else do you need to consider when you choose the setting for each scene? What are some things you can do or include?
– Have good (natural) light
– Include natural elements
Have at least one window in each scene (where you’re getting ready, where your lovey is getting ready, ceremony site if indoors…) If there is no natural light, your photographer will be forced to make light: that means use the dreaded FLASH (dun-dun-duuuuun.) Flash during speeches and dancing is fine, and if anything it can help create a crazy, fun, party atmosphere. But flash during the bridal prep or ceremony? Not so great. By taking away natural light you will strip away our ability to create really emotive imagery. So whenever possible, please don’t get ready in a broom closet 😉
Natural elements are very nice in photographs. For ceremonies, I always advise to include nature (trees, mountains, lakes…) If your wedding is in a more traditional venue however, wood, stone, and granite are a few examples of elements that really enrich your images. So as you look for where various aspects of the day will take place, choose spots that have natural elements rather than man-made ones. For example, to get ready in, choose a room with hard wood or stone floors instead of carpet.
> THINK OF THE DETAILS
You spent time looking at the big picture, now it’s time to think about the small stuff. Little, seemingly unimportant things can make a big difference in photos. Items you won’t even think about twice or notice in real life, suddenly become much more obvious in photographs. So as you prep for the day, think of things like:
– Tidy nails
– Hand-written or calligraphy vows
Hangers really don’t matter, but for your photos they do. Having your gorgeous gown displayed on a cheap plastic hanger suddenly makes it all look tacky. If at all possible, bring at least one wood hanger for your dress. If you think the rest of the dresses might be photographed, you might as well have those on wood hangers too, and same for the gentlemen. I personally bring an ornate gold-colored hanger to give your images a chic feel.
Just like the hanger, nails are a very small detail that really stands out in photos. You don’t have to get them professionally done, but make sure you don’t have chipped nailpolish on the day.
Your vows are some of the most meaningful items that can be photographed on your day. Don’t print them out (or worse, read them off your phone!) Hand write them or have your calligrapher write them out for you. It’ll be more romantic and timeless to document. You can even put them in a nice little vow book or on some pretty textured paper.
Mirrors in general are fun to play around with, I know I love to capture a reflection, and they can add a sophisticated touch to your photos. A gorgeous, antique wall mirror or a cool, modern, geometric mirror make for a visually interesting image. However, you can’t always control what’s going to be there at your getting-ready location so ladies, bring a pretty hand or make-up table mirror! Hair & make-up artists usually bring one, but it’s often the cheap plastic kind and just like with the hanger, plastic doesn’t photograph well. A pretty little mirror is an inexpensive way to add some class to your images.
Likewise, pretty little boxes can be a nice way to display jewelry and other trinkets that are important to you.
> REAL BUT INEXPENSIVE WILL ALWAYS BE BETTER THAN CHEAP OR FAKE
Unless you’re a Kardashian, then you are like 99% of brides out there: you have a budget. I get it! Everything in my life includes a budget too. That being said, my best advice would be to go for an inexpensive version of something real, rather than a cheap or fake version of something grand. If your budget is very limited, a pretty “normal” dress with nice fabric will always look better than a cheap bridal gown with bad fabric. I would recommend stores like BHLDN or Lulu’s, as I’ve seen many of their products in person and the quality is fantastic. Can’t spend money on flowers? Get some real flowers from your local grocery store and put them together yourself, tied together with a nice ribbon. That will always look better (in real life and in photos) than fake flowers.
> FIRST LOOKS
Consider a First Look with Your Significant Other
Some people are totally down to do a First Look, some prefer to save it for the walk down the aisle. There is no right or wrong answer here! It’s a matter of personal preference.
Pros to a first look:
– A few minutes just for you two, without any guests or family around
– Ability to get some photos done before the ceremony, leaving you more time to enjoy your cocktail hour
Cons to a first look:
– Down the aisle won’t be the first time you see each other
– People (bride, groom, bridal party, immediate family and some friends) tend to hang out for a while after the first look is done and before the ceremony. It makes the ceremony feel a little bit anti-climactic.
Want a first look but don’t want to take away from the ceremony? We’ll keep you completely hidden from all eyes as we get you to your first look location and we won’t do any formal portraits until after the ceremony is done.
Have a First Look with Mom, Dad, or a Significant Person
This is never a bad idea and almost always leads to happy tears. Whoever is alive, present, and holds a special place in your heart should be given the honor of seeing you in your dress before everyone else.
– ON THE WEDDING DAY –
> GET RID OF THE CLUTTER
One of the easiest things you can do to help your photographer create beautiful, timeless images for you is to de-clutter your getting ready spots (yes grooms, you too 😉 ) It doesn’t need to be perfect but trash, beer cans, junk food bags, piles of clothes & shoes, messy suitcases… these sorts of things become an eyesore and will steal focus. A visually busy image feels overwhelming and unpleasant. Keeping the space you’re getting ready in free of clutter will make you and your loved ones -the subjects of the work- stand out in your photographs.
> BRING ALL YOUR BRIDAL ELEMENTS + KEEP THEM IN ONE SPOT
The very first thing I will do with each spouse is photograph bridal elements, so the best thing you can do is put them all together in one spot. Often couples (*cough-cough* grooms lol) don’t see the point of this part and think it’s a little silly. I completely get that! But what your photographer is thinking about is the final product. If your photographer approaches the day as a visual narrative (as I do) then they will want to document every aspect, not just the key stages. Just like a movie has a beginning, middle and end, the visual story of your day needs all of those elements too. Below is a simple list of what your photographer will need.
– Your dress
– Your shoes
– Your jewelry
– Your bouquet
– Veil, barrettes and hair pieces
– All 3 rings (engagement + wedding bands together!)
– Full invitation suite (most people forget!)
– Any item of sentimental value
– Notes or gifts from your significant other (the one meant for you)
– Your something Old, New, Borrowed & Blue
– Your shoes
– Your tie/bow tie
– Your cuff links
– Your watch
– Your boutonniere
– Your pocket square
– Your socks (if they’re fun socks)
– Any item of sentimental value
– Notes or gifts from your significant other (the one meant for you)
> GET READY BY A WINDOW
For best results ladies, make sure that your hair & makeup artists place you by a window. They typically already do that, but that goes for your bridal party getting ready as well. Grooms, you can go ahead and start getting dressed before I get there, just wait for me to put on the final touches (tie, shoes, cuff links, watch & jacket.) I’ll place you by a window to document you putting those on.
> DON’T LOOK AT THE CAMERA
A few funny photos looking directly at the camera can be super fun. Outside of that, as counter-intuitive as it is, don’t look at the camera! Pretend it’s not there and focus on your loved ones. You should be experiencing your day, not thinking about pictures. Also, after a little while it will allow for authentic moments to take place and for them to be documented in a way that feels true. If you’re busy looking at the camera, you will feel stiff and self-conscious and your images will look staged. And here’s a little secret: A lot of times I like to have something or someone blurred in the foreground while I focus on whatever is in the background, so if the camera feels like it’s on you, often times it isn’t!
> WAIT FOR ME TO OPEN LETTERS & PRESENTS
Whether they are gifts and letter to/from each other, or family members, this can be high in emotions and I don’t want to miss it! They’re an important part of the story, so make sure I’m there when you each open them.
> INCLUDE PEOPLE WHO ARE FAR AWAY
More and more people either move to another country or get married abroad, which inevitably leads to a few important people not making it to the big day. As sad as it is, technology now allows us to have them there in some way. Carve out a few minutes to video chat with your loved ones and make sure I’m there to document it! It’ll put a smile on everyone’s face and will make them feel included.
> CEREMONY, RECEPTION, CAKES & DÉCOR | LEAVE TIME TO PROPERLY DOCUMENT EACH
Now let’s talk about your ceremony and dinner sites. Ah, those are rarely finished until the very last minute, leaving your photographer with no time to document them properly. I can’t explain it but florists and the team in charge of staging almost always run late. I can’t tell you the number of times these weren’t done until the light had mostly or completely gone, or until it was time for guests to arrive! It makes us so sad, because we know you spent time picking things out, you spent great money on it, and your décor is a big part of your vision. We want to capture that for you, but we’ll need time with no vendors or guests present and with a decent about a natural light left, so we need the team putting this part together to be willing to work with us on this and allocate some time to it.
Open communication is the best way to accomplish this. Talk to them ahead of time and let them know you’d like photos of those during the day. Then give them a “must be done by this time” deadline to work with (and make that time about 15 minutes earlier than when you really would need it.) Talk to your photographer about it while your timeline is being drawn out, so they can tell you when the best time would be and dedicate some time for it. If you’re working with a planner, make them aware that you want these photos, and tell them to consult with your photographer as to what time would be best.
For your cakes & desert table we will need your caterer to be in on this! And willing to help. If they do not have these ready until nightfall, then you will unfortunately not have any nice images of those (they look awful with flash.) So please talk to them ahead of time about having these finished and brought out while there is still plenty of natural light!
> HAVE AN UNPLUGGED CEREMONY
For your ceremony images to turn out as well as they can, encourage your guests to put away their cell phones. I was a guest before I was a photographer and I get it: they’re excited, you look gorgeous, so they wanna snap a photo. But I can’t tell you how infuriating and heartbreaking it is when moments are missed because of technology. Entire rows of guests with their phones up taking photos of you. Grandma with her iPad standing in front of the photographer as you come down the aisle. Or uncle Bob with his big camera & flash who thinks it’s his job to document the day for you. Not only does it look really ugly in photos, but it detracts from them experiencing this moment and it can actually lead to the photographer missing a key moment for you. Some guests jump in front of the photographer or behind the couple at the very last minute, and there goes his first look of you in your dress or your first kiss. I’m certain the photos you imagine getting out of your ceremony not only include these key moments, but they include emotional reactions in the eyes of your loved ones, and your photographer can’t capture that if their noses are in their phones. So tell your guests ahead of time (in the invitations, on your website, or on a welcome sign by the ceremony site) and have your officiant make a brief announcement before the ceremony gets started.
These are not my images and are being used with permission:
> FOCUS ON EACH OTHER
During the ceremony, it’s pretty typical for the couple to spend the whole time staring at the officiant. (To be fair, he/she is doing most of the talking lol.) But this is about you. Look at each other and think about where you’ve been together and what you’ve had to do to get here. This is a big moment, let yourself think about it and focus on each other.
> LET YOURSELF GO!
I see people hold back a lot for a variety of reasons. Some grooms don’t want to cry in public, some bride don’t like their smiles so they won’t let themselves do it. Please don’t do that! Not only are you robbing yourself of *really* feeling everything you’re feeling, but you’re robbing yourself of truly expressive images. Don’t be stoic, don’t overthink it, don’t fake it, don’t restrain. No matter what you’re self-conscious about, true joy & emotion always looks beautiful! So laugh, sing, dance, cry! This is the day to FEEL everything, let yourself have it. Let it all wash over you, and experience your day to the fullest!
> WALK SLOWLY DOWN THE AISLE (& IGNORE THE CAMERA)
Here’s a little photographer insider tip: Sideways movements are easy for the camera to track. Front and back movements are more difficult to grab. If you and your bridal party walk slowly during the processional and recessional, you’ll give our cameras a better chance to nail focus.
> FEED YOUR PHOTOGRAPHERS & VIDEOGRAPHERS EARLY
This is so hard to have happen but it’s so important! The biggest obstacle usually is the caterer/venue themselves. Vendors get fed at the end, and in theory that makes sense! With the exception of your photo & video teams. While you and your guests are eating dinner, we really can’t do anything, because who really wants photos of themselves mid-chew with their mouths full of food, right? So we take a much-needed break, and pretty much do nothing for about 20 minutes. But, if you wait until everyone has been served to feed us, we’ll get started eating as everyone is finishing. And what comes right after dinner? Speeches and first dances. At that point the choices for us become eat and miss documenting those important moments, or don’t miss them and don’t eat. Given that we’ve been on our feet for 8-10 hours without eating by this point, skipping another meal is a bad idea. Tell your caterer to feed photo & video right after the head table has been served. They might protest but getting a couple of plates out really isn’t going to slow down their flow.
> DON’T TALK DURING THE FIRST DANCE (& PARENT DANCES)
If you’re having a first dance with each other and/or with parents, it’s going to feel intimidating to be the center of attention and have everyone’s eyes on you. Hey, I get it. But don’t spent the whole time talking. When you do that, 90% of the images taken will have you making a funny face as you speak. Don’t be afraid to savor this moment! Even in front of people. Smile. Close your eyes. Take it in. Look in each other’s eyes, rest in each other’s arms, and really enjoy the fact that this is the coolest day ever!
> PHOTOSHOP IS NOT THE ANSWER
The phrase “You can Photoshop that out, right?” makes photographers everywhere shudder. Just about anything is possible in Photoshop, it’s true. But contrary to what the average person thinks, there isn’t some quick, one-click, magic Photoshop button. Editing things out or altering reality -if done right- can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours… PER IMAGE. Since most photographers lack the time to do this, they often outsource it, which would be an extra cost to you. A few simple blemishes are easy enough to get rid of, but help your wallet and your photographer, and set things up just the way you want them to begin with, you’ll set the stage for success and you’ll be sure to love the final product!