When I meet with potential clients, I always hand them this packet I've put together of tips for getting the best wedding images. While much of this responsibility falls on the photographer you hire, there are a few things you can do that will impact the quality of your photographs. I've come up with these tips over the course of the 6+ years I've been shooting weddings and they have each risen out of negative or frustrating experiences my clients or I have had on the wedding day. After the difficult experience, I've looked back and thought, "If only we would have...." and then filled in the blank with each of what turned into 4 tips.
Tip #1: Plan out the timing of your wedding thoughtfully.
This tip encompasses a lot of factors that will greatly impact the quality of your photography AND your experience as the bride and groom on the wedding day. The choices you make about the timing of your wedding day will impact the amount of stress you deal with, the extent to which you have the opportunity to connect with one another and the quality of your photographs--specifically as it relates to good lighting and the quantity of relaxed portraits that are able to be captured.
Whenever I sit down with potential clients to talk about their weddings, I like to get around to discussing the timing of their wedding with them. I want to make sure they are as prepared and educated with their options as they can be in order to make informed decisions that will be best for them. I oftentimes start out by asking them if they have their hearts set on not seeing each other until the ceremony. Traditionally, the groom waits to see his bride on the wedding day until she is walking down the aisle. This tradition originated with arranged marriages. When a couple was chosen for one another they were not allowed to see each other until the ceremony so that they wouldn't have the chance to back out once they saw what each other looked like. Even though today, couples marry for love, some still like to uphold this tradition. I would say about 20% of the weddings I shoot, the bride and groom wait to see each other until the ceremony. But the trend is moving in the direction of spending more time together on your wedding day which means seeing each other before the ceremony. I really believe this is the best option for a number of reasons:
1. You get a chance to connect with one another before the craziness of the day takes over.
If you don't see each other until the ceremony, you likely won't get a chance to talk with the most important person in your life on your wedding day. You see each other during the ceremony, say your vows, then are swept away by the joy and love of your family and friends for the remainder of the day. If you see each other before the ceremony, you are able to have a private moment where you see each other for the first time while you are alone. You are able to react to one another verbally and much more openly because you aren't standing in front of everyone you know. I absolutely LOVE this part of the day when couples first see each other before the ceremony. I am able to capture some amazing emotions as the couple sees each other for the first time and then we walk around the property shooting portraits of the two of them. Here's some examples of some of the emotions that can be captured when you take this route:
2. Your stress and anxiety are dissolved before the ceremony.
I've observed over 100 couples throughout the course of their wedding days and for the most part they all experience some type of anxiety as they prepare in the morning. All of their months of planning have led up to this most important day. The couples who see each other before the ceremony are anxious, but as soon as they see their best friend--get a chance to hug and talk and connect--any stress that they were experiencing completely dissolves. From that point on in the day, they are completely themselves and at ease. This is something I've seen happen time and time again and I want it for each of my couples.
3. Portraits can be as quick and painless as possible.
If you see each other before your ceremony, we can get all of your formal portraits out of the way before the ceremony so that you are free to do what you and all your guests really want to do after the ceremony--celebrate and enjoy your cocktail hour/reception. Consider these two options.
Portrait schedule if you see each other before your ceremony:
2 hours before ceremony: Bride & Groom see each other for the first time & take portraits alone together
1.5 hours before ceremony: Portraits with bridal party
1 hour before ceremony: Portraits with families
1/2 hour before ceremony: Completely done with portraits as your guests begin to arrive--giving you time to go inside & freshen up.
Portrait schedule if you don't see each other before your ceremony:
1.5 hours before ceremony: Portraits of Bride with bridesmaids
1 hour before ceremony: Portraits of Groom with groomsmen
1/2 hour before ceremony: Temporarily done with portraits as your guests begin to arrive--giving you time to go inside & freshen up.
(with receiving line after ceremony)
30 min. after ceremony: Portraits with families
1 hour after ceremony: Portraits with bridal party
1.5 hours after ceremony: Portraits of Bride & Groom alone
2 hours after ceremony: Completely done with portraits
(if Bride & Groom walk down aisle and just keep walking to a secluded area)
Immediately after ceremony: Portraits of Bride & Groom alone
30 min. after ceremony: Portraits with families
1 hour after ceremony: Portraits of bridal party
1.5 hours after ceremony: Completely done with portraits
As you can see, portraits can be taken care of before the ceremony in 1.5 hours. If you don't see each other before the ceremony, portrait time will take up 2.5 hours of your day. In addition to the quantity of time being extended, the stress is also heightened when portraits are held off until after the ceremony. Gathering people before the ceremony is easily done through good communication before the wedding day. There are no additional guests present to work around. After the ceremony, everyone just wants to love on you and congratulate you and get to the bar. So many times during portraits after the ceremony, no one can find uncle Bob. More time is wasted gathering people and I have a difficult time getting everyone's attention to accomplish the task at hand. It's just more stressful on everyone.
4. You can plan your wedding near sunset.
So many brides and grooms want a sunset wedding. But natural light is vital for quality portraits. If you take care of all of the portraits before the ceremony, you have the flexibility to plan your wedding near sunset. No natural light is needed after the ceremony. If you wait to see each other, that's o.k., just plan your wedding earlier in the day so that there is at least 2 hours of daylight post-ceremony for your portraits.
These are the ways in which the timing of your wedding greatly affects your photography. But photography aside, I really believe that these factors also affect your stress level and general enjoyment of the day. When I talk with brides and grooms about the options, I'm really keeping their best interests in mind.
One other tip as it relates to the timing of your day and your stress level, is to plan in extra time between different events of your day as there are always unexpected things that come up. Getting dressed on your wedding day will take you longer than it does on any other day of your life. Girls tend to underestimate how long it will take and sometimes guys are the most guilty of this. Planning in more time than you think you will need will help everything run smoothly.
Tip #2--Communicate to me any "must have" shots.
I will typically shoot the following formal portraits:
-Bride & Groom
-B & G with Bride's extended family
-B & G with Groom's extended family
-Bridal party all together
-Bride with bridesmaids (grouped & individually)
-Groom with groomsmen (grouped & individually)
I share this list with my clients so they know which formal portrait groupings I will automatically make sure are covered. But I know every family is unique so I encourage my clients to email any additional groupings they would like included in the formal portrait part of the day. If they really want a particular photo with a special grandma, I need to know that ahead of time. I'm more than happy to do it but if I'm not told ahead of time, I can't read minds and oftentimes the bride, groom and families are swept up in the joy of the day and are not able to recall each portrait grouping they'd like covered. It's important to have a written out list ahead of time that is well thought through.
I also encourage my clients to not get too carried away with the list. I will be shooting constantly and am sure to get a wide variety of shots they will like. As an artist it is important for me to be able to stay in the creative zone and shoot moments as they happen instead of being tied to a long list of shots that need to be checked off.
I did a blog post a couple years ago that caused a bit of controversy called "kill the shot list." Feel free to click on the link to read it in it's entirety. I am primarily a photojournalist who shoots some portraits. If clients want the majority of their day to be about shooting portrait after portrait or a set list of staged moments, I am not the photographer for them. In my initial client meeting I always ask what they are looking for in their photography and if I'm not a good fit for them, I make that known. One of the things I came to terms with early in my career is that I'm NOT the right photographer for everyone. The goal is to match clients with the right photographer creating a good fit where everyone is happy.
So communication before the wedding is key. If everyone does their part it will help to avoid the heartache of missing a cherished portrait of a loved one on the wedding day.
Tip #3--Prepare your family and friends for the style of photography you have chosen.
My style is highly photojournalistic. And I'm around on the wedding day for a full 9 hours, documenting everything that happens. When a bride and groom choose me to shoot their wedding, they do so because they're excited that I'll be there to capture those special moments and all the details they painstakingly hand-picked. But oftentimes the mother and father or grandmother's idea of "wedding photography" is a photographer who shows up to shoot a few staged moments, the ceremony and group portraits. Their expectations need to be managed.
Case in point. At the very beginning of my career, I was shooting a wedding for a wonderful couple who chose me for my photography style. I was shooting in the bridal suite as all of the girls got ready for the day. The mother of the bride arrived and was clearly uncomfortable having us there. She made comments about not wanting any photos taken before getting her make-up on. We did our best to focus on the bride but it was also a small space. Finally, the mother of the bride ordered us out of the bridal suite because she became so flustered. The bride was visibly upset about this, but at this point there was nothing she could do about it. I felt AWFUL. The last thing I ever want to do is make someone feel uncomfortable.
I also noticed early on in my career that people would look at me funny when I took pictures of shoes or little details that I noticed throughout the day. Some of them even made comments. But then at the reception, when they saw the slideshow of some of my favorite images of the day, they would say something to the effect of, "Ohhhh, THAT's what you were doing." Seeing the images helped them to understand my purpose for being there all day and shooting the things that I did.
Both of these experiences made me wish that I could show everyone a slideshow of the wedding photos BEFORE the actual wedding so that they would be put at ease, knowing I ONLY keep and show flattering photos and that they would understand and respect the style of photography that the bride and groom has chosen and paid a lot of money for.
Enter Tip #3. I encourage my clients to communicate their excitement about their choice for photography to their family and friends. I suggest that they write them an email and include my website, encouraging them to take a look. My hope is that when they see examples of my work, they will better understand and be prepared for what I am doing on the wedding day. They will hopefully feel more comfortable around the camera. It's also helpful when my client encourages their family and friends to ignore me as much as possible. I strive to be unobtrusive and my super-power IS invisibility (it comes and goes on the wedding day but a lot of times people don't even see me) but it still helps if people ignore me. If the people who are most intimately involved in the wedding do these things, I get much more natural shots.
I give my clients this tip because I really do believe that it helps everyone to enjoy the day (because they are better prepared ahead of time) and makes the photos better (because everyone is more at ease and therefore, more natural). Ever since I started asking my clients to educate their family and friends up front, I have never again run into a scenario like the ones mentioned above.
Tip #4--Trust me.
This tip is quite simple and straight forward. There's nothing complex about it. The tough part is actually DOING it.
When you hire a photographer for your wedding, one of the most critical attributes to look for is someone you can trust. Hiring a wedding photographer can be scary. You are in essence, purchasing something that at the time you pay for it, is invisible. You can't control the outcome and there are no guarantees. That is why trust is SOOOO important. Don't trust blindly though. Do your homework up front.
I work very hard to build trust with my clients because I know how scared they can be and how close this purchase is to their hearts. One of the reasons I have a blog is to build that trust over the long-term with potential clients. I want them to see the consistency in my work. I want them to see how involved I am in the industry. I want them to learn about my character and even a bit about my personal life. They deserve to know these things so that they can put their faith in me. I take the honor of photographing someone's wedding very seriously and know that part of my job is to make it as easy as possible for a client to trust me. I'm asking for a lot by asking for their trust. But trust is crucial in this relationship and I do my job to earn it.
So make sure to hire someone you feel you can trust. Then, when your wedding day comes along, TRUST THEM!! What I want most for my clients is that they enjoy their wedding day, free of any worry that all the right shots are being taken. So if you are a bride or groom, hire a photographer you can trust, and then determine ahead of time to relinquish control over the photography. If you micro-manage your photographer on the wedding day, not only are you not in the moment enjoying yourself, you are going to cause a good bit of anxiety for your photographer in the process. As artists, we need to be free to get into a creative zone and work our magic. And knowing that we have your trust allows us to work with confidence and do our very best for you. So trust your photographer and enjoy what is sure to be the best day of your life!