I’ve been to A LOT of weddings, and I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. From years of experience photographing weddings, I’ve gathered my best advice here to help you through the process of planning a wedding that will be stress-free and photo-friendly. With all the time and love you put into designing your wedding day, it’s so important to document it and turn it into beautiful wedding images! Help me help you by using this guide to make sure that nothing slips through the cracks and that all the most important moments of your wedding day are captured beautifully.
When all is said and done, this is just a guide. The number one priority is for you to make your wedding day exactly how YOU want it. Whether you choose to have a church ceremony, an elopement in the mountains, or a backyard shindig, the only non negotiable rule for your wedding day is, do you.
Timing is everything. A buttoned-up schedule (with ample breathing room) is the key to making sure things run on time, and that you actually get to enjoy your wedding day. Work with me to find out how much time we’ll need for certain shots, account for travel time, and always add buffer time (especially for things like travel and hair & makeup)! I’m saying it again: Add buffer time. To everything. Always. (It’s so, so, so important, it bears repeating.)
I love photographing the ‘getting ready’ portion of the day! Those first moments shared with your important people are filled with laughter, excitement, and anticipation. By making just a few specific decisions ahead of time, you can sit back and relax knowing that your ‘getting ready’ shots will look awesome.
Choose a getting ready location with lots of natural light, and one that is big enough for everyone to fit comfortably when the room is filled with all of your stuff. Pick a space that reflects the decor and mood of your wedding, and make sure you find the space to be beautiful. If your venue doesn’t have a space like this onsite, consider renting a cute AirBnB.
Bring photogenic hangers for your dresses and suits! Wear an outfit that is comfortable and easy to take off (after hair and makeup), looks authentically like you, and makes you feel confident as you get ready.
Try to set up your hair and makeup station near a window to give me (and your makeup artist) the best possible lighting. Natural light always beats artificial light.
With all of the stuff to get done, the ‘getting ready’ part of the day can be chaotic. Don’t make yourself crazy trying to keep everything perfect, but do your best to keep clutter to a minimum. Throw away garbage, and store purses, overnight bags, extra clothing and unimportant knick knacks in a separate room; it is distracting in photos. The best getting ready photos are in clean rooms.
I usually start the wedding day photographing details (rings, dress, shoes, etc.) while you’re starting to get ready. Make a list of all of the important items you want to have photographed. Gather the wedding dress, bridesmaid dresses, shoes, ties, cufflinks, jewelry, invitation suites, all of the rings, hairpieces, family heirlooms, and any other details you’d like to have photographed into one specific area. This will give me quick access to important pieces for detail shots, so I can dive right in.
Do you need your grandma to the venue early? Do you want your wedding party to hang around after the ceremony? Tell them! Make sure you communicate your wedding schedule to necessary parties so that everyone is on the same page. Over-communicate and have the schedule posted in the dressing rooms so that everyone is on time and where they need to be. I promise, communicating ahead of time will help you eliminate dreaded miscommunications and save you precious time and energy (plus, you’ll get to cocktail hour that much faster!).
A first look is when you and your love see each other for the first time in a more private setting before all eyes are on you at the ceremony. I HIGHLY recommend doing a first looks for several reasons:
1. It helps the timeline a ton. Since you’ll be able to see each other before the ceremony, doing a first look means we will be able to knock out all of the group portraits before the ceremony. This is a great way to ease the (inevitably packed) timeline.
2. It gives you extra time with your wedding guests. You don’t have to miss cocktail hour!
3. It calms the nerves. First looks also allow for a quiet, shared moment that helps you relax before you’re in front of everyone at the ceremony.
4. You two get to spend more time together on your wedding day.
5. First looks make for some of the most genuine, intimate, and heartfelt photos of the day.
Let’s make these as painless as possible, shall we?
Before your wedding day, I’ll help you put together your list of group photos. Write out every desired combination of people so that nobody is forgotten in the moment. I’ll put the list in order for you so that we can keep this part of the day efficient and get everyone back to the festivities as soon as possible.
Make sure to designate someone who is familiar with all the names to help organize and corral people. I may not know if a 12-person group is missing their lucky #13, so make sure everyone’s name is written down and I have someone to help me identify people.
Schedule plenty of time for portraits; I suggest planning family formals one hour before the ceremony starts (and wedding party photos 30 minutes before family portraits) so that people don’t get lost in the excitement of the ceremony and reception. Trust me, gathering people later can be a nightmare. Again, I will help you plan this part to make sure that your schedule allows for enough time to take family photos. Time frames will vary, but typically this family formals take 30-45 minutes total.
I like to take couples portraits at three specific times during the day: right after your first look (when you’re freshly made up and excited for the day), right after your ceremony (when you’re bursting with joy), and right before sunset (when the light is crazy-beautiful).
Whether or not you choose to do portraits before the ceremony, make time for couples portraits during golden hour! Golden hour is that magical light before sunset and is, without a doubt, the most heavenly time to take couple’s portraits. Budget at least 15 minutes to run away with your love (and me!) to bathe in that unreal light. These photos are often the favorites of the day; I promise it will be worth your time (and you’ll probably want a little breather by then anyway!)
The ceremony is about you, and the most important thing is that it’s held where you want it to be held. That said, there is a right way to plan a photogenic ceremony. Ceremony photos can look very different depending on the direction of light and orientation of your group. For outdoor weddings, consider the time of day of your ceremony to avoid harsh overhead sunlight, distracting backgrounds, and spotty shading. Ideally, you’ll have the sun behind the officiant. Use an app called Sun Seeker to see exactly where the sun will be at the time and date of your wedding ( I can help with this!). For indoor weddings, choose a venue that offers lots of beautiful natural light. I’d love to help you choose a location and orientation to ensure you get the best possible lighting and photos during your ceremony!
Pro tip: Consider having an unplugged ceremony. Nothing ruins your forever keepsakes quite like Aunt Jane’s massive iPad blocking your head during your recessional. Plus, attentive (i.e. non-Instagramming) guests make for the best, most emotive candids.
The reception part of the day is all about capturing lively guest candids and romantic moments between you and your spouse (yeah, I said it…spouse!). A few general tips:
1. Remember to bring comfortable shoes for this part of the night! Your feet will thank you.
2. Make sure your reception area has enough light after the sun goes down. Bistro lights are great if your reception is outside. I’m happy to help with figuring out reception lighting.
3. Practice bustling your dress before the wedding. They can be tricky and time-consuming, and you’ll be wanting to get out on the dance floor ASAP.
Communicate with your DJ ahead of time to make sure they switch off the crazy party lights. (Unless you’re into the whole rainbow-spots-on-faces thing.)
After that, when the dance party starts, go crazy with all the flashly lights if you want!
Even the happiest couple is not immune to hangriness (and hangriness only ever leads to bad, bad things)! Eat breakfast in the morning, snack while you’re getting ready, and indulge in the beautiful meal you worked so hard to budget for. Don’t forget to drink lots and lots of water. Feeling all the feels and handling all the big emotions of the day can be physically exhausting, so eat up and stay hydrated!
More specifically, feed me when you feed everyone else. No one wants photos of themselves shoveling food into their faces anyway, so give me a few minutes to sit down and re-fuel. Feeding me at the same time as your guests ensures that I’ll be ready to photograph toasts, cake cuttings, and any other important reception moments that I could potentially miss (if I’m busy scarfing down a sandwich in a closet somewhere). Some caterers insist on feeding vendors after guests, so please communicate this importance of this to them.
You know how people say they barely remember their wedding day? Well, spoiler alert: They’re not lying. That’s why making an intentional effort to experience every moment is so important. So take time throughout the day to be still, soak up the sounds, really taste the food, and feel one another’s heartbeat as you hold hands. One of my favorite tips: Take a moment during the ceremony (actually schedule it in) to look around and take a mental picture of all the people you love the most gathered to celebrate your love. The day will be gone in the blink of an eye; so keep your peepers open and BE. PRESENT!
When you hire a vendor, you are placing your trust in them. You hired them because you love their work and you know they’ll do a great job, so trust your gut, free yourself from having to worry about every little thing, and let them do what they do best.
Practice makes perfect. If you’re at all nervous about having your photo taken on your wedding day (who isn’t?!), I highly recommend doing an engagement session. They help warm you up to being photographed all day in a casual, stress-free setting.
Also, if you love those dreamy, golden light photos (who doesn’t?!), an engagement session is a good way to make sure you get those images. We can’t reschedule your wedding day if it’s raining, but we can reschedule your engagement session.
Drowning in schedules and photo lists? You can reach me directly here.
[…] If you want to learn more about planning a wedding that will look beautiful in photographs, read my previous blog: A Photographer’s Guide To Wedding Planning. […]