It's no secret that I have done the whole wedding thing a few times - and maybe, as a bride, you haven't - so why not take advantage of my knowledge as a wedding photographer? Here are 10 ways that you can help your photographer get the best wedding photos possible.
1. Getting ready space. Getting ready photos are easily some of my favorite photos of any elopement or wedding. As I am a natural light/candid photographer, I just swoon over those beautiful intimate shots of the bride preparing for the best day of her life with her closest friends and family. However - there are a few things that can make these photos a little less swoon-worthy.
a. A cluttered space - Most of the time, I simply work around totes of clothes and shoes boxes and respect the fact that nearly every wedding day is pure chaos, BUT unsightly fast food wrappers and brightly colored trash and clutter can make getting ready photos a challenge. Help your photographer out by keeping clutter to one small corner and throwing away fast food cups and wrappers. It will save time after the photographer arrives and help your photos to be as beautiful as possible.
b. Lighting and wall color - Natural light/window light is so important! Second to that, white or light neutral colored walls is a close second. Just as clutter and trash can make your getting ready photos less clean, so can bad lighting and wall color. As a natural light photographer, the first thing I do when I get to an indoor location (such as a hotel room or bridal suite) is turn off all the lights. This might seem weird, but indoor lighting is often very orange compared to window light and will cast yucky colors creating weird skin tones and a muddy looking photo. The same goes for crazy colored walls - red, bright green, orange, or other brightly colored walls will leave additional color casts and create a less than clean looking set of photos. My suggestion is to choose a very clean, neutral setting for getting ready. White and gray are always a safe bet, and hotel rooms often have fabulous window light. In the past, when choosing a hotel for boudoir photos, I simply check out the room photos on the hotel's website to view the color palette of the rooms, and I pick the room that is most neutral with the best window light - bonus points if there is a window near the bed! Plus - good light will also help out your makeup and hair artists!
So what is covered during this getting ready time? First thing when I arrive, I will ask for the dress, shoes, flowers, jewelry, stationary (such as wedding invites and programs), and any other accessories (clutch, perfume, rings, etc), and I will spend 15 minutes photographing all of these wherever I think the light is best. That might mean I take everything outside or maybe I will set everything up by the nearest window. I may slip out to take photos of any decor and the grounds if we are already at the ceremony/reception venue.
After that, I will take candid photos of everyone getting ready, maybe a few of all the girls in their fancy robes, and really just be a fly on the wall as the next half hour unfolds. I may pop out to take some photos of the guys getting ready for 15 minutes if they are in the same place, and I may take this opportunity to take posed groom + groomsmen shots.
Then it is time for the bride to get her dress on + a few bridal portraits + posed bride and bridesmaid photos, if there is time.
Bonus tip: Bring details like wedding invites and other personal items with you when getting ready. While I focus mainly on emotion in my photos, I also love little detail shots! You can also ask your florist to leave a few petals and extra flowers and greenery behind to include in and dress up these shots!
2. Have a first look. I know this isn't always a popular idea, and it is totally fine if you are set on not seeing each other until you walk down the aisle, but here are a few reasons you might want to do a first look:
a. It frees up so much time and allows you to actually attend your cocktail hour. As you will see in the sample timeline a few points down, having a first look means you get the bulk of your photos done before the ceremony, meaning your makeup and hair are still fresh, and you can mingle with guests and having a drink instead of spending an hour taking photos.
b. Less stress - the one thing that every bride and groom have told me after their first look is how freeing it is! There is less pressure on that "first look" as you see each other at the end of the aisle, and you can face the rest of your wedding day together. There is so much stress and anticipation surrounding the ceremony itself, and by doing a first look, you will feel so much more relaxed, and quite frankly, have better photos. You also know that after your ceremony, you can chill and party rather than pose for an hour of photos.
c. The emotion. I highly suggest that the first look be just the two of you with your photographer. This way, you can be real with each other. I have seen far more emotion and tears during first looks than during any ceremony (you know, when you have 100+ eyes on you).
If you are having a first look, ask your photographer for location suggestions! Often, first looks fall during the worst, most harsh sun times of the day. What does this mean? It means, make you sure choose a location that has at least some shade, and take advantage of your photographer's knowledge of what makes a good photo - show them potential locations and ensure they are confident that your selection will allow for the best photos.
d. Bridal party photos work best before the ceremony, and so do family photos. After the ceremony, it is often difficult to get everyone together for photo time. Grandparents are already making their way to the reception, and your wedding party is probably heading for the bar.
3. Ask your photographer if they have preferred vendors - especially videographers. Also ask if they have vendors who they will NOT work with. I have worked weddings alongside some pretty awesome vendors...and also some not so awesome ones. I actually have a list of vendors who I do not work with. Why? Because there are certain vendors and venues who have limited my ability to produce the photos represented in my portfolio - you know, the photos that caused you to put your trust in me and hire me to capture your wedding day. On the other hand, I also have a list of vendors who work well with me and I with them. We have worked together in the past and know that we make an awesome team - so why not take advantage of a proven wedding team?
4. Ceremony space. Obviously your ceremony space is an important decision, one that requires a good deal of thought and consideration. Once again, you can ask your photographer. Look at his or her portfolio. Which wedding ceremonies stick out to you and why? Do you like the colors? Do you like the light? Do you like the background? Here are a few key things to take into consideration when selecting your ceremony spot:
a. Light and sun position. Often, your venue coordinator will know where the sun typically falls during ceremonies. Things that make photographing a ceremony very difficult are: direct sun/spotty sun on parts of the wedding party, but not the whole thing (maybe the bride is in full blazing sun, but the groom is in full shade), sun at that "high noon" position (basically directly overhead so that it creates fabulous black hole shadows over everyone's eyes in photos) - or if you are indoors, low light or orange light (or colorful walls) and rules and regulations that limit the photographer's ability to use flash or go in certain places.
b. Rules and regulations. Many ceremony venues have rules and limitations for photographers. Be sure to inquire about these before booking as it will determine the kind of photos that you are able to get from your ceremony. What might these rules entail? Your photographer may not be allowed to use a flash (which may be completely fine if there are windows), or your photographer may not be able to go past a certain point (it might be the first pew...or it might be the last) - in some cases, your photographer may not be allowed to enter the ceremony space at all! Evaluate your photo priorities, and determine what works best for you.
5. Family photo space. During family photo time, I suggest a clean, uncluttered background that is close to a solid color or pattern. If you are getting married in a church, it may be best to do the photos outside on the steps if the lighting or wall color isn't great inside.
Another suggestion: Limit family photos to 10 groups. Consider which family groupings are most important to you, and stick to that. Family photo time is often the most exhausting and frustrating portion of the day (for everyone). I always send out a questionnaire a few weeks before weddings for brides to fill out. Included in that questionnaire is a place to list all family members that you want present for photos. This is a great way to save yourself stress on the actual wedding day - make your list of 10 groups, and get it in the hands of your photographer. Here is an example of a list of 10:
1. Bride and groom with both sets of parents
2. Bride and groom with bride's parents
3. Bride and groom with groom's parents
4. Bride and groom with bride's immediate family
5. Bride and groom with groom's immediate family
6. Bride and groom with bride's immediate family + grandparents
7. Bride and groom with bride's grandparents
8. Bride and groom with groom's immediate family + grandparents
9. Bride and groom with groom's grandparents
10. Any other combination - obviously, things can change if there is divorce, remarriage, etc.
6. Timeline. This probably should be number one. In order for you to truly get all of the photos that you want, you first need to allow time for these photos! This seems like kind of an obvious thing, but I have photographer friends who were only allotted 5 minutes for bride and groom portraits - needless to say, the couple were a little disappointed at the lack of variety in poses and locations in their beautiful photos. I am writing this to help you avoid those feelings of disappointment. So what should your timeline look like? I have written about this before (here), but as I think this topic is SO important, we will cover it again now. Typically, here is how long various photo sets take:
Getting ready: 90 minutes
First look: 30-45 minutes
Family: 20 minutes
Bridal party: 20 minutes
Bride and groom photos: 30-60 minutes
Allowing this amount of time for each group will greatly help your photographer get all of those beautiful photos that you have seen on their website and portfolio. To see that put in action, here is a sample timeline:
2:00 Getting ready
3:30 First look
4:00 Family photos
4:20 Bridal party
6:00 Bride and groom photos
6:30 Wedding party entrance to reception
8:30 Cake cutting + first dances
Of course, you may not choose to do things exactly in this order, and every wedding is different, but this is a great start to have a smooth day!
A side note: You might be wondering why there is time for a first look and also bride and groom photos following the ceremony - I recommend both! Why? For one, who doesn't want more photos, right? Plus, this gives you the option to have multiple locations, AND you are so much more relaxed after the ceremony, which always results in better more beautiful photos. I also suggest keeping this photo time in mind when planning your entire wedding timeline! It's no secret that bride and groom portraits are my favorite, and they will be what you hang on your wall and share on Facebook, so try to allow at least 30 minutes for these photos. This will allow you to have different backgrounds and a variety of poses + more time + more photos!
Bonus tip: The closer the sunset or sunrise, the better! The lower the sun, the softer and more beautiful the light. (Ahem, less chance for super dark black hole shadows over your eyes and harsh highlights and shadows).
**I should note that this is my timeline as a photographer - and I usually show up near the end of hair and makeup time. A makeup artist friend of mine highly recommends allowing two hours for hair and makeup for the bride + and hour per person for makeup. That means if you have 4 bridesmaids, allow for 5 hours for makeup for yourself and all 4 girls + 1 more hour for hair per person (if you have one makeup artist and one hair stylist). If you want it done in less time, request to hire an additional makeup artist + hair stylist to cut the job in half!
7. Take advantage of good light! While your ceremony time might not allow for the best light/time of day for portrait times (directly before or after), there is usually time right after dinner when you might consider going back out for a few more shots at golden hour! Allowing a little time for this might also be very important if other events ran off schedule earlier during the day, and maybe you weren't able to get very many bride and groom portraits before the reception - did you know that some reception venues will bill the bride and groom extra if they are late to their reception entrance? Do a little Googling and find out when sunset is, and plan a little time right around then for 15 minutes or so of photos!
...because those two photos wouldn't have happened if we hadn't slipped away after dinner!
8. Feed your photographer at the reception! Usually, by the time dinner and the reception rolls around, we have been on our feet for 5 or 6 hours! A fed photographer is a happy photographer, and a happy photographer takes good photos.
9. Have an unplugged wedding! I have recently written a big article on this, which you can read here.
10. Relax and enjoy your wedding day! This is more important than you might think - a happy and relaxed bride and groom photograph well, especially for those candid moments in between posed photo times. You want to look back on your wedding photos and see the joy and happiness that you felt - so allow yourself to feel those emotions and let them shine through your photos. Really and truly, I want my couples to forget that I am there and allow me to simply capture the natural interactions between them and their closest friends and family!