There are so many things brides and grooms fret and worry about when it comes to their wedding day. What if my dress won’t fit? Who won’t show up? What if it rains? Will Uncle Marvin get drunk?
One of the biggest sources of anxiety is your wedding photography. Besides senior pictures and Santa’s lap, this is probably the only time most people pay to pose in front of a camera, much less have a photographer follow them around all day. Here are a ten ways you can set yourself up to have a fantastic wedding photography experience.
1) HIRE A GOOD PHOTOGRAPHER. This may seem like a given, but you’d be surprised at how confusing it can be if you let it. Unless your name starts with K and ends with “ardashian,” you’re probably looking for ways to make good economical choices in all your wedding planning. But finding the right corners to cut and right things to spend money on can be daunting… Especially when it comes to your photographer. Who’s good and who’s not? Where do I start? What’s the “going rate” for a good photographer?
Start with friends who’ve recently gotten married. Ask them about their experience with their wedding photographer. Were they fun and friendly? Were they good communicators – both beforehand and in posing situations? Did they take the time to get to know the couple and their vision before snapping the first photograph? While it’s true that the proof is in the pudding when it comes to photography, personality plays a big part in the results a photographer gets (i.e. natural smiles, good candids, et al).
Search through real weddings on local wedding blogs. Scour through Facebook. Google local wedding photographers and then come up with a short list of candidates. Pricing can vary dramatically. Experience, location, style, type of coverage, and number of photographers will all factor in to the package price a photographer charges. As a rough guide, I don’t know that I’d recommend you spend anything less than $1,500 or so. You can have your Aunt Jenny make your pew decorations for $150 without worrying about her not getting it exactly perfect, but it’s a whole-nother thing to pay your cousin Amanda $500 with her new Best Buy DSLR to tell your wedding story in photographs – You’ve only got one chance at this thing (hopefully).
Sure, there’s a chance that you luck upon a gifted, enthusiastic beginner who can pull magic out of their hat at your wedding. But finding a savant like that is much more the exception than the rule (especially on Craigslist). On average, couples in the U.S. are paying between $2,500 and $3,300 for wedding photography* (not including engagement photos, prints or albums). Spend as much of your budget as you can to get the very best photographer – many sources recommend 10 – 15% of your total budget. The number one thing I hear over and over and over from couples is that they wish they’d made photography a bigger priority. As I like to tell people, a week after the wedding the hors d’oeuvres and the cake are long gone, and the booze as well. The music has faded and the limousine is already hauling someone else’s butt around town. The one thing you have to always remember is your photography.
2) HAVE AN ENGAGEMENT SHOOT. Most photographers include an engagement session in their packages. This is a great opportunity to become acquainted with your photographer and get comfortable with being in front of the camera without the pressure of time typical of most wedding days. This also gives the photographer a chance to see how you photograph and how you interact with one another… That is SUPER helpful for them come the wedding day. Plus this will give you some cute, romantic pictures to decorate the reception venue and eventually end up on your walls at home.
If an engagement session is included in your package but you don’t have the time to get it in, ask your photographer if they’d be available to do a day-after session. Photographers are often at the mercy of your wedding day schedule and how that meshes with available light. A good photographer/artist would jump at the chance to get you back into your dress/tux and take you back out to get cuddly/romantical images without the pressure of the wedding party, the limousine and the pending reception. Extra points if you’re okay with getting your dress a little messy!
3) TRUST THEM. Ask any wedding photographer and, if they’re honest, they’ll tell you there’s nothing more smothering than receiving a detailed shot-by-shot list of every single thing a couple wants photographed – the dress hanging in front of the window, the shoes, bride getting into her dress, dad looking proud… you get the idea. Trust your photographer. They’ve been doing this a lot longer than you and they will be well aware which shots to get… and if not, refer back to point 1. and book someone else!
Obviously if you have something particularly sentimental or unique that you’d like photographed (maybe a piece of jewelery passed down through your family or a DIY project that you spent days on or a special guest in attendance) then be sure to let them know, but don’t hand them a blow-by-blow list of every single shot you want. Allow your photographer to do their job and to be creative. They’ll enjoy the day more which will result in better photographs.
On that topic, Pinterest provides a great inspiration for brides (and photographers) for set-ups and images. Share your inspiration with your photographer along the way, they’ll appreciate getting a sense for where your head (and heart) is at. But please bear in mind, that these are inspirations. Don’t ask your photographer for exact replications of your favorite pins. That’s stealing and while there’s nothing new under the sun, it’s gutting to be asked to copy another artist exactly. A good photographer can catch your vision and still deliver a one-of-a-kind product that’s especially yours.
4) THINK ABOUT THE LIGHT. Centerpieces, dresses, party favors, disc jockeys… There are a million things to think about when planning a wedding. The last thing on your mind is probably the how much light there is at the ceremony venue, at the reception or where the sun is in the sky depending on the time of day or time of year. But be aware that the light changes throughout the day and different light will result in very different photographs.
For example, winter light can be beautiful because the sun is low in the sky and provides warm drama. Of course, the downside is that the sun is all but gone by 3:30 or 4:00pm. Consequently, your photographer is hoping you start your day early. A 12:00pm ceremony will give you a fair amount of daylight to work with before, during and after the nuptials. If you’re not superstitious (just a little stitious), you may ask your photographer if you can do a “first look” earlier in the day. It’s such a lovely, intimate moment the two of you can share and your photographer can capture before getting out of your way.
When looking at venues think about the light in each room. Is the room you’re getting ready in small, dim and cramped? Are the ceremony room walls covered in dark wood with small windows? Remember, photography is essentially painting with light and if there isn’t any, there’s only so much your photographer will be able to work with. Chances are you won’t adjust your venue choices but you should adjust your expectations of how the images will look.
5) THINK ABOUT THE CEREMONY. This is the centerpiece of your day. La raison de tous les efforts. Sure, the candids of the “getting ready” are more electrically-charged. Yes, the romantic portraits may be more beautifully composed. Of course, the photographs at the reception/dance can be funnier. But the ceremony is the heart of everything. Because of the anxious blur your wedding day can become, the ceremony is often the element that’s the most difficult to remember.
Make sure your photographer cherishes the ceremony and what it represents. Whether it’s a five-minute Q&A at the courthouse or a full mass at the cathedral, you want your photographer to capture every moment. So many couples look at their ceremony photos and see the moment for the first time. The images should make you feel like you were a guest at the wedding. If you’ve hired a good photographer, they’ll already know this.
Sometimes a priest, pastor or officiant won’t allow photography or only from the back of the venue. This can be catastrophic for a photographer to first hear the morning of the wedding. So if you really value these images, make sure you speak to whoever is officiating your ceremony to find out if there are any limitations beforehand.
Another thing to consider is to politely ask your guests to not take photos during the ceremony (you can do so in the program). Guests holding up mobile phones as you walk down the aisle or flashes going off throughout the vows are only going to be distracting for you and other guests. You’re spending a fair amount to hire a professional photographer to tell your story, encourage your guests to be present and celebrate the moment with you.
6) HIRE A MAKE-UP ARTIST. You want to look your best on your wedding day and a professional make up artist will help you do that. It’s another thing many brides with they’d spent the extra money on. If you’ve never had your make up done by a pro, you’ll be shocked at what a difference they can make!
Don’t go mad on the spray tan (the Oompa Loompa look is never attractive) and don’t try any new remedies that could likely cause a reaction or break out in the days before the wedding. Similarly, if you’re having a pre-wedding pamper session like a facial, do it at least a week before the big day. Post-facial spots are never fun.
Make sure you have powder and lipstick in your bag (or give it to a bridesmaid) for little touch ups throughout the day too. Airbrushing can only do so much (and your photographer will not be happy if you ask them to Photoshop out your shiny forehead or tan lines in every photograph, in fact they’ll likely slap an extra fee on top for the time that it will take).
7) GET CREATIVE. If you’ve done a good job with Step #1, your photographer’s head is swimming with creative ideas the moment she steps into your venue. Trust her. Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone a little bit. Not only will the result be fun and interesting images; getting put off your zone can also help you relax and overcome anxieties.
Sometimes creativity takes a little time (and some circumstantial improvisation). Allow time for your wedding party and romantic portrait images. If you’ve hired a good, fun, engaging photographer this won’t be wasted “picture time” between the ceremony and reception but will be a continuation of the celebration. Set aside as much time as possible for this part of the day. The more time the photographer has, the better the results will be.
8) LEAVE ENOUGH TIME. As I said, time is of the essence and the more time your photographer has the better. They are the experts so ask them how long they think each element should take. Group shots, for example, are notorious for taking longer than you expect. Having to round up an already-buzzed usher or a camera-shy aunt for the photos can take a while so make sure your photographer has a list of names and, if possible, delegate the task of helping round people up to a trustworthy cousin, usher or bridesmaid.
Here’s what some photographers had to say about how much time to allow and, in an ideal world, what would be pretty much perfect:
Getting ready: “Having about an hour and a half with the bride before the ceremony would give me enough time to photograph all the details of the dress, shoes, jewelery etc as well as take some informal photos of everyone getting. There’s always a mad rush before the dress has to go on and I like to have about 15-20 mins after the dress is on to do portraits of the bride with bridesmaids and mom before I move on. Sometimes this goes out the window because time goes quicker than people expect and its a shame to lose those shots.”
Group shots: “Allow 10 minutes per group shot. Taking the shot doesn’t take that long but you would be surprised how time can go by… and also, like the father of the bride at my wedding on Saturday… people can vanish for ages even if they KNOW they will be needed for photos. Ten minutes each means that they can actually have some time to spend with guests and your photographer (or his second shooter) has a fighting chance of getting some candid photos of this time too.”
Romantic portraits: “For a couple shoot I like to have at least half an hour or hour. In addition, there is usually a bit of down time between dinner and the dancing portion of the reception too. This is a good time to get a few extra photos and the light is usually yummy as the sun is starting to set. The couple have often had some wine and are a lot more relaxed by this point too!”
9) FEED THEM. LOVE THEM. TREAT THEM LIKE FAMILY. It’s my experience that photographers are a warm and fuzzy bunch… Well, the GOOD ones are, anyway. Furthermore, I think the best wedding images are those from photographers who embed themselves into the wedding day as opposed to those who observe from afar. The images an embedded photographer can get are so much more intimate… so much more real than those shot from the other side of the room with a giant lens.
Your best chance to get some of these magical intimate, candid images is to welcome your photographer in. Starting with the “getting ready” images all the way through the last dances of the evening. I couldn’t count the number of images we have of our team dancing with the bride and groom late into the evening. Treat your photographers like family and you’ll get the very best results, I promise.
10) FOLLOW THIS “HOW TO POSE” GUIDE. Once again, if you’ve hired a good photographer, they’ll know how to shoot you in the best possible position with the most flattering angles. But it doesn’t hurt to be familiar with the ways you can help your photographer along. This article by Kat, The Rock and Roll Bride, is perhaps the best and most comprehensive account of how to pose for flattering images. Do yourself a HUGE favor and read it before your wedding day (or engagement session).
Alright, so that’s everything I can think of right now. As a reminder, it all starts with finding the right photographer. I believe a good photographer will want to meet with you in person (or at the very least, Skype) to learn everything they can about you… To get a sense of your you. Before you decide on a photographer, make sure it’s someone you feel like you can spend 11 hours with. Next to your mom and maid-of-honor, your photographer is your closest companion that day – You better love him or her. They should be someone one you feel comfortable with, that makes you laugh and puts you at ease. Well, that’s what I think, anyway.