Photography Guide to Planning a Perfect Wedding
As a professional wedding photographer who talks with couples throughout their planning process, I know that planning your big day can be overwhelming at times. Over the 257+ weddings I've photographed I've seen what works and doesn't work so well. I also gained valuable insight about what it's like on the other side of the camera from my own wedding in 2011. With this in mind, I created a guide to planning your wedding with a focus on your photography. My hope is that you can use some of these insights in planning your own wedding and make it the most amazing day possible!
1. Plan enough time for photos
This seems obvious, but knowing how long photos will take can be a guess at best. An experienced professional photographer has worked with all sorts of timelines and should be an expert in time management, so be sure to ask your photographer when planning your timeline so it will work for the photos you want.
Have a buffer. Keep in mind photos on your wedding day will likely take longer than you think they will. You are wearing a dress, perhaps uncomfortable heels you haven't worn much before, and you have to walk to different locations. Planning a buffer will make sure you still have time for your family photos if the ceremony starts late (it's good to plan starting 5-10 minutes late even if you have the best intentions, as even guests can slow things down if they're late). An average non-religious ceremony takes about 15-20 minutes. You don't want delays to cut into your photo time, as this may make you stressed or worse if you don't get the photos you were hoping for.
Bridal party portraits. The minimum time to plan for photos of the bride and groom and/or bridal party is 1 hour if you will be in one location. This is outside of the family portraits, which can take 10-20 minutes on average depending on how many combinations you want (it is best to make a list in advance so nothing is missed). Two hours or more is preferable to get the variety of photos and amazing images you are hiring your photographer for, so try to make as much time for this as possible. This may seem like overkill, but remember you aren't taking photos at every moment. It's a very enjoyable time in your day when you get to hang out with your bridal party in a relaxed setting. Once the reception comes it will be hard to spend much quality time with them. You'll also want some time to freshen up before the ceremony or reception.
Don't rush! There's no reason to rush your big day if you can help it, so plan time for guests to congratulate you after the ceremony and mingle a bit before heading into the family portraits (some can be done beforehand to save time if family are getting ready near you). It's also nice to have a group photo of all of your guests, so that needs 5 minutes. While venues and vendors can charge for more time, the extra money you spend will give you a better experience in the end.
Guests. The biggest concern I hear for not planning more time for photos is that the guests will be waiting too long. From my experience, as long as you provide some cocktails, food or activities, your guests will be happy to mingle, meet new people and old friends. They expect you will want to have amazing photos for your day and realize that this takes time. If you want to spend time with your guests as soon as possible after the ceremony then consider doing a First Look.
2. The First Look
A First Look is when the bride and groom see each other before the wedding ceremony. Usually the bride approaches the waiting groom who then turns around to see his wife-to-be. His reactions are amazing to capture: disbelief, elation, tears… It's an intimate moment that likely wouldn't happen with everyone watching, as the groom feels safe to show his true feelings. This is the magic of the First Look.
Other advantages of a First Look:
• More time with each other and guests. Wedding days go by in a flash. Why not spend as much time together as possible on one of the happiest days of your lives? Having your photos before the ceremony means you can start when you want and you aren't restricted by the reception time. This also means more time to relax with your bridesmaids and groomsmen. Usually once the ceremony happens, most couples want to spend time with their guests as soon as possible. If you've already done the majority of photos beforehand, you can start your reception earlier or have time to mingle during cocktail hour.
• Different locations. If you want photos in different locations that require some drive time (see Multiple Locations), then a First Look can give you the time to get the locations and backgrounds you want. If your ceremony site is a good area for photos, then you can go somewhere completely different before the ceremony.
• Calm your nerves. Seeing each other before the ceremony is a big relief! It allows the fun to begin early and the excitement of the ceremony to build up. You also have time to catch up on how the day has gone so far in relative privacy.
• Fresh for the camera. You will have just finished your final preparations and you will look your best for your photos while your flowers are fresh, your hair hasn't been blown around, and the groom's boutonniere hasn't been crushed by guests hugging him. You'll have time to freshen up again before the ceremony.
• Magic. The main objection I hear from couples not wanting to see each other before the ceremony is that they feel they will lose the magic of the moment the bride walks down the aisle (something you've probably dreamed about). From my own wedding where we did a First Look, I can say that the emotion didn't diminish at all. I felt I was still as happy and emotional as I would have been not seeing her before and I teared up thinking how lucky I was to marry her.
3. Being Present
Occasionally I see a bride that is stressed on her wedding day, which takes away from what is supposed to be a happy day. So much time, effort, and money has gone into planning this one event that sometimes it's hard to detach yourself from planning your own wedding when you should enjoy it instead.
Tips to stay calm and present:
• Plan enough time. The importance of time management goes for the bridal party preparations too, so plan enough time to get hair and make-up done. Doing a make-up trial before the wedding is a good way to be sure of your look on the day. Preparations can get behind at this point if there are lots of bridesmaids, so factor this in. Have your bridesmaids get ready first so that they can focus on helping you (which means they look great for the start of your preparation photos too). For the guys this process is obviously a lot quicker! Feeling rushed to finish getting ready on time can get your nerves going.
• Take some time to think about what matters most. Your wedding day will turn out the way it turns out, and unexpected things will happen. Wind could blow your hair around, and rain could fall. Don't worry about the small things and remember that the most important thing is getting married to your best friend in front of those you love. Don't lose sight of the big picture!
• Ask for help. Get help to limit distractions on the wedding day by delegating tasks to make sure you have just the basics to focus on (especially the more DIY your wedding is), such as setting the reception details. Have someone take home your DIY details and help clean up the reception venue if necessary so you don't have to deal with it after the party. Hiring a wedding professional like a wedding planner is the best way to get help. It will add to your wedding budget but take away your worry.
• Feel connected. When saying your vows, look at your husband-to-be instead of the officiant or priest (this is easy to forget if you're repeating what they say).
4. Hire a Professional
Reaching out to wedding professionals is the best way to ensure you have the perfect wedding. That's what we're here for. We have years of experience and have seen it all. For photographers, being professional means having at least 2 professional camera bodies plus a back-up, multiple professional (i.e. 'fast') lenses that help under low light, having proper liability and equipment insurance, and keeping up on the latest in education and trends. I am a member of Nikon Professional Services, which allows me to make sure my equipment is in top working order. Ask about a potential vendor's past wedding experience and if they only have a few years of experience you should expect to pay less than for a more experienced vendor. Check out this website for a good resource of top wedding vendors based in Fort Collins. It's reassuring to know you are being taken care of by the very best!
Spend money on areas that will make a difference to you. If I could go back to my own wedding, I would have hired a professional DJ to deal with our sound system and projector, and saved my friends and ourselves the hassle and disappointment of having our equipment not work the way it should have. You only have one day and you don't want to spend any of it being frustrated.
5. Second Photographers
Wanting a second photographer for your wedding seems like a no-brainer. Many photographers include a second photographer in their collections or as an extra add-on. You obviously value photography enough to hire a professional, but should you get a second to capture different angles, or save money for more coverage or an album?
The obvious advantage of having a second photographer is that you will end up with more wedding photos and some different perspectives of the same moments. This can be great if you have a large event and want more candid photos of guests. It's also useful if you want preparation photos of the groom who is too far away from the bride for one photographer to cover.
The most important consideration in my opinion is to hire the photographer you love first. If one photographer you love costs as much as two photographers you don't like as much, go for the one you love. Some photographers, such as myself, work with two camera bodies and different lenses at the same time, and can provide a variety of angles and looks while capturing all the moments you expect. Having extra photos is great, but often the second photographer is more inexperienced and doesn't have the skill or professional equipment that the main photographer has. If you want a great second photographer as well, you should expect to pay extra unless you are hiring a dedicated team.
Make sure you ask a photographer who includes one in their collections how much the two have worked together and what you can expect from having a second.
6. Outdoor ceremonies
As you know, the midday sun in Colorado can be quite harsh, especially in the summer. For an outdoor ceremony and portraits having the sun directly overhead isn't ideal. This poses some challenges in creating beautiful, evenly-lit images which is usually the desired outcome for a photographer. Not to mention it can be hot and leave you feeling squinty with shadows on your eyes. Finding a large shady area for your bridal party to stand during the ceremony in is your first option to have soft, even lighting on your face.
Sometimes your wedding site has that killer view you want behind you with few options for where you stand. In this case try to orient where you and your groom will stand during the ceremony so that the sun is facing your guests directly. This will put the sun to the side of you as you look at your groom and creates even shadows on your faces and a nice rim light around you. If you have some greenery or mountains in the background, this will create a nice backdrop for the photos. If you are under a tree you should still try to have the sun behind you to prevent light spots on your face. Professional photographers will be able to deal with less than ideal lighting, but sometimes shifting the angle of your outdoor location a little makes a big difference. If you can't change this, then standing in full sun with no shadows on your faces is a good alternative. Don't worry too much though, as a professional can still create great images in these conditions.
If you are planning a summer wedding in Colorado, you will also be hedging your bets against thunderstorms, in which case making the ceremony a little earlier than you thought might be wise (or at least have an indoor back-up).
Other ways around the harsher sunlight are to plan a spring/fall ceremony to beat the heat as well as to plan the ceremony a little later in the day when it might start to cloud over and the light is less harsh. Ask your photographer for their input when making these decisions.
7. Multiple photo locations
Another question to think about while planning your photography is whether you should go to several locations for your bridal party photos or stick with the ceremony or reception site.
In general, the more locations you go to, the more variety of backdrops you will have in your photos and the more 'feels' you get. Different backdrops provide more color and textures which will look great for canvases on your walls or your wedding album. The downside is this usually means more time driving, so make sure to plan if traffic could be an issue, especially on weekday weddings. If you're doing a First Look, multiple locations are easier to do because you can meet first in a location further from your ceremony location and then work towards the venue.
If it's going to be a hot time of year, you can plan with your photographer for some covered locations and perhaps shorten photo time to maximize fewer locations instead. Then you'll have time to have some drinks and freshen up after. Be flexible and trust that your photographer will manage where you go and when based on the conditions of the day.
8. Photographing well
"I don't photograph well!" is something I hear from brides all the time.
If this is you too, have confidence. Consider that you will be doing all you can to look amazing by getting your hair and make-up done and wearing a beautiful dress. Your groom will clean up well and be a great accessory for you too! If you're worried about how you will look in photos, put your trust in your photographer. It's their job to make you look your best and inspire confidence.
My own photography style creates an environment where you have fun and relax, which helps your personalities come through on the outside. The right photographer will bring everything together: the emotions, expressions and movement into photos you love! Get to know your photographer before the wedding so that you can be more at ease around each other on the day. Doing an engagement session is a perfect way to get comfortable in front of a camera and to get to know your photographer's style. It will also provide images you can use in a guest book or save-the-dates/invitations.
If there's a specific body part or feature you're self-conscious of, you can even let your photographer know so that he/she can make sure this won't be an issue in your photos through proper posing and lighting.
Tip: For the most natural-looking images it's best to ignore the camera and just interact with your partner until the photographer gives you instructions when they want something different. The more fun you're having, the more moments a photographer has to capture.
Remember what's most important about your wedding day: you are marrying your soulmate, your life partner, and professing your love in front of those that mean the most to you. There are no rules to planning your wedding and how it should look. Your wedding is the unique expression of who you are as a couple. Don't get caught up in the fads and trends unless they truly speak to you. It is a cliché, but in 20 years you probably won't remember the food you ate or the music that played, and your photos will be your most treasured memory of your wedding day. If you take some of this advice into consideration, you will help yourself be fully present on your wedding day and it will be an amazing time (although way too short!).
If you are still looking for your wedding photographer, have at look at my work here and see if you connect with my style. Feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 970-402-0618 to set up a no obligation consultation about your wedding and get a personalized quote. If you'd like any advice for your photography planning, I'd be honored to help you.