All weddings are different, and your wedding is to celebrate you getting married; you are NOT having a wedding for the sole intent of photographs. While it’s easy for us photographers to get wrapped up in the moment and want to take over everything, that’s not the purpose of your day. With that being said, I’ve come up with some tips over the years of things that will help make your photos amazing. Remember, a true professional can walk into any situation and come away with fantastic shots. These are just some small tips to help increase them even more.
Hire a photographer you trust.
I can’t state this enough. Loving your wedding photos starts with being 100% confident in your photographer hire. Along those lines, hire someone who shoots in a style you admire. Can you picture yourself in the images on their website? If a photographer shoots in a light, airy, romantic style and you are a bold, off-the-wall type of person, do not hire them and assume they will adapt. I saw a quote recently that said “You wouldn’t hire Adele and expect her to sing like Beyonce”. The same is true with photographers. We’re at our best when we’re shooting in our refined style.
See each other before the ceremony. Or don’t. It’s not the photographer’s decision.
This is an amendment from the first time I wrote this. I used to beg and plead with couples to see each other before the ceremony. Then one day I realized that I was recommending that because it made my life easier. I firmly believe there are pros and cons to either approach, and I do believe you get a wider variety of photos if you see each other before hand. However, if you’ve always dreamt of having your groom’s first sight of you walking down the aisle, do it. A good photographer will make it happen. I saw my husband before our wedding and for me it was without question the right decision. Spending an hour before the wedding just the two of us allowed me to relax and enjoy my day more. Instead of waiting for the ceremony hiding from him, I got to spend it with him and our friends chatting and having a good time.
For people who choose not to see each other, they say that is a moment they would never take back. There is absolutely no right or wrong way. Please don’t let anyone (photographers included) talk you into one or the other. It is your wedding.
Select your getting ready room carefully.
Many churches have a room set aside for the bride and groom to get ready in. This doesn’t have to be a big deal, but if it is an ugly room with no natural light, I would strongly consider finding an alternative location. A hotel suite is often a good solution. Some of your favorite moments are going to happen in the getting ready room, and images created during this time will be some of the classic ones you love forever. An unattractive room does not mean you won’t get great getting-ready shots, but it will hinder it a bit. I can’t tell you how many shots of a mom hugging a bride I have that have kids’ handprints in the background because they were getting ready in a Sunday school room. A room with plenty of natural light is key as well. Don’t be shy of having window shades open! No one will look in at you, and your photos will turn out fantastic if flash isn’t needed.
Release your guests from their seats after the ceremony.
I was opposed to releasing guests at my wedding, because I’m not a hugger. I don’t remember who convinced me to do it, but I’m glad they did. Releasing your guests from their pews allows your photographer to get unobstructed shots of you hugging the important people in your life. One of my favorite images from our wedding is my husband’s grandma smacking a kiss on his cheek. It’s priceless. It’s the exact type of shot that will make you cry someday looking back. When you have a receiving line, you may still get a few of these images, but as soon as people are through the line, they typically jump right in front of the photographer’s shot. Each hug lasts only a few split seconds, and if someone is blocking the way when it happens, chances are you just won’t get a shot of it. By the time a few people are through the line, the room is usually congested and it’s no longer possible to sneak in to get those shots. Another plus is that releasing your guests typically gets things moving faster; guests linger in a receiving line, but hustle through being escorted out.
Don’t spend TOO much time on Pinterest!
If a couple has some shots they are dying to get, I always listen and do my best. However, remember a few key things: you likely do not look like the people in the shots, your venue likely does not look like the venue in the shots, and your situation is likely not the same as the situation in the shots. It’s easy to see a magical image from a wedding and want to recreate it. But, from the start you’ve set yourself up for disappointment. Your shot will never look exactly like that one, and, much like most movie sequels, the original is almost always better. Many things play into fantastic photographs: lighting, background, composition and subjects. The best photos you get will be the ones that your photographer visualizes and plans out, because they are planning for your specific situation. Photographers are at their best when they are using their own creative juices; not borrowing from others.
Do not stage so many moments that your wedding is no longer authentic.
Wedding photos are more visible to the masses than ever before. This leads to people wanting every single image they've ever seen and I see too often wedding days that are forced or staged. Allow your wedding day to play out naturally and trust that you will love those images. They will mean more to you when they real moments. Feel free to plan certain things in advance. It's nice to have the mother of the groom pin on his boutinere. However, if this isn't planned in advance chances are it will be some random person who will put it on. Once it's pinned on by someone else, it seems odd to fake it for a photo. Make sense? I hope so. If you spend your whole day recreating something to make it "just right", you're going to have a boring wedding day.
If your photographer pulls you out during your reception and says “The lighting is fantastic, let’s go!”, just listen and do it.
I used to be incredibly opposed to this. As I mentioned, you are not getting married for the photographs. I believed that once the couple was at the reception, it was time to leave them alone, catch candids, and let them have the time of their life. At my wedding, my photographer eagerly came up to me and said “Becca! There is the most incredible sunset outside right now, can we steal you for some shots?” I said “No.” She says “C’mon and thank me later”. I said “grumble, grumble, grumble, FINE!” Gary and I walked down the road a ways where there was a nice view of the sunset. Guess what photo is hanging in our living room? You got it, that sunset photo. Even as a photographer myself, I still said no because I was tired and I felt like a wet rat at that point. (Our AC was NOT keeping up at our reception hall!) Yet, it doesn’t matter because the photos were still beautiful, and romantic, and, dare I say “whimsical”? I’m glad she didn’t listen to my griping and made me go out. Ever since then, I feel out the bride and groom before their wedding to see if they would be up for something like this. If they give me any kind of a window, I’m pulling them out unless they are in the middle of an “event” (special dances, bouquet/garter, etc). I always check with the DJ as well to make sure he doesn’t have something planned. These photos take 10 minutes and are usually some of the best of the day.
Lighting makes a big difference at your reception.
Even small things, such as candles and Christmas lights can make a huge difference to how your reception photos turn out. If nothing else, dance in front of your head table, and that usually helps a lot. Request that your DJ save the colored lights until the open dance. I’ve had many people request that I remove light spots from their dress and arms that were caused from the DJ’s lights.
If you only have your photographer for X amount of hours, make sure to plan all important events towards the beginning of your reception.
I’ve had some disputes w/ DJ’s before because they like to do things at certain times. I get this, they have a job to do as well. However, if my contracted time is running out and I know the couple wants certain shots captured, it puts the couple in an awkward position at their wedding. They are either stuck with a higher photography bill, or don’t get shots of that event. It’s better to communicate before hand and get a precise schedule planned out.
To get a variety of guest-candids, have a plan for getting them on the dance floor.
My favorite “activity” at receptions is an anniversary dance. This is where the DJ calls all married couples to the floor and eliminates them based on how long they’ve been married. Everyone is always smiling and laughing. It’s a great time for the photographers to capture shots of them having a good time. These are often people who have known you a very long time and mean the world to you. As a bonus, it’s often grandparents of the couple who are the last ones standing; what a great opportunity for some priceless shots of them dancing!
Another thing you can do is the “Snowball Effect”. You get the wedding party on the dance floor for their song, have the DJ stop the music periodically and have everyone on the floor run out and grab new people each time the music stops. People are often reluctant and self conscience about being on a dance floor that isn’t packed. They need a little encouragement.
Try to light your Unity Candle facing your audience.
Unity candle, sand, braid, whatever you do for your "unity" ceremony, try to not do it with your backs turned to the audience. Sometimes this is unavoidable. This isn't advice just for a better photo, it's advice to help you avoid bending over in front of a crowd ;).