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These are tips that focus on the photography aspect of your wedding day, mostly lighting and timeline related stuff. They are by no means hard rules, and if you don’t follow my suggestions your photos won’t suck. These are just things that I have learned over the years after shooting countless weddings that can help make your day run more smoothly and take your photos from good to fantastic.
How to use this guide:
Each section of your wedding day is broken down below, starting with getting ready and ending with reception. Each section starts off with tips for lighting (because good light is everything) and ends with general tips and timeline related things. Following your day break down there are a few rainy day tips, and finally, timeline samples to help you get started laying out your day!
You can read straight through or follow the shortcut links below to go directly to a section.
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I am going to say this over and over again but photography is all about light! Lots of natural light is key to great getting ready photos and window light is my favorite natural light! When thinking about where you will be getting ready try to find a location that does have lots of windows and light neutral colored walls. This will ensure a brightly lit space without color casts from the walls that are perfect for photos.
» There is a good chance that your hair and make-up artists will also be looking for spots with great natural light too so it’s a great idea to clear space in front of the windows in advance for them.
» Ambient light or artificial light, when mixed with natural light, can cause unflattering skin tones and weird colors in photos. You will probably notice me turn off ambient lights in a room before I start shooting to avoid mixed tones. I apologize in advance for turning off all of the lights when I arrive lol!
» Be Intentional About Your Getting Ready Space: Hotels don’t always provide the best option for light and space when getting ready. Being crammed in a small room with boring furniture and everyone’s luggage in a busy hotel might also add additional stress to your day. I definitely recommend checking out local AirBnB’s as a more unique getting ready option. You can find a space that you love and are comfortable in. You can even rent a whole house and have your family and friends all stay together comfortably! Not to mention they are usually better decorated, have better light, and more space for around the same price as a hotel room! Airbnb’s also have more options for great indoor photo locations if it happens to rain. I am more than happy to help you hunt for great AirBNB’s that will meet your getting ready and photo needs!
» Don’t be too far away: If you are not getting ready at your venue, make sure your AirBNB or hotel is nearby. A lot of photo time can be lost while I am traveling in between locations. If you are getting married in the city factor in extra travel time for traffic.
» Buy a Nice Hanger: It doesn’t have to be one of those ones with your new name etched in it, hell it can just be a wooden one you already have in your closet! As long as it’s not the yucky plastic one that most dresses and suits come with.
» Clutter: I totally get it, lots of people getting ready in what is usually a small space is going to get a bit messy. Clutter can be super distracting in photos though, so it’s best to straighten up a bit before I arrive. Even if it’s just tossing everything in the closet or a nearby room, it will make a huge difference in your photos. I usually do a quick sweep of the room when I arrive too just to make sure everything is perfect. Try to have a designated clean space by a window since that is where we will probably be taking a lot of photos.
» Makeup Tips: A super smokey eye with thick dark eyeliner is killer in person, but in photos it can cause your eyes to appear overly dark and shadowy. No one wants to look like they have big dark spots where their eyes should be! Do a trial run with your make-up artist first and take some test shots with a friend to see how it will look on camera.
» Get Ready Together: Not concerned with the tradition of not seeing each other before the ceremony and want to spend as much time together as possible on your wedding day, this may be for you! Spend the mornings together! You can get coffee, have breakfast in bed, go for a walk, whatever you love to do together. Then come back and help each other get ready for your ceremony. Do whatever it is that will make you enjoy your day more and make it more “you”.
What is a first look and why do one?
A first look is a private moment between you and your significant other before the ceremony. It is a break from that tradition of seeing each other for the first time at the ceremony but there are lots of good reasons why First Looks are becoming more and more popular!
» Calms the Nerves: The number one thing I hear from my couples that do first looks is how much seeing their significant other before the ceremony calmed their nerves. Who doesn’t want to spend as much time with their significant other on their wedding day as they can!
» Timeline Flexibility: First look timelines are less rushed and more relaxed. Usually, when we do a first look we will do all of your family and wedding party photos directly after. After your ceremony, you and your family will be able to join your guests at cocktail hour! This is especially helpful if you will be having your ceremony around sunset or are having a wedding in the late fall or winter when the sun sets super early. You don’t have to worry about running out of sunlight or time during cocktail hour and can adjust to have as much time for family photos as you need.
» A Quiet Moment: First looks are a very special moment, maybe the only one the two of you will have alone all day! Couples that do first looks get to have those few quiet minutes together to soak it in and tell each other how amazing they look.
Lighting : First looks usually happen earlier in the day when the sun is higher in the sky, because of this I usually look for a shady spot to do them for nice even lighting. This helps to avoid harsh shadows and squinting eyes so I can capture both of your reactions as you see each other for the first time. Don’t worry about finding a location for your first look, although I am always open to suggestions. I usually scout out first look locations when I arrive to find the best spot for the lightings/weather of your day!
» Just You Two: While Aunt Helen might insist on being present a first look is a moment bested shared between the two of you. I usually try and find a spot off the beaten path, out of the way from family and guests, to do your first look.
» Share Private Vows: If you are a bit shy about exchanging really deep emotional vows in front of 100 of your closest family and friends during your ceremony, consider exchanging them during your private first look time instead. You can still exchange more standard vows later at your ceremony but also share more meaningful words with your partner while you’re alone.
» Extra Time Together: The first look itself only takes 5 minutes to set up and execute but I usually schedule 15 minutes for it in your timeline. The main reason for this is it really is important to me that you guys get some time together on your wedding day. After you see each other you will notice me back off and I will give you guys space and time to talk! Take this time to hug, cry, take it all in. It’s unguided, unscripted, real-time for the two of you so enjoy it! After a few minutes, I will probably make my way back in and we will take a few couple photos and keep moving with the rest of your day.
When thinking about your ceremony most people think about the backdrop and totally forget about the light! A beautiful ceremony location might not photography well if the light isn’t good. The light depends on the location of the sun and the time of year that your ceremony will take place. I don’t expect you to become an expert on light but it is something to keep in mind! The good news is most venue coordinators will have a good idea of where the sun will be setting on your ceremony space so make sure to ask. Many venues have a few ceremony location options too so depending on the time of day one location may be better than the other! If your ceremony is happening indoors or in the evening consider adding extra string lights to get that super romantic feel!
» Remember that the sun’s location changes: Depending on the time of year you are visiting or planning your ceremony the sun may set in a different location on your wedding day. You can use an app called Sun Seeker to find out exactly where the sun will be setting on your wedding day to help with planning!
» Mark the center of your Altar: If you are having an altar or centerpiece for your ceremony it is a good idea to mark the ground where you want to stand so you are centered! You can use a piece of tape or a dab of spray paint in the grass. Most people are so excited that the last thing they think about it being centered for their ceremony but they definitely notice it later in the photos. If you are spending the time to create an altar, I want to make sure it photographs as you intended it to. I simple piece of tape on the ground is all you need!
» Hold that kiss: You don’t have to make out at the altar but go in for that first kiss and hold it for a few seconds to make sure I can grab a few good shots! When you turn to walk back down the aisle, look at each other or at me.
» Do a ceremony exit: Love all of those sparkler exit photos but your venue won’t allow one! Do a ceremony exit instead! Have your guests toss biodegradable confetti, flower petals, blow bubbles, or wave ribbons as you walk back down the aisle after your first kiss as a married couple. They make for amazing photos, require no extra time in your timeline, are during the day so the light is better, and are much safer than sparkler exits.
» Take receiving lines into consideration: If you plan on doing a receiving line after your ceremony makes sure you include time for this in your timeline. Hugging your wedding party and immediate family post-ceremony is an amazing celebratory moment, with so much happiness and emotion! This doesn’t really add any time to your schedule and is a moment I love to document! However, receiving all of your guests can take 15 minutes, maybe even longer depending on how large your wedding is. If you plan on doing a receiving line make sure you will have enough time for family photos if you have not already taken them, or time for couple photos before sunset!
» Do an unplugged ceremony: I am sure you have seen them. The photos of the happy couple sharing their first kiss, and right there standing in the aisle is Aunt Helen with her giant red iPad (damn you Aunt Helen!). A lot of couples don’t even think about this until they get their photos back and see the swarms of phones in all their ceremony photos. It doesn’t look great in photos but also having your guests focused on their phones makes them miss the reason that they are there, your marriage! Consider having your officiant make an announcement or putting a sign at the entrance to your ceremony letting your guests know that you are having an unplugged ceremony. Kindly request that they turn off and put away their devices and be present for your ceremony, reassure them they will have as much time to take as many photos as they want after the ceremony! I am not responsible for editing out phones or for missed photos due to guests getting out of their seats or standing in the aisle to take photos (it happens!) so consider an unplugged ceremony to avoid all that! After the ceremony, your guest can use their photos as much as they would like!
The Formal Photos
Everyone looks best when they are lit with natural light so I always try to take formal photos outdoors if possible. Formal photos are best when they are evenly lit, so there is a good chance I will be looking for a nice shady spot to photograph your family and your wedding party! If we are indoors due to bad weather I will still be looking for a location that has some natural light to work with, like a large window, and then supplement with flash if needed.
Timing and Common Groupings : The time needed for formal photos adds up quickly. I recommend planning for 3 minutes per grouping during our formal photo time. That is about 10-12 family photo groupings and 3-5 wedding party groupings. So if you have 10 family groupings and 5 wedding party groupings, that would take about 45 minutes total to complete. If we are done early that great, but it’s better to have buffer time if we are running behind which weddings often do! If you are doing a first look we have more flexibility in your formal photo timing. If you have a traditional wedding timeline (formal photos during cocktail hour) then the number of family/wedding party photos can really impact your couple photo time, so that is something to keep in mind.
I kindly request that you limit your formal photo time to immediate family, grandparents, wedding party, and other extremely important people, and save the rest of your group photos for the reception. The reception is great for photos of coworkers, extended family, and college friends!
» Make sure everyone knows when and where: The number one thing that slows down formal photo time is hunting for missing family members. Make sure everyone that needs to be present for formal photos knows when and where they need to be before your wedding day.
» Don’t go overboard: I don’t recommend going crazy with the family formal combinations. Not only will they take up a lot of time but it gets exhausting for you and for your family to stand and smile at the camera for too long. Anything over 45 minutes is usually too long and people start to get antsy and smiles start to look fake and no one wants that! Keep it simple and we will get everyone to the party faster!
» Have a photo wrangler: It is a great idea to have a close friend or family member be the official photo wrangler. It’s common for people to wander off, especially if we are taking family photos during cocktail hour! It’s your photo wranglers’ job to make sure that we don’t lose anyone and go find any family members that may escape to cocktail hour.
» No over the shoulder shooters: It’s natural for guests to want to gather around and take photos while I am taking your family and wedding party photos. Unfortunately, the more people taking photos while I am the less likely I will be able to get a great shot where everyone is looking at my camera! Don’t be surprised if I kindly ask the group to disperse or to refrain from taking photos while I am so that I can ensure I can have the attention of everyone in the photo.
The Couple Photos
The ideal lighting for couple photos is in the hour before the sunsets! In the photography world, this is known as the golden hour, when the lighting is soft and golden, and the colors are vibrant! This is when I recommend taking the bulk of your couple photos. Depending on what time the sunsets this time may fall during dinner at your reception or as early as right after your ceremony in winter. It is important that you check what time the sunset is on your wedding day and plan to sneak away in the hour before for 15-20 minutes for those lovely sunset photos. It is always worth it, I promise!
» Just Relax and Focus on Eachother Seriously! I will take care of the rest! As long as you guys are laughing and interacting with each other the photos will be great. It’s hard to get out of the stiff posed traditional photo mindset but when you do, that’s when all the photo magic happens! Don’t be afraid to be silly and mess around, to move, dance, and spin. The more you can relax and the more fun you are having the better your photos will be!
» Don’t worry about tiny imperfections Is there a tiny stain on your tie? A small rip in your veil? Don’t stress about it. 99.9% percent of the time those little tiny imperfections are not noticeable in photos. If I do happen to see them they are easy enough to clean up in post-production (aka good old photoshop).
» Don’t stress about your suit and dress Dry cleaners will get all of the mud, grass stains, and food stains out! If you want fun natural-looking photos don’t be afraid to just let your dress blow in the wind or drag on the ground. Have fun with it!
There are so many variations when it comes to receptions but my vote is always for warm, natural-looking light! The best way to get this is lots of string lights! Be aware the Christmas lights (the tiny bulb ones) don’t give off enough light, you need the outdoor Italian string lights to really light up a space and the more the better! Think about it this way, the more you can light up your reception space with string lights, candles, or other neutral lighting; the better your photos will be. Dimly lit reception spaces make it hard for even the best cameras to focus and will result in extra grainy photos or me having to use flash. Being a natural light photographer, I try to avoid using flash unless it’s absolutely necessary or we are breakin’ it down on the dance floor. Flash kills the mood and the atmosphere of your photos and makes creative shots more difficult. I really want to try and capture the feel of your day and I want the photos to reflect that so string up those lights and embrace the soft romantic light from them!
» Uplighting If your reception is indoors and having uplighting try to avoid purple uplights. They do weird things to skin tones.
» DJ Party Lights Have your DJ kill the party lights for your first dance, parent dances, and toasts. That way no one has crazy colored light splotches on them. Once the dance party gets started they can fire them up and go crazy, the more the merrier for the dance floor!
» Not sure what to do with all of those string lights after your wedding? You can string them up on your deck or patio at your home for a welcoming outdoor hang out space or resell them online to another couple in an online wedding group!
» Chewing Photos If possible avoid having toasts during dinner so you and your guests are not chewing in all of the toast photos. If you are having them during dinner try and do them between courses, like after salads, so there is a break in the eating.
» When to feed me I have been with you all day so I am probably starving! Tell your caterer that I eat when you eat. Lots of caterers won’t feed vendors until after all of the guests have been fed. This is fine for everyone but the photographer. The only time I know that nothing is happening is when you are eating. No one wants photos of themselves chowing down on crab cakes anyway! This is the best time for me to break. By the time you are done, so am I, and I just go right back into documenting your day!
Rainy Wedding Day Tips
This should be no surprise to anyone that lives in Maryland but our weather can be a bit wacky! Having a good rain plan and preparing for rain can help make your day go smoothly if it happens. The number one thing I always tell my couples when it comes to rain is to just roll with it. You can not control the weather so don’t stress about it! If you are not stressing then your family and friends will be ready to roll with the punches too. Everyone takes a hint from you guys, if they see you having a great time despite the weather then they will be more likely to have a great time too!
» Airbnb to the Rescue! I mentioned this before but I am saying here again. Rent an Airbnb instead of a hotel room. If it rains we will have more options for photographs indoors than if we are in a hotel. I have shot weddings where we ended up doing the first look and wedding party photos all indoors due to rain. Had we been at a hotel and not a cute Airbnb the photos would not have been as unique and fun as they were.
» Rain Boots If it looks like rainy weather is in the forecast for your day and you have a bridal party go out and get some cheap rain boots for your girls to wear. Not only will they be more comfortable with dry feet but they will be able to walk around much easier if we are taking photos out in the grass. If they are wearing long dresses no one will even know, if they have short dresses you can pick cute rain boots that match your wedding party colors for a fun touch!
» Have lots of umbrellas Clear umbrellas are best because they let light through but solid white, black, or other colors are fun too. Have enough so every two people in your wedding party can share an umbrella. After your wedding, you can resell them to another bride in a local wedding group!
» Don’t be afraid to get out in the rain! Photos in the rain are always worth it, it’s part of your day so have fun with it! Don’t worry about your suit or dress, a trip to the dry cleaners can take care of any mud that might make its way onto your clothes. Chances are everything will be going to the dry cleaners anyway!