After shooting weddings over the past fourteen years, I’m feeling a bit inspired to help wedding couples get the most out of their wedding photography.
Here’s what I’ve learned while shooting weddings ranging from small backyard pig roast weddings, to extravagant private residence weddings with multiple tents, to simple hotel weddings – there are definitely things you, the bride and groom, can do to get the absolute BEST wedding photography possible.
1. Loved Ones:
When it comes down to it, weddings are about people and their relationships. You can strip all the details away, and you can still have a wedding. However, you can’t have a wedding with just details and zero people.
What does that mean? It means: surround yourself with the people most important in your life so they end up in your wedding photography. Brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, Godparents, whomever. And if you have them around, don’t be afraid to interact with them. This is most important as you’re getting ready before the ceremony. Remember, if your loved ones aren’t available, they’re not going to be photographed – aside from the portraits.
1a. Ducking and Running:
Tell your family members to “NOT DUCK OUT OF THE WAY” when the photographer is pointing the camera in their direction. This happens all the time. If they duck and run, they won’t be in the photos. This is amongst the worst things they can do to you on your wedding day – especially if they’re parents.
2. Shit Happens:
A wedding is an organic living breathing event. A lot of people have spent a lot of time planning and piecing together your wedding day, and an immense amount of critical timing is involved in order for it to go smoothly. Take solace in knowing, not all weddings are going to run to perfection. There is just WAY too much involved to not be in “shits favor”.
When the unexpected happens, that’s precisely what makes you’re wedding day uniquely yours. Those become significant memory points. Embrace those moments, even if your father steps on your excessively long veil after he walks you down the aisle. Or there’s a windy thunderstorm brewing off in the distance. Or the best man drops the bride’s ring on the marble floor of a big cathedral. Yes, I was the person who dropped the ring. All anyone could hear was, PING! PING! PING! as the ring bounced down a set of marble steps, and ended up in front of the Groom’s father. OOPS!
We laughed about it all night, and we still laugh about it 25 years later. It’s one of those memories that just won’t go away.
It should go without saying, weddings are at their best when they’re filled with emotion. But the obvious can easily be forgotten as the day unfolds and stress begins to take its grip. Don’t be afraid to get swept away in the moment. Let the day become an emotional roller coaster – even during portraits. Laugh if you need to laugh. Don’t hide if you need to cry. Let it out for all to see. Everyone understands what’s happening, its not a moment of shame. It’s a moment to embrace.
The key to #3 is being entirely comfortable with #2. The best weddings I’ve been involved with happen when the bride and groom just throw caution to the wind, trust the people they’ve hired to do their job, and let the chips fall where they land. Clams and all.
You have the choice and power within you to get the very best out of your wedding photography – don’t waste this opportunity. Be a SUPAH-STAH! Get swept up in the day and enjoy everything that happens.
4. UGH! I’m Stuffed:
Ever hear the phrase: ”Don’t try to stuff ten pounds of shit into a two pound bag”? This happens ALL. THE. TIME. with weddings. Wedding couples love to try to squeeze too much activity into their day. The reality is, there is a finite amount of time in a day, from the moment you wake up, to moment you say your last good byes for the evening. Even worse; you’re not spending much time with your wedding photographer – even 12 hours isn’t a long time.
Don’t think, “The more I cram into my schedule = making the most of our limited time”. Over stuffing your schedule = stress. Stress perpetuates #2, which means #3 flies by the wayside, and thus you lose #1 because you’re all running around with your collective heads cut off.
Less is more. Give yourself at least 30 minutes of wiggle room for every three hours up until you sit down for dinner. Give yourself an extra 30-minutes at dinner in case the Golden Hour presents itself, and you need to sneak out for a few gorgeous portraits. The Golden Hour is that last little bit of warm light before the sun sets below the horizon. It’s gorgeous, but it’s rapidly fleeting. If you’re too busy because your schedule is crammed, you can miss those amazing fleeting opportunities.
5. Family portraits:
A lot of wedding couples want to wing this, or rely on the wedding photographer to know what you want. We don’t. Not every photographer shoots these portraits the same way, as not every wedding couple wants the same groupings. SO! You actually need to put a little thought into this, and have a list of groupings for the photographer.
When you’re planning this list, the ”Less is More” applies. Not less groups, but less people in each group. Smaller groupings look better because the photographer can use longer focal lengths which are more flattering photographically.
When you get to excessively large groups, I’ve photographed family groupings of 30-40 people, the photographer has to go with a wide angle lens, and there is wide angle distortion on the edges of the frame. So the people on the ends get, um, widely distorted. People get hidden behind others. There will always be someone not looking at the photographer, or a few people are blinking. And of course — the more people you put into one photo, the smaller everyone will be.
Plus, rounding all of these people up and positioning them in such a way that the camera can see everyone is a huge model of inefficiency. Try to keep your groups down to eight or less. If you have 10 siblings. Sure. I get it. So we shoot 14 (Bride/Groom, Mom/Dad and 10 brothers and sisters). But if you start adding spouses and kids to that group, it gets out of control. You’re better off having 10 groupings of your siblings with their spouses and kiddos, than one giant photo where everyone is going to be TEENY-TINY in an 11×14 photo sitting on someones credenza.
If you definitely need/want the LARGE family group shot, save it for the reception and round them up during dinner, then meet on the dance floor, or find steps. That’s the ideal time.
6. Spaciousness and Cleanliness:
Pick your getting ready spaces appropriately. Look at the spaces where youre going to be getting into your dress. Do you want the yellow cinderblock walls of a tiny church basement room with florescent lighting, or do you want a beautifully decorated room filled with natural light from big windows? I’ve seen brides getting into their dresses in a grade school playroom at a church; or with lunchroom tables in the background. You can already guess which will look 1000x better. It’s OK to ride to church in your dress – just give yourself enough time. If you can’t sit down in a car in your dress, you picked the wrong dress.
Above all; don’t allow your surroundings to become a disaster area – especially if they’re little rooms. Keep your ‘getting ready’ spaces nice and neat. They look better photographically, and they’re far less distracting.
What’s the best space? A big master bedroom, or even a big albeit private living room where we can open the curtain a bit to let it in a touch of natural light. Even a nice big hotel room with a sitting area near the window. And when I say hotel, I don’t mean the Super 8. Splurge a little for a NICE hotel room.
Here’s a big tip: If you have friends or relatives from out of town who are staying at a nice hotel, ask if you can borrow their hotel suite to get ready. Or offer to chip in an extra $100 so they can upgrade to a gorgeous suite for the weekend – in exchange you get to use if for getting ready. AWESOME!
7. Location Efficiency:
To make the most of your limited time with your wedding photographer, don’t have the guys getting ready 30 minutes away from the bride. If you want great getting ready photos of the guys, have them together in the same hotel you’re getting ready in — albeit on a different floor. The photographer can run from room to room to capture all the details, gift exchanges, and getting prepped for the ceremony. The easier you make it on your wedding photographer, the easier it is to capture beautiful meaningful wedding photography.
8. Trash the Dress:
At least a little bit. If you’re going to be doing a first look and having wedding party portraits taken before the ceremony, you’re dress is going to get dirty. Don’t freak out about it. You’re planning your time accordingly, so make the most use of it, and let the chips fall where they may. Please refer to #2 and #3 and have fun. Nobody is going to care, much less notice, if the very bottom of your dress picked up a little dust from walking around in a warehouse (hello Pritzlaff Building), or the bottom edge grayed a bit from walking in a beautiful field or forest to shoot some groovy fashionable portraits.
For wedding couple portraits, it can be much easier to be yourselves when you’re not surrounded groomsmen and bridesmaids rooting, hollering, laughing, and screaming at you. If this happens, don’t be afraid to ask them to go have drinks in the limo so you two can focus on each other. Ninety-nine times out of one hundred they’ll gladly leave to have cocktails and beer, and you’ll get fabulous couple portraits.
10. Be Comfortable:
If you’re wearing shoes that don’t fit, and they don’t encourage you to want to walk, then don’t wear them. Wear something comfortable that you can walk around in so you can do #8. Additionally, if you’re not comfortable, #3 certainly isn’t going to happen - other than getting cranky. And no, you can’t file uncomfortable shoes under #2, because it was your choice to wear them. …and that goes for the dress too. If you can’t sit or be reasonably active in the dress, or you’re afraid of a nip-slip, then you bought the wrong dress. If you want great photography, you need to have a dress and shoes that work with you, not against you.
Guys, this goes for you too. Uncomfortable shoes, suits, tuxes, etc, will make your day far less fun.
Please remember, you do have the option to change shoes for portraits and dancing, then wear your gorgeous uncomfortable shoes for the ceremony. And dare I say, “Nothing is cooler than seeing a bride wearing Chucks for portraits and dancing”.
Seriously. Let yourself go and get wrapped up in the emotion of the day, whether it’s a tear during a heartfelt speech, a good belly aching laugh, or a quiet moment between you two – even if it’s in front of everyone else. Don’t be afraid. It’s all good.