Below is an extensive list of tips and suggestions to prepare you for your wedding. They are made with photography in mind but they also extend to other areas of the wedding day. Admittedly, the list is long, so if it looks overwhelming I still highly encourage reading the title of each to get the gist. Sometimes the titles alone get the point across. From there, you can pick and choose what you want to read further into. At the end of the day, I don’t want you to stress about any of this. But there is a lot of great info in here that will make your day extra great, and it will also help me do my job better as well. Happy reading! 🙂
1) Don’t Cut Corners On Time.
Your wedding day is extremely important and I want to make sure that it goes smoothly. Every stage should be relaxed and fun. Even if you don’t like having your portrait taken, it most definitely can be an enjoyable experience. I have strong recommendations for the time I need to get great images and foster this experience for you, based on having shot hundreds of weddings. But when corners are cut on time, it hampers my abilities to knock it out of the park, and it can create a stressful situation for yourself. Good photography and a wonderful experience just takes time. Yes, I’m a business, and as a business I am trying to make money. But I have your best interests at heart, and at no time would I advise allocating more time than what’s necessary.
2) Use Buffers.
Part of creating that relaxed experience is having a plan for the unexpected. Things can and do go wrong on the wedding day. There are a lot of pieces that can create snags in the schedule. If for example, the flowers show up late or if the hair and makeup takes longer than expected this will eat into your portrait time, potentially compromising the quality. It is always smart to build a reasonable amount of buffer time into your schedule to account for small mishaps. This means planning to be ready 30 minutes before you have to head out the door. If you happen to be on time then you can sit back and sip some champagne. Most couples run late on their wedding day, so having this buffer is one of the smartest decisions you can make.
3) Don’t Stress The Little Things.
Leading up to your wedding, a plan will be laid out with the help of your vendors to optimize your wedding day. However, even with the best of intentions and planning mishaps can happen. People can run late. Things can be forgotten. Weather may not cooperate. If something doesn’t go exactly according to plan, I encourage keeping things in perspective. Regardless of what happens, you’re still going to get married. You’ll still be surrounded by the friends and family you love, and you’re still going to a have a great time. If and when the unexpected happens roll with it and keep in focus what really matters most.
4) Read Your Contracts Carefully.
This goes for all of your vendors. As a general practice, I go over my contract with all of my couples. I don’t want there to be any hidden surprises that might cause disappointment or discord down the road. But it can be hard to summarize everything, and it’s just a good idea to give the contract a read yourself so everyone is on the same page with the same expectations. And if there is something that’s in the contract that gives you pause, it can be addressed before things get underway and there’s no turning back.
5) Don’t Set Up Your Own Decorations The Day Of The Wedding.
Going the DIY route with your wedding is a great way to keep the budget down, but I highly discourage doing any setup yourself on your wedding day. Even if you’re planning to set up several hours before you’re supposed to get ready I still think it’s a bad idea. It causes more stress, and you’re more likely to get hung up on something that will make you late. A day-of planner is highly suggested to handle day-of tasks. If that is outside of your budget then delegate to friends and family as much as possible. This is your wedding day after all, and you should enjoy it!
6) Consult With Your Photographer Before Scheduling Hair And Makeup.
Every photographer works differently and has different time recommendations for portraits. They may want you ready for portraits earlier or later in the day. If you schedule your hair and makeup before talking with your photographer, you could end up being ready way too soon. Or worse, there won’t be enough time to get everyone’s makeup finished. Chat with your photographer before you set hair and makeup in stone so they can let you know when they’ll need you to be ready.
7) Account For Transport Time And Be Very Realistic.
When creating your wedding day timeline it’s very important to account for transport time between locations. Transport time doesn’t just include the time it takes to drive from point A to point B. You also want to account for finding parking, loading and unloading, walking to and from your car, and possible traffic. It’s better to err on the side of caution. If Google Maps says it takes fifteen minutes to drive between locations than allocate at least 30 minutes for transport time. If the drive is thirty minutes, then I’d recommend forty-five minutes to an hour.
8) Consider A Second Photographer.
As a general rules, I encourage couples to consider a second photographer if they have a hundred guests or more. As a solo photographer, it can be difficult to get good coverage of everyone at the reception with a large guest count. Another reason to consider a second photographer is if you’re getting ready in two different locations. Having one photographer drive between locations wastes time, complicates the logistics, creates potential for hangups, and makes the whole getting ready process more contrived. If you’re hoping to get multiple angles during portraits or during the reception a second photographer is also a great option. It is easier for a two photographer team to get both a view of the bride walking down the aisle and the groom’s reaction. A second photographer makes the coverage more thorough and important moments are less likely to be missed.
9) Have Appropriate Footwear.
If you’re planning to wear heels on your wedding day keep in mind where you may be walking. Heels are absolutely fine for city weddings. However, if you’re having an outdoor wedding and you’ll be walking on grass or trails, either for the ceremony or portraits, then heels may not make practical sense. Flats, or at the very least wedges, might be a better bet. Even though those heels may look fabulous, you may not look fabulous in them walking on uneven ground. You’ll want to be able to move around freely and comfortably, and your footwear should not distract from your connection with your partner. That said, if you’re absolutely dead set on wearing heels in an iffy situation then having a backup pair of comfy shoes is a good compromise if you need to swap into them when the need arises.
10) Get Ready Near Each Other.
This mostly applies when you only have one photographer. If you’re wanting documentary photography of getting ready then these locations should preferably be in the same location or within about five minutes of each other. For city weddings, it’s so much simpler to get ready at one hotel, either down the hall from each other or on different floors. This will make the photographer’s job much easier and will get you the most out of your investment.
11) Get Ready In Rooms With Nice Design and Good Natural Light.
Couples put a ton of attention to detail into the design of their wedding. But often the getting ready area is overlooked. A getting ready room with nice design and good natural light provided by big windows does wonders not just for the photos but for your overall experience. A comfortable space in good light will put you at easy and calm your nerves before the wedding starts. Rooms with good aesthetic also give the photographer more to work with. There are a lot of good options on Airbnb. The photos there will give you an idea of what the space might look like in your photographs. Hotels, of course work well, too. If a space you’re looking at has florescent lighting this is a situation best avoided.
12) Keep The Getting Ready Rooms Tidy.
If you have a large wedding party the getting ready room can get messy quick. Dresses and suits often come in plastic bags that look ugly and distracting if in the background of photos. The same can be said for suitcases overflowing onto the floors. Before the day of the wedding, I encourage letting your wedding party know that they should try to keep the getting ready room as tidy as possible.
13) Have Wardrobe Details Prepared Before The Photographer Arrives.
Wedding dresses usually come in bags from the bridal boutique, shoes are often in their boxes with paper stuff in them, and jewelry might be at the bottom of a bag somewhere. If the photographer arrives and these things are not readily available they could waste valuable photography time just gathering them. To get the most out of your photographer, it’s handy to have all for these things laying out on a table or on a bed when they arrive so they can get down to the creative work right away.
14) Put The Wedding Dress On A Nice Wooden Hanger, Remove It From The Bag, And Fully Secure The Back.
This goes hand in hand with preparing all the other wedding details I talked about above. For the dress particularly, it’s helpful to have it removed from its bag. If there is any cardboard supporting the bust, that can be tossed away. Secure any clasps, buttons, or ribbons so that it looks neat while hanging. Plastic hangers don’t look the best in photos, so try to wrangle up a wooden one ahead of time.
15) Ensure Flowers Are Scheduled To Arrive In The Correct Location Before Portraits.
This is a reminder more than anything else. Be sure that the florist knows to deliver the bouquets and boutonnieres well before portrait time, at least 30 minutes if not earlier. If the florist shows up late or gets delayed by traffic, portraits won’t start on time. By telling them to deliver in advance then they will have some buffer time for themselves in case something goes wrong on their end. Also ensure that they know the correct delivery location for the bouquets and boutonnieres. You don’t want to have them deliver them to the ceremony or reception location if you’re getting ready and taking portraits at an off-site location.
16) Consider A First Look.
A first look is a coordinated moment before the ceremony for you and your fiancé to see each other dressed up for the first time. It really helps with the scheduling because it allows you to get most of your photos done before the ceremony. It allows you to join in with your guests during the reception quicker. If you’d rather go the more traditional route and wait to see each other for the first time while walking down the aisle, then you’ll have to do your portraits with your partner, your family and your wedding party after the ceremony. This can take an hour and a half to two hours. Yes, you can do a few of these photos beforehand, but it doesn’t actually save you that much time. There will still be a substantial gap between your ceremony and reception during which your guests will be waiting for your to finish photos.
17) Prepare For Portraits.
When preparing for portraits you can do a few things. The first would be to prepare mentally. Consciously think of as many things as you can that you love about your fiancé. Recall some funny moments or stories to reminisce together, maybe some sentimental ones as well. Are there things that make your partner laugh? Keep those in mind. I will be having you share things like this with each other during portraits so it’s good to be prepared so you don’t get caught off guard. If you want to go the extra mile, you could write a letter or poem to share with your fiancé during portraits. You could even bring a gift or special object. This will get the good vibes flowing during the shoot and will make you both extra cuddly. And if you want to go the extra, extra mile, you can practice posing. Set aside an hour or so with your fiancé to drink some wine and peruse my site. Pay special attention to how couples are holding each other. Try similar poses out and get comfortable doing them. Change them up if they don’t feel right. It might seem silly, but this extra practice will make you feel more confident on your wedding day.
18) Late Afternoon Or Early Evening Ceremonies Generally Have Better Lighting.
If you’re considering a mid-day, outdoor ceremony I’d encourage you to reconsider, especially during the summer when the days are long. During mid-day, the sun is at its highest and creates the least flattering light, resulting in dark eye shadows. It will likely be hot out and you have less options finding shade for your guests. On the other hand, late afternoon and early evening ceremonies tend to have better lighting. The sun is lower in the sky, the shaded areas get bigger, and the temperature starts tampering off. After the ceremony and any portraits, you’ll also be closer to a more natural dinner time. For winter weddings, you’re probably doing your ceremony indoors so timing is less crucial unless you’re doing it outdoors. If it’s an outdoor winter ceremony then you’ll have to take daylight hours into account. Be sure to consult with your photographer.
19) Do An Unplugged Ceremony.
As we all know, social etiquette suddenly goes out the window when phones are involved. This can create a disruptive environment during your ceremony and can interfere with your paid photographer. If everyone is concentrating on their phones trying to get a picture of you walking down the aisle they will be less present. An unplugged ceremony will encourage your guests and family to be more in the moment and in touch with their feelings. Before the ceremony starts, you can have your officiant make an announcement that the couple would like to request that guests put their phones and cameras away and that there is a professional photographer there to take photos. During the reception they would be free to take photos to their heart’s content.
20) Don’t Rush The First Kiss.
Public displays of affection are not for everyone. So I understand why doing a quick peck during the ceremony might be preferred. But it can also be hard to capture. So I encourage taking your time with the first kiss. Really enjoy the moment.
21) Prepare A Family Shot List.
Make a list of the different combinations of family members you want in your formal photos and deliver it to your photographer. Please structure it like the list below so it can be easily read, listing specific names so they can be called out. Start with one family with smaller combinations and then build up to the full family. Then combine both families. After that release everyone in the first family except for the wedding couple and then move on to the second family with the biggest combination and build down from there. Usually, I set aside 30 minutes for family portraits. In this amount of time, I’m able to do about 10-15 combinations. If you’re wanting more combinations then it will likely take more time. The list should somewhat resemble a sideways bell curve, but you’re ultimately free to do whatever combinations you’d like. For example:
Bride And Mom
Bride And Dad
Bride, Groom, Bride’s Parents
Bride, Groom, Bride’s Siblings
Bride, Groom, Bride’s Immediate Family
Bride, Groom, Bride’s Relatives
Bride, Groom, Bride’s Entire Family
Bride, Groom, Bride’s Entire Family, Groom’s Entire Family
Bride, Groom, Bride’s Immediate Family, Groom’s Immediate Family
Groom, Bride, Groom’s Entire Family
Groom, Bride, Groom’s Immediate Family
Groom, Bride, Groom’s Relatives
Groom, Bride, Groom’s Siblings
Groom, Bride, Groom’s Parents
Groom and Groom’s Dad
Groom and Groom’s Mom
22) Notify Family Members Who Will Be In Family Photos
After you make your family shot list, be sure to notify everyone on your list of the time and location. If family portraits is scheduled before the ceremony then family should arrive 15-30 minutes before portraits are to begin. If they’re scheduled for just after the ceremony then tell family to stay by their seats after the processional while all the other guests make their way to the cocktail hour. You can have your officiant make an announcement in their closing remarks to remind family to wait for the photographer to direct them. What’s most important is that family doesn’t get mixed up with all the guests or run off to the bar line. If this happens it can be difficult to retrieve everyone, and dinner could be delayed. It’s best to knock out the family photos in an efficient manner so everyone can be released sooner to enjoy the reception.
23) List Of Special Details, People, and Events.
Chances are you have some particularly special people beyond your immediate family who will be attending your wedding. It could be a particular close friend, a grandparent, or your officiant. If you have anyone like this in your life that we haven’t talked about please include them on a list. On this list you can also include any special details that may be at the wedding. Maybe you have a family heirloom you’re including or maybe you bought gifts for your wedding party. Include stuff like that, too. Lastly, if there is any special events, formal or informal, you have planned or are hoping to make happen, knowing those is really helpful. You can include this with your family shot list.
24) Be Open To A Sunset Portrait Session.
Just about everyone has heard of the golden hour and for good reason. The light starting just about an hour before sunset is often the most beautiful. This light gets warmer as the sun gets lower in the sky. It will make your skin look great, and the highlights and shadows will sculpt your face and body better. If you’re doing a first look and portraits before the ceremony then the sunset portraits is usually a much shorter session, maybe 15 minutes. It’s sort of a bonus. I try to arrange this session at the tail end of dinner but before speeches. We sneak out while everyone is finishing up their meals, a great opportunity to get some alone time, and return in time for your guests to roast you on the mic.
25) Don’t Get Too Attached To Photos You’ve Seen Online.
Chances are that while searching for a photographer you looked over a lot of portfolios. There may have been shots that you saw on a blog or on Pinterest that you really loved and would like replicated during your wedding. I think that it’s important to keep in mind that every photographer has different capabilities and a unique perspective. Your wedding will likely be designed differently. The images you saw could have been from a styled shoot using models, not a real wedding, put together by vendors to promote their businesses. The lighting won’t be the same. The way you and your partner fit together may be different than the couple you saw in another image. I think it’s best to first start with hiring a photographer whose portfolio you already love, and trust in their vision and abilities to deliver the type of images they advertise. Requesting an image created by another photographer could imply to your photographer that you don’t trust them to do their job, undermining their confidence. That all said, I always say that if you’ve seen an image that you really love that I’d be happy to take a look at it and use it as inspiration. But I unfortunately can’t guarantee that I can replicate the same results.
26) Add A Personal Touch Or Special Event
Throwing something extra or random into your wedding day can be really fun for yourself and your guests. It could be a decoration or family heirloom. It could be a made-up tradition even. Weddings don’t have to be super traditional. You can really do whatever you want. I’ve shot weddings with piñatas, dunk tanks, cupcake catapults, bouncy castles, arcade games, white water rafting, wiffle ball, silent disco, choreographed dances, you name it. Incorporating something unexpected could be that x-factor that elevates the whole day. As a bonus, it will create some memorable moments to photograph.
27) Be Intentional About Where Speeches Are Given.
Once someone starts a speech you really can’t interrupt them if they’re, say, standing in front of a fire extinguisher. For whatever reason, things like this happen more often than you’d think, and the photographer has to bend the laws of physics to try and exclude a distracting element from the image. If it’s not a fire extinguisher it can also be an exit sign, the DJ’s speakers, or doors with those ugly push bar handles. A great place for guests to give speeches is right next to the head table. That way the decorations will look great in the photos, and the speaker will be in close proximity to the newlyweds, making it possible to capture everyone in the same image. If the head table is too crowded, then designating another well decorated area will work as well.
28) Accent Lights During The Reception Help A Lot.
These can be strung lights, uplighting along the walls, or globes hung from trees even. Feel free to get creative. The important things is that this type of lighting fills in the background a little and creates ambiance. Flash is often necessary during receptions. An experienced photographer will know how to balance the accent lights with the flash so that the ambiance of the photos look natural and interesting. If there are no accent lights, then the background of the photos will likely be very dark and lack depth.