For a brief moment in time (aka roughly four years), I was a professional wedding photographer. I shot nearly a hundred celebrations over the course of my tenure, and in that time, I learned one very important thing: while all weddings are unique, many of them share similar characteristics. Especially when it comes to photos. Rituals usually take a particular amount of time. Certain aspects have a tendency to go awry. Some details get way more airtime than others. But if it’s your first time getting married, you have no idea what those things are going to be until you’re stuck in the middle of your getting-ready room, running half an hour late with no idea why. Because unless you have a professional wedding planner at your beck and call, you simply don’t know what you don’t know. So today, I thought I’d share a few of the best pieces of advice I picked up along the way that will help your wedding run more smoothly.
1. If you’re getting your hair and makeup done, expect it to run over
It’s not that hair and makeup is particularly time consuming (though it can be), it’s just that between your sister asking you four times which pair of shoes you prefer and your mom double-checking how you like your bouquet and then you having to ask your makeup artist to tone down the eye shadow a bit, lots of little interruptions can add up to being half an hour or an hour behind schedule. Plan ahead, and build in an hour of buffer time into your schedule. The absolute worst thing that happens is you end up finishing early and get to enjoy some quiet time with your best friends.
2. Family Portraits are a pain in the ass
It’s hard to corral a big group of people into a photo, and it’s even harder when it’s your crazy family. The timing isn’t great, either. If you do them before the ceremony, you’re going to want to get them over with as soon as possible so you can get to your damn wedding already. If you do them during cocktail hour, you’re going to wish you were at cocktail hour. But trust me when I say they matter. Because while you hired your photographer for their rad artistic vision, your parents are probably only going to frame a few photos from your wedding, and my hunch is that it’s not going to be the artsy ones of you walking through sunset. So, give yourself permission to be a little bit grumpy during family portraits (They suck! And that’s okay), and know that they’ll be over soon enough, and that they’re worth it in the end. If that doesn’t cut it, bring a flask along and sip champagne during the breaks.
3. Your photographer has no idea who your Aunt Millie is
Most photographers will try really hard to get to know your family during your wedding, but unless someone is in your family portraits, or did a reading or gave a toast, we don’t know your Great-Aunt Millie (who helped raised you) from your grandmother (who you never talk to) from your third-grade teacher (who your mom made you invite). So if it’s really important that someone you love makes it into the final delivery of images, make sure to let your photographer know. Include the person on a shot list if you have one (we’ve got a downloadable fill-in-the-blank version here), and have someone at the wedding point out the VIPs to your photographer. And, of course, you can always grab your photographer and say, “Hey, can you take a photo of Aunt Millie and me?” In which case, the answer is always yes. Because Aunt Millie seems really cool, and I like her sequined jacket.
4. Backdrops over details
If photography is one of your top priorities and you have to choose, backdrops give you more bang for your buck than details (at least when it comes to photos). The wedding industry (Pinterest, Instagram, and magazines, particularly) have done a good job of convincing couples that all you’ll see at a wedding is the details. And while details definitely can add to the overall feel of the event (if you decide to care about them), big-ticket items get a lot more play in your photos. So if you have to choose between really cool details, and, say, a killer ceremony backdrop, that ceremony backdrop will get way more airtime in your wedding photos than napkin rings or programs. This is particularly true when it comes to the ceremony. Depending on the space, there aren’t a whole lot of places your photographer can go during the ceremony, so a backdrop ends up doing a lot of the work of making your pictures interesting. Barring all the emotional stuff, of course. In short mathematical form: Emotions > Backdrops > Details.
5. CafÉ lights are magical inventions
If you’re getting married in a simple space, or have an outdoor nighttime reception, or if your decor budget just isn’t huge, but you really care about photography, café lights (also known as globe lights or market lights) are one of the best wedding-related investments you can make. (Bonus: they’re still pretty, even after the wedding. Garden parties for everyone!) Café lights aren’t crazy expensive—around $12 per set. A few strands can go a really long way toward making your pictures look amazing, partly because they add visual interest to your photos, but also because with enough of them, you can create just enough of a warm glow to not need flash.
have questions about what to expect from your wedding photos? Not sure how to handle a specific part of the day? Leave them in the comments below!
This post was previously published in April of 2014.