Five Tips Your Wedding Photographer Forgot To Tell You

Tips from the ghost of weddings past

When you’re shooting upwards of twenty weddings a year, you start to take note of the patterns that emerge in weddings. In the past four years I’ve learned how to deal with everything from difficult parents, to drunk guests, and all that comes in between. But sometimes as professionals, we forget to loop our clients in on our learned wisdom. So today I’m giving you five of the tips best tips I’ve learned since I started this job.

Wedding Photography Tips | A Practical Wedding

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.

Wedding Photography Tips | A Practical Wedding

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 are going to want to get it 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, tuck a flask into your purse and sip champagne during the breaks. (Editor’s note: the above photo being the rare exception. I think they were possibly even having fun.)

Wedding Photography Tips | A Practical Wedding

3. Your photographer has no idea who your Great 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 Mille who helped raised you from your grandmother 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, and have someone at the wedding point the VIPs out to your photographer. And of course, you can always grab your photographer and say, “Hey, can you take 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.

Wedding Photography Tips | A Practical Wedding

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 (and blogs, 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.

Wedding Photography Tips | A Practical Wedding

5.Cafe 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, cafe 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!) Cafe lights aren’t crazy expensive—around $25 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.

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  • emilyg25

    Yesyesyes to cafe lights. We had a summer backyard wedding and put the tables for the reception beneath a stand of trees all strung with cafe lights. It made such a romantic atmosphere and the photos are gorgeous. They have them pretty cheap at Target! We bought 7 boxes! We still use them alllllll the time for backyard parties at our house!

    • vegankitchendiaries

      Emily, your wedding is still one of my absolutely favourites! This is VERY gorgeous!

      • Caroline

        Thank you! Cute lighting for welcome BBQ at Dad’s? Done. I was stressing about light (because no candles on the Jewish sabbath since I’m on observant Jew and the party starts during Shabbat but there will be an hour of dark before we can light candles. But budget cafe lights in my price range strung from the porch overhang to the trees I climbed as a kid? Yes yes please!!

      • JSwen

        Just snagged 5 sets! Thanks!

        • vegankitchendiaries

          Yay! CANADIAN Target even sells these!! Woo hoo! 5 packs on hold!! :)

      • ART

        Nice, thank you so much! I bought 6 sets…I also just found a promo code that got me $10 off $50, a free set basically. TGTJMEYB, good through the 5th it looks like. Sweet!

    • Chiara M

      We did our wedding in a church basement that’s normally a soup kitchen on weekdays, and I covered the ceiling in Christmas lights. I picked them up on sale after Christmas and asked family and friends to round up as many as they could get. It was beautiful, and much nicer than the flourescent lighting in the space.

    • Nina

      Woah!!! The red/yellow flowers, candles in the quilted jam jars, and cafe lights are exactly what I was planning! And it looks gorgeous!!! I love the little Yay! flags too.

    • ART

      Did you hang them with some reinforcing line? Looks like ribbon in the photo but maybe that’s blur? It looks great!

      • emilyg25

        Thin poly rope! My now-husband then twisted the lights around the rope. Seven boxes (175 feet) created enough light to take decent photos in a 40’x40′ space.

        • ART


        • Alyssa M

          How did you handle power? Did you string them all back to back or plug them into seven different plugs? The campground for my reception would look LOVELY with these, but we’re pretty limited on outlets and the instructions say you can only connect two strands at a time.

          • emilyg25

            In the center there is actually a power strip attached to an extension cord. Which is maybe not the safest set-up, but it worked!

  • MisterEHolmes

    Thanks for these tips! Does anyone (maybe our APW editors?) have an example shot list? I’m not sure how much detail to provide or what is “normal” to include.

    • AG

      Seconded! I would love a sample shot list.

    • One great place to start is by asking your photographer! They can tell you exactly what kind of information they need to help them do their best job and they may even have example lists for you of typical family formal combinations that will be tailored to their preferences (and therefore similar to what you’ve seen in their past work).

      • MisterEHolmes

        That’s a good tip! Unfortunately, I booked through a service, and they won’t let us contact the actual photographer until 2 weeks before the wedding (all information has to go through them). Besides, APW will do it better! ;)

      • ElisabethJoanne

        One of the most helpful books we had for wedding planning was a book written for new wedding photographers in the early ’90s that I found at a used book store. It had several pages of shot lists and detailed orders-of-events. It might be worth seeing if a large public library system had such a book.

    • Lena and Aggy

      I created this one ( few months ago (I’m a really good friend/freelance wedding planner) and I wrote a “probably-too-detailed-slightly-anal” post about it here:

      I’m not a photographer, but as a wedding planning assistant when I was first starting out in the wedding industry, my job was usually to be the drill sergeant that got all the portrait photos taken in less than an hour. So while this might seem more appropriate for bigger weddings, you can also tailor it for smaller weddings as well.

      If you want to .doc version, let me know!

      • MisterEHolmes

        Marvelous, thanks! (If anyone else is having trouble with the link, just check the address. Got an extra letter in there at the end that’s breaking the url)

        • M.

          Ours looks very similar. It’s broken up by families, and starts with biggest group photo and peeling away. So:
          M’s Family:
          A, B,C, D, and E
          A, B, & C
          A & C etc…

    • Meg Keene

      Oh! Let us work on a sample shot list for you!

      • Caroline

        I would REALLY love a discussion of how many groupings you really need.
        Is this sufficient?
        us & my immediate fam
        Us & his immediate fam
        Us & both immediate fams
        Us & full extended fam

        Or will we want to add some combo of:
        Us & my dad’s side extended fam
        Us & my mom’s side extended fam
        Us & his extended fam

        Plus bridal parties? Can we just have those informally? What about a shot of me and my sis. iper improtant but can I skip it in portrait time and ask them to get it inormally? Our photographer said 3 minutes a grouping, so I want to minimize the number of groupings.

        For some reason, choosing the groupings is overwhelming to me. I don’t want to leave anyone out. (But don’t want to spend forever on it either.

        • ML

          Depending on the closeness of your relationships, you may think about adding just you with mom, dad, and/or grandparents, and just your partner with his/her respective elders. I am close to my sister to I did one with just her, then one of me and my husband with her and her husband. My mom and sister are both now partnered, but most of my life it was just the three of us, so I did one of just us too. It’s all about the relationships you find meaningful!

          • Caroline

            We’re planning to have immediate family only at the bedeken and ketubah signing right before the ceremony, so I figure we’ll have plenty of emotional moments to take candids of us with parents then. I just know one of my mother’s biggest regrets about her second wedding is he doesn’t have one picture of just her and her sister. I don’t want to spend time on all possible combos in portraits, just get the important ones.
            Also, really good idea on the grandparents! I don’t know that it needs to be just me rater than plus my new hubby, but grandfather is getting really old. If he is able to come, we need to put pics with him on the shotlist and it may be worth doing a “him and his offspring” photo because it’s starting to seem like he is not going to be around for a lot more family gatherings.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          FWIW: I think my in-laws eventually got electronic copies of all the photos (which was totally OK per our contract with the photographer). I know they got most of them. What they chose to print and frame, however, was a photo of just me. (They also have a couple small albums of the key shots, plus all the photos that include any of their family or friends.)

          Also, after ordering like 8 albums (most were free, but I had to design them myself), I’m only now ordering prints – 15 months after the wedding. The ones I’ve selected have been my husband and I with my parents and sisters (gift to my parents), me with my sisters (gift to my parents), and my favorite posed shots of just my husband and me.

          Our biggest group photos were us and all his relatives in attendance, us and all my mother’s relatives in attendance, and us and all my father’s relatives in attendance. I think taking 3 photos went faster than trying to arrange all those people into 1 shot. Also, I don’t know anyone who would want a bigger group photo. Few people from each of those 3 groups know each other.

    • I ask my clients for a family portrait shot list: you with your parents, full family, Aunt Jess, whatever. The combinations that you want in pictures. Beyond that, anything specific to your wedding – the cameo portrait of grandpa on the bouquet, for instance.

      On the flip side, I do NOT need a list of things like “the bride’s dad seeing her for the first time” or “the wedding rings” because (1) I cannot necessarily control those things or (2) they are so obvious as to be insulting. Assuming you hired a photographer who is competent and has any kind of baseline experience, they’ve got those things covered already. :)

      • And I usually reorder the family portraits so that it goes from the couple & smallest one side of the family grouping and works up to the biggest grouping with both families, then work my way back down on the other side of the family. For example:

        Couple & Partner A’s parents
        Couple & Partner A’s parents & siblings
        Couple & both parents & siblings
        Couple & Partner B’s parents & siblings
        Couple & Partner B’s parents

        I like to discourage the “just in case” photo of just Partner A and their parents, mostly because I think it’s a kind of grim sentiment to introduce on a wedding day, but I guess people have their reasons. (On the other hand, “Partner A with Mom” photos are a big Facebook player on Mother’s Day! and so on.)

      • Granola

        While I’m sure it’s annoying to get a list of things you know you don’t need, I will say that it’s huge for the peace of mind for the person hiring you. And you’d be surprised what happens when you *don’t* tell someone something that really should be obvious. In my experience, that’s the quickest route to massive regret.

        • I can see that. But it’s like if every day at your job your boss gave you your task list… and it was the same list, every day. It conveys a lack of trust, and makes you feel like they think you’re stupid. Guess it’s a lose/lose situation!

          • Granola

            Yea, if I had the same boss every day, I would also feel annoyed at that. But if I had a different one every day, then it makes a little more sense. And I would probably just make that same list and hand it to them at the start of every day and say “this is the list, do you want to add or subtract anything?”

            I’m sure that you’re great at your job and I’m not trying to micromanage you as much as stick up for the huge emotional needs of wedding photography clients. Because even when we’re laid back and relaxed, it’s still really scary and not security-inducing to hear someone say “Well of course I know what I’m doing, just trust me.”

            That being said, good on you for having the patience and fortitude to have to go through that trust-building process with every new client. I’m not sure I could do it.

  • #3 is why we have two people designated as our “people wranglers.” While they don’t know everyone (no one there will), they know enough to make sure the right people come together at the right time for pics. They are good at talking sweetly but also making things happen. Also, thanks for #1. Important point.

    • We always suggest designating 2 people wranglers (one from each partner’s family or friend group)! We ask tons of questions and come to the wedding with a detailed plan and list of family formals, but we have no idea who most of the people on the list are. The wranglers help us coral everyone at the right time, and we help us figure out who is who!

      • ElisabethJoanne

        We had people wranglers for each group, but then had trouble with “Everyone in the Smith family” because relations-by-marriage would hold back, and we wanted to include them. So the photographer would read the shot from the list, and I’d call out people by name (or, for my new in-laws I met 3 minutes before: “John, and John’s brother, and mother, and father”). We had everyone in a fairly quiet, enclosed space, so this worked.

        If I were advising a couple who worried about being assertive or calm enough to do this, I’d tell them to list all the people for each group photo, so the photographer could call out the names. (Not “Smith family” but “Smith family: Mary, John, James, Baby Anne”).

        • Ah, yes. I forgot to include that bit! We always have them list everyone’s name!

  • Amy

    *adds cafe lights to wedding registry for eventual backyard parties*

    Thanks for the reminder about the backdrops — we’re getting married in an outdoor garden right off of our college campus, with our college landmark looming in the background. And I need to make sure our photog gets that landmark in the background, cuz it’s where the Mister and I met. I would have been heartbroken if it wasn’t captured, but it never would have occurred to me to, you know, actually mention it to the photographer.

  • AG

    Thank you thank you thank you for making me feel much more confident in my decision to rent market lights. They’re pretty pricey to rent (labor costs were cray), and it wasn’t really an option to buy them for our venue.

  • A thousand YES-es to everything on this list! Thanks for putting this together, Maddie! <3

  • Gina

    Yes, yes and yes! I got strings of globe lights at Target for $12. And the wedding was magical, but now our backyard is magical. So buy them.

  • JSwen

    Oh I would love to see a post about backdrops…

    • Sophie

      I second this!

  • Glen

    Addendum to #2: Don’t forget to have at least one picture of just you and your partner taken during the family photos. We totally didn’t think of this, and my mother was disappointed that we didn’t have what she considered a formal portrait. (We had lots of pictures of just us from throughout the day, a number of which were posed, but I think my mom preferred the ceremony site where we did our family photos — less artsy, more expected, as Maddie notes.)

    I love the photo taken when our photographer stopped us immediately after our recessional walk, before anyone else caught up to us, just out of sight of the guests. I can totally see the “s**t, we’re MARRIED” excitement in our faces.

  • Ashlee

    Can I just make “Emotions > Backdrop > Details” my wedding theme? Or motto?

    Thanks for the super helpful post, Maddie, per ushe (yup, I’m saying that. And spelling it that way.).

  • AL

    Do cafe lights look just as pretty in pictures when indoors? We were thinking of buying loads of warm LED fairy lights but these look like a really nice alternative.

    • they do! We had cafe lights at our indoor reception and they were lovely – in pictures and in person! My only regret was not specifying that I wanted the cafe lights to be the primary source of light and then using venue lights as needed. Our cafe lights were part of the venue so we still have to buy some of our own for garden parties :-)

      • AL


  • brendalynn

    Um, may I add: I wish my photographers and I had done a really quick walk-through of the venue/ceremony/reception set-up right before everything went live and people started arriving. So simple, right?

    I suggest this because somehow our venue set up a couple of weird, extra sun-shade-umbrellas at the ceremony location that weren’t supposed to be there and that ultimately got in the way of the photographers taking photos of the ceremony. I saw those stupid umbrellas for the first time as I was walking down the aisle. So I just had to smile and do my best to ignore that one little detail didn’t go as I had planned. I mean it’s just two umbrellas, who cares right? But in the end, that stupid detail made a significant difference in our photos. So I do wish we had done a quick walk-through instead of some of those pre-wedding pics :)

    • ElisabethJoanne

      At our photographer’s request, we had a walk-through of our ceremony location with the photographer months before the wedding. He took light levels and learned where he could and couldn’t go in the church. On the day of the wedding, he arrived early and double-checked things with the Priest.

      I know I didn’t want to deal with the photographer immediately before the ceremony, but everyone and every wedding is different.

  • EmilyRose

    Hooray for cafe lights! Here in Britain we call them festoon lights. Our venue is an old ruined manor house with no lighting so we’ve bought a couple of strings of festoon lights and the rest will be candlelit, I hope the result is as magical as you say!

    • Meg Keene


  • Kelly Mine-His

    I have to say… looking back, #2 is the one thing I would change about our wedding. This is one of the few things we really did at our wedding that was explicitly for our parents, and it was 100% the low point of the day. It took FOREVER, I missed the whole cocktail hour (and the little tomato soup with a grilled cheese dip stick passed hors d’oeuvres that I raved about at our catering tasting), and I look grumpy in every shot. Are they hanging in our parents homes? Of course. Do I wish we had found a better time/way to do them? So, so, so much.

    Our photographers were so good about making them go and they went as fast as we could manage (we cut the shot list down a lot, much to my MIL’s dismay), but still. The worst part of the day bar none.

  • TeaforTwo

    OMG family photos. There are some family shots we got back in which I am clearly clutching at my bouquet like a baseball bat, wishing it could just be over, and glad that I’d already written down the nice things to say about our families during my speech, because in that moment I felt NONE of them.

    Of course, now I love our family shots. (The ones in which I have a more relaxed grip, at least.) And of course our guests knew perfectly well how to drink champagne and eat canapes and entertain themselves while we were in the other room doing photos. They’d all been to weddings before.

    I will say that we didn’t need nearly as many configurations as I thought we did: the two of us with my family, the two of us with his family, both families together. These are the only posed group shots that mattered.

    • Caroline

      This is good to know. Family portraits are super important to me, but I want them to go fast, so trying to minimize the number and debating which combos we need.

  • Winny the Elephant

    Question for photographers: do you ever get annoyed if someone has a detailed list of family members they want to get shots with?

    We don’t have a bridal party and I want most of the photos from the day to be with family.

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      Not annoying! (Hi, it’s my job.) But I recommend having your list in priority order. The number one frustration I see at wedding is when couples give themselves a HUGE list of family shots, and then realize they have to be present for ALL of them. That’s a lot of smiling. So I would have a list of things like:

      More formal family portraits that we DEFINITELY need
      Formal family portraits that we would like to get to if we have time
      Informal photos that can happen if/when we are near a person

      i.e. if you love your aunt, but don’t need a solo formal portrait with her, I can find you during the reception and say, “Hey, where’s your aunt? Let’s grab a photo with her real quick!”

      That said, if you have a lot of people in your family shot list, try grouping people where you can. In theory, it seems like a good idea to have a separate shot with each person, but in reality, the only person who wants that is the other person. YOU would probably prefer a photo with ALL your favorite aunts in it, so that you can frame that one, rather than one with each favorite aunt, because that’s a lot of frames you’ll have to buy to achieve the same thing. And with the exception of the VIP’s (Parents, siblings, grandparents, super special folks, etc.), most people can deal with printing and framing a photo that also has someone they see at major holidays in it (provided there’s no big family strife at the moment.)

      But the most important takeaway is that you shouldn’t worry if your photographer is annoyed! We get PAID TO DO THIS. The only time I make suggestions is when I’m afraid something is going to bite YOU in the ass later. But me? My job is to do my best to check everything off that list. :)

  • I LOVE the café lights. I might have to buy some just because and rig them up in my apartment somewhere… :)

  • THANK YOU. Posting this on my blog ASAP. You said all I wanted to say–well done, as per usual. You rock. I dream of the day when we can hang and shoot photos together.

  • Caitlin_DD

    Oooh, I’ve always loved cafe lights. Now I have an excuse.

  • Louise

    These are such great observations that I wish I’d known about a few years ago! I did do cafe lights, though,and you are right, they make all the photos they are in look a bit magical.

  • Eh

    1. Hair/Make-up: I built a buffer in and it was awesome being ready early and being able to chill. I was challenged a few times on my timeline because I refused to get my make-up and hair in the morning which is apparently the “norm”. This was only possible because I was the only one having my hair done (everyone else was doing their own or getting it done on their own), and we didn’t have a wedding party (the MOH, my step-mum, MIL and MC had their make-up done). One of the reasons I insisted on having my hair and makeup done closer to the ceremony was also for our photographer. Our photographer was coming from an hour away and he was having a photoshoot with the groom (they had shaves done that morning) in the same city that the he was coming from. They did those pictures and then the photographer follwed my husband to his parents house where he got ready. So if I didn’t have my make-up and hair done later either I wouldn’t have got pictures of it or my husband wouldn’t have got pictures of the guys getting the shaves done. I felt both of these were important things to capture.

    3. Aunt Millie: This goes for objects too. We asked that we have pictures taken with this awesome metal gate in the lobby of the theatre (ceremony location). Unfortunately I forgot to request pictures of my earrings (it’s not a big deal as I still have my earrings and I can take the detail pictures I want). I did remember to get detail pictures of my something borrowed and my something old (which was also borrowed).

    4. Back drop vs. detail: We picked venues that we didn’t need to decorate much because we didn’t have time or manpower (we could have asked people but we wanted them to enjoy our wedding and not work our wedding since my whole side was travel a long distance and we were asking a lot of his family already). The ceremony was in an old train station that was converted into a community theatre. The interior was nice so if it did rain we could have pictures inside (this was important to me) and if it didn’t rain we could have pictures outside on the platform and train yard. In the sky was very threatening that day and provided an amazing backdrop for pictures. We took pictures outside the theatre and then did a few inside the theatre. We had our family pictures on the platform which was great since it was under cover so we would be dry if it did start to rain. Since we had time and the weather was cooperating we even went to a park and took more pictures (this was on our “nice to have” list – time and weather dependent) and took advantage of the gorgeous autumn backdrop. (We were done so early that we even had time to greet our guests as they arrived at the reception as we didn’t have a cocktail hour.)

  • Lily

    those were great tips! MORE PLEASE!

  • Granola

    This is a great post. I wish my photographer (and by extension the wedding photography industry) spent more time on the family photos. Mine were by far the worst of all the pictures taken, and whenever I look at our beautiful outdoor bridal party photos and then the harshly lit, poorly composed, stiff indoor family formals, I just get really sad. I’m sure there was more I could have done to plan it, but man did that ball get dropped and shattered.

  • Jessica William

    Hi.. thanks for sharing such an interesting blog. The pics are just gorgeous. Really loved it!! also provides such beautiful wedding pics.

  • Marie Joseph

    they definitely add more to the pictures.. and with
    sparklers all around the bride and groom .. pictures can just achieve perfection! <3 :)

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  • David Anthony Williams

    If your photographer does his or her job properly the family groups are FUN and great to be in and they DO (in fact) know who Aunt Millie is – because they took the trouble to ASK

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