Introduction to wedding photography tips
Every time I meet with a couple for a conversation about their wedding photography I inevitably offer some suggestions that they could make during their preparations that will help me do my job more effectively. I have accumulated a wealth of experience over the years and enjoy sharing it with the couples that make time to discover my unique style of wedding photography. Several months ago, I realised that I am often repeating the same wedding photography tips from meeting to meeting and decided to formalise the suggestions in one central repository for easy reference and sharing. These wedding photography tips are by no means comprehensive, although that is my ultimate aim; they will be edited and improved upon as new ideas come to mind. Much like the wedding photography FAQ, you should consider this document a continuous work in progress.
The purpose of wedding photography tips for couples
The goal of this article is to help you help me deliver outstanding wedding photography by putting together an awesome, efficient, and beautiful wedding celebration.
As a documentary wedding photographer, I can only capture what I see unfolding before my eyes because my influence over the images is limited to angle, the field of view, focus, and timing. It is your duty to plan and design your wedding with the purpose of excellent images in mind, precisely because I do not rearrange trinkets, decorations, or furniture, or interrupt couples during touching moments with prompts to move here or stand over there. Despite that, I have no qualms about dispensing advice leading up to your wedding. The purpose of this article is not to make my job easier – in fact, I work harder when given more creative opportunities by thoughtful wedding planning – but to provide you with as much helpful information as possible so that you can help me deliver the best looking unposed photojournalistic wedding photography Toronto has to offer.
While reading these wedding photography tips, please understand they are entirely optional. Feel free to incorporate as many or as few of these wedding photography tips as you see fit. This article is organised around the progress of a typical wedding day. Let us begin.
Preparations and Getting Ready
Get your wedding photographer to capture you getting ready and preparing
Whenever I meet with couples whose fixed wedding photography budgets mean they have to decide between photographic coverage earlier in the day (preparations and getting ready) or later in the evening (once the dance party gets started), I always recommend they choose the former. There are many more touching and emotional moments happening at the beginning of the day than towards its conclusion. Once the dinner, speeches, and cake-cutting traditions are over, and the dancing (and drinking) has started, the utility of having a dedicated wedding photographer on site decreases dramatically. There are two main reasons for this. First, with a few rare exceptions, the schedule for this part of the night no longer has any earmarked events, traditions, or ceremonies to behold. The nighttime revelry rarely yields more than a handful or two of unique photographs, after which you quickly get diminishing returns.
Of course, your wedding may not have any of these elements, or your dance party features a cultural tradition, dance routine, or special performance. In this case, feel free to hire me for as long as you need wedding photography.
Choose unique lodging
Couples that opt to have an overnight stay at a hotel on the eve of their wedding should consider upgrading their accommodations to lodgings with personality. Because conventional hotel rooms are designed to appeal to the greatest number of people, they strictly adhere to the same set of uninspiring interior design and layout tropes, and this bleeds into your photographs. Most couples understand the importance of selecting a unique venue for their reception, but often overlook the importance a distinctly beautiful location contributes to preparation photography.
I recommend quaint B&Bs, boutique hotels, or renting a house with character. The best part is you don’t have to splurge because some B&Bs offer lower prices than mid-market hotels. Furthermore, their unique layouts and diverse designs will pay dividends doubling as vibrant backdrops for your wedding photography.
Prepare inside the largest room
Pick the largest room for your preparations (and don’t camp against the walls). Preparing in a large room gives you space to breathe. The extra space also gives your photographer the creative freedom to choose a variety of angles. Finally, larger spaces let your photographer to visually separate you from the background, which creates a pleasing sense of depth.
Windows are perfect for lighting hair & makeup photos
Whenever possible, always try to have your hair and makeup done near a window, hopefully, one with walk-up access from outside. These provide beautiful diffuse light for photography, and your makeup artist will appreciate the added the increased illumination and colour fidelity of natural light. If a window is not available, try to use a large vanity mirror with lights. If one is not available, aim to avoid featureless rooms with hard overhead lighting. Sometimes, makeup artists bring their own lights, which can work quite nicely. Avoid sitting in a corner, whether facing in or out because it’s almost impossible for the wedding photographer to find a good angle.
Avoid rented tuxedos and buy a nice suit
Ask most brides-to-be if they would consider renting their wedding gown, and they will say an emphatic, “no!” (perhaps not so politely). Oddly, many of these brides are found standing at the altar with grooms wearing rented tuxedos and matching loafers. When it comes to wedding fashion, most grooms are left standing at the altar; the threshold for acceptability seems to be anything that resembles a lounge suit. The practice of grooms and groomsmen wearing rental tuxedos has lived well past its prime and needs to fade into twilight. (Throw in some plastic sunglasses and matching oversized rented loafers, and you have yourself an ironic comedy troupe in the making). Gents: please treat yourself to a quality outfit (suit, tuxedo, or something else that’s appropriate) that is versatile enough to be worn on your wedding day and for future occasions. Every man needs a good suit and your wedding is the perfect opportunity for getting one; it will be an investment that will keep you looking sharp for years to come.
The boutonnière is attached to the left lapel of the jacket, just over the heart.
Transportation & Logistics
Entering and exiting the vehicle
Sometimes, it is a good idea to have your wedding photographer ride with you to the ceremony. If this is the case for your wedding, ensure that the wedding photographer is the last to enter the car and the first to exit upon arrival. This allows them to capture the moment you emerge. If someone is assisting you out of the vehicle, prep them ahead of time, so they open the door from the direction towards which it opens. For most cars, this is from ahead of the door, although it would be from behind for cars with coach-style doors. For cars with gull-wing doors, the person should stand towards the side of the door with the handle. Hired drivers and chauffeurs should already know all this, but your friends and family members may not. The point is to provide your wedding photographer with a clear view of you emerging from the vehicle so that they may capture a beautiful and unobstructed photograph. With that in mind, remember to avoid any wardrobe mishaps.
Avoid stretch Hummers and party buses
For couples hiring a car service to drive them to and from the various locations on their wedding day, consider the aesthetics of hiring a “smaller” vehicle, such as a limousine, vintage or contemporary luxury cars (think Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Jaguars, Studebakers, and etc.), or snub the trends and ride in your own car. Try to avoid stretch Hummers—they’re never in good taste—and definitely avoid those for-hire party buses, which can look like tour buses and offer as much visual excitement as painting with beige. A good rule of thumb to remember is that if the company’s name and telephone number are printed on the side of the vehicle, it’s probably not a suitable vehicle for the bride and groom to arrive in and does not translate into gorgeous wedding photography. In general, try to avoid stretch-anything, including Lincolns, Cadillacs, and—gulp—Ferraris. Your wedding party can find their own way there, trust me. Speaking of which…
Huge wedding parties are passé
The size of some wedding parties is growing out of control. I was once at a wedding on a farm in Vaughan when another couple showed up in a different area for their photo shoot. The wedding photographer was juggling a twenty-eight person wedding party, which included the bride and groom, a ring bearer, and flower girl. It was like watching a circus ringmaster struggling to keep order. Twelve bridesmaids and twelve groomsmen are unequivocally excessive. While I have never had the displeasure of photographing such a wedding, I can imagine how it happens, and the blame usually falls upon a couple’s inability to make hard decisions, which is fuelled by the desire to please all their friends – every..single..one.
Walking down the aisle
Please, keep your eyes up and walk slowly down the aisle. Too often, brides will look down at their feet while processing down the aisle. Keep your head straight and your eyes up. If your guests’ attention is overwhelming, distract yourself by looking ahead at your partner. Otherwise, feel free to look around and make eye contact with your family and guests. But please, pretty, pretty, please, don’t look at the floor!
Avoid crowding the altar (or signing of the register)
Whether it’s a twenty-four member wedding parties, large orchestrations of flowers, small gazebos, or elaborate canopies, crowding the altar presents your friendly wedding photographer with too many obstacles to avoid. If a large wedding party is something you cannot deny yourself, or if it’s largely a symbolic gesture to the individuals of which it’s composed, you may want to consider having them sit off to the side during the ceremony (commonly done at Catholic services). Having twenty-seven people standing at the altar makes for a crowded marriage ceremony and an impenetrable wall of bodies for your wedding photographer to manoeuvre around for great angles. Similarly, when it comes time to sign the marriage register, ensure that both the guests in attendance and your wedding photographer have a clear and unobstructed view of the signing desk. This means you should not have large flowers, members of the wedding party, or your witnesses blocking the view by standing in front of the desk. Instruct your witnesses to stand behind and to the side opposite the wedding officiant.
Seal it with a kiss and make it last
“You may now kiss”. Everyone’s heard the phrase in one form or another, but unfortunately, some kisses are so fleeting that I wouldn’t be surprised if some guests missed them altogether. So slow down, take a breath, and kiss for several seconds. The moment immediately after having your marriage pronounced in front of a crowd is not the time to become self-conscious about public displays of affection.
Guests should avoid blocking your photographer’s view
Wedding guests love snapping pictures. Sometimes, when they’re particularly eager, they may inadvertently block your wedding photographer’s view of a crucial wedding moment. This is particularly noticeable during the processions of the marriage ceremony when guests have the habit of walking out or leaning into the aisle for a not-so-quick shot. Please let your guests know ahead of time that this is unacceptable.
Some couples have the officiant, maid of honour or best man make an announcement that asks all guests to refrain from photographing the ceremony because it will be captured by your wedding photographer. This is popularly known as having an unplugged wedding. The term and practice have been trending for a couple years. Personally, I think it’s all a bit silly. First, I think the term itself is a bit silly because the culprit devices used by guests are mobile phones. Second, the problem doesn’t stem from photography by guests, but from how they’re taking the pictures. If everyone is on the same page about not being inconsiderate while doing it, then there should be no problem with guests taking photos.
Guests’ requests for photos
It is advisable to let your guests know that they should not be asking your documentary wedding photographer to snap pictures of them using their personal cameras or cellphones. Such distractions are a poor use of your wedding photographer’s time. A proactive solution may involve setting up a couple of selfie stick stations using umbrella stands and advising your guests to use them for all their selfie needs.
Logistics & Organization
Permits for wedding photography
Most municipalities in Ontario require that couples have permits for wedding photography on public property, especially in parks. Despite being a wedding photojournalist and not offering traditional features such as multi-hour photo shoots, I highly recommend confirming whether a photography permit is necessary at any of the locations (parks, restaurants, shops, scenic routes, etc.) you are considering having extended pass-throughs or excursions to on your wedding day. It is your responsibility to obtain all necessary permits.
Prepare a shot list for family portraits
Although my speciality is unposed documentary wedding photography, I highly recommend posed photographs with family and relatives. It is unrealistic to expect any style of photography, especially the hands-off photojournalistic approach, to capture every significant person in your life in one photo without intentionally posing them. Such photos are necessary because weddings have a secondary purpose as family reunions, and it is important to preserve those slices of life. For the sake of efficiency, I require all couples to provide a detailed shot list for family portraits and a dedicated person to keep everyone organised and ready. This allows us to quickly finish the portraits so that everybody can get back to enjoying the gathering.
Reception & Dinner
Wedding speeches, podiums, and microphones
Speeches and weddings are like a horse and carriage. Avoid using large microphones on stands. Not only are they incredibly ugly, but they are also difficult to reach and adjust for many of the speakers, especially if a person of short statures goes up after some someone taller than them. For couples that cannot avoid using a microphone because of the size and acoustics of the reception area, request a wireless microphone. They photograph marvellously because the speakers can hold them comfortably, without undue strain, and because there is no stand to ruin a composition. Podiums are even worse because they obstruct speakers to a greater degree and force them to hold in place.
Imagine the freedom of a speaker who can move about freely. Without any change in its content, the speech instantly becomes more dynamic and captivating, especially if the speaker has taken the time to speak from memory.
Wedding cake placement
If you consider your wedding cake as an important part of the wedding day tradition, give it the prominence it deserves and have it closer to the centre of the action. Far too many couples push their cakes out into the periphery, right against a wall, window, or curtain. Considering that some wedding cakes cost more than a thousand dollars, it would be prudent to get your money’s worth by displaying it prominently. Central placement also affords your wedding photographer the opportunity to get creative with the way they photograph it.
Giant centrepieces are nice but consider the following: when two guests seated across the table from one another cannot talk or make eye contact because the large arrangement of flowers, twigs, and baby’s breath is obstructing their view, you have a problem. Some of the most creative centrepieces I have seen have been of the smaller variety. Your guests will appreciate the increased visibility, and you will enjoy the savings.
Seating your wedding photographer
A meal is provided to most wedding photographers at the time of the reception. Not only is this a common courtesy to someone who has probably been on their feet all day long, but it is often a contractual requirement. Contracts aside, it is in your best interest that your wedding photographer is fed and has fuel in the tank, especially if they are staying for any significant part of the post-dinner festivities.
No vendor tables
Some venues insist on having wedding photographers sit at the “vendor table”. Please confirm what this means. My contract requires that I be seated with guests. This is a purely practical requirement because “vendor tables” is frequently code for in another room. Unfortunately, such an arrangement is unacceptable because it puts me at the unique disadvantage of not being able to see what’s happening during the reception. Is someone about to deliver a quick toast? If I can’t see it, I can’t react to it.
Provide the wedding photographer with a clear view
When deciding where to seat your wedding photographer, consider a table near a wall that is not in the immediate path of the serving staff. Additionally, if your seating is specifically assigned, make sure the photographer is facing towards you so that they will not miss key moments between bites of food. Lastly, please make sure that your wedding photographer (and every other vendor that you are feeding) knows the table assigned to them ahead of time.
This is one bit of advice I tell absolutely every single couple I ever meet. Discourage your DJ, band, event decorators, or venue organisers from using light with non-neutral colours for uplighting—or avoid uplighting all-together. As a photojournalistic wedding photographer, it’s vital for me to shoot using available light. I have my reasons and describe them in the wedding photograph FAQ. Mostly, it’s because “using flash calls attention to the wedding photographer; it distracts you and your guests; it changes the quality of light and records a false ambience, and it can be painful to dark-adjusted eyes.” Combining available light photography with highly saturated uplighting creates a problem with balancing colours. Although you may not recognise it while there, you will not appreciate seeing yourself and your guests cast in magenta or hot pink light; the effect does not translate favourably into photographs or video. While it is certainly possible to correct your skin tones to look more natural, the process of correction introduces green hues into the background (this is because adding green neutralises magenta, which is its complementary colour).
When it’s out of mine or my clients’ control, my first method of coping with the challenge is to edit photos for black and white, which nullifies the problem. My secondary solution is to adjust hues to favour a natural rendition of skin and accept that some green cast will be visible in the background. Flash photography is the nuclear option, and I’ll make that decision if I face a lighting situation that is beyond my ability to correct or to work around in the editing studio.
Of course, the best option is avoiding such saturated and unnatural uplighting from the start. My advice is to request for neutral-coloured lighting or no uplighting at all. If your hired musicians or DJ insist on some coloured lights, make sure that they are directionally projected. Remember, there is nothing wrong with a colourful dance floor, as long as the entire venue isn’t overwhelmed with a single saturated hue.
Tossing the bouquet
Many brides like to fool with their guests and make a few fake throws. If you’re partial to this, please let your wedding photographer know which throw you will be releasing on. This will save them from capturing many needless frames and perhaps having a memory buffering problem when the real bouquet toss occurs.