It is January 23, 2019, and I have come back to revisit this blog post a year later to make sure its as helpful as it can be. Because guess what? I still get the same questions and I still answer them the same way, just with a bit more wisdom than I did before. This guide will take you start to finish what you need to be thinking about from a photography stand point and hopefully it will take some stress off of your shoulders. I will amend this with helpful tips and tricks as I gain more experience.
1.) Hey your engaged! That means that your shaky-kneed significant other got down on one knee, fought through tears and a bit of nervous vomit, to ask you to be best friends for life. That is pretty stinking special. You are now flooded with color schemes, date ideas, dress fittings, and who will be the bridesmaid most likely to drink too many mimosas and cause a scene. My recommendation is to take a deep breath, and slow down. Really enjoy this time, you are planning something big, and it doesn't need to be done all at once, but rather in an order. I know it may sound bias because I am a photographer but hear me out, choose your photographer first. I KNOW I KNOW, I sound like a shameless plugger, but here are my reasons.
A.) You encounter us first before anyone else. We may have taken your surprise engagement photos or we will take your engagement photos, either way, you shake our hand before you ever shake the venue owner’s hand. You will spend more time with us than the cake baker or the DJ and we will be there through the longest and most touching moments. Plus with me, I want to be your friend. My ideal client is basically me, and who wouldn't want to be friends with themselves?
B.) We have killer recommendations on where to look for amazing vendors. We are kind of a one stop shop. We love to recommend people because it means that the photos for the day are going to be amazing because we are working with people we know and trust.
C.) You don’t just get a photographer. I will help your mom button your dress. I will help touch up your make up from tears. I will make sure your husband's tie is straight. I will hold your grandma's hand and help grandpa from his chair. I will make sure everyone is where they are supposed to be and on time so that we don't miss any pictures. We basically assume the role of day of coordinator and confidant through this whole process.
D.) I know you want to get the venue booked and I understand that. If you have been dreaming of getting married in one spot since you were five, I want you to get married there and I hope I am available to do it! But if you spend money on your favorite photographer and really invest in photographs of your big day, we can make a tent in the backyard look like the Ritz Carrolton.
E.) We book up fast. I love my clients who love me so much they want to book two years out, and I don’t want you to miss out on our friendship and client relationship so get on the books and get on them fast!
2.) Now we have each other booked and I am already three years deep into your Instagram loving you and your relationship. Don’t be afraid of Pinterest. I know a lot of photographers don't like the expectations that Pinterest can set, but its like a visual check list that I can go through and take inspiration from, after it has already inspired you.
3.) Start forming a shotlist. THIS IS THE BIGGEST THING OF LIFE. IT IS ALL THE THINGS. The shot list is the end all be all. This will make sure that every photo you want during the day is taken care of. The shotlist essentially is a large list for Formal Family Portraits. This list should have all the names of the people you want in formal family portraits, in the exact order that you want them. I am talking literally everyone. I would suggest going from immediate family outward. So start with Mom and Dad (Or Ted and Julie) Then, mom, dad, and sister (Julie, Ted, Rachel). Then switch to the husbands side. Be as meticulous as possible. The reason being, the more time you spend on this list, the faster formal family portraits will go and the quicker you can get back to your champagne and cake. This list ensures that I can call everyone by name and get every picture that is important to you, because as much as I love you I don’t know who your uncle Jerry is or what he looks like, and it would be easy for me to not get a photo of you with him, if I don't know you want one. This list also acts as a deterrent of sorts. If you have a Mother in Law that REALLY wants you to get a photo with someone from her pilates class, I can lovingly say, “No Janet, Barbra isn't on the list so I will grab that photo later!” This list is about who you want in on your special day and no one else. So be as annoying as possible before the wedding and I will take the reins on wedding day, shot list in hand.
4.) Should you do a first look? Answer: Yes. Sorry that may have been forward. Let me rephrase: If you want to, then do a first look. I will run through the scenarios using both options.
A.) If you do a first look we can knockout the bridal portraits before the ceremony AND we can do formal family portraits BEFORE the show really begins. This is a benefit because everyone from the shot list can show up early and know that they are apart of the pictures. That means we won’t be looking for drunk uncle Jerry at the bar after the ceremony to make sure he gets in a few shots. This also means that the party don’t stop after the ceremony (failed attempt at Kesha reference), you can go right into reception knowing you have taken a moment to really focus on photos and get back to the real reason we are all here- celebrating your love. I also think the moment is super special, having a time thats essentially just you guys (with me in the background) enjoying the calm before the storm. You can cry without prying eyes and the chorus of “Aw’s” from an audience. It really is a special moment and you will love the photographs, because it will be easier for me to nail the shot than it will be navigating around the ceremony trying to get it all at once.
B.) Okay so you like tradition and want to see your man’s eyes as he sees you for the first time walking down the isle. I get that. This means that you can do two things. You can try and split the family formal portraits before the ceremony. This part only takes an hour and it will be divided into brides side and then grooms side. Then, after the ceremony, we do the opposite arrangements with your new husband/wife and finally we smoosh them all together. This usually means that there is a delay between the ceremony and reception, or a cocktail hour. LET ME SAY THIS LOUD AND CLEAR FOR EVERYONE IN THE BACK. DO NOT FEEL BAD ABOUT THIS IN BETWEEN TIME. This is your day and carving out time for these photos is important. How often do you have your whole family dressed up and in the same place ready to take pictures? HARDLY EVER. So take advantage of this time. I promise your guests will not be sitting for hours without anything to do, I am not that inconsiderate, but you deserve the time to focus on one another after the ceremony and knock out some amazing photos with you and your new best friend for life.
Your day is going to be amazing no matter what option you choose. If it were my opinion, I lean more towards the first look but that in no way should sway your opinion. You do what feels right.
5.) You have to carve out time in the day to take photos or they just won’t happen. I don’t want to drag you away from all your friends and family right when you're having a good time. I want you to eat cake and laugh until you cry without interruption. So give me an hour max to do some serious snapping and then we can get back to your guests. Which reminds me, have a timeline kind of ready. It helps me and keeps my hair from falling out.
6.) Make sure that everyone that is important gets the timeline and understands that for the day to run smoothly (i.e. To get to the reception where the PARTAY is at) we need to adhere to the schedule. I don't want to skip first looks because someone was late and we need to start the ceremony. It makes me sad. It seems that some of my grooms haven't seen the schedules lately, and not that they are doing something wrong, they just don't know who is supposed to do what and when so let them know ahead of time.
7.) When thinking about how long you will need me, think about the reception. The reception is all fun and games, literally, and I really think there are only so many party pics that you will need. I usually stay for the important stuff, like dances and speeches, and then give you hugs goodbye. Technically I could spend all night getting goofy pictures of your drunk friends, but really I would rather spend more time with you before hand. I feel like the pictures of you with your mom getting ready, or the first look, or giving each other a meaningful gift before hand end up mattering more than party pics.
8.) PLEASE PLEASE THINK ABOUT LIGHTING. I know that it is so romantic to have a candle lit wedding and I love a dark and moody edit as much as the next photographer. However, I would love to have more light than I need and be able to be creative, than have no light and just be focused on getting good clear photos. If you want to have fun lighting, GREAT, I love edison bulbs and candles, just be thinking about other locations at your venue that may have good lighting for some more variety.
9.) Think about ceremony set up. I would love to get all the angles all the time, and the only thing that keeps me from doing that is the fact that I also don't want to draw attention to myself because you are the most important thing on that day not me. The traditional isle seems to work very very well because it means that I can get you straight on when you kiss for the first time. I know some people prefer the Oscar styled set up, with multiple tables set around the room, and that is fantastic. I love a bit more relaxed feel, but an isle still lets me find a good spot to hunker down without obstructing the view from Uncle Jerry or Grandma Beth.
10.) Have a schedule planned out for your reception and then give that schedule to someone that can hold you accountable to said schedule. I am all for a relaxed reception, but if you don't have someone telling you "Okay its time to cut the cake" or "Its time to dance!" it is very easy to say "Eh we could do without it." I think that in the grand scheme of things this is a mistake, because you will want these photos and experiences later on in life.
11.) Share a detailed schedule of the day with your significant other. I know it sounds silly but make sure that the schedule you worked so hard on is known by both parties. As much as I relish showing up to the grooms suite and finding him in his undies, I think they feel better knowing when and where they are supposed to be.