Tips For Planning Your Wedding – From A Pro Wedding Photographer
Just a few tips I’d like to share with everybody in the planning stages of their wedding
I’ve been photographing weddings for over 10 years now at the time of writing this. I’ve seen my fair share of beautiful, picture perfect weddings and I’ve also seen a lot of avoidable mishaps. I can’t always be there with you when you meet with your wedding venue or your coordinator. If photography is important to you please take a minute to browse through these basic tips that everybody should know when planning their wedding.
1. Leave extra time
As the photographer I feel like I’m in a unique position to give advice on a wedding timeline. At most weddings I’m with the bride and/or groom from the beginning of the preparations until the very end of the night. I see what happens at every stage of the wedding and at every location they travel to. I’m not really affected if a wedding run late because I’m simply there to document the day, whether it’s on time or not.
I’d venture to say that 90% of the weddings that start late are because the preparations run late. Always plan for your preparation time to end at least half an hour BEFORE the time you actually want everybody ready. What do I mean? I’ll explain. Let’s say for example you’re staying at a hotel half an hour away from the ceremony and you have to be there at 4pm. Plan on leaving your hotel at 3pm, not 3:30. Tell your hairdresser and/or make-up artist you need to be finished and out the door at 3pm. If things actually run on time, the worst thing that could happen is you have an extra half hour to take photos before the ceremony or maybe just relax for an extra 30 minutes.
It doesn’t matter how good of a planner you are, you can’t account for everything. What if the best man forgets his tie at home or you make it all the way out to the car and then realize you left your bouquet in the hotel room? I’ve even seen a few wedding dresses pop a button or bust a seam right as the bride was ready to walk out the door for the ceremony! Do yourself a favor and leave at least an extra 30 minutes in your timeline right here before you’re supposed to leave for the ceremony. Are your preparations, ceremony and reception all on the same property? Even better, but I still recommend having an extra 30 minutes in the timeline just in case. There are so many reasons weddings start late but it almost always starts right here.
2. Plan for your important photos at the right time of day
Yes, this is south Florida so you can never really plan on the weather because it changes every 5 minutes. You can, however, plan for the right time of day. You’ve seen some of the photos in my portfolio with the beautiful, strikingly colorful sunsets right? Do you want those same photos for your wedding? Let me set you up with an example wedding just to show you how I would plan out a typical wedding timeline. This is a big one guys so pay attention here! – At a typical 6-8 hour wedding I usually get 1 hour with you and your family for family formals. This is the cocktail hour for everybody else not involved in the photos. Let’s say your wedding is in March and the sunset time for your wedding day is 6:30pm. I would plan that hour of photos from 5:30-6:30. Why? Well because the best lighting, in perfect conditions, is the last hour of the day. You’ve heard of the golden hour, right? How long is your wedding ceremony? Half an hour, and it’s all on the same property as the reception? Good, plan for the ceremony to start at 5. Worried that your guests may show up late causing the ceremony to start late and ultimately make you miss those beautiful sunset photos? Tell everybody it starts half an hour earlier! and I do mean everybody! Only the wedding vendors need to know the real start time. So now your timeline says your ceremony is starting at 4:30 (but it’s really starting at 5 to account for stragglers), your ceremony should be over by 5:30 and we can take photos from 5:30-6:30 during that beautiful sunset! Is your ceremony half an hour from the reception? Okay, no problem just start your ceremony earlier to account for the driving time. You can work backward from here to figure out the rest of the timeline.
What if you want your ceremony during sunset? I would recommend doing the family formals before the ceremony in this case. Yes, I bring lots of lights and I can definitely do the formals after dark but they lose a lot of character in the process. If you want to see examples of my family formals after dark just email me. I have done them this way many, many times and am very proud to show off what I can do with lights. They can come out awesome but if they’re taken at or before sunset they’re just that much better because of all the color in the sky.
Note for weddings in the morning: the last section was mainly for couples who want their wedding in the evening. Not all couples want this. I love photographing weddings in the morning but it does give you a completely different look to the images and a completely different set of challenges. the venue also plays a bigger role in setting the timeline for this kind of wedding so email me and I’ll be happy to walk you through your particular wedding!
3. Let your family know when and where they need to go for the family formals
Every wedding is different when it comes to where they want to fit the family formal photos into the timeline. Most weddings do the formals right after the ceremony. If you’re following this tradition please let your family know that immediately after the ceremony they need to meet up with the rest of us for (in most cases) 15-20 minutes. I try to get through the family photos as fast as possible because I know a lot of people just want to get on to the next stage of the wedding. The sooner they arrive, the sooner we can get down to business! I like to start with the family photos first, then move on to photos with the wedding party and end with just the bride and groom. There’s several reasons for doing them in this order but the most important is the last 15-20 minutes of sunset is usually the best and I like to save that for the bride and groom! Even if we’re not doing the family photos at sunset, this order helps to streamline the whole process. I did a wedding a few months ago where the mother of the groom started taking down all the details after the ceremony to bring to the reception. An important job of course, but it caused the reception to start late because the formals took a lot longer than necessary. This could have been simpler if somebody else was delegated to the job of moving flowers so she could take photos with us.
4. Leave room for your photographers to move around
Sometimes extra room just isn’t an option and I completely understand this. I’ve photographed weddings in narrow alleyways and small churches many, many times. There were weddings, however, where extra room could have been left available if the person planning the seating was aware. As a photographer I like to move around to capture different angles. Leave clear walkways and extra room around the sides. I love outdoor weddings at places like the beach or country clubs for this reason. There’s usually plenty of room for us to move around. I can reach out with a long lens from 50 yards away if I need, at the angle that I choose, in order to get the perfect photo of the first time the bride and groom kiss.
One recent example of where proper planning could have helped is at one of my favorite beach venues in palm beach county, the Jupiter Civic Center. It’s an amazingly awesome, rustic, beach style venue for a wedding consisting anywhere from 20-50 people This venue starts to get a little crowded when you have closer to 80 people but it’s still manageable. Recently, however, I photographed a wedding there with 140 people! It’s a very small, 1 room building! Not to mention there were 7 members of the wait staff, a D.J. and emcee, 3 videographers, and 3 photographers trying to make their way around the room! Pack a small building with that many people and it’s gonna take you a few minutes to weave your way through the people, tables and chairs. Needless to say it makes it a little difficult for us to move across the room to get the shot lol.
5. Pinterest and other online photo ideas
I don’t mind at all when brides send me photo ideas from Pinterest, Facebook and other similar websites. Email them to me, I’ll save them and look through them before the wedding. It helps to give me an idea of what style of photography you like. A lot of the cute photos people send me are candid photos. I consider myself primarily a photo-journalistic wedding photographer. I specialize in candid photos of the day as it unfolds naturally. The thing about candid is you can’t plan for it. The best expressions and emotions show in the photos when the subject has no idea the photo is being taken. You just can’t beat a natural smile.
If there is a specific photo you want to do with your wedding party, your family or your college frat buddies, inform them before the wedding. Talk about it after your wedding rehearsal, show them the photo and try to get them all on the same page so they know what to be ready for. It’s not easy to explain a photo without having it in front of you to show so sometimes just showing them the photo before the day of the wedding makes things a lot easier!
6. Keep the photographers in the family under control
As I write these words I know the first thing most of you are thinking is “Hah, yeah right!”. Listen I get it, I have family also. First off, I want to let everyone know I’m not against family members taking photos. I understand how much your Uncle Bob or Aunt Josephine might adore you and want to take the best pictures they can of your wedding. I have no problem with family members taking photos at your wedding. If we have time I usually even offer to take the picture with their camera so they can be in it with you. The issue comes when they start to play the part of the professional photographer, standing in front of everybody to get the best view or blocking the main aisle during the ceremony. I was at a wedding recently (as a guest thankfully) where I counted 23 family members standing up in the aisle and on every side taking pictures with their cell phone, tablets, and personal cameras. The poor wedding photographer couldn’t get a single photo from the main aisle and had to keep ducking and diving to get anywhere. This was all happening during the ceremony! Family members don’t always realize how much you’re spending to have these beautiful memories captured by a professional. You want photos of the day, not photos of the back of Uncle Bob’s head, right?
7. Discuss your timeline and wedding plans with your photographer
It’s usually a good idea to speak to your photographer during the week before the wedding to go over any last minute details and plans that might have changed. If there’s something big going on like a surprise guest or a song that has special meaning let us know!
We’re here to help, just ask if you have questions!
Not all of these tips will apply to every wedding simply because every wedding is so different from the rest. If you have any questions about your particular wedding and you don’t see it mentioned here send me an email and I’ll be happy to help. We want beautiful photos as much as you!