It goes without saying that choosing the right photographer for your wedding day is the most important decision you’ll make with regard to your wedding photos. But there are a bunch of other things you can do to help him or her get the best possible photos on your big day. It doesn’t have to cost extra money, or play havoc with your scheduling, but these are things that your photographer can’t do on their own, and which can make their life (and ultimately your photos) so much better. Obviously I’m not suggesting you should bend over backwards for your hired help on your big day, but if your budget and location allows it and your photos are a priority, these tips might just explain how to get the best wedding photos possible.
1. Choose a nice place to get ready, and keep it clean. Preparing for the nuptials is a big part of a wedding day, and this time can create some wonderful imagery. It is a time of high emotion: there is fear, excitement, anticipation, introspection. All of these things can translate to beautiful images. But the location plays a part as well. It’s no good if the photographer captures dad shedding a tear when he sees daughter in her wedding dress for the first time, if he’s framed by empty chip packets and lit by a dull fluorescent bulb. Not everyone can rent a beautiful clean apartment or house, but even if you can’t afford comely surrounds, try to keep it as tidy as possible for your prep pictures. It does make a difference, and no, it’s not always possible to Photoshop out that Pringles can jutting out of the edge of the frame. Obviously there will always be a bit of mess, and makeup artists can’t help it, but a quick vacuum can make all the difference. Better still, if you have the funds, splash out on a beautiful bridal suite and get ready there with just your favorite people at hand.
2. Choose a good time for your ceremony. Light is the talisman of the wedding photographer, and it can either make magic, or cast a curse. When I get an inquiry for a wedding outdoors at midday in summer, I want to run a mile. Why? I can’t get great photos. No matter what I do, there will always be harsh shadows, and shiny foreheads. Dad will be shedding a tear – from the sun burning his eyes. Grandma will be hiding under a magazine. You will be squinting when you look into your groom’s eyes at the moment he vows to stand with you for the rest of his life. Not only that, but a ceremony that is set too early generally means the photos afterwards will also be shot in not-ideal light. It’s bad news all round. On the flip-side, if you choose to have your ceremony too late, you may well run out of light before your photographer has a chance to get the photos he/she wants, particularly if it’s an overcast day and the sun vanishes an hour earlier than otherwise. As a general rule of thumb, I find that 2:30-3 pm for winter ceremonies and 3:30-4 pm for summer ceremonies works out pretty well. Of course, all rules are made to be broken, and I’ve shot some great weddings at completely different times. But generally, the locations have suited the time. Which brings me to my next point.
3. Choose a good place for your ceremony. Might sound obvious, but there are a few things to consider when choosing a venue for your nuptials. Outdoor locations can be great, but they can also be tricky sometimes, particularly if they’re early. A wonderful idea is to try to have them nestled under trees, so that the light is soft and filtered. It’s not just good for your photographer, it’s pleasant for the guests too. If you’re using a chapel, maybe ask a photographer what he or she thinks. Some chapels have beautiful big windows behind the pedestal. These can look great – unless the sun is blazing through them, in which case your shooter is going to have a hell of a time exposing you and your groom properly, against a background that is blown out. Some chapels are also so small that your shooter might have to settle into some cranny and will find it very tough to get all the shots he wants without treading on granny’s foot or wiggling past your mum and dad. Even worse: some don’t have air-conditioning, and should your wedding happen to fall on a heat-wave day, expect some glistening brows and unhappy guests. Another thing to consider is the lighting. I’ve shot a few weddings with awful top-down fluorescent lights. Don’t make the mistake of choosing that place. No amount of strobes and tinkering in Photoshop with stop you looking like a raccoon.
4. Relax, be happy, have fun! Goes without saying, but it needs to be said anyway: that look of horror as you walk down the aisle might just be nerves, but in your wedding album it will stand out like uncle Reg’s iPad when he holds it up in front of me to snap you kissing (see point 5). So try to smile!
5. Brief your celebrant. This is not necessarily possible, but some friendly pleas by your celebrant for guests to refrain from standing in the middle of the aisle with an iPad or iPhone can save me grief and you your special photos. It happens all the time. Photography is wonderfully accessible these days, but iPads are monstrous, and so is standing tiptoes in the second row to snap an instagram photo when you could be simply taking in the wedding, or at last exercising your creative instincts with a bit more discretion. Again, you don’t need to gravely insult your guests, but a quiet word to your celebrant asking them to remind folk to enjoy with their eyes as much as their phones, and to be mindful of the hired photographer, can make a big difference. Oh, and ask the celebrant to step away when you kiss, otherwise you may end up with a grinning priest in your most prized image. Most do, some don’t.
6. Extra help. Have a photographer friend who you would like to get some extra photos as well? Wonderful. Seriously. Not all photographers are accommodating, but I’ll take them under my wing and help them get the best shots they can. Just be upfront with your pro when you book him or her, and ask if it’s OK that your semi-pro/skilled amateur friend can work around him/her. If your photographer is not happy with this arrangement, tell them not to be so precious and if they insist on being a Prima donna, find someone else.
7. Write a list of family photos you would like taken, but go easy on the other lists. Here’s the deal: taking family photos can be tough. Family members will wander away, despite pleas not to; uncles will pointedly stare at a fascinating shrub instead of the lens. Aunty Glenda will fear the camera for some weird reason and will hide behind your cousin. Kids will fight and frown. When asked to shuffle right, Andy will go left. People will blink, constantly. And the killer: your mum will want 34 extra photos of distant relatives in various combinations. If you give your photographer a list, he can organise the baying mob quickly, and more easily deflect new requests. Things will go more smoothly, and give you more time for photos of you and your new husband/wife. As for other lists: they’re fine, but make them brief. I’ve been given several pages of required photos before, and they barely came out of my pocket. Once you start to box your photographer in, they’ll begin to lose sight of all the random, candid things going on, and they’ll start to shoot like a robot. Let them do their thing, and if there are special things you need captured, by all means let them know; but itemizing everything from the lanterns hanging in the trees over the ceremony to your flow-girl is not necessary, and can be counter-productive.
8. Choose your photographer based on their style, don’t try to customize them. Sort of related to the previous point, but is worth repeating: choose your photog because of what they do best. Don’t hire them and ask them to shoot in an unfamiliar style. In that way lies pain and disappointment. If you like heavily photo-shopped glamour photography, don’t pick a documentary-photographer who snaps everything, warts-and-all. If you’re after soft-glows and vignettes and selective colouring, make sure there is a precedent in their work. Above all, give them freedom to be creative, if you’re confident in their imagery.
A good photographer will take good photos, regardless of your preparation, but sometimes a little bit of help can go a long way to making your photos even more special. 🙂
Ms Gingham says: This has got to be one of the most concise and practical articles on this subject that I have read (and I’ve read a few!). Thanks Van!
About Van of Van Middleton Photography: I’m not precious, and I’m not vain. I wear silly camera holsters because they’re practical. I dress in clothes that are smart and comfortable. I’m easy-going, and I think I have the knack of making people relaxed. Probably the most common remark I get at the end of the night when I’m saying goodbye to the bride and groom is that I made everything so easy, that they felt very comfortable with me.