planning your wedding photography, part 1 – the getting ready
My main aim when photographing a wedding is for your wedding photos to tell the authentic story of your big day, the moments that make it unique and the relationships between people. That being said, it really does pay to plan ahead and have everything lined up so the day flows as expected and your photographs turn out the best they possibly can. Just a little forethought can make a big difference so that you can come into your day as relaxed and stress-free as possible. Even if you’ve considered hiring a wedding planner or day-of coordinator, it’ll be good for you to know where your photographer’s thinking lies and how you can leverage their expertise so you come away with the best possible visual documentation of your wedding day.
The Big Picture Stuff
The two key factors that will influence the quality of your photos are TIME and LIGHT. This is true of any kind of photography, but is even more the case on the wedding day when things tend to run to a strict timeline and venues are planned in advance. Time constraints and venue restrictions are the two biggest potential obstacles that need to be considered up-front. Simply put: if you want exceptional photos, it is really important to give your photographer as much time and space as possible to be able to make imagery that is creative. Shooting from the hip is something all wedding photographers should be able to do, but when time and/or space is tight, our ability to do something extraordinary becomes limited. So while we can all do it, we’d rather not be shooting from the hip all day long. We want to have the ability to give you our very best!
I always love it when a couple asks for my input and shares their proposed timeline with me early in the planning process. Pretty often, we will find an area that needs to be reconsidered or tweaked slightly. Most of the time, when a wedding runs behind it is due to something unexpected at the very start of the day: – someone is running late, the bride or bridesmaids’ dresses needing steaming, delays due to hair and make-up overrunning, even vows not being written in time. Once the timeline is thrown off, it immediately eats into time in the other parts of the day and that invariable means your photography timeline will be impacted. That that means is that “first looks” may have to be pushed back or scrapped entirely or pictures with your family and bridal party may have to wait till later in the day. So when putting together your timeline, you should consider these delays as a given and factor in some wiggle room to give you some room to breathe if things fall behind schedule. I think I can probably count on one hand the number of times the getting ready part of the day has finished ahead of schedule and that was when the planner did a great job of factoring in all these potential delays.
With regard to light, you should put a bit of thought into the lighting of the venues you plan to use, or at least ask your photographer for their insight and advice during the planning stage. Photography literally means “writing with light” so if the quality or quantity of light in a certain space is not optimal, your photographer is going to have to come up with something to fix things. What does this mean in practical terms? Well, if you’re getting ready in a hotel conference room or a bridal suite with no windows, you should understand that the photos are probably going to require some artificial light of some kind, be it straightforward flash, a video light or something else. Most photographers (and videographers for that matter) will always prefer to work with naturally available light, so if you can have access to a room with large windows with curtains, drapes or blinds so the light can be modified, that would be the ideal scenario. If you’re getting ready at home, you might want to think about the lighting and the amount of room you have available. If your home doesn’t have very many windows or a lot of room to get ready in, it might be an idea to consider getting a nice hotel room or a suite somewhere. Yes, it is an additional cost, but in the grand scheme of things, it is worth the extra investment. Having plenty of room and light is even more of a consideration if you are also thinking of hiring a videographer. We will need options to work around each other and get creative angles without getting in each other’s way.
The ‘Normal’ Wedding
So, I often get asked what a ‘normal’ wedding timeline looks like. My answer is always that there is no ‘normal’ wedding as they are all different and have their own unique dynamic; that’s what makes them so fun to photograph! That being said, on most wedding days, I first meet up with my brides as they are getting their hair and make-up done. It’s normally a really fun time to document as all the planning of the last few months is finally coming to fruition. There’s sometimes a hint of nerves and there’s often a lot of laughter. My main advice for my brides at this time (and a lot of the advice from here is directed mostly to them) is to just be aware that I tend to shoot the room “as is” to convey the true mood of the day, so whether your room has a lot going on or, conversely, if it’s a very quiet, zen-like vibe, that will come through in your images.
Here’s one of my favourite images ever of the girls getting ready. I really like the way it shows three separate things going on in the same room in a singe frame. Nothing here was staged, I didn’t use a flash so as not to draw attention to the fact I was taking photos, and I think the result is it really shows the story of the energy in the room and everything that was going on.
By contrast, this room was just the bride and her makeup artist. So it was a very tranquil scene. It was a snowy day outside, there was no music or TV on in the room and the silence of the day really seems to come through in this image, at least for me. I stood back in the room and worked to incorporate a reflection off a picture frame to add some more interest to the image. Light is coming from the windows in the room next door. Again, nothing here is staged. All light was natural so as to remain as unobtrusive and undistracting as possible.
As I say, I don’t really want to influence the way your wedding day looks so the photos are as honest and true to the real story as possible. If you’d rather I tidied things up a bit, let me know ahead of time so we can do a quick sweep of the room to get things looking more organised for you. Again, if you’re getting ready at the church or venue, or even just getting into your dress there, you might want to have a look at the room you’ll be using ahead of time. You might find that they are not the most ornate setting for your images, so you might want to bear that in mind and ask me or your photographer for their advice. Some brides prefer to put on their dress elsewhere for pictures, even if it means slipping into something else for the trip the the venue.
Again, I really cannot overemphasise the importance of light. When you’re getting ready, as with all photography, light is really the key to everything. I really do prefer to use available light whenever I can as I prefer the look of a naturally lit scene rather than artificially creating light using flash. I also find flash makes people more aware of the fact they are bring photographed which makes the whole idea of photojournalistic or ‘candid’ photography go out the window. For these reasons, I recommend getting ready in a room with good sized windows. In the photo below, you’ll see we had some lovely big windows without any blinds or curtains and the light they provided, whilst not totally ideal was key to the vibe and the storytelling of the photo.
In this photo of the bride and her mum getting ready at The Umstead here in Cary, you’ll see the sheer net curtains behind them provides nice soft light that adds texture and mood to the image. If those weren’t there, we’d have to work the image some other way. I do tend to like to just let the events of the wedding day unfold, but in this case, I did step in and provide some direction on the best place to stand to get the most from the image. This is one of the few parts of the day I’ll actively step in and direct if required so my brides can get the best possible photos in the best possible light.
One other, related, point to mention is that, if during an important part of the getting ready, I can see there is better light available somewhere nearby, I will suggest we use it. As an example, the lovely bride below was originally having her makeup applied in the bathroom where the light was ideal for applying makeup, but not the most flattering for photography. So, we moved over to the window for the finishing touches to be applied in the beautiful window light.
To this last point, I do sometimes like to manipulate the light I am working with in order to enhance the images, so don’t be surprised if I switch off lights, draw curtains or otherwise block the light in some way. If I do this, it’s purely to complement the mood of the image I am envisioning. I say this more for moms and other people in the room who might think I am a bit crazy. You need to trust me on this one!
So there it is: Time & Light. They’re quite simple things really, but give them to us and we’ll pay you back in spades. You’ll be glad you did!
I hope the thoughts here were useful. Please feel free to drop questions or feedback below. Did I miss anything? As I say, this is just my opinion and advice and your photographer will definitely have their own views on what works best. I’ll be back soon with the next article in the series, which will cover “The First Look”, which is definitely becoming more common in weddings these days. Let me know if you have any thoughts or requests on that! Cheers!