10 Secrets to Getting the Perfect Photos for Your Wedding
(by a wedding photographer with over 200 weddings under his belt)
1. Choosing the right venue for you.
What defines you as a couple? That is definitely the first question you need to ask yourself when picking your dream wedding venue. Are you someone who prefers a city vibe or do you prefer a quiet natural setting? Are you artistic, do you enjoy a venue with a history or do you want something that's clean and modern? Once you have answered these questions (and make sure to be true to yourself!), you should think about how many guests you’ll be inviting and what portion of your budget the venue will take up. Remember that certain venues come pretty well-equipped and provide their own catering and some will need a bit of extra work to get them to look the way you want, so be sure to leave room in the budget for that. Lastly, once you’ve narrowed down your selection to a few options you really like, spend some time looking at other wedding photos from these venues. This will help you with decorating ideas, but keep in mind that not all photographers are created equal. A good photographer can work at any venue and make it their own and will apply their personal style to the photos, so what you see online isn’t necessarily an indication for what your photos will look like.
2. What photography style is right for me (and how much should I pay?)
What do you want to remember when looking back onto your wedding day? Are you looking for someone who is going to focus on the precious moments between you and your loved ones, someone who will capture the beauty of the setting, someone who will give you Vogue-style portraits or someone who will let you be the real you and capture the natural range of emotions between you and your partner? The truth is, even after you have figured this out for yourself, there is no way you can make an educated decision on who is the right photographer for you until you get to see an example of their final product. By that, I don’t mean just browsing through photos on their website. Certainly, that will give you an idea for their general style and color palette, but you really need to ask them what the final deliverables are. Is a slideshow telling the story of your day part of the deliverables or do you only get access to an online gallery? Is their editing style something that can withstand a test of time or will it look silly 10-20 years from now as do certain trends (think photos with selective color, remember those?) How consistent are the photos in the gallery, are some edits better than others? Does the photographer advertise themselves as a photo-journalist, but once you dive in a bit deeper you find out that most of their portraits are stylized and overly posed or that the detail shots account for a large percentage of the gallery when what you are really looking for is real moments?
The truth is, every photographer will only showcase their best work on their website and that’s perfectly normal. Each person has their own definition of “photo-journalistic”, “documentary”, or “editorial” and you won’t really know for sure what they mean by it until you get a chance to look through a few of their full galleries and chat with them in person to see if you vibe with them. Take the time to ask these things and look around for yourself rather than focusing on the number of photos you’ll receive or whether or not they'll throw in free prints or a canvas as a part of their package. An extra few hundred photos or a bunch of free prints could be worthless if they are not the type of photos you are looking for in the first place.
So, how much should a photographer cost? Well, that certainly depends on your preferences and your overall budget, but just keep in mind that your photos are the only things left to remember your wedding day by. Also, consider the fact that these photos aren’t just for you, they are for your families and the people closest to you (and potentially future generations). The food will be eaten, the flowers will die, but that photo of the teary-eyed look your groom gave you as you were walking down the aisle or the photo of you dancing with your 90 year-old grandma will be there forever.
3. Importance of storytelling.
Storytelling abilities are something that’s often given a lower priority when looking for a wedding photographer. But that, I mean real storytelling, not just the ability to capture beautiful portraits or to give the most photos. Think of your favorite movie and how it makes you feel. I bet you know the story by heart and can visualize it any time you want. Now think of a movie with a great cast, a huge budget, and lots of visual effects that left you empty and disappointed in the end because the story didn’t quite come together and wasn’t memorable.
Same goes for your wedding photos. You can have the most photos out of any of your married friends, but if they are of mediocre quality and aren’t connected within a storyline, chances are you won’t have the desire to go back and look through them that often. Same goes for portraits, a pretty photo can only take you that far. It’s great to have a beautiful portrait of the two of you, but it is only a fraction of what the day is really about. The photos that end up being most valuable to most couples aren’t necessarily portraits of the two of them, it’s the photos that tell the story of why they wanted to get married in the first place as well as the stories of their loved ones who came together to support them.
4. Lighting tips for an outdoor ceremony.
Indoor wedding ceremonies are usually a bit more flexible, but what if you are getting married outdoors? Generally, the best time for an outdoor ceremony is 2-3 hours before sunset. This ensures that the sunlight falls more evenly with no harsh shadows, and that the skin tones are more consistent for both the bride and the groom. This way you don’t have one person in harsh light, and the other one in deep shadow.
5. Dark reception venue? Here's how to prepare.
Is your reception in a dark ballroom or outdoors, under the stars? What can you do to make sure you still have some great, well-lit photos with ambiance and dimension?
The more lighting you can bring in, the better! Uplighting always looks great for indoor receptions (red, orange, blue and purple look best, but stay away from green). Also, remember that candles, chandeliers and twinkle lights will always warm up the space and provide a nice source of ambient light, so the more you can have, the better your photos will look!
6. The “right” details.
Ask yourself what detail shots (i.e. shoes, dress, jewelry) you want your photographer to capture and, most importantly, why you want them. The wedding industry needs things to sell, which is why there is such a huge emphasis on detail shots on most wedding blogs and publications. Consider how important these shots will be to the two of you a few decades later and how much of the photographer’s time should be dedicated to taking them. A good photographer will capture all the needed details anyway, but do you really want them to spend time spelling out the word “love” with your shoestrings or taking your dress to be hung up on a tree outside of your hotel for no logical reason at all while your grandma just came in the room and gave you a huge hug (a moment far more important in our opinion)? Besides, your dress looks much better on you than hanging up on a tree somewhere and most detail shots tend to look much better with a little life in them.
7. Important people, customs, and traditions.
Your photographer should be candidly photographing the important people and special moments throughout the day. If there are specific people who are particularly important (and who might not be as involved throughout the day), please do let the photographer know ahead of time. Similarly, if there are any special/unusual traditions or customs that they should know about, please mention them as well and document them in the schedule you give your photographer to help them provide the best possible coverage for you.
8. Rain on your wedding day? Yes, please!
What’s one of the best things that could surprise you on your wedding day? Why, rain of course!
As a wedding photographer, I often get last-minute messages from concerned brides and grooms just days before their wedding who are panicking because they just checked the weather forecast and it looks like it will not be a perfectly sunny day that most people often wish for. I obviously try to reassure them and say that the chances of this actually affecting their celebration in a negative way are pretty slim since most venues have rock-solid backup plans just in case the weather decides to act up a bit. They can quickly move things indoors or come up with an alternative solution to keep things on track. At the same time, I can’t help but smile on the inside because I am now certain that this lucky couple is going to get some pretty remarkable photos from their big day.
What inspires me the most about weddings has always been the realness and the range of the emotions that are felt on that day. Nothing compares to the beauty of seeing the tears of joy in the eyes of a bride or groom when they see each other for the first time as they are about to embark on their journey together. This is the definition of real and will be remembered for a lifetime. If it happens to rain at that particular moment, so be it. It won’t take away from the happiness that is felt in that moment and every time they revisit those memories through their wedding photos. Quite the contrary, rain has always been synonymical with romance and all it can possibly do is help a skilled photographer create images that are as unique as they are visually stunning.
9. Assembling the perfect wedding vendor team.
So, you’ve found your perfect photographer? Congratulations, you’ve just accomplished one of the most important things about planning your wedding! But what about the rest of your vendors? If you give one of the highest priorities to your wedding photos (and who doesn’t?) please let the other vendors know that so that they’ll make sure to consult with your photographer before making decisions that could potentially affect your photos in a negative way. This goes for your wedding coordinator (who helps create your schedule and decides when certain photos will be taking place), your videographers, your lighting person and anyone else who is responsible for making decisions that have to do with scheduling or visually affecting your photos in one way or another. Just make sure that your team cares about you having great photos as much as you do!
10. Letting things go and enjoying yourself.
Last, but not least, one of the most important things you can do to have great wedding photos is to simply enjoy yourself! Trust us, it shows! Please allow your wedding day to simply be what it is and let your photographer make the best of it (after all, you’ve hired them for their ability to work in any situation). Is the weather not co-operating? Did you forget that bracelet you wanted to wear? Are things running a bit behind? Just focus on each other and the people close to you, remember why you are there in the first place and keep an open mind. You’ll be surprised at how much magic a little spontaneity can bring and how much it can delight you afterwards by making your wedding day uniquely yours.
About the Author
Alex is a wedding photographer based in San Francisco. He has photographed over 200 weddings ranging from small elopements to large celebrations with over 650 people in attendance. He and his team has also traveled to a number of destination weddings worldwide.