I decided I wanted to add more useful content on my blog to help future or current clients with their wedding day planning. The best place to start is to point out the things that are often not thought about during the planning process. I've compiled a list of issues I've dealt with or have read on photography forums that happen quite often that can have an effect on your wedding day photography.
PLEASE NOTE: ANY IMAGES INCLUDED IN MY PLANNING SERIES ARE IN NO WAY CONNECTED TO THE CONTENT BELOW OTHER THAN TO ADD VISUAL INTEREST OR BECAUSE I LOVE THEM.
1. Venue. When you visit your venue, take the time to really look at it with a critical eye. You may be caught up in the beauty of the ballroom or the quaintness of a barn but have you looked around at the grounds? Is the barn sitting surrounded by paved parking lots on three sides and your pinterest is full of wedding images with expansive fields? While we can work with small areas and make it work, in the end you may be disappointed that there is a red truck in the background of your images because you happened to visit the venue on the day that the adjacent street or parking lot was empty.
Things you should do: If you love your venue but the grounds are not sufficient for your dream formals, check out local parks and incorporate enough time for travel to and from as well as photo time. This gives you the best of both worlds. You can have your dreamy field photos and you get the venue you fell in love with. Likewise, ensure you speak to the venue about any construction they may have scheduled in the coming year and check local schedules to ensure that no street fairs or other community events are scheduled that could further limit the view. Look at the ceremony location with a critical eye. Are there any man-made (buildings, powerlines, etc) or natural structures that may detract from the background? Look up! Are there billboards, power lines or a dumpster in the background of where you will say your I dos? Are there other weddings taking place on the same day that could limit what locations you can do your formal portraits in (if so, notify your photographer so they can plan for this).
2. Time of Day. I have to say that this is one of my biggest concerns as it's often not thought about by clients and is one of the biggest issues with delivering amazing photography. Harsh sunlight and what time a ceremony is can make or break wedding day photography. Why? Because if you are having your wedding in July at noon in an open field, it is very likely that you, and your bridal party, will be miserably hot and squinting. While there are techniques we can use to mitigate the sunlight in your photos, I truly don't believe that I've ever seen a wedding done at high noon that I haven't thought to myself "Man, I feel for that photographer. That was a tough location for that time of day!". Likewise, I've never had a wedding party that are happy to be photographed in the glaring sun.
Things you should do: First and foremost, you should always visit your venue during the decision process at the exact time you wish to have your ceremony on a non-cloudy or rainy day (especially if the ceremony is outdoors). Most venues would absolutely understand your wish for a second visit if that is not possible. Also keep in mind seasons... if you are visiting in the fall for your summer wedding, the sun will be harsher than the day of your visit but if you feel the sun is an issue at noon in the fall... imagine what it will be like in the summer. While there, you should ask to be shown the ceremony location. Stand at the altar. Can you look into your love's eyes without being blinded by the light? I think most importantly if you have any say in the timing of the event, ask your photographer for the best time to hold the ceremony based on the time of year. They all should be able to give you a window of time or other solutions based on your chosen time of day. Be flexible on the day of your wedding. If your photographer suggests waiting until later to do formals... listen. You will be so happy you did.
3. Officiant (Please note at this time, I am speaking solely about secular officiants). Oh, the officiant. I have to say that every officiant I've met is an absolutely lovely person. They genuinely love their jobs and are typically just amazing all-around people but they can also be an issue with photography. This is especially true when they stand too close to you during the ceremony, keep waterbottles on the ground, have an outrageously huge program book or binder to hold during the ceremony or, in the case of my least favorite officiant issue, don't move during the first kiss.
One of my very first weddings, the officiant stood so close that she kept a hand on the grooms shoulder the entire time. All of their close-up images had a cut-off alien hand in the photo. Which I guess was okay until you got to the first kiss close-up, where the officiant had placed one hand on the groom and one hand on the bride, making it look like she was forcing the couple to kiss...
Things you should do: Have a conversation with your officiant. Ask them what they hold during the ceremony as any images of your hands will have this in the background. Make sure it's not a brightly covered book or binder. I had one officiant that used an ipad with a cover that was made to look like a bible. It looked GREAT in the photos. Confirm with them that any bottles or food items will not be in the ceremony location and simply ask them to step away from the ceremony location when they pronounce you married. Unless you are completely okay with them in your first kiss photo, they should not move to next to the groomsmen or bridesmaids but step behind the attendants out of the way. Make sure they are not so close they are touching you during the ceremony. If they do so, then we can't get that clear photo of you saying your vows without them in the photo. I once had an officiant literally keep their hand on the shoulder of the groom the entire wedding (even the first kiss) so every close-up photo of the couple has a ghost arm/hand in the picture.
4. Guest Electronic Usage. We live in the age of smart phones. I get it. I also get that couples are sick of reading and hearing about cell phone usage at weddings. I know you want a million photos of your wedding day as it unfolds so while you lounge during your honeymoon you can laugh at the antics and smile at the sweet times. I would love that too. We (and I speak for photographers everywhere) get it. We really, really do. I mean... documenting moments through photography is our job. But, in the end, it's not your guest you will be upset with because your walk down the aisle is ruined or we've missed a shot because someone stepped in our way. It is us, the photographers. It is our contract that you will bring up when a photo is missing. It won't be Uncle Harry or Aunt Betty that gets your anger when this happens... it's us. I read recently on a forum where a photographer had an issue with the MOB getting up from her seat and stepping in front of them during the ceremony. When politely asked to move over a bit the response was "It's your job to maneuver around me!". Sigh. My geek side comes out and I think "Damn it, Jim... I'm a photographer! Not a circus contortionist!". Let me say this now... if we want a wide angle shot of the entire wedding party and someone is standing in the middle of the aisle, guess which part of the bridal party will be blocked... yup, the bride and groom. There is almost no room to maneuver around someone standing up front in the center aisle unless you want us standing at the altar with you (trust me... you don't).
Check out this article on Huffington Post about guest electronic usage for real life nightmare photos pro-photographers face at almost every wedding: guest electronics.
Things you should do: Decide what is most important to you. If you don't mind cell phones or cameras in your shots, tell us. If you don't care if someone gets into the center aisle and blocks us during the exchanging of the rings or first kiss. Talk to us about it. It will alleviate our stress but if those situations cause you alarm or make you cringe... have an unplugged ceremony. Or ask one of your friends to be the cell phone monitor. If they see a guest getting too close to you during an important event during the ceremony or reception, they can be the ones to tap them and ask them to move back. It's always a difficult balance to decided whether or not to ask guests to move, photograph with them in the way or just move past them ruining whatever image or video they are capturing. It's always a gamble to know if the guest will be upset not because of rudeness but simply for the fact that they were stopped from doing what they wanted (admit it... we all have one of those people in our families). I think another good thing to really think about is do you really need five shaky cell phone videos of your first dance or the ceremony? After they post them... will you save them or will they just be forgotten about later on? If the answer to either of those questions is no... tell the guests to put away the cell phones. If the answer is yes... tell the guests to put away the cell phones and invest in a great videographer.
5. Timelines. As much as I love timelines, I hate them. I believe they give a false sense of having to meet a certain schedule that the fluidity of a live event is in total contrast to. But at the same time, I absolutely HATE not having one. It's not so much about the exact times listed but a way for me to 1. check to make sure that I can meet your expectations for your wedding day photography in the time allotted and 2. ensure that I am in the right spot at close to the right time to capture those moments.
Things you should do: Create a timeline with your coordinator. If you don't have a coordinator, gather times from your venue, caterer, DJ and photographer. While other vendors play a role in your big day, when it comes to timing these are the ones that can make an event run smoothly or not. Each should have equal say over their particular place in your wedding. When I create my timelines I always do it loosely based on the times I need for each particular type of photography then I add a cushion. When I get to the wedding, I check in with the DJ as I feel that they are really the people running the reception times. I think it's really important that no one vendor (with a loose exception of the coordinator) should have absolute say in every part of your day. We're a team. Your team and we should be working together to figure out the best possible schedule to make your dream day a reality. It's also equally important that if you change anything you let all the vendors know before the day of the wedding.
Find our online timeline planner by clicking below:
6. The Reception Layout. With all the planning, small things like cake placement and where the DJ stand or bar is located may be the least of your worries but I am talking to you from a photography standpoint. Here are my concerns and I'll be honest this may be more of a concern from my photographer perspective than the clients. The cake is often tucked away in a dimly lit corner making it difficult to pose couples, allow guests the pleasure of watching the cake cutting and oftentimes comes with lighting issues. Likewise, I recently worked a venue where the dance floor was surrounded on three sides by the DJ stand, the bar and the buffet line. Since the couple is moving during their dance this means that I can either choose one vantage point for the entirety of the dance or have the backdrop of your romantic first dance being a line of guests grabbing their gin and cokes. As the first dance is unscripted, if I don't move around I may miss a sweet kiss in the middle of it.
Things you should do: Ask. Plain and simple. Just ask the venue where things are set up and see if you are okay with it. See if they have a cake table on wheels that can be rolled out onto the dance floor or closer to the guests. And most of all, if you are okay with the setup then don't have expectations that every first dance photo will have a dreamy backdrop. If the bar happens to be in the background, understand that the photographer made every effort to get the best picture they could.
7. Rain. If you are having an outdoor wedding, you pray for no rain. The weather forecast is set. No rain. Yay! The day of comes and it's a torrential downpour. 90% of my weddings are outdoors. I always breathe a sigh of relief when the forecast is no rain and I roll with it when it isn't. With the exception of concern about my equipment... rain or no rain, it doesn't matter to me. I mean rain on your wedding day is good luck... right?
Things you should do: Have a back-up plan. If you are outside, have a plan for tent. Contact a few rental companies days before if the forecast looks bleak. I leave it up to my couples to make the decision on alternate locations in the event of rain. It's their wedding day and while I certainly can make suggestions, I don't feel it should be my call to make the decision or arrangements (especially since last minute may carry fees). Scout out indoor locations prior to your wedding day if rain may be an issue. Or, and this is my favorite, have fun with it! Embrace the rain on your wedding day. I can honestly say one of my best wedding memories is the time one couple did their first dance in the rain not caring that they were getting soaked, did formals under umbrellas and just focused more on loving each other than worrying about the weather. Their photos are beautiful and despite the rain (which, by the way, did cut our coverage short due to equipment concerns) they ended up completely happy and their wedding day was full of joy instead of worry.
While not addressing these things will not ruin your wedding, they do help your photographer to meet your photography expectations.
Caveat: This is in no manner excusing substandard photography. Professional photographers use lighting, posing and their keen eye for what photographs well to provide you the best wedding photography they can. While non of these logistic topics should be an excuse for non-delivery, out-of-focus/improperly lit images or providing a wedding gallery that does not match their portfolio, it does give you a good head start on understanding the rare occasions when something does go wrong. As well as provides a good planning basis to try to mitigate that before it happens.
That's all for now.
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