This article was published in Rangefinder Magazine, check out the full digital version HERE!
Educating our clients on best practices for timing, setting and light is crucial in order for us to make our best work at a wedding, and its a step that many of us overlook in our client relations. We are hired for our specific style and vision, and if we don’t communicate what we need in order to achieve these, our job is made much harder on the day. Since our clients are trusting us to create the best images, it is our job to help them create the setting for this to happen.
In addition to skype calls, chats over coffee, and building a friendship with my clients, one thing that has proven very helpful is sending them an info packet that I have put together to help them in the planning process. This packet includes information about everything, from first looks to timeline tips, so that my couple knows the best scenarios and what to expect.
I’ve shared this article in past workshops and mentor sessions and it always proves to be very helpful, so hopefully this will help any photographers out there who struggle with client communication. This will also help all couples out there who are planning and want to know more about optimizing for photography.
A lots of the topics covered in my guide are things I am frequently asked about by all couples at some point anyways, so in the long run it saves me tons of time I previously spent typing out answers to the same questions over and over again.
Keep in mind that we all work differently, and we might have slightly different preferences for each of the topics I cover. I encourage you to write up your own guide, taking into consideration the way you work best, your ideal timeline, and your creative process. Please do not copy this guide or any part of it! I worked hard on this, with my own brand and personality in mind, and my clients, and it’s never a good idea to take words from someone else as your own!
The topics I cover here are:
- Getting Ready
- First Look
- Family Portraits
- Couple Portraits
- Ceremony Light
- Reception Lighting
- A Few More Random Tips
The actual link I give my clients is at the end of this page if you want to take a look at that!
Getting ready is one of my favorite times to shoot. Its fun, there is a lot of excitement, and often lots of emotion. The morning is also when I have the most “unscheduled” time, so it allows me to be creative, move around, observe a LOT, and plan shots well. But since a dark room or a big clutter can make this difficult, I let my couples know the importance of the getting ready room. Here is the text I use:
“Getting ready can be such a beautiful time to get those genuine pre-wedding shots. But sometimes the energy is ruined by the aesthetic. A cluttered, messy, dark room takes away from the genuine moments happening and the beauty of the morning. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Clutter: I know there is a lot going on, but try to keep clutter hidden and to a minimum. Keep bags, suitcases, laundry, etc in a different room, or the closet. I often do a short sweep when I arrive to clean up the area anyways!
Light: Window light is my favorite light. If possible, get ready in a room with lots of window light, where we won’t need to use lamps or artificial light. Having an orange tungsten light mixed in with the window is not ideal for color. So I always prefer to turn all lights off and rely only on window light whenever possible!
Hair/Makeup: If you will have a h/mu artist, they will need as much light as possible. I suggest doing your h/mu next to the window, for them and for me!
Don’t forget about the groom! Sometimes the groom gets left with the dark tiny room. He is just as important, and his photos will look way better in a well lit room.
Typical hotel rooms often don’t provide the best light or setting for prep. If you can, I recommend looking into other options, like a well lit AirBnB, for your prep. There are tons of affordable cute ones out there!
If there is time, right after your dress is on and you’re ready to go, I will probably grab you for 4 minutes to take some photos of you alone, likely by the window. Its a few minutes of anticipation before you see each other, and I love the shots I get at that time.”
We all have our own opinions about first looks. Personally, I love doing them, for a few different reasons. Its important to let my couples know this up front so they can decide if they like the idea or not. Ultimately, its obviously entirely up to them if they decide to or not. Here is what I tell them about first looks:
“A first look shoot is when the bride and groom see each other for the first time in a more private setting before the walk down the aisle. It doesn’t have to be a big staged moment. It can be simple, genuine and intimate.
I always recommend doing a first look for three reasons:
1. It calms the nerves. There is nothing that relaxes nervous brides and grooms more than finally seeing each other and enjoying a few moments alone before the official events begin.
2. It gives you time to take it all in. You can share what you’re feeling, you can hug, you can actually say “wow you look incredible in that dress”– all things you can’t do when you’re at the front of the aisle with everyone watching.
3. It makes the timeline easier to work with. If you can see each other before the ceremony, we can do all family portraits and bridal party photos before too. Your family can go enjoy the cocktail hour right after the ceremony, and we can get to couple portraits right away. Which means you miss less of your cocktail hour too!
If you’ve always dreamed of the walk down the aisle as the first glimpse of each other, then we’ll do it that way. It’s your day!”
Family portraits, while not the most creative time of the day, are very important to most of the family, friends and wedding guests. I do family/group portraits at every wedding. Most of the time its a very short list, with the most nuclear family involved, plus bridal party. The amount of time needed will obviously differ for different photographers, but I like to do them as quick as possible. I’m often done in just 5-10 minutes, but I always recommend they allot more just in case! Here is what I tell my couples about group portraits:
“The best time for family and bridal party portraits is before the ceremony. Everyone is ready to go and no one will miss any cocktail hour or reception time.
It’s possible to do them after the ceremony, but gathering everyone once they’ve gone to cocktail hour is always a difficult and time consuming task.
If we’re taking just a handful of shots (parents, immediate family, bridal party) then about 20 minutes is plenty of time. I recommend keeping the list short, because on your wedding day smiling at the camera posed with tons of different groups will get tiring!
We will work together on a family portrait list that I will have with me to make sure I check off every group you list.”
We all shoot differently and work at a very different pace, so this part might differ a lot for each photographer. I’ve done weddings where I have 2 hours of time allotted for portraits, and weddings where we only have 10 minutes to shoot because of schedule delays. Either way, we are always able to get enough couple portraits in whatever time we have. As far as ideal time however, here is what I tell my couples:
“I recommend two portrait time slots for portraits of just you two together: right after the ceremony for 20 minutes, and at sunset for about 20 minutes.
Why after the ceremony? Because the pressure is off, and you’re ecstatic, giddy, in love, and ready to party. I’ve gotten some of the best, most genuine joyful moments at this time.
Why before sunset? Because its when we get the best light, At sunset we’ll get great golden light. And right after the sun disappears we’ll get some of the best moody light in which I love to shoot.
If your ceremony is later in the day, close to sunset, we will just merge these two into one, for about 30min total.
The most important thing to ensure we get great photos is trust. If you trust me to create the photos you’ll love, I’ll be able to do my thing and guide and direct you well. It’s all about collaboration and trust!”
We all love those beautifully lit epic outdoor ceremonies. But since we’re not always going to be shooting an intimate ceremony at sunset on a mountaintop, here are some things I tell my couples about ceremony time and light:
“Ceremonies in nature are my favorite: the setting, the light, and the freedom for me to shoot all around. For outdoor ceremonies, light and sun are super important factors in the photos. Spotty sun light and harsh uneven light are not ideal. So if you’re having your ceremony close to midday, try to always backlight yourselves. This means, try to set up the ceremony so that the sun is behind your officiant, so you two are backlit, evenly,
You could also plan your ceremony later in the day, so the light is nicer, closer to sunset. Just be sure to leave enough time for any delays, as well as couple portraits around sunset.
If you are unsure, feel free to ask me about your ceremony spot and I’d be happy to help!”
We’ve all seen the articles about unplugged ceremonies, and we’ve all seen the photos. But honestly, for me, having guests taking photos isn’t a huge concern. Maybe I’ve gotten lucky. Or maybe guests are intimated by my large size (that’s a joke, I’m really small). I have had to ask people to move from the aisle maybe once or twice, but for me it hasn’t posed a huge problem. To be honest, I kind of enjoy getting those shots of the guests lining up taking shots. They’re honest and they’re humorous, in a way. They capture the quirks of uncle bob with his DSLR, or of grandma with her iPad. So I don’t go out of my way to request an unplugged wedding, but I do like to offer some info about it, as well as some suggestions on how to deal with it well. Here is what I say:
“An unplugged ceremony is when you ask your guests to refrain from taking any photos.
Asking your guests not to use cameras or cell phones allows all guests to really take in your ceremony, without fussing with cell phones and flashes.
If you don’t want to entirely unplug, I would at least recommend that guests take photos from their seat, without getting up into the aisles. If anyone is in the aisles during any part of the ceremony it will definitely affect the photos I am able to take.”
Obviously if you strongly prefer your couple to have an entirely unplugged ceremony, I encourage you to tell them that. For my style, and the way I shoot, it has never affected me much. We all work differently, and that’s okay!
Its all about mood for me. I embrace the dim romantic light and very rarely use flash for anything other than dance floor shots. I’ve shot in incredibly dark restaurants and still managed to not use flash, I bump up my ISO (usually up to 6400) and embrace that gritty mood. It would be rare that a place is too dark, but I still like to mention it so that my couples are aware of it. This is what I say about that:
“As you know, capturing the mood of your event is very important to me. This is why I don’t use flash for anything other than party/dancefloor time. For a romantic mood, market lights and candles are great, and if you use enough, they provide great light for photos. Just try to stay away from using only candles, or super dim lighting, which will make focusing trickier for me. If you’re unsure about your setup, just ask me and I’ll help!
DJ Lights: While colored/flashy lights that your DJ provides might be fun for party time, they can destroy the romantic mood of your first dance and special dances. If you are having colorful lights, I ask that they be turned off for special dances. For party time, go crazy with them if you want!”
A FEW MORE THINGS
I have a few more random tips that I add, mostly because I’ve found that these questions are asked at some point either way. Here they are:
“Receiving lines: They can be very time consuming, especially for a medium/large wedding guest list. They can also get very exhausting and they take away from the burst of excitement right after the ceremony. However, I do love the energy right after you walk down the aisle, and your wedding party or family walks out and greets you, hugs you, kisses you, etc. So having a few minutes there to laugh and love is great. I just recommend that it not become a 20-40 minute event. Of course, its up to you and I’ll work around your schedule!
Dinner: It is ideal for me to be served as soon as dinner begins. so that I can eat quickly while guests are eating and be done in time for any toasts or dances that might happen during or at the end of dinner. The easiest way to do this is for me to be considered a “guest” as opposed to a “vendor.” Some caterers insist on serving vendors at the end of the meal, so please make sure you speak to your caterer about this so I don’t miss anything! If you have a buffet, I’m happy to go through it and grab my own food too of course!
For more tips on wedding timelines, the blog A Practical Wedding has put together a helpful article that you can see HERE if you’re interested.”
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN!
I encourage you to put together your own guide for your couples, and make sure to cover the priorities, as well as the questions you are most frequently asked. Not only will it be a huge help to your couples, it will save you lots of time in the long run. Please do not copy my guide though, use your own brand and words to create your own!
If you have ideas of other topics you share with your couples, or any suggestions for other things we should all be communicating with our couples, feel free to leave a comment below! We all can learn from each other, and benefit from the community. Also, if you have any questions at all, I’d be happy to answer them in the comments below.