There’s a lot of decisions to make when planning your wedding, and it can be a little overwhelming. You spend a lot of time and money on putting together your ideal day, so here’s a few things to consider that will help your day go smoother and photograph well!
Choosing a Venue
There’s a lot of really great resources when it comes to picking out a venue. I recommend blogs like Junebug Weddings, Green Wedding Shoes, Hello May, and Ruffled to see venues in the specific area you’d like to get married.
If you’re looking for something a little different, here’s a list of some super fun non-traditional wedding venues: a tree-house, yurt, national park/public lands, backyard, vineyard, art gallery, brewery, library…the list goes on, and I can always help you find somewhere that’s unique and tailored specifically to the two of you.
A couple things to be aware of with non-traditional venues- you might need a permit or special permission for public lands as well as knowing what rules/laws they have in place.
Figuring out transportation and seating options may be a little different since a lot of the options mentioned above probably don’t include chairs. Some options are to hire a rental company to set up seating before the ceremony and then load them all back up after. You could also provide blankets, or your friends and family could even stand, which really isn’t a big deal if it’s a short ceremony.
Getting Ready Spaces
Getting ready spots often get overlooked, but they’re a big part of photos. It’s important to be intentional when choosing where to get ready. Some wedding venues include beautiful getting ready spaces, but that’s definitely not always the case. Plus, if you’re not using a traditional wedding venue, you’ll need to keep in mind that you’ll need somewhere to get ready. If that’s the case, or the venue you chose offers a less than appealing getting ready space, Airbnb’s are a great option! I’ve also seen guys getting ready at a bar (bars aren’t usually open that early and can have a really cool vibe). Don’t be afraid to get creative with getting ready spaces, but there are a few things to keep in mind for the sake of photos and possibly your own sanity.
First, natural light (I might be repetitive about light throughout this guide, but it’s that important!) will make a big difference. Get ready by a window, if possible, and turn off any lights inside. This allows me to capture details and not get crazy mixed lighting that really affect the photos. If you’re getting ready in a dark room with no windows, the lighting can be super funky, and not in a good way. Natural light makes your skin glow and look way more natural. Have you ever thought your skin looked good under indoor fluorescent lights? I know I haven’t.
Also, clutter can be super distracting. Throw a bunch of people in a room with all their stuff, and there’s a good chance it’ll look like a tornado hit the place. Before photos start getting taken, take a minute to clean up the area (I’m happy to help with this and recruit the bridal party), shut closet doors, and throw away trash lying around. This will make the photos look much more clean and won’t distract from all the emotions that come with the pre-wedding anticipation.
Let’s talk about the size of the getting ready space. I’m not trying to be picky, I promise! This is just to keep in mind so you can enjoy the time you spend with your family and friends while you prepare to walk down the aisle. If you rent a mansion, you might all be separated and doing your own thing while getting ready (which you might want and that’s totally cool). On the other hand, if you’re in a shoe box, you’ll be elbowing each other for mirror space, and it’ll be difficult to get wide shots of everyone getting ready, if I’m crammed in a corner trying to capture it all. There’s no perfect one-size-fits-all wedding space. Bridal groups and families vary in size for each couple, and your preference may differ. Obviously it’s totally up to you and what you’re going for. Choose what fits you the best!
Below is an example of a tiny room that had no windows and fluorescent overhead lighting. I’ll explain all the elements going in this picture that made it super challenging to capture well.
As you can see, it’s cluttered with clothes and trash laying around, the painting on the wall was neon green and looked like it was meant for children, and someone just threw some random furniture in there. Those photos were so hard to edit and make presentable. Getting ready spaces have the potential to be really cool, so put some thought into it. It sets the tone for the day, and getting ready is such a fun part of the process. I want you to love those photos. Okay, I think I’ve made my point. Let’s move on to the wedding day timeline!
Wedding Day Timeline
I’ve put together a sample timeline below for reference with the different photography coverage options on the left. This timeline helps make sure you plenty of time so no one’s running around like a chicken with their head cut off. Your day should be stress-free so you can actually enjoy it!
You may need to adjust this timeline depending on the time of year and the circumstances of your wedding. For example, the sun sets much earlier than 7:15pm in the winter, or you may be having a morning ceremony. It’s important to remember to give yourself more time than you need to prep before the ceremony begins (wedding days never go exactly as planned). The other thing that I can’t stress enough is plan around the light!! It will make a HUGE difference in the way the photos turn out. I’ll be addressing different lighting next.
Ceremony + Reception lighting
Backlit is my favorite ceremony lighting! When the sun is behind the ceremony, it wraps the ceremony and people in a golden glow and makes for some dreamy photos. This is best when the sun is low (a little after sunrise or a little before a sunset). The downside of backlighting is that if you’re not careful, the sun can be a little blinding. If the guests are looking directly into the sun, it might bother their eyes and distract them from the ceremony. To avoid this, I would recommend angling the ceremony a bit to the side of where the sun will be setting/rising on the horizon so the guests aren’t looking straight into it, especially when the sun is higher in the sky.
If you’re scoping out places ahead of time, which you probably are, know that the sun will rise/set in a different spot on the horizon at different times of the year. A handy app I learned about, called Sun Seeker, will help you determine where the sun will be on any day of the year. That way you can plan for the sun and not be thrown off when it’s way different than it was when you visited months earlier.
Uneven light is best to avoid if you can. It’s good to have subjects completely in the light or completely in the shade. Otherwise the light portion of the pictures will be blown out while the shadows will be too dark, causing the photos to lose a lot of detail. It makes the photos look harsh, and it really doesn’t look good. It’s also important as far as comfort goes. If it’s warm out, all the guests will be vying for the spots in the shade, and everyone else will be sweating like a pig. Try to find a ceremony spot that is all in the sun or all in the shade (keeping temperature in mind). If you absolutely have to go with uneven light, it really helps to backlight the ceremony so the photos come out better.
Shaded or Overcast is awesome for photos! So don’t be disappointed if it’s cloudy on your wedding day, it’s actually a blessing! You won’t have weird shadows on peoples’ faces, details will show through, and skin looks great in this light!
Indoor If you’re having a ceremony indoors, I suggest using natural light from a window to light the ceremony and avoid using artificial indoor lights. When outdoor and indoor lights mix, you get a weird combo of too yellow and too blue of photos. If you have to use indoor lighting, make sure there’s plenty of it. I don’t use flash for ceremonies because it’s really distracting, and it takes away from what’s going on. It’s important that the room is well-lit or the photos will turn out really grainy and have a lower quality look.
In the photo above, it was mid-day, and there was enough natural light from windows to capture all the details with good quality. However, the ceremony in the photo below started in the evening, and the other source of light was a chandelier directly behind them, which made the photos look lower quality since I had to compensate for the low lighting. You can see the photo is a weird mix of yellow light (on the right) and blue light (on the left). That’s what I was talking about happening when you mix natural light from a window and indoor light. Placing the chandelier directly behind them also blows out parts of the pastor’s head. That’s why it’s best to use as much natural light as possible (or at least make sure there’s lots of indoor light).
Midday sun had its pros and cons. On the positive side, the light will be the same throughout the whole ceremony which is good for photos. The hard part is that you get a lot of people squinting and some harsh shadows. I recommend putting the ceremony in the shade with some sunlight peeking through. It’s more of a speckling of light rather than uneven light (which is like if one half of the ceremony is completely in the shade while the other half is completely in the sun). This actually looks great in photos.
Reception light is different because the sun is usually down by the time the reception gets going. For dinner up until after the first dance + father/daughter and mother/son dances, I really love string lights and candles. The more the merrier. I don’t like to use my off-camera flash during the toasts and the first dance if avoidable, because it takes away from the moment. String lights and candles make it possible to see the subject well and still get details while making the light look dreamy rather than the harsher effect of an off-camera flash.
When it comes to everybody joining in on the dance floor with a DJ, it’s not a big deal for me to use flash. Different colored lights can be a little crazy, but it can also be fun if you’re going for that!
You might have been at a wedding or seen photos where everyone’s on their electronics taking pictures or recording the ceremony. It’s totally fine for you to ask your guests beforehand to put away their electronics (you can put this on a cute sign before the enter the ceremony space and also make sure to ask the officiant to announce it before the ceremony starts). It’s pretty distracting, both in photos and in person, when a lot of people are holding their phones, cameras, or Ipads up. It’s a lot nicer when everyone is fully present with you and not focused on their phones and whatnot. I promise they’ll have access to awesome photos, and it’ll be really fun when you post all the photos and everyone’s excitingly anticipating the big reveal.
I have shot weddings where a family member couldn’t be present, but wanted to be a part of the day. In cases like that, it can be really meaningful to FaceTime them for the ceremony so they can watch their loved ones get married. It’s a cool way to make sure everyone you care about gets to be a part of the day.
WOOHOO you made it all the way through the guide!!! You deserve a prize (like great wedding photos). These are just things to keep in mind. Your wedding will have its own details, and you may have your own specific questions as a result of that. I’m happy to answer any other questions you have. I’m super excited to be a part of this huge adventure with you!