When people think about wedding photography, they often think only of the beautiful portraits of couples looking in love and happy.
These days, more people also think of candids – couples walking down the aisle, cutting their cake, emotional first dances.
All this seems to require maybe a couple of hours, right?
In truth, these “moments” require a stretch of about 6-12 hours to document.
This may be surprising to couples starting to plan a wedding. Eight+ hours sounds like a long time. My parents, when they were married 40+ years ago, went to a studio for an hour, and maybe had an on-site photographer for two hours at the reception (which was itself a rarity).
What do wedding photographers do for eight hours, or more? Is it necessary?
This article will give you an insight into some of the things to consider when thinking about wedding photography. Some of this may sound like we’re doing the wedding planner’s job, but what ends up happening is that we work together to make sure you, our clients, have a smooth, stress-free wedding that results in beautiful, thoughtful photographs. It’s a win-win-win collaboration!
So what are the things to consider when planning your wedding photography? Here are ten things to think about:
1. Where are you getting ready? Are you and your love getting ready at the same location? If not, how far apart are both locations?
This might mean making sure you have two photographers to save time on travel. The alternative, if hiring a second is not possible, is to get ready in two separate rooms at the same location.
Couples who are having culturally intricate celebrations, such as Chinese, Vietnamese or Indian weddings, often have to get ready separately and often quite far apart needing travel time, so making sure you have budget for two or more photographers (from the same company usually), is wise.
I personally really like couples who get ready together (this sacrifices “first look” though – see Point #4). There are some really intimate moments you can capture that are very moving and real.
2. Is your ceremony location small or has strict rules about photography? There are some venues, such as the Elliott Bay Room or JM Cellars, that are very intimate but challenging to navigate without causing too much disruption during the ceremony if there’s one photographer. Similarly, there are also churches that have strict rules about movement. Consider hiring two photographers to counter that problem so you can have more than one angle to your ceremony photos, or make sure your room layout is conducive to one photographer being able to move around without too much hassle.
3. How long is your ceremony? This may not seem to relate to photography but making sure your ceremony isn’t shorter than ten minutes is critical if your ceremony venue is small or has strict rules about movement (see point #2). If you are able to make it at least 15-20 minutes, it would make it possible for your one photographer to move around at an inconspicuous pace to capture what he or she needs. This is the highlight of your wedding and we want to do a SUPERB job at making sure all angles are covered as discreetly as possible.
An aesthetic tip: Have your officiant conduct the ceremony standing to the side (refer to pics above) instead of directly behind the couple. This makes for a STUNNING kiss shot of just the couple instead of couple + officiant.
Aesthetic tip #2: You’ve heard about the virtues of an “unplugged wedding” (if not, click on the link!). Have your officiant start the ceremony with a short announcement about keeping all phones and cameras away so your guests are present. Alternatively, my studio makes cards that you can place with your program to be handed out to guests when they arrive.
There is a HUGE difference at least when it comes to the resulting photographs, when guests are paying attention and reacting, vs looking at their phones!
4. Are you doing “First Look”? This is a private reveal of you and your love to only each other before the ceremony. This is usually an option if you want to get most of your photography done earlier in the day when makeup and hair is fresh, suits and gowns are clean and wrinkle-free. This also means enough time has to be allocated before the ceremony, usually about two hours (without travel or transitions) to get some formal group portraits done (immediate family, wedding party) as well as some portraits of just you and your love. If portraits are important to you and you don’t want to leave your guests waiting too long (between ceremony and reception), this is generally the option I’d recommend.
If you’re opting out of First Look and going the traditional route of only seeing each other at the ceremony, then you will need to allocate at least 90 minutes for formals between the ceremony and reception. From experience, if formals are not critical to you, and if your families and wedding parties are small, you can get away with this option.
Every photographer works differently, so this would be an important element to discuss way ahead of your wedding.
Sidenote – GOLDEN HOUR PHOTOS: Even though you may have scheduled portraits of just your love and you earlier in the day, set aside 15 mins or so for “golden hour” (around 8pm during the summer) couple portraits. This is the MAGIC HOUR for pics to be made, where light is low in the sky, shimmery and GOLDEN, hence the name! Even if there’s no sun, I love doing what I call a “parting shot” or “end of night” shot to bring a nice close to the story of your day, so keep that in mind!
5. Allocating care and time for decor shots If you have invested time, effort and cost into flowers, the cake, desserts and your overall wedding decor, it makes sense that your photographer allocates enough time to document it all. For me, I like to ask my couples to make sure all their wedding stationeries (invitations, RSVPs, save-the-dates, menus, programs – anything created on paper!) are packed into an envelope and handed to me when I arrive (which I photograph at home after the wedding). I also request for the gown, shoes, accessories and any other pre-wedding details to be laid out by the bridesmaids so I can capture them before they are being worn.
Make sure some time, about 30 minutes to an hour, without travel/transition, is set aside after all the formals are done, to document the decor and details of the ceremony and reception areas before guests arrive so that everything looks fresh and inviting because couples rarely get to see the rooms before guests arrive. It’s a good memento to have in the way of photographs.
A time-saving efficiency tip would be to have one of your two photographers do family pictures, while the other scoots off to get the details before guests arrive. I usually prefer to get the details, leaving my second to finish the family photos since how details are shot is very driven by the photographer’s personal style.
6. How important are group formals to you? Are your families big or small? How about your wedding party? The bigger these groups are, the more time it takes to make sure they are photographed properly, and the more you will need to consider doing that First Look so as not to take too much time between ceremony and reception for pictures. In my case, I will ask my couples to consider only immediate family for the family formals, and to leave extended for reception. These are usually family who you consider to not mind getting dressed and ready and turning up for pictures two, sometimes three hours, before the ceremony. Parents, stepparents, siblings (and families if applies), grandparents.
7. Are you doing a send-off? If you are planning a send-off (sparklers, bubbles, lanterns, a nice limo to take you away), you will need your wedding photographer(s) to stay until the end of the night. I usually recommend my couples leave about 30 minutes before the party’s supposed to end. This is a nice way to signal that things are winding down.
8. How many guests are you having? My rule of thumb is that anything over 200 guests would automatically require a second photographer. I like making sure there’s enough coverage for a larger wedding, where I make the educated guess that many of the guests are invited by the parents of the couple. A second photographer would be able to help the couples’ parents by making sure their needs are taken care of photography-wise.
9. Feeding your wedding photographers. While we usually bring snacks like protein bars to a wedding, a hot meal goes a long way after a day of walking, climbing, running around with two heavy cameras and then some, and usually in the hot sun during the summer. This is something I discuss with my couples about over the course of the year’s planning, making sure they are aware that my team of two or three will need hot meals at dinner time, preferably before toasts so we can quickly eat and get back to our jobs. Most of the time, this is worked into our contracts as well. Talk to your caterers about vendor meal options.
10. Sales tax! There is some confusion sometimes over whether clients need to pay sales tax for wedding photography. Here in the state of Washington, sales tax IS required to be collected. Here is the official document from the Department of Revenue on the subject. The rate depends on where the final products are delivered. For Seattle mainly, it’s 9.6%. If you live out of state, we are not obligated to collect. So when thinking about your photography budget, work the rate in.
This is of course my list, and wedding photographers work very uniquely, each to their own style and rhythm. Feel free to add anything you might find helpful in the comments below. I welcome feedback!