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A Photographer’s Perfect Wedding Day: Getting Perfect Photos the Entire Day

I’ve often blogged about how to make the most out of your wedding photos.  I’ve ranted and raved about family photo timing on a wedding day is important and how to choose the best bridesmaid is important for your schedule.  I’ve discussed why engagement photos are so important and talked candidly about where the photographer sits during dinner.  I’ve tackled the subject of videographer vs. photographer and been very, very open about the pros and cons of having two photographers as well as the near disasters that can happen with strapless dresses.  Today; however, I’m putting it all together.  I am going to describe for you what a photographer’s perfect wedding day would be.  I’ll tell you a story of scenarios that can result in getting perfect photos the entire day.  It may be a tad of a fairy tale and not always possible, but like any fairy tale, it does have a happy ending.

With the Boys

Even if there were two photographers, I like to visit everyone myself and not split up.  It’s so much nicer for me to be able to see the whole story of the day – from start to finish – instead of having it divided between two people.

I’d arrive at the guys house; their suits would be hanging, shoes already shined and pocket squares folded.  Most importantly, however, the guys would actually want to be photographed.  Everyone would be showered and all shaved except for the groom.  I’d capture a few images as he starts his prep; a nice clean and spacious bathroom.  The room where he’s getting ready would be large, spacious and filled with plenty of natural light.  His best man and would help him out as dad looked on.  No need to do any formal images; the boys will take their time to relax, enjoy a cigar and a drink (who cares if it’s morning?) before they have to head to the church early to usher people.  Once his suit is on, it’s time for me to head to the girls.

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With the Girls

Her location won’t be too far from his – 10 minutes, tops.  She’s getting ready in a hotel room… but not just any hotel room, something that is truly marvelous and magical.  A large suite at the Ritz-Carlton or the Trump Hotel.  Something with plenty of natural light, neutral coloured walls and tastefully decorated.  There would be 1 hair artist per 2 girls and 1 makeup artist per 2 girls.  Everyone in the 1st round would be ready by the time I arrive; round 1 should include anyone whose helping the bride get ready.  Round 2 will begin as I’m unpacking my gear.  I’d find all the bridesmaid dresses and the bridal dress hanging nicely in an uncluttered room.  The remainder of the details is all located nearby, for my convenience.  (That would be shoes, flowers, invitations, jewelry, etc.)

I’d photograph all the details in a room filled with natural light and then head out to get some candids of the ladies.  By this time, hair would be 80% finished and everyone would have finished their coffee.  All the round 1 ladies will go and put their dresses, shoes and jewelry on shortly as they need to be ready first, before they help the bride into her dress.  Makeup would start and more images taken; once the bride is ready to put on her dress, hair and makeup would start cleaning up and putting away – saving just enough equipment for their touch-ups.  Hair and makeup need natural light – as does the photographer.  I can’t expect them to do their job in the dark but I also can’t be expected to be limited to the only window without stuff in front of it; a speedy cleanup allows us to share the space without causing a delay in the bride’s schedule.

The maid of honour and mom would help the bride into her dress – the others would stay hidden.  The maid of honour and mom will have practiced how to tie up the dress so there’s no arguing, stressful faces or frustrated glares during this time (it happens more often than you’d think).  Once the bride is ready, dad would come up and take a quiet moment to see his daughter.  The bridesmaids would then come in and have their first look, too.

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At the Ceremony

Whether it be a church or a non-denominational area, the area would be brightly lit with natural light and a beautiful carpet would line the aisle.  Decor fastened to the chair/pews would compliment the wedding party as they walked down the aisle.  Not a single person would lean into the aisle.  Not a single person would hold their iPad in front of my camera.  Not a single person would get out of their seats and hover over my shoulder.  Everything would just be truly present in the moment and appreciate why they have gathered together.

The ceremony would be relatively quick – 30 minutes, tops.  The bride and groom would be perfectly centered at the front of the church and the wedding party carefully aligned, flanking the couple, also at the front.  The wedding party as well as mom & dad would, again, be truly present.  Watching, reacting and taking it all in.  Letting their emotions show whether it be a few tears or just a killer smile.  The kiss would be more than just a peck and the couple would walk down the aisle, as husband and wife, with the biggest, brightest smiles all without being photobombed by their guests.

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The Formal Photos

I’m indifferent as to whether or not the formal photos should take place before or after the ceremony so long as there is sufficient time for them to take place.  The formal photos would take place in an indoor location that has the opportunity for both dramatic, artistically lit and composed images as well as soft, naturally lit images as well as a small outdoor area for additional images to be captured if weather is co-operative.  It would be a location that is versatile; something that has a variety of backdrops to work with both in the indoor and outdoor areas.  Ideally with beautiful chairs or stairs to help pose the larger groups.

Attitudes would be that of excitement, happiness and celebration.  There would be no griping about the cost of a photography permit as the clients would understand and respect that access to locations such as this are associated with a rental fee and that this fee is an investment into their wedding photographs.  The wedding party would be there to support the bride and groom; happy to be posed for quick photos and willing to smile without any eye rolls or sarcastic remarks.

We would start with family photos – keeping them easy and simple.  Deciding which family photos to take on your wedding day can be challenging, but with proper communication and understanding of time restrictions, a solution can be reached that keeps all as happy as possible.  Family members would all be on time and be respectful of the space required for photos; not taking out their own cameras and shooting over my shoulder.  There would be no crowd of other guests that are just there to watch; we would have privacy to ensure that everyone’s attention is on the professional camera and for us to be as efficient as possible.

The wedding party photos would follow; starting with more formal images and then getting creative.  Wedding party members wouldn’t be afraid to sit on the ground, stand up on a bench or lean against one another for some fun poses.  There would be no cell phones or wallets in pockets or last minute decisions to touch-up makeup that could have been touched up earlier, during the family photos.  Anyone with other obligations (children, last minute tasks for the reception, etc.) would have made arrangements prior to the day for those obligations to be handled by someone else for the very brief period of time it takes for the formal photos to happen.  Again, attention towards the professional camera is the first step towards ensuring that your images look as great as they can.

We would then have ample time to photograph the bride and groom – at least 45 minutes if not a full hour.  Although all may be getting a little tired, we would keep the energy up as much as possible and keep the day focused on celebrations, fun and love.  It won’t be long, now, until the cocktail hour!

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The Reception

The bride and groom would arrive mid-way through their cocktail hour and after a quick freshen up, spend the next half hour greeting their guests.  There would be absolutely no receiving line.  While the bride and groom freshen up, I would sneak into the reception hall and photograph all the details.  The lighting director, DJ, and venue would be aware of the time that this would happen and would ensure that everything is in place in time for the details to be captured.  The largest part of a wedding budget is spent on the reception and it’s important to have photos of this without venue staff in the background.

The head table would be on a riser – but one that is only 1 – maybe 2 – steps high.  Being too high off the ground means the images of you are taken from a low angle – an angle that isn’t all that flattering.  There would only be 1 head table, despite how large the wedding party is.  Layered tables never photograph well.  The backdrop would be colourful – anything but white or neutral. Light would be used as a decorative element and although the room would be brightly lit, the lighting would still be very dramatic and set a wonderful mood and ambiance for the day.  There would be; however, no pot lights directly over the head table as these would create unflattering shadows on the wedding party.  Ideally, there should be neutral colour spotlights (not warm coloured) on the head table.

In lieu of a traditional parquet flooring dance floor, opt to decorate the floor with a custom vinyl monogram to keep a fresh and unique element to your reception.  The speech podium would be at ground level and the background behind the podium would be considered.  (Podiums often end up in front of an exit door or some other not-so-pretty background)  The photographer would be given a place to sit within the reception room itself, ideally close to a wall, so that gear can be left in an accessible area throughout the course of the evening.

The first dance would occur upon entering the hall – before dinner.  The bride and groom would dance to the entire song and not cut if off short.  They would dance in the center of the dance floor and all the guests would remain seated during this time.  The couple wouldn’t necessarily need to take dance lessons, but having a little bit of fun on the dance floor makes for really interesting pictures.

Speeches would occur in between courses and be kept short; maid of honour, best man, parents and bride and groom.  All the wedding party would remain at the table for speeches and avoid bringing purses and clutter to the head table as this will be there in all the photos.  Come the end of dinner, the parent dances would occur and the dance floor would then immediately open.  There would be no “centerpiece giveaway” game.  These games are very redundant for guests and rarely change from wedding to wedding and they are very time consuming for your schedule as they can take up to 30 minutes from start to finish.  Despite being told by some that these games will get people on the dance floor, it’s simply not true.  Your adult guests are independent thinkers – if they don’t want to dance, they won’t.  They can’t be “tricked” into it. A great DJ will know what songs to play to get people up on the dance floor; allow them the opportunity to play songs that they feel will work for the crowd.  Aside from a great DJ, the best way to get people dancing is for the bride and groom to get on, and stay on, the dance floor.

At some point in the evening, once it’s dark, if there’s a place to capture an amazing night photo, time should be made for such.  Not all photographers are able to shoot night images and if your photographer has this in their repertoire, don’t miss the opportunity.  This can take 10-15 minutes depending on how many locations and poses you want.

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Final thoughts…

Okay, so you’re probably pretty overwhelmed.

Just remember, though, that just because your wedding day may not follow this article exactly doesn’t mean your pictures won’t be great.  This article is a case extremes – the most extremely awesome scenarios in which to photograph a wedding.  Rarely does an entire wedding day follow this exactly and as a wedding photographer, we make it work.  Whether it means using flash when we would really prefer not to or having to rush through portraits in order to stay on time, we do what we have to to make it work.  It’s just unfortunate that having to accommodate to sub-optimal conditions can affect the overall quality of the photos.

Don’t forget: wedding photos are a very important part of your wedding day.  They will be your lasting memories of a day that wrote the first chapter of your lives together.  When given the opportunity to maximize your potential for awesome wedding day photos… take it!  It will be a decision you never regret.


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