Dear Bride: Tips from a Photographer

First off, let me congratulate you on this awesome milestone! Now that you’re engaged, you have started the planning process: looking into venues, and dates, finding your dress, picking your bridesmaids, a ring bearer, and a flower girl. Remember, this is your day and you’ll have memories of this day for the rest of your life and you want those memories preserved in photos.

Now, photos are important. I’m far from a professional — focusing more on low budget weddings — but I’ve done quite a few weddings. Below are my observations, things I’ve learned, and the mistakes I’ve made along the way. Remember that these are my opinions but these are all points I like to stress to my clients.

Research Photographers

Seriously. We all have friends that take photos and you absolutely love the idea of either free or really cheap photography work for an already expensive wedding. However, it’s easier to contest the quality of service provided with a stranger than a friend. You’ll never have to work with that stranger again but it’s tougher water to navigate when it’s a friend. I thankfully haven’t been there yet — knock on wood — but should that ever arise it’s nice to know you still have their friendship.

Once you settle on a venue, ask them if they have a relationship with any photographers. These photographers likely know how the events of a wedding progress at the venue and everything should be fairly hands off on your part. Of course, do your due diligence and ask for a portfolio of their work and talk to them personally.

I say this because everyone knows someone who takes photos. The contact at the venue might refer their friend who just got a camera rather than a proper photographer. You’ll be really, really, bummed on the day of your wedding if the “recommended photographer” is not prepared, clueless, and you get some crappy photos a few weeks later. By seeing the photographers work and talking to them, you should be able to get a good feel for them. Ask about the photographers relationship with the venue, how many weddings they’ve photographed there, and if there is anything that would make their job easier.

Just because they’re the venues recommended photographer, doesn’t mean they can request special accommodations from the venue. They still need to work within your package and selections. The photographer may suggest what you need to include but it’s ultimately on you to decide, and they’ll have to work with that.

Bring The Photographer Along

If you have your own photographer in mind for the wedding, invite them along when you visit the venue. You make a few trips out to the wedding venue to look at options and layouts so invite the photographer along for one of those visits. I personally like to go out to a venue a few months before hand with the bride while plans are finalized. This let’s me voice my opinion and propose changes before anything is firm.

You may not be a fan of that, and it’s fine. You are not obligated to do that and it’s an extremely polite gesture. Though, depending on your photographer, it may be an additional charge for their time to see the venue. I have done weddings where the first time I saw the venue was during the rehearsal and even on the day of the wedding. However, I’ve certainly enjoyed the results of the photos better when I have an introduction to the venue way in advance; it let’s me see what I’ll be dealing with.

I did a wedding once where additional lights were an extra charge. The bride and groom weren’t going to pay for those lights but after I pointed it out, and a few sample photos, they were convinced to go with the additional lighting. I could have compensated with a flash but the fact was their Sweetheart slash Newlywed table was in the dark, which would have made the toasts difficult to see by the guests; they would have been able to hear people talking but seeing them would have been hard.

It’s also a really big couresty. You’re showing the photographer the venue far enough in advance because you want them to be prepared. Maybe you can’t afford the light package from the venue, or maybe the venue doesn’t have any additional lights. As a photographer, knowing that months in advance is amazing. We’ll be able to use the money you’re paying us towards renting better equipment.

The Rehearsal

This is another thing I encourage you to invite the photographer to. You don’t need to invite them to the rehearsal dinner, just the ceremony. This gives the photographer the layout of your wedding. What’s happening and when, who walks in from where, etc etc. They’ll take sample shots as the bridal party walks through the ceremony a few times. It’s usually a plus to hand them the shot list a few days before the rehearsal; during this time the photographer is checking locations and seeing what angle works best for each photo on that list.

A wedding I did, I told the bridal party that they were walking in to fast and to close together. The bride wanted photos of the bridesmaids and groomsmen as they walked in together but their pace and timing made it difficult. Everyone was happy to adjust and work something out.

Don’t be afraid to ask the photographer to see the photos. You are welcome to provide feedback to them as well. If you want the photographer in a certain place for a certain event so they can capture the moment in a particular way, let them know. This is what the rehearsal is for.

Seating

This is a small and minor nitpick. Photos look really bad if there’s no one sitting in the aisle seats. Have a family member, the wedding planner, the venue coordiantor, or someone ask all guests to move to the middle. The perk is that the venue will look fuller when the photographer is shooting down the aisle. This isn’t a huge issue and when guests stand up, such as when you’re walking in and walking out, the seating tends to look a little emptier anyways.

Remember to Relax

I’ve got to say it. Not everything is going to go to plan. I had a bride who wanted to do group photos about 1000 feet from where the ceremony was. However, after the ceremony she was too hot, her feet hurt, and she was not in the mood to walk that far.

I ended up telling her to sit down and breathe while I figured out a solution. I had to think on my feet and come up with a location close by that would be suitable for group photos. We ended up walking about 100 feet to a bridge and doing the photos there. It wasn’t ideal as it was the only way in to and out of the ceremony area so we had to deal with foot traffic and guests wanting to take their own photos.

Take things in stride, I understand you want everything to go perfect but a lot of awesome memories stem from unplanned moments. Another wedding I did, the playlist got mixed up. They didn’t have a DJ so they used an MP3 player and speakers. Somehow the first dance song wasn’t correct but instead of getting upset, and letting it ruin her day, the bride and groom improvised and danced like nobody was watching. It was great. I’m friends with that couple and they still talk about that mix-up in a positive way.

Group Photos

Please, make it clear to your guests that group photos are for specific guests only. It’s really hard to work my way down the shot list to get all the photos of your family members and bridal party in 70 different combinations if guests come up for their own photos too. It takes time away and prolongs other activities if guests want to include themselves in the group photos.

It also makes it difficult because you will also have more cameras pointed at you, so you and the group are unsure of where to look. I make a commanding countdown so everyone knows I’m taking a photo and to look my way, but at least one person will be looking at a different camera in a few shots. So it’s easier if I’m the only one taking the photos.

Also, think of the elders. I try to rearrange the shot list so the elderly are in and out ASAP but I don’t know the health and abilities of your family. Maybe Great Grandma Mary is perfectly capable of walking around but Uncle Carl can’t sit and stand a bunch in a short amount of time. So order the group shot list as best you can so there is less shuffling going on.

It’s ideal to do group photos were the ceremony was held, while the guests move over to the reception but some venues have the ceremony and reception in the same general area, which makes it hard to seperate the group photos from the guests. If that’s the case, delegate a few people to keep guests corralled and another person to fetch family members and bridal party members when it’s time for photos; you can ask that those who are getting their photo taken to stay behind but some of the bridal party and family members will wander away and mingle with guests.

Plan for Certain Photos Twice

As a photographer, there are some things I don’t want to intrude on. One example being the first kiss. I’m not going to get all up in your business in front of your guests. I’ll instead linger at the back of the room and get a wide shot of you in front of everyone, I may even be behind you, getting the guests faces during this moment. Another one is the rings. I’m not going to get up close of this happening in front of your guests.

Instead, we do the close up and detail shots after the ceremony. After all the guests leave, the bridal party comes back in and we retake a few shots. This is also where we can slip in the group photos.

Additionally, if you have any traditions — lighting candles, pouring sand, stomping on a glass, etc — then plan on bringing two and doing it twice. One for the ceremony and another for the detail and close up shots.

The Photographers Equipment

Things happen. I’ve had things happen. A camera decides to stop working, the photographer forgets to charge batteries, a lens falls and breaks when they’re putting the lens on the camera. Just double check that the photographer has back up equipment. You don’t want the photographer to tell you the pictures stopped during the ceremony.

I always bring a few cameras, plenty of lenses, and tons of memory cards to each wedding. I actually had a lens fall and it would no longer focus. It was my best lens too, which sucked, but I just put on another lens and went about the wedding. The bride never knew and I was still able to take quality photos.

I’ve had batteries that were on the charger but failed to charge. But that’s why I have 6 batteries for my camera and multiple chargers. If all 6 batteries fail to charge then I have the a back up camera with batteries.

Just ask the photographer about their equipment. They might spew out a bunch of letters, numbers, and terms. So ask them about how many camera bodies they usually bring and as well as lenses.

I’ve even had problems arise in the days leading up to a wedding. So I’d overnight rentals or purchases so I can deliver on my contract. Another wedding I did was super dark. But it was outdoors so there wasn’t much the venue could do. I discovered this during the rehearsal, which was the day before the wedding. I went out right after the rehearsal and got the equipment I needed.

Additional Photographers

This would fall on the photographer. The photographer should have a network of others who they can select from. You’re can ask for a selection of the photographers choices and pick the additional photographer yourself but I find this to be a bit overbearing and enters micromanagement territory. I generally trust the person I’m hiring to bring along quality workers; such as if I’m sourcing out a carpet renonvation, I don’t ask the company for a list of workers I just let the company send who’s available.

I had a wedding where the bride wanted a second photographer and recommended someone for me to reach out to. I took a look at her portfolio and sent an offer. We coordinated and she focused on the bride getting ready while I focused on the groom. We then split duties up during the ceremony and reception. I did the group shots while she photographed the guests mingling around.

In the end I got all her photos and edited them as if they were my own. I used her photos on my website portfolio and put her name on them (as to not pass off her work as mine). I did this because it’d be a little weird to have some obviously missing photos from a particular wedding, like only having photos of the groom getting ready but none of the bride. The second photographer got to keep and edit her photos as she wanted but it was clear that my edits would be part of the wedding package and that she could only post her photos after I had given the bride the photo package.

Definetly expect to pay more for additional photographers. As the main photographer has to pay the additional photographers for their time. As well as additional costs related to storage and editing time.

The Cost

This is really hard to give a tip on but I’ll do my best to at least get you in the ballpark. You should budget 10% of the wedding to the photographer. I’m not saying you should share your wedding budget with the photographer but if a photographer is going to charge $6,000 for a $20,000 wedding, you should reconsider your choice of photographer.

Of course, that’s not a steadfast rule. If the photographer does really great work and you love the photos they have in their portfolio and knew what they charged so you specifically budgeted for that, then by all means that’s your decision. It’s also your decision to pay a couple hundred dollars too.

I’d definetly consider photographs the second most important part of the wedding right after the venue. In the end, no one is going to remember the music. That’s not a diss on DJ’s but photographs get shared a lot more than videos, photos are printable and get hung on a wall; photos are just ulitimately so much easier to share and digest.

Great photos will really shine, so paying more for an exceptional photographer is something to weigh more heavily.

This advice can work when choosing a videographer.

I know first hand about how expensive a photographer can be because I’ve seen those reactions. Let’s say it’s $2,000 for a photographer, which seems like a lot. But keep in mind they’re doing a lot of work. For me, I’m onsite from about 10am to 11pm. Sometimes I start earlier and sometimes I end later. Photograghing the bride getting ready, with her make up and hair, photographing her maid of honor and mom zipping up or buttoning the back of her dress. I also bounce over to the groom and get him doing his tie, and other stuff.

Then we have to edit photos, which can take a few weeks. Speaking for myself, I probably put in 40 or more hours of work. Which brings us to $50 an hour for a $20,000 wedding with a photographer being paid 10% of that. The photographer also has to pay taxes and other business expenses, so their real-world take home is a bit less. That’s just for the photographers time, not for any additional services like photo books and framed photos.

So, always be wary of people who will photograph for really cheap.

Get a Contract

This is super important. The contract is there to protect the photographer as it does protect you. Always look over the contract in advance. If you’ve got a couple photographers you are trying to decide between take a look at their contracts. A good contract should make expectations clear.

For example, you should have a shot list that you’ve given your photographer. What happens if the photographer misses a few of those shots? What if the photographer can’t make it because they are hospitalized?

I have missed shots. My contract covers this too. There was a time where I was set up to get the first kiss as it happened. I was a little farther back in the aisle to get a wide angle shot when a guest stood up and entered the shot, subsequently blocking it too. Yes, I can reposition — and I did — but it’s still a ruined shot. I can get the bride and groom kissing but the guest may still be in the shot as well.

If I’m hospitalized, my contract allows me to send a substitute photographer at no expense to the client. If the client declines the substitute photographer, then they are reimbursed the fees they’ve paid me.

If I’m in an accident on my way home for the wedding, and my car plummets into a lake or something. I do my best to keep the photographs protected, for example my memory cards are kept in a watertight case. Things happen and maybe the sealing on the case failed. It’s important to know how to proceed should these happen.

My contract also has fields for the venue location, date and time. The time the client wants me to arrive and where. As well as contact information for the client so I can reach them. I also include the amount they are paying me. This is so it’s clear where I need to be and when and how much the client is paying me.

You can go to the photographer and say “Hey, you lost X photos due to an ‘Act of God.’ According to your contract I need to be reimbursed X% of my fee. Maybe their contract says that you don’t get any reimbursement. It’s really good to know what you’re signing before you sign it.

In Conclusion

  • A photographer is one of the most important parts of your wedding.
  • Make a point to meet any recommended photographer in person and review their portfolio
  • Guests will be nosey and intrusive, so seperate yourself from them when you are taking photos
  • Make sure your photographer has back up equipment.
  • Plan for certain photos twice (such as traditions), once during the ceremony and again afterwards.
  • Ask if your photographer can attend the rehearsal
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for input from the photographer, or give input to them
  • Photographs are really important, so don’t skimp on the photographer
  • Read and sign a contract!

Photography & Technology is my thing.