Wedding photography is no easy venture. From capturing all the important moments to gathering family members together and coaxing shy couples into having their portraits taken, there is so much to do and remember. I thought I’d write this post to give prospective wedding photographers an idea of a wedding day schedule, and to inform couples of what to expect when they book their wedding photographer. Here’s how an average wedding day transpires for me.
8am (or earlier):
Early in the morning, I force myself out of bed, and gather together the formal clothes I put out the night before. I usually try to match my outfit to the wedding theme – in fact, for my most recent wedding I donned several layers of clothes, a pair of wellies, and a rain coat – but if I don’t know the theme then I wear something subtle and formal such as a dark dress or black trousers and a shirt.
After grabbing a hearty breakfast that will keep me going until after the ceremony, I check the contents of my camera bag, which I packed the previous day. I make sure that all of my essential lenses, my camera, my flashgun and lighting modifier, spare memory cards, and extra batteries are all present and correct, as well as the shot list, my mobile phone, and emergency snacks. After I’m 100% certain that everything is in place (which sometimes involves checking the bag multiple times as I’m a bit paranoid!), I grab my tripod and get going.
Part one – bride/groom prep:
If I’ve been booked for the whole day, the first part of this will consist of bride and groom prep. I arrive at the destination, knock on the door, and am usually greeted by a sea of bridesmaids, children, parents, makeup artists, hair stylists, and more. The bridal prep is always a little bit hectic, what with pre-wedding jitters and last-minute organising. For this part of the day, I tend to stay out of the way, photographing candid and natural moments as they occur. I also make sure to capture all those little details, such as flowers, bridesmaids’ gifts, jewellery, and whatever else there may be.
Once the bride and her maids are ready, I’ll try to get a quick portrait of them all together before they head to the wedding venue. I also ask them to give me a five minute head start, so that I can photograph their arrival.
I’m not always asked to photograph the groom prep, but on the rare occasion I make the journey over to the groom’s room, I’ve generally found it to be a lot calmer – and a lot sillier. I guess wedding stress manifests itself in different ways, and for the guys that usually means cracking jokes and goofing around.
Part two – the ceremony:
Regardless of how formal or casual the wedding ceremony is, I’m generally restricted to a small space at the venue. Registrars tend to ask you not to move around too much, so as not to distract them or the bride and groom. So, once I’ve photographed the bride arriving with her group, I head to my spot nearby the altar (usually in a corner, behind the registrar), and capture the bride as she walks down the aisle as well as the groom’s reaction. There have been a few weddings where I’ve had total free reign over where I stand, owing to the ceremony taking place outdoors, but it’s pretty rare.
I have a list (in my head, not a physical list) of must-have, can’t-miss shots to get during ceremonies. They’re the type of photograph where, if I missed them, I would literally never forgive myself for excluding such a vital part of a couple’s big day. I also try and get photographs of their guests’ reactions, and close-up shots of any little details at the venue. Once the ceremony is over, the registrars and the couple sign the official register, which I’m not allowed to photograph; I have to wait for the mock register to come out. When this is over and they are handed their marriage certificate, I head to the back of the aisle to capture them walking down it. Sometimes confetti is thrown, and other times the couple walk briskly away from the altar and towards the drinks before they can be ambushed by their elated friends and families.
Part three – formal and couple photographs
After everyone has had a couple of drinks and recovered from the excitement of the ceremony, it’s time to get the formal photographs. I usually try to find the loudest voice in the crowd to help me gather the necessary people together; failing that, I enlist the help of the best man and maid of honour. Formal photographs can take any amount of time between twenty minutes and an hour – or even longer than that depending on the size of the couples’ families – and, I’ll be honest, it’s usually a bit of a struggle getting everyone lined up and smiling. I have to take plenty of photos of each group to ensure I have at least one image where everybody’s eyes are open!
When the formal photographs are out of the way, I take the newlyweds away to get some lovely couple portraits of them. This is not only a great way to get photographs with that just-married glow, but also gives them a little bit of a break from their guests to just be romantic and in love. I don’t overly-pose my couples, or boss them around too much – I just want to capture their happiness. The only instructions I really give, in fact, are to move to a different spot so we have a change of backdrop, and to “kiss”, “look at each other”, “pull him/her nice and close”, or, most often, “ok now move just a little to the left… now a teeny bit to the right… alright, that’s great.” I’ll also make sure to help fluff up the dress so that it looks perfect in every shot.
The photos of the couple that I get right after the ceremony are usually my favourite photos from the whole day. I always try to keep them unique, regardless of whether I’m at the same venue I was at the week before, and I keep it nice and relaxed so that even the most camera-shy couple will come away with some lovely images to keep forever.
Part four – the details
In the period between the drinks reception and the food, the craziness dies down a bit. The guests are busy mingling and chatting, so it’s easy to get some candid photographs. As well as that, the evening/reception/dining room is usually empty, so it’s the perfect time to get photographs of all the little details the couple has worked so hard to get right. I tend to make a beeline straight for the cake, the decorations, the table centrepieces, and any floral embellishments around the room. Place settings and the gift table are also great elements to capture while they are still fresh and unused, as well as nice wide establishing shots of the exterior and interior of the venue.
Part five – food and speeches
Some people choose to do the speeches after the food, while others do them before food is served. I personally prefer the latter, because it means that after the speeches I get at least an hour to relax, eat, and refocus my energy.
Now, food is apparently quite a contentious subject between brides- and grooms-to-be. Do you feed the photographer? Where do you make them sit? What do they drink? If you’re currently trying to work this out, let me just give you my experience: out of all of the weddings I’ve photographed, there hasn’t been any where I haven’t been provided with food. And out of all the times I’ve been fed, there’s only been one time that I was asked to go to a separate room instead of eating with the rest of the guests. I don’t expect to be seated with the guests, but it is nice to be able to mingle with them, and it also means I can easily jump up and grab my camera if I spot a photo that needs taking. If I’m on the other side of the venue, it’s likely I’ll miss something - and that’s exactly what happened on that one occasion; while I was eating, I missed the vintage ice cream cart completely.
I always enjoy photographing the speeches, because it’s really fun to capture the reactions of the newlyweds and their guests. From laughter to tears, you’ll get it all during the speeches. I always make sure to stay out of the way with my 70-200mm lens so I’m not ruining the view for anyone, and move around the room to get a variety of angles.
Part six – cake, drinking, and dancing
Everyone really lets their hair down after the food. The initial nerves and excitement have dissipated, and everyone has refuelled for the night ahead. The first thing to come next is the cake cutting, which is generally quite easy to photograph as long as you prepare and test your lighting before the newlyweds make their way over. The first dance will follow shortly after the cake cutting; I usually photograph this using my 70-200mm lens once again, so that I can stay out of the way.
Whether or not I’ve been making use of my flashgun throughout the rest of the day, it definitely needs to be deployed for the first dance. While the dance floor is usually lit using spotlights and floodlights, they aren’t enough to illuminate the couple properly. I photograph the first dance using a mix of both fast shutter speeds and slow shutter speeds, so that I have a variety of super crisp images and slightly more stylised photographs with a hint of movement. If there’s a band playing, I also make sure to get some nice shots of them playing, sometimes with a wide angle so I can get the couple dancing in front of them.
The couple tends to then usher their friends and family onto the dance floor to join them, and after getting a nice selection of photographs of everyone dancing, that’s me finished. Sounds like a long day? It is! If it’s a free bar I’ll sometimes be a bit cheeky and have a beer while I pack my camera gear away (unless of course the couple really doesn’t want me to). I do a quick sweep of the venue to ensure I’ve not left any of my equipment behind, and then make my way to the newlyweds to offer my congratulations and let them know I’m off. This usually results in a hug from the bride, and a nod or handshake from the groom.
9pm (or later):
For me, a wedding usually ends at between 8:30-9pm, once I’ve made sure to get a few snaps of the guests dancing, and the band if there is one. When I get home, I make myself some food while the photographs copy over to my computer (photographing a wedding is hungry work!), and then eat the aforementioned food as the photos copy over to my back-up hard drive. Finally, after all the photos are safe and secure, I select three or four of my favourites, and edit them so I can send them over to the couple before their night ends. And then I fall into bed, tired but satisfied, ready to do it all over again next weekend.
And that’s how a wedding usually goes for me. There are exceptions to the rules, of course, such as when a couple has a super low-key wedding that doesn’t follow the traditional structure. But generally speaking, this is what the day in the life of a wedding photographer looks like.
Are you a wedding photographer? Do you have anything to add? Let me know in the comments below.