My wedding guide is a jam-packed collection of recommendations and tips from my experience over the years as a wedding photographer. The purpose of this guide is to help couples get the best possible photos out of their wedding day, from finding the perfect getting ready location to figuring out just how many different family photos you really need. This guide also acts as a basic wedding day timeline, as the different parts of the day are organized in the order of how a typical wedding day would flow. At the end of each section I've included a recommended amount of time for photography. This is to help you out when it comes to your timeline planning, as you might be wondering how much time getting ready photos take or how big of a window you should schedule for family portraits.
Often overlooked in terms of importance, the hours spent getting ready in the morning can make for some truly memorable photos with just a bit of extra effort. The main thing to consider is where exactly you’ll both be getting ready. If you’re getting ready at a house, make sure you choose a large, clutter-free room that gets lots of natural light. Bonus if that room has a neutral wall colour. If you're booking a hotel room for a couple of nights and are considering getting ready there, upgrading to a hotel like the Andaz or Le Germain is always worth it. You could also look into Airbnb's as sometimes there'll be places that are super nice or unique.
Upon arriving, I'll take a few minutes to capture the details; the wedding dress, earrings, necklaces, shoes, wedding invitations, vows, flowers, rings, ties, cufflinks, boutonnieres, etc. All these details when styled together can make for some beautiful flat lay photos, as shown above. It’s best to have all of these things together for when I arrive so that nothing is missed when I start photographing. A quick tip on styling, instead of hanging the bride's dress on an ordinary plastic hanger, use a nice wooden hanger instead. It’s a small purchase but it's things like this that can make a big difference in photos.
After photographing the details, I'll start taking photos of the getting ready process which normally begins when the makeup application starts. It’s best to get ready by the windows as natural light is much more flattering than artificial lighting, especially when it comes to skin tones. Remember to take your time when putting everything on, as these little moments are important moments.
Lastly, it's time to think about when you'll schedule the getting ready photos. If you schedule the getting ready photos after one another instead of at the same time, I can begin at the first location and then head to the second afterwards. This way you can avoid having to add on a second photographer. If you’ve already decided to add on a second photographer, then I will most likely photograph the bride's getting ready while the second photographer covers the groom's getting ready photos.
Recommended amount of time for the bride's getting ready photos:
Recommended amount of time for the groom's getting ready photos:
Many couples like to do a ‘first look’ on their wedding day. A first look is a scheduled moment where you and your partner get to see each other for the very first time before the ceremony, instead of the more traditional first look which happens down the aisle. Personally, I'm a big fan of doing first looks as they always turn out to be an emotional and beautiful series of photos. If you’re not into the idea of doing a first look, that’s totally ok!
There’s lots of ways to do a first look. Preferably, you’ll want to do it somewhere in private (and in shade) that’s away from family and friends. The more intimate the moment can be, the better. I'll be more than happy to help pick out a spot for your first look and of course to help set it all up. Sometimes brides will also do a first look with their father, something to consider!
Recommended amount of time for first look photos: 10-20 minutes
Formal portraits are when all of the different family group photos take place. These group portraits won’t be the most exciting or artistic photos from your wedding day, but I understand how important they can be. From my experience, I strongly recommend scheduling these photos to take place before the ceremony. Trying to find people and organize the different group options during cocktail hour can become challenging and time consuming very quickly. Even if it's not possible to do all of the family portraits before the ceremony, trying to get as many done beforehand will free up more time for you to actually enjoy cocktail hour.
To help minimize the amount of time that the family portraits can take up, it’s best to have a list prepared with of all the different group options. I recommend trying to keep this list on the shorter side where possible.
I strongly recommend enlisting someone who can help me organize the groups and keep track of which ones have been done, usually this is a bridesmaid or a groomsmen. Below is a simple group list example:
- Couple with one partner's immediate family, and vice versa
- Couple with one partner's parents, and vice versa
- Couple with siblings
- Couple with grandparents
- Couple with friends
Recommended amount of time for formal portraits: 10-30 minutes
If your dream ceremony is taking place outdoors, I’d recommend scheduling it to start later in the day. The sun will be lower in the sky and the light will be softer and more flattering. The exact time will depend on the time of year of course, but I'm more than happy to help figure out the ideal start time for your wedding day. If your ceremony is taking place mid-day, the light could look extremely harsh if you don't luck out with an overcast day. If you have the choice, have your ceremony set up so that you and your partner are in a shaded area when you’re standing up at the altar with the sun back-lighting you. The bottom line when it comes to outdoor ceremony lighting is to either commit to being completely in the shade or completely in the sun.
Churches and other indoor ceremony venues are a different story when it comes to light as there’s usually very little control over the lighting, if any at all. If there isn't much available natural light, then these photos will probably come out grainier than the other photos from your wedding day.
I always strongly recommend that my couples do an ‘unplugged’ ceremony, meaning that guests are asked to refrain from taking any photos with their cellphones, cameras, or iPads (yes, even iPads). I recommend this for a couple of reasons, with the main reason being there's always the unfortunate possibility that a phone might get in my way resulting in missed moments and ruined photos.
The added benefit is that your guests are fully present for your ceremony and not distracted by their devices. If you agree that an unplugged ceremony is the way to go, then just make sure to have the officiant announce it to all guests once they’re seated as sometimes signage isn't enough.
The next few recommendations are for when you and your partner are up front and center stage. Speaking of center stage, stand in the middle of the aisle and make sure that you're lined up with the alter. Take your time when putting on the rings as this is a really special, intimate moment. It's a great idea to practise for your official first kiss; try not to tilt your heads too much and think about your hand placement (waist, neck, etc). Hold your kiss for at least a second or two as sometimes the officiant will still be trying to make their way out of the frame. I highly recommend kissing a second time just to ensure that the officiant is clear of the background and also so that I can get a different angle.
The wedding recessional (when you walk down the aisle as a married couple) is an amazing opportunity to capture some great moments and emotions. I recommend taking it slowly, making sure you're looking at each other (not at the ground) and holding hands. A great idea is to consider pausing half way down the aisle for another kiss, or even a dip! Asking guests to throw confetti, flower petals, or to blow bubbles is something to consider adding to this exciting moment.
Average ceremony length: 15-30 minutes
WEDDING PARTY PORTRAITS
The wedding party portraits traditionally take place after the ceremony, but they can also be done beforehand to free up time during cocktail hour. Sometimes I'll take group portraits of the bride with her bridesmaids and then the groom with his groomsmen immediately after their getting ready photos are finished. In the scenarios where I don't have time to, we can simply do those photos during the wedding party portraits. If you have any ideas you wanted to try out or have some inspiration photos saved for the wedding party portraits, please let me know! Otherwise we can just go with the flow.
Below are the different wedding party group portraits that I traditionally take at every wedding:
- Couple with full wedding party, plus variations
- Bride with bridesmaids
- Bride with each individual bridesmaid
- Groom with groomsmen
- Groom with each individual groomsmen
Recommended amount of time for wedding party portraits: 20-30 minutes
Your newlywed portraits generally happen after all the family and wedding party photos have finished. Depending on your wedding day plans and your venue, we'll probably have some locations picked out beforehand or I'll already have a few in mind. Before beginning, I recommend that you and your partner take a moment to relax, freshen up, and to look each other over to make sure all the little details are in order. I always like to make sure that you're both looking your best before the photos start; tie is straight, boutonniere isn't falling off, dress is fluffed, etc.
My approach to taking your portraits is a blend of providing prompts and giving subtle direction while capturing natural moments in between. When you hear my camera firing away, just focus on you and your partner. These photos will mostly consist of you two walking, sitting, and sometimes posing with a mix of wide, close-up, and candid shots–I also love to do individual portraits. If you have any ideas you wanted to try out or have some inspiration photos saved for your portraits, please let me know!
Recommended amount of time for your couple's portraits: 30-45 minutes
Receptions are interesting when it comes to lighting as they generally transition from day to night, from natural to artificial light. At some point during the reception I’ll start using my on-camera flash to compensate for the lack of natural light after the sun goes down.
My biggest recommendation is to have additional lighting which could look like hanging up strings lights and using candles. You don’t have to put string lights and candles everywhere, just concentrate on the two most photographed locations which are the head table and wherever the speeches will be taking place. With that in mind, make sure you choose a nice spot for the speeches, somewhere with a clean background.
Once dinner starts being served, you might notice that I won’t be up and shooting quite as much. While photos of people eating aren't typically very flattering, I will still be getting wide scenic shots of the reception space, detail shots of the food and decor, and of course photos of the speeches and candid reactions. I don’t mind being seated at a table with guests, but I do prefer to have a spot that’s out of the way where I can leave my equipment.
I recommend scheduling the photography coverage to end around 15-30 minutes into the open dance floor. After that, I'll check in with you to make sure we're all good to go before packing up and calling it a night.
Average reception length: 2-4 hours
SUNSET & SEND-OFF PORTRAITS
Saving the best for last. I will always recommend to my couples that they include a time slot for sunset portraits or at the very least, some quick end of the night 'send-off' portraits. This consists of taking 10-20 minutes to jump out right before the sun sets. I’ll let you know beforehand what time the sun will be setting at on your wedding day, and I'll be keeping an eye on it and communicating with you when we should start the photos.
What are 'send-off' portraits exactly? These are simply some quick, final photos of you and your partner to wrap up your wedding day. Sparkler exits are a very popular way to finish off photos for the night but these shots can really be anything; you and your partner on the dance floor, kissing while sitting at your table with the reception space in the background, jumping outside for a final kiss with on-camera flash, etc.
Suggested time for sunset & send-off portraits: 10-20 minutes
If there's only one thing you takeaway from all of this, it's to remember that weddings usually never go 100% according to schedule. There are so many moving parts that it’s basically inevitable things won’t happen exactly as planned. Keep a positive and open mindset, don’t sweat the small stuff, and remember to just have fun as the day will go by in the blink of an eye.