As a new wedding photographer, you may not be well-versed in the “anatomy” of a typical wedding. Even if you’ve attended as a guest in the past, there are “behind-the-scenes” aspects of weddings that most people never see (well, until you have a wedding of your own).
Often, brides and grooms will make the assumption that you have a general idea of how a wedding day should go. And they are right… you should! So here’s a very basic breakdown of the core aspects of a wedding, along with what might be expected of you.
Engagement Photo Shoot
This may or may not be something you’ve talked about with your bride and groom, and it’s not technically part of the wedding, but it’s definitely becoming much more common as an included feature of a wedding photography package. This will usually happen several months before the wedding, and the photos will be used for wedding announcements, wedding decor, and more.
Pre-wedding planning session
This is a meeting that you have with your bride and groom about 1-2 weeks prior to the wedding day, in order to talk about the details of your pre-wedding questionnaire. If you don’t know about the pre-wedding questionnaire, check out our previous post.
This happens the night before the wedding (usually), and isn’t typically a requirement for you to attend. However, as a brand new wedding photographer, you may want to ask to attend the rehearsal. You’ll get a really good sense of how the ceremony will be structured, and you may even be able to ‘practice’ photographing the church (or ceremony location). For your first wedding, I highly recommend this.
Wedding Day – Morning
On a wedding day, the guys and the girls typically get together as two separate groups. This is why having 2 photographers is beneficial — you’ll be able to get pre-wedding shots of both groups. Here’s a run-down of each of the group rituals:
The women usually start getting ready very early in the morning — even as early as 7am. All of the bridal party will be getting their hair done, as well as their make-up applied. It’s usually a very social event, where mothers, sisters, aunts and others are invited to visit (but the bridal party remains the focus!). As for photography, you should always aim to capture the “final touches” of hair and make-up. That is, you should only get pictures towards the end of each bride/bridesmaid’s appointment with the stylists. The reason for this is that most brides are not interested in seeing a “before and after” comparison — they want you to capture them at their best! For this reason, you may not be required to show up at the very beginning. You may be able to coordinate a time mid-morning that would allow you to show up and still get great photos.
Once everyone has their hair and make-up completed, they will start to get dressed in their dresses and gowns. If you are a male photographer (like I am), you may want to tell the group that you will step away for 10 minutes or so while they change their clothes. Doing so will obviously help you to avoid awkward (creepy) situations. Even if you are a female photographer, you should gauge the comfort level of the bridal party, and either put your camera down or assure them that you won’t be taking boudoir photos while they change. The one exception to this rule is for the Bride. While you will not photograph her “changing” into her dress, most brides LOVE pictures of the final steps of getting the dress on. Usually her mother or maid of honor will help zip or fasten the dress, and it’s almost always a very emotional moment that you should definitely capture. So, however you handle the “changing” portion, you should ask the bride to let you know when she’s ready to finish putting her dress on, so you can be there to photograph.
Groom / Groomsmen
Photographing the groom / groomsmen party is usually a lot more laid back — which is both a good thing and a bad thing. Men are usually much less interested in having their photos taken, so it’s sometimes easy to slack off with this group.
They will start getting ready a little later than the bridesmaids — often around mid-morning. Obviously they don’t have “hair and makeup” appointments, so they start by getting dressed (hopefully they all showered before they showed up). Again, I assure them that I won’t take any inappropriate pictures while they change (with guys, this is usually a hilarious conversion — where the inappropriate humor of the groom and his buddies becomes evident). Once they have their slacks and shirts on, the photography begins. You will want to ask for any details or accessories that have sentimental value — cufflinks, pocket watches, handkerchiefs, etc. I usually take these to the nearest window sill and focus on nice detail shots. Do the same with unique details like argyle socks, patterned ties, etc.
This is also a good time to photograph the guys adjusting cufflinks, helping each other with their ties, and folding handkerchiefs. Good old-fashioned male bonding!
Finally, I usually pull the groom aside when he is ready to put on his jacket, to make sure that I get really nice photos of him “completing the ensemble”
First Look (or No Look-First Look)
Becoming more and more common is the idea of a “first look” — which is an organized meet-up of the bride and groom before the ceremony (but after they have gotten ready). This is a very special and intimate moment between the bride and group, and should be done ALONE — no family members, no bridal party… just the bride, groom and photographer (and videographer). Sometimes this takes some tricky coordination, making sure people are where they are supposed to be. It’s recommended that you find a very nice-looking setting for this: on a pier, in an open field, under beautiful architectural structures, etc.
The ‘no look-first look’ is also an option for brides and grooms who choose NOT to see each other before their ceremony. This is where the bride and groom will be near each other, but not able to see each other. For example, on either side of a large door or partition, on two sides of an exterior corner of a building, etc. These can also make for some great, sentimental photos. Just be careful! You have to be OVERLY cautious to not let the bride and groom accidentally see each other.
Wedding Party Photos
If the bride and groom have a First Look, the wedding party photos usually also happen before the ceremony. If they isn’t a first look, these may happen after the ceremony.
You’ll need room to move people around, and get many different poses/variations, but this is a good opportunity for the bride and groom to choose the setting (BEFOREHAND) — if there is a covered bridge they love, or a stretch of forest, a barn, an urban area, or anything else that calls to the bride and groom, you should organize the group to travel to these locations for the wedding party photos. Not accounting for travel time, you should plan for at least an hour for this session.
These are usually done in conjunction with the wedding party photos, but are romantic, intimate photos of just the bride and groom. Again, they should have control over the settings, but you as the photographer are responsible for finding the ideal poses, and specific locations. For example, the bride may choose a park, but you must choose a section of the park without garbage cans or playground equipment. These pictures usually take about 45 minutes (not accounting for travel time)
Duh, this is the ceremony. The big moment. All ceremonies will be slightly different, but there is an overall structure that you can count on:
- Groom escorting mothers and grandmothers to their seats
- Entrance of the Groom
- Entrance of the wedding party
- Entrance of the Bride
- Groom’s reaction to the bride
- Some initial words by the officiant
- Some music
- If religious, there will be 2-3 biblical readings
- Words of advice / sermon from the officiant
- Exchanging the vows
- Exchanging the rings
- Final words
- THE KISS
- Bride/Groom exit
- Wedding party exit
- “The getaway” — Where the bride/groom exit the church and have glitter or rice or bubbles thrown by their guests.
Usually taking place directly after the ceremony, group photos of immediate and extended family are next. Almost always, these take place in the church, or very close to the location of the ceremony. This can be a hectic, stressful time, but if you planned the family configurations ahead of time (using the pre-wedding questionnaire), you will do fine. TIP: With large parties, you will have to lower your aperture to F/5.6 or higher to ensure that everyone is in focus. Even then, I ALWAYS place my focal point on the BRIDE. If anyone’s face loses a little detail, it should not be the couple in the center.
The first thing to do at the reception is to get detail photos of all of the decor and trinkets used in the venue. It’s important to do this early, because once the guests start to file in, they will touch everything, and mess up the “perfectly staged” venue. The general rule: “If they paid for it, take a picture of it.” That means the details all the way down to chair sashes and napkin rings — photograph EVERYTHING.
The bridal party will be announced by the DJ as they enter — you’ll want to get photos of each couple as they walk in.
Then, like the ceremony, the order of events varies, but there are a few core events that you should be prepared for:
- Toasts / Grace
- Dinner (yes, photograph the food)
- First Dance
- Dad/Daughter dance
- Mother/Son dance
- Cutting the Cake
- Bouquet/Garter Toss
Do not leave the ceremony until you’ve photographed everything that was planned. Even if you have to stay a (short) while after your agreed end time, it’s your job to document all of the important events. This doesn’t mean you have to stay until the very end. Usually, we end around 9-10, and the guests continue to dance/socialize late into the night.
And that’s it! That’s what a wedding looks like behind the curtain to a new wedding photographer. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section!