How to Make Your Wedding Photos the Best They Can Be: 10 Tips from the Trenches

(I found this article on the facebook page of Krista Lee, a friend and Nashville based wedding photographer. I thought the article was so good and would be of such value to couples that I help, that I asked Krista if I could publish her article here.  You will find her straight-talk invaluable and if you follow her advice will assure accomplishing what both you and your photographer want – the best wedding photos possible! Read and enjoy some of Krista’s wedding photographs, and check out her website for more examples of her stunning photographs)

I know that there are a million articles on do’s and don’ts when it comes to your wedding photography.  But being that I am down in the trenches every weekend, with hundreds of weddings now under my belt I thought I might write a very frank article on the most common issues I see on a regular basis.

Take it or leave it, but I see these issues WAY too often and they can make or break your photos!  As your photographer, you and I have the same goal: to end the day stress free, happy, and with gorgeous photos!  We want nothing more than to capture you at your best.  Here are some situations to avoid.

Mistake #1: 

Not enough time for hair and makeup- Girls, just saying.  No matter WHAT your friend/ makeup artist/ whomever claims, it usually takes at least 45 minutes PER PERSON for hair and makeup.  If you have 6 girls and one makeup and hair person, that means bare minimum 4.5 hours.  I see SO SO SO many people underestimate this.

Just remember you are on a very tight time schedule that day!  If this runs behind, basically you’re in big trouble.  Because then you are late starting everything else and there normally is not any wiggle room the day of!  Not only does it mess up everyone’s schedules, it really can stress you out (and your photographer/minister/family/etc!)

Why not have your girls come early that morning, have lunch delivered and take it easy?  If you end up getting done a little early, all the better.  It’s not worth the risk and stress to cram it in to less time.  Trust me.

 Mistake #2:

All the bridesmaids are ready BUT the bride isn’t ready in time- Ideally, yes it would be nice if the bride was the last one to get hair and makeup done so she could be nice and fresh.  But just remember if anyone runs behind or takes longer than expected, guess who is the one getting the short end of the stick?  Yep, you… The bride.  The one who is supposed to look the most gorgeous and the least stressed on your big day!

And usually the photographer will start with the bride’s photos FIRST so this can really mess up the ENTIRE day.  Don’t you want gorgeous photos of your happy, unstressed self?  Don’t go last.  Just don’t do it.  Try being in the middle, you can always have your makeup and hair touched up before you walk out the door 🙂


Mistake #3:

LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION.  Hey, lets just face it.  Us photographers are NOT magicians.  We cannot transform an ugly room into some fantastic scene out of a fairytale.  Let’s start with the getting ready room.  So many people don’t even consider this in their plans.  Yes, the children’s room downstairs below the church is a nice and affordable way to go.  But when the background is cluttered with books, kids toys, folding tables, crappy chairs and flourescent lights overhead… I mean, there just isn’t much I can do about it.

I don’t personally know the folks on HGTV who can swoop in on a moment’s notice, move everything out, renovate and repaint in 2 hours so your room looks amazing.  No matter how awesome of a lens I use, I can’t make that stuff magically disappear.  It’s GOING to show in the background of your photo and it’s NOT gonna be pretty.

Here’s an idea.  Go look at local hotels and rent a room for the day.  It will cost you $100-200 dollars and it will make all the difference in the getting ready photos.  I prefer suites or adjoining rooms where you have plenty of room for everyone to setup and spread out.

Four things to look for before you book the room :

1) Ample room for everyone

2) A pretty room.  Not some 1970’s ugly/dated decor.

3) Big windows, at least bare minimum one very large window.  This makes the photos look oh-so much better when you have a little natural light to work with.  I have some secrets about that (that I’m not going to share here because I don’t want every other photog in the world stealing my techniques) but let’s just say it helps immensely to have some backlighting and natural light to work with.

4) No brightly colored walls.  Or at most, one brightly colored wall with the rest being neutral.  Red or green or any brightly colored walls that are not neutral can cause major color issues in your photos.  Try for nice bright rooms with neutral colors.  Bed spread and other decor is fine being colored.

Mistake #4:

LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION part II.  Again, we’re not magicians.  If you choose an auditorium styled church where everything is super generic and has horrible lighting (meaning just overhead lights), we can’t magically transform that into a beautiful, lavish wonderland of wedding day bliss.

Putting a few candleabras and flower sprigs in the sanctuary is NOT going to change that.  Most newer churches sport steel chairs with cushions and un-photogenic carpet.  The lighting works great for their services but is very bad in photos.  There are always exceptions to the rule, but in general this is the case.

If you really think your particular church is going to be an exception to the rule, be sure to search out photos of ceremonies done there in the past.  Then obviously make sure you like the way they look.


Mistake #5:

Outdoor ceremonies/receptions in August or late July.  I don’t know how many times I have been asked to photograph weddings that will be entirely outside in the middle of August.  I guess possibly if you live in Alaska or at the top of a mountain this may work, but in most places in the United States this time of the year is just pure misery.  At this point in my career I usually turn these weddings down, and I am sure I have upset a few prospective clients by now.

But in all honestly, the chances of me taking pleasing and beautiful photos in this type of environment are slim to none.  My chances of the bride loving the photos are almost non-existent.  The few weddings I have shot in these conditions… Well let’s just say everyone had grimaces on their faces, sweat soaking through their expensive gowns and tuxes, and their hair was soaking wet with sweat dripping down their faces.  Pure loveliness!  Don’t do this to your guests, especially your 80 year old grandparents.  Please.  It’s just not fun for anyone.

Mistake #6:

Outdoor ceremonies at high noon.  Another mistake I see commonly.  Yes, it is tempting when a venue offers you a time slot earlier in the day for a lesser amount of money.  But if you are at all concerned with how the photos will work, don’t do it.  High noon is when the sun is high overhead, and unless your ceremony is under a covered pavilion you are going to have awful raccoon eyes and shadows under everyone’s eyes.

No matter what angle we shoot from, the sun and lighting will be harsh and unflattering.  I just can’t do anything about it to make them more pleasing, and I want my clients to look amazing in their photos, not harsh!  Bottom line: Say NO to NOON!


Mistake #7 :

Outdoor ceremonies with sun in the wrong spot.  If you are getting married outside later in the afternoon but before sunset, I highly recommend making sure that the sun will be behind you as you stand up at the altar facing your guests.  Doesn’t have to be DIRECTLY behind you, but close to it.

Otherwise you are going to have one half of your face in bright sunlight and the other half in shadow, which again does not look all that flattering 🙂  Or if the sun is shining directly into your face, you are going to have a *lovely* grimace/squinty look on your face.  Backlit photos in my humble opinion are much prettier!

Mistake #8:

Family members and bridal party don’t know what time they need to be ready for photos.  I know that not everyone can afford a wedding planner.  Although definitely an amazing perk to have, many brides on a budget end up planning everything themselves.  One common mistake is not letting each person involved in photos know when and where they need to be.

As part of my service, I do a pre-wedding day planning session where we talk about the timeline, where people need to be, and many other details.  I then send out the timeline to the bride for her to forward to everyone involved.

Many other photographers do not do this though, and if you don’t have a planner it’s easy to overlook letting folks know the proper times to be ready.  You can either send out an email with the times, or even better, hand out colored cards the night before at the rehearsal dinner with the time and place each person needs to be ready for photos.

If you don’t prepare everyone, much valuable time can be wasted on your wedding day as we try to hunt down mom or uncle so-and-so for their photos!

Mistake #9:

Not allowing enough time for photos.  If you want amazing photos from your wedding day, you MUST let your photographer have ample time to make these happen!  If your photographer is stressed from the time crunch and doesn’t have time to be creative, your photos will not turn out nearly as well as if we have time to create masterpieces 🙂

I am not a big advocate of photos taking 5 or 6 hours obviously, or keeping your guests waiting at the reception all night while you do thousands of photos.  But that being said, I cannot make magic happen in 2 minutes flat.  Typically for an average wedding, where the bride and groom do NOT see each other before hand, this is the bare minimum amount of time I allow for photos:

Before the ceremony:
-Bridal photos (bride by herself) : 15 minutes
-Bride with bridesmaids and individuals with each bridesmaid : 15 minutes
-Bride with family members : 15 minutes
= For a total of 45 minutes with the bride

Same is true for the groom, for a total of 45 minutes with the groom (again, bare minimum… the more time the better!)

After the ceremony:
– Large group family photos and different combinations: at least 20 minutes depending on how large the family is and how many different combinations are requested
– Large group photos of bridal party, a few different combinations : 10 minutes
– Bride and groom photos: 20 minutes minimum
= total of 50 minutes after the ceremony.

Keep in mind that if your bridal party arrives late for any reason, or if people are MIA and we cannot find them, this can really mess up your schedule and you may not get all of the photos you would like.  If possible, build in a little wiggle room just in case.

Mistake #10:

Not hiring a seasoned wedding photographer (and other seasoned wedding professionals for that matter).  I am definitely not trying to devalue other photographers as we all have to start somewhere.  But please, don’t hire someone who isn’t full time and hasn’t been doing weddings successfully for at least a few years.  I don’t care if you hire them to do your kiddos photos.  Or your engagement photos.  Or ANYTHING else for that matter.

But your wedding cannot be re-done.  If they screw it up, you can’t do it over.  I studied with Joe McNally (the renowned National Geographic photographer) and the following is a quick story he told us that I won’t ever forget.  He said, “Many photographers today have great marketing and good images on their website.  But how many can actually walk the walk and talk the talk?

Let me tell you a story to demonstrate.  I am NOT a championship basketball player.  But if I hired a photographer or film crew and spent ALL day on a court attempting to do some crazy moves, I bet you I could get a few good shots in after spending all day trying.  Then I could go and buy a website and some marketing materials and put these photos and film up on the site.  Would people believe I had talent?  Of course.  Could I replicate these photos and moves every day on a regular basis?  Heck no.  If I went up against a true pro, would I have any chance?  Again, no.”

The point is, anyone with some vision can get some decent images to post on their site.  But can they capture your entire day and guarantee that every image is great?  Probably not.  I highly encourage you to view a few ENTIRE weddings that they have done (meaning ALL of the images from that wedding, from start to finish).

I can’t tell you how many people have come to me saying they wished they had hired me as their photographer because the person they hired (who had a great website and great images on said website) got 3 good images, but the rest were total junk.  Just be careful.

Just remember, proper planning can make all of the difference in the world when it comes to your wedding photography!  Obviously hiring competent professionals with a winning track record plays a big part in this.  I sincerely hope that you have an amazing and stress free wedding day, and hope that you have gathered a helpful pointer or two from this article!

Learn more about Krista Lee Photography

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