Like a marriage license, wedding photos are the long-lasting, tangible evidence that two people have committed to spending their lives together. Unlike a marriage license—which tends to be uniform and unadorned—wedding photos and the artists who take them, run the gamut from the traditional to the wild. They're meant to be pulled out and shared over the years and through the generations. Here is some expert advice on taking wedding photos to last a lifetime.
Engage the Right Photographer
Besides your day-of coordinator and your soon-to-be spouse, your wedding photographer will be one of the most important actors on your wedding day. They are present during a couple's most memorable moments, often navigating through sticky family dynamics to capture both the intimate details and the grand scope of a timeless ritual.
"Trust your instincts," advises Cathy Ballone of Cathy's Elegant Events. "Find a photographer who makes you think—'Wow, I love these photos.'" Ballone advises couples to view a wide range of photographer's albums. "If there are only daytime photos in their album, ask to see some night shots, and vice versa." With nontraditional venue weddings (barns, wineries, or parks, for example), photographers should have prior experience in a similar space. After a photographer's work catches your eye, speak to their previous clients. "Research, get references, and talk to other brides about their experiences of working with the photographer," advises wedding planner JoAnn Provenzano.
Jesse Turnquist, of Turnquist Photography, advises couples to schedule an engagement photo session. (With his own clients, he requires it.) Not only does it give him a jump on the technical details of photographing a particular couple, it's a relaxing way to get aquatinted. It's also great practice for being a bride and groom. "Most couples have never been photographed together before," Turnquist says. "It's a great opportunity for them to get comfortable posing together."
During the engagement session, Turnquist makes a point of asking about family dynamics. "A wedding is a chance to document a family, all together," he says. "But this has its difficulties." Being comfortable with your photographer, and sharing your family's history, can help avoid potential drama or uncomfortable situations on your wedding day.
Collaborate with Style
Photographers' styles vary greatly from traditional to documentary-like to arty and romantic. It's important your photographer's aesthetic matches your own. "Choose your photographer wisely," says Rachel Brennecke, the "Jane" half of Dear Alex and Jane. "They are essentially another guest, but a very visible one. Make sure you want them there."
Brennecke who, along with partner Alex Liguori began her career in the fashion industry, offers a creative take on wedding photography. "We pay special attention to the color palette," she says. The pair also encourage couples put together a mood board—a technique borrowed from the fashion world—of appealing pictures and images. (Pinterest is perfect for this.) "This gives us a visual connection," Brennecke explains. "It's something specific to reference as we photograph the wedding day."
Dear Alex and Jane also asks clients for a "hit list" of their top 10 shots. This includes traditional poses along with unique family details. "If your 86-year-old grandmother is there, your brother just got back from the military, or all your sisters are together in one place for once—let your photographer know," advises Brennecke.
This level of collaboration will lead to meaningful results. "We were shooting a wedding where the bride's parents were divorced and hadn't been in the same room for 20 years. Toward the end of the reception they got up crying, and hugged." Brennecke was able to capture it all on film. "We knew the bride and her background well enough to realize how important that moment—and a picture of it—would be."
Timing is Still Everything
Together with your day-of coordinator, your photographer sets the tone and pace of your wedding day. "Listen to your photographer with respect to light and scheduling," advises Turnquist. "Photographers schedule events to take advantage of the best light throughout the day. Economically and time wise, sunlight is always best."
An experienced wedding photographer can also help you deal with any glitches that arise. "Weddings have many moving parts and demands; you want a smooth, seasoned shooter who can roll with the punches," advises wedding photographer Steffen Thalemann. "People are stressed, emotional, you name it—change is constant." Thalemann schedules at least 30 minutes for couples to be alone together for portraits before a ceremony. "I think it's necessary for a couple to be physically separate from the rest of the wedding party. Not only does it give them a breather, it can be very romantic and lead to some beautiful, unique images," says Thalemann.
Scheduling this ritual "first look" before a ceremony, allows couples enough time to both take photographs and enjoy their guests during their reception. Father-daughter "first looks" are another great photo opportunity. "I've seen dads burst into tears," says Ballone. The right photographer can help you maximize your schedule, so you can enjoy yourself and your guests.
Investing in a Sound Proposal
"The average wedding photography package runs around $5,000," says wedding planner Mary Beth Halpern. "This usually includes eight hours of photography—from dressing through cake cutting—and a second shooter." Couples might be tempted to reduce costs by cutting some of these pieces out but this isn't advised. "A well-tuned, two shooter team is the wisest choice," advises Thalemann. "It's a great safety backup and ensures all the couple's 'must-do' photographs are taken. It also provides two perspectives and helps capture intimate moments."
Understand what your paying for. "Know up front what you're getting for your money," advises Brennecke. "Look at the details: Make sure your contract gives you access to all your photos without any hidden fees."
Smart Phones: For Better and For Worse
Smart phones are a mixed blessing for marrying couples. On one hand, they can provide an abundance of extra footage; on the other, they can undermine the sacred nature of the wedding ritual. Mindfulness is the key to reaping their benefits, while avoiding their downside.
Consider declaring your ceremony "unplugged" by asking guests to leave their smart phones at home, in their car, or at least in their pocket. "You don't want people posting wedding pictures from the church," says Halpern. And if you're part of the bridal party, "never post pictures of a bride before she walks down the aisle," advises Brennecke. Provenzano agrees. "Remind guests that you are paying a professional to take photos," she says. "Let the professional do their job."
The reception, however, is another story. "Instagram is such a great source for secondary images," say Brennecke, who advises Dear Alex and Jane clients to develop a hashtag early in the planning process and share it with guests. "When guests post pictures with the hashtag, the bride and groom, as well as the other guests, have access to all those images." Ballone agrees. "With personalized hashtags, even vendors can getting in on the act and post pictures."
Add Something Old, Try Something New
Ditch the disposable cameras and consider renting a vintage photo booth instead. Nina Young of Rose and Dale has refurbished a 1963 Airstream Overlander camping trailer into a traveling photo booth and lounge. Young works with engaged couples to create a personalized backdrop for guest photos and can also decorate the lounge to complement a couple's reception. "It becomes a party within a party," Young says. Guests get an old-school picture strip to take home and bridal couples get virtual copies.
Decide if you want to film your wedding early; just like good photographers, good videographers are booked well in advance. "Video has changed quite a bit in the last few years," says Turnquist. "Wedding videos are edited like films." The use of drones (yes, drones) has further revolutionized the videography business, allowing videographers to film anywhere from six inches off the ground to high overhead.
"GoPros make the best hidden cameras," says Brennecke. "They're also a cheap, easy way to get extra video content of a wedding." A GoPro camera can be a terrific way to capture a reception. Strap one to a bottle of whiskey or Champagne, and pass it among guests, asking them to toast the happy couple. The resulting footage is sure to keep everyone warm, and merry, for years to come.