Top Tips For Planning Your Wedding And Getting Better Wedding Photographs!

Having photographed well over 100 weddings I’ve pretty much seen it all. Biblical storms, bad-ass dance moves, the vicar getting the sermon oh so horribly wrong. With this experience comes a great deal of opportunity for learning to make your wedding day as efficient as possible.

groom crying

I’m a big believer that your day is exactly that, your day – not for me or anyone to interfere with. It is however incredibly useful when you’ve never planned a wedding or big event before to gather as much info as you can from suppliers in the know.

There is exactly zero chance that you will be able to think of all possible scenarios, which is why it’s a great idea to tap into the collective knowledge of all of your suppliers. Each will have extensive knowledge of weddings and can each offer tips on how to make your day as smooth as possible.

Here’s what I’ve seen over the years that can really help make the whole day a breeze, so hopefully it will help you out.

At Liam Smith Photography, I document moments, I photograph what is happening in front of me, it’s bottling the magic of pure chance. That being said, if I can apply my prior experience and my knowledge of photography in order to create a potentially better moment due to planning rather than interfering, that would be advantageous.

I could argue against myself and say that any instruction I give would be a technical interference and go against the purist mantra, but we can take it too far can’t we.

This article is intended to give you practical tips to ultimately give you a superior product and a bloody awesome wedding day.

If you came to the end of your wedding and found out that an element of it could have been improved but no-one told you, you’d have some choice words for those individuals. It is my job, therefore, to aid you on your journey to fantastic photographs.

Here’s my top tips for getting the most out of your wedding photographs, streamlining your wedding and saving time on the day.

Top Tip One – speech photographs

Consider the height of your flowers and clear the tables

This is a zinger and there’s a good reason it’s my opener. This can aid the atmosphere in the room and will definitely improve the pictures and experience of the speeches.

Consider the height of your flowers.

If you sit down in front of them, what can you see, or more importantly what can’t you see? If your tables are round and you have a huge centre piece, you won’t be able to see and therefore interact with at least two of the people on the opposite side of the table. When the speeches start, will they be able to see past the flowers or are they blocking their view?

This is incredibly important across the top table, if your flowers are at an awkward height they will block your face. One, the guests can’t see you and two, the photographer (me :) ) can’t see you either.

Clear the tables of wine bottles.

This again is about height, wine bottles are at the perfect height to intersect the line of a persons face. Speeches are a great opportunity to capture fantastic pictures of multiple people at once. Everyone is sat in a line, shooting down that line allows me to use the speaker as a foreground reference and then focus on the reactions from the guests.

Here’s a real world example so you can see that I’m not being ridiculous.

I felt compelled to write this blog post based upon the experience at this wedding. I asked the head of the catering team to move the wine bottles to one side for the speeches and they said no. That’s up to them, I still think it’s poor form when we’re all on ‘team wedding’, but whaddayagonnado?

speech wedding photographs

We can clearly see that the flowers and wine bottle are blocking parts of the face.

“Hey Liam, why don’t you just move?”

I do shoot multiple angles, but for this shot in particular to work, I need to be close. I also need to be low down so I’m not blocking the guests view. 

Tricks of the trade

Shooting with a longer lens at larger aperture will compress perspective and lessen the intrusion of the flowers etc.

wedding speech

Does it make my point redundant because a skilled practitioner can find a way to solve the problem? No, it doesn’t, because why wouldn’t you make recommendations that can make everyone’s life easier? My job is to get the best possible pictures for my clients, if I can put my knowledge to use to facilitate that then everybody wins.

As a comparison, here’s an image of speeches with low table flowers.

wedding speeches

tears at wedding

Top Tip Two – Ceremony

Are pictures allowed in the ceremony? – where to stand – why you should care.

I’ve met all kinds of wedding officiants. All faiths, creeds and methods. It’s been fascinating.

It is however entirely up to the person conducting the ceremony how it’s going to go down. I think the first look down the aisle pictures are some of the best. Take this young man for example.

emotional groom

Emotions are charged, it’s electric.

To be told on the wedding day that you can’t take pictures during the ceremony is a real bust, missing the emotions and facial expressions of the ceremony is such a shame, but we as bystanders have no comeback and have to do as we are told.

I make this point because I have had officiants change their mind on the day. They simply decide – Non!

I think that’s cruel because they are denying the couple memories. I appreciate that twenty years ago wedding photographers cameras sounded like a barn door and you needed the floodlights from a football ground to light the room, but things are very, very different.

Modern cameras are near enough silent, the brand new series of mirrorless cameras have no moving parts so are in fact absolutely silent. No distractions, no annoying clicking, just happiness all round.

Dear wedding officiants, our cameras are silent and can shoot in the dark, please let us take pictures during the ceremony…

I don’t see why this can’t be resolved so everyone wins. What is important to remember is that (in the UK at least) getting married is not free. If you wish to marry, you have to pay for the paperwork, admin and legal proceedings. This might only be a few hundred quid, but it is still a fee for a service and this makes you clients.

Technically being a paying client means that it’s not one way traffic. If silence is needed to preserve the sanctity of the moment, that’s a different choice and one that everyone should absolutely respect.

I raise this point because officiants rarely cite this as being the reason, they do not say ‘please respect the sanctity of the moment’ they say ‘I don’t want you to be a distraction’. If you want pictures of the ceremony, I don’t see why you couldn’t then enter into a conversation as civilised adults as to how to create in a scenario which pleases both parties.

I don’t want to push an agenda, I simply hate the idea of missing out on quality photographs and treasured memories because of an outdated idea of how photographers work.

Top Tip Three – Confetti – exit the building – then hide!

The most efficient plan for confetti ever.

wedding confetti

When you exit the church/venue the wedding party will typically be right behind you. You turn around upon exiting the building and then everyone will hug, kiss and congratulate. Beautiful.

Next there is a decision to be made.

If you stay in the same position, every guest will then congratulate you as they exit and it can turn into a sort of receiving line. Not a problem, just something to be aware of.

The single most efficient way to allow everyone to exit the building and to get everyone in two lines ready for confetti is if you hide. When you are out of sight, everyone pays attention. If they can see you, they will gravitate towards you.

Efficiency is key in wedding planning. If you are happy for everyone to come out and say hi straight away, that’s totally cool. It’s worth bearing in mind that a wedding of 150 guests can take twenty minutes for everyone to come out and congratulate you. Whilst one doesn’t wish to impact upon the natural expressions of happiness that guests want to display, there is a timeline to stick to.

Once you’re hidden, guests can be given confetti and manoeuvred into position free from distraction. You can then re-appear at the top of the line, ready to walk down it with a blast of colour. Bosh!

Confetti tip two – leave all the confetti by the door.

Having all of the confetti right by the exit means that as soon as the bridal party walk back up the aisle, they can grab is and be ready to hand it out as everyone else exits the church. Simple and effective.

Confetti tip three – hand out drinks after the confetti is done.

I’ve seen people throw champagne by mistake. Not like hurling the glass at the couple, but like a dramatic movie scene where someone throws water in the other persons face. It’s incredibly rare, but why risk it?

Top Tip Four Bridesmaids flowers – considerations

Do they make up part of the decorations?
Are they needed for photographs?

It’s not uncommon for the bridesmaids flowers to be used as either centre pieces, decorations along the top table or to be placed around the cake for added decoration.

What does sometimes happen is the bridesmaids will put them down and then forget about them. If you would like them in the group photographs then remind them to keep hold of them.

This is really useful for when the group photographs start. You would be amazed how often group pictures are held up because flowers have been left in a locked room, in the toilet or simply at the wedding breakfast table.

Top Tip Five – Group photographs – make a list, go big to small and assign an usher

group photographs

Group photographs will run away from you time wise if you don’t have a plan. There’s no reason why you can’t shoot the entire list in twenty minutes. Granted this is also dictated by the number you have to get through (which is why I suggest no more than ten).

The easiest way to manage group photographs is to start with the biggest groups and reduce the numbers. By shooting the largest group first you have everyone’s ear and they will be paying attention. Thus, we can take the picture then immediate address the crowd and tell them who is needed next but also for the rest of the guests not to wonder too far in case they are needed.

Assign an usher – this can save buckets of time. If you have an usher or similar who knows both sides of the family and friends then they can round up the next photograph whilst the photographer is taking the current one. Ushers are told they are ushers, and are of course honoured to be a part of the bridal party, but beyond that they rarely seem to know what they jobs are. Tell the before they are in charge of rounding up.

A top tip for the gents – don’t have anything in your pockets – they can warp the shape of your suit so it doesn’t sit properly and can also look weird in your trousers.

Group pictures are easiest when no one else is around. With smaller groups of people comes less chatting, fewer distractions and increased efficiency! If group photographs are to be taken at the church it’s easiest to send all the guests on to the reception and keep those needed behind.

A question you will absolutely be asked is do you want drinks in the photos? Decide before the day, tell me and I’ll make sure everyone knows.

Top Tip Six – cutting of cake – middle of dance floor (if possible) ((if you want to do it of course…))

The DJ has a microphone – brilliant. He/She (2018) can address the entire room and tell everyone that the cutting of the cake is imminent. If the cake is in the middle of the dance floor, then everyone will be in the exact right place for the first dance. They can also gather around the couple to make it feel more intimate, and ultimately get better wedding photographs

This comment has to be tempered by the reality that the cake will have to be moved. It often sits in the corner of the room and when it’s cut, only a small number of people can get a good view. In the middle of the dance floor means everyone can see the event. Make sure the caterers are happy to move it, you don’t want groomsmen after a few beers having a crack at it. Get the pros in.

Weddings are a collaboration…

Weddings rely on a lot of people, each with their own unique experience of events.

Tap into the knowledge of every supplier you hire – use their experience and go through different scenarios of what they’ve seen play out to make sure you haven’t missed anything. Investing the time before the day can pay dividends and allow you to sail through, enjoying every moment.

Happy planning.

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