10 Tips for Perfect Wedding Photos!

What every bride needs to know to get the best
possible photos of her wedding day

So, you're planning your big day down to the smallest detail, agonizing over wedding gowns and a million other details, and now it's time to find a wedding photographer. Regardless of who you choose, it’s important to realize how much of a difference YOU can make in the end quality of your wedding photos. Here are your 10 tips for perfect wedding photos!

The goal of this article is to help you look at your wedding day through a photographer’s eye - by understanding what challenges he/she faces, you can plan your wedding day in such a way as to minimize potential issues in order to get the best possible photos. Your big day will be over in a few quick hours, the cake demolished, the flowers wilting, but wedding photos live on forever. A few simple tweaks in your wedding plans can go a long way to make sure you (and your grandchildren) love your wedding photos now and 30 years from now!

Sunset portrait… just before Hurricane Lane hit Oahu in 2018!

Tip 1: Embrace The Unexpected

It’s a rare wedding that goes perfectly without a hitch. In other words, “stuff happens.” Yet, I’ve seen more weddings go south due to overreactions than broken zippers or inclement weather. Of course, you want everything to go as smoothly and perfectly as possible. But when it doesn’t, don’t make it a big hairy deal. Just breathe, shake it off and remind yourself this will make for a great story in years to come! Perfect wedding photos aren't really about perfect conditions... the perfect wedding photo tells an intimate story in a beautiful way. And quite often, those images are of imperfect moments!

As a photographer, I rarely get everything exactly how I want it... but by being alert and going with the flow, I often end up with images better than I could have planned or arranged for. Keep your heart and mind open when faced with problems and allow spontaneity to create it’s own special kind of magic.

Front lit near sunset…

Back lit, sunset

Tip 2: Think Light

Photography depends on light. Without it, you have nothing. This is literally the most crucial element. As a photographer, when I prepare for a wedding, my immediate first consideration is the light…how much is there, where is it coming from, is it hard or soft, warm or cold?

Great lighting is the key to killer photos. While a good wedding photographer has the ability to make light as needed (flashes), you can make our job easier - and get far better photos - by planning your wedding like a photographer would.

Indoor Ceremony
If the venue you’re considering is a big church with dark walls, three story ceilings and few if any windows, it’s obviously very low on light. And since few churches allow flash during a ceremony, your photographer will be limited to working with the available lighting - with all the weird shades of different colors produced from incandescent (orange), LED (blueish) and fluorescent (greenish) lighting. Expect a little bit of noise/grainy images due to high ISO ranges required to photograph your ceremony in such a venue. However, an ideal indoor ceremony venue for a photographer has large windows that allow in lots of natural soft light.

Indoor ceremony, natural light only

Outdoor Ceremony
The time of day and the angle of the sun is your primary concern here. Avoid high noon if possible not only because of harsh hard light, but also because sweaty, flushed faces never look good on anyone.

Generally, the best time for outdoor ceremonies is early morning or 2-3 hours before sunset for soft golden light. Ideally, the bride and groom will be parallel to the sun, with the officiant the only one facing the sun...that way the sun falls equally on the bride and groom and the guests and photographer have their back to the sun.

Unsure how a particular venue will work at a certain time of day? Photographers use this handy online app to check where the sun will be at a particular location on a certain day and time: www.suncalc.net. Or better yet, ask your photographer!

Sunset Beach Ceremony (Thank God for that cloud blocking the direct sun!)

High noon, brutally hot, intense sun and no shade…Ouch!

Indoor Reception
Create ambiance and beauty by adding lighting. Perfect wedding photos always include lights of some kind. So the more ambience lighting you can arrange, the better! Uplighting is awesome (orange, red, purple and pink look good, but never green). Think table candles, chandeliers, twinkle lights, globe lights, string lights… you can’t have too many. Also try complementary colors and shapes. For ideas, do a Google search for “wedding reception lighting ideas.” You can rent string lights and uplighting from local rental companies.
Indoor receptions nearly always require flash to capture the first dance, speeches and cake cutting. Make sure your photographer is skilled at this challenging part of wedding photography by asking to see examples of their work.

First dance, indoor reception, flashed

A big, dark, windowless room, flashed

Outdoor Reception
Same issues as Indoor Receptions... only additional lighting of any kind is MORE critical since without some outdoor ambiance lighting, newlyweds end up dancing in pure black (photo below was an outdoor reception). Simply adding overhead string lighting can turn a boring photo magical! Even better, I would have planned for this first dance to start just as the sun was setting... so that a dark blue & gold sky was their backdrop. Yum!

Tip 3: Unplug Your Ceremony

Yep. That's right, tell your family & guests to put down the cameras, phone and iPads *during the ceremony.* A perfect wedding photo of your first kiss does not include dozens of quests pointing phones at you. This is probably the number one "problem" your professional wedding photographer (and videographer) will face at your wedding - guests armed with every electronic gadget known to man. You are paying good money for a pro photographer so don't let sweet Uncle Bob ruin your photos by constantly sticking his iPad in front of your paid photographer during the first dance. Yep, happened. And your first kiss photo is not improved by a dozen guests leaning into the aisle, phones held high in the air. Yep, happens constantly (imagine how dated all those gadgets will look in ten years!).

Here are a couple simple rules I recommend every bride inform her guests to get the best possible wedding photos:

  •  No cameras/phones/iPads during the ceremony

  •  The Pro Photographer has priority at all times

  •  Stay out of the aisle during the ceremony

  •  If you take pictures, stay behind or to the side of the Photographer.

  •  During posed family or group shots only the Pro Photographer gets to shoot - otherwise guests look at Aunt Millie and her phone instead.

Imagine how much better this photo would look if the guests were not all holding up phones and cameras!

Tip 4: Officiant Photobombers

If your minister is personally known to you, ignore this tip. However, if the officiant marrying you is someone you've simply hired, never to see again, this is important.

As a wedding photographer, my job is to be in the right place at the right time, poised and ready to capture those fleeting special moments. And nothing is more frustrating to me than to get a set of perfect wedding photos of a couples first kiss... with the officiant photo bombing every single one. If the officiant is a stranger, do you want them in your photos for life? The images below are good photos of a "We're Married!" moment...that would have been GREAT photos if the hired minister had stepped to the side after "You may now kiss the bride." Only the bride and groom can request this of the officiant.

Tip 5: Buffer Your Timeline

Guess what, weddings are rarely entirely on time. Nearly everything takes longer than expected. Makeup and hair, for example, is notorious for going over schedule. Family and group photos in particular always take longer than they "should," especially the more people involved. It's crazy how long it can take to round up people, get them positioned, and then take a dozen photos to finally get one where Mom isn’t blinking or looking at sweet cousin Lucy.

Roughly speaking, plan on 30 min for family, 30 min for bridal party and 30 min for you newlyweds. Because when time runs short, the first place that gets sacrificed is the time set aside for YOUR wedding photos. Solution: Don't schedule tight. Running late and being rushed or stressed is not a recipe for wedding portraits you will treasure the rest of your life.

Bridal portrait, Iolani Palace, Oahu Hawaii

Tip 6: Whoa, Slow Down!

After months of planning to make their wedding day perfect, a common thing I notice is couples rushing through those sweet moments - you know, the ones we want the best photos of - due to feeling embarrassed at being "on stage" or overwhelmed with emotion. All too often the wedding kiss is literally a split second peck, followed by a walk down the aisle that looks like a speed walking tryout. Help your photographer get many perfect wedding photos of these key moments by just slowing down and savoring them. After all, this is the day you've dreamed about, right? So if that kiss doesn't last four-five seconds, it's too fast! Then walk slowly down the aisle and let your families cheer and congratulate you. Then put the icing on the cake with a pause halfway down the aisle to kiss again! Oh wow, you're really going to love those photos!

First look in the garden, Hale Koa Resort

First look in the garden, Hale Koa Resort

Pausing for another kiss, partway down the aisle…

Tip 7: Have An Engagement Session

Besides the obvious benefit of engagement photos for your invitations, the most important reason for an engagement session is an opportunity for you and the photographer to get to know each other. This literally makes a difference in your wedding photos. The photographer gets a chance to get to know you, and you get to learn to trust your photographer. In a very real way, your engagement session is a practice wedding session, where you can get acclimated and comfortable with being photographed. You'll come away with a sense of trust and connection with your photographer that will show up in your wedding photos as a relaxed ease and less self-consciousness. Not counting the fact, you'll have a lot of fun!

Engagement portrait at sunset

Tip 8: Ignore The Photographer

This might seem counter intuitive after all these tips, but the only time you need to look directly at the camera and smile is during your posed photos or when the photographer specifically asks you to. Getting ready, the wedding ceremony and the reception details, ignore the photographer and just enjoy your wedding. Be in the moment with your friends, family and beloved. Enjoy yourself and trust us to capture the moments as you enjoy them. If we need or want something from you, we'll let you know. All you need to keep in mind is the tip to slow down and savor those key moments to give your photographer the most time to grab great images.

First look… peek-a-bo!

First dance, happy smiles!

Tip 9: Trust Us

A good wedding photographer wants to do more than just document your special day. Wedding photographers are super creative artists always looking for unique ways to create beautiful images, so be open to their occasional odd idea. Unless you have some photography experience, you often won't understand why we want something. We look at the world thru our cameras...noticing light, colors, shapes, lines and patterns in ways that non-photographers often miss. For poses, listen to our ideas and don’t be afraid to feel awkward - what feels weird usually looks good and vice versa. And last, the more time you can give the photographer, the more creative and stunning perfect wedding photos they can deliver!

Who wants a “normal” bridal party portrait?

Tip 10: It's All About The Details

Think about details. And not just "something blue" or that cool hand carved ring box you found on Etsy.

  • Microphones and microphone stands become a highly distracting element in your stunning wedding photos. Go wireless if possible.

  • Ministers/venues/churches sometimes have strict rules for photographers: where they can and can't be, using flash or not, etc. These rules will affect the quality and type of images you get, so make sure you and your photographer know the rules far in advance.

  • Assign a friend or family member to help the photographer find people when needed, point out VIP's, etc. We need to know who all your favorite key people are.

  • Reduce the clutter. McDonalds wrappers and Coke cans in the background of your getting ready photos will be with you forever! Keep things neat and clutter free by having a designated "crap corner."

  • Ditch the plastic hanger and bring a lovely wooden hanger for your wedding dress.

  • Ask your officiant how he/she reads his notes - and just say no to ugly clipboards! Remember, what she uses will be in every ceremony photo.

  • Have nice drinking glasses for water. They look much better in your hand than plastic bottles!

Cool, colorful details!

Reception musicians and music…

Bonus Tip: Practice Posing

Yes, really. Models look good in photos because they've practiced. The rest of us somehow expect to look good without ever practicing - go figure! Practicing in front of a mirror lets you see what works and what doesn't, gives you a chance to figure out what to do with your hands. But FIRST... talk to your photographer - you don't want to be practicing the wrong things! Practice your smile as well as your poses...and don't forget to practice with your fiance too!

Yeah, that’s right, we got it going on!

Questions, Feedback?

I hope you enjoyed this article and found it helpful. If you have any questions or you thought of something I missed, please let me know by leaving a comment below! I'll respond to all comments!


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