How to get the most amazing photos from your wedding day

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One question I get asked pretty frequently is "How many photos do you deliver?"  This is pretty much impossible to answer before the wedding.  Every wedding is unique and I do not follow a pre-determined shot list.  I can give rough estimates of how many photos you might get based upon how long I am at your wedding, but even with that I cannot give you an exact number.  However, I can tell you this - I deliver you all of the photos that I believe are fit to represent your day.  For pretty much every wedding I have done that has been over 6 hours, I've delivered about 400 photos or more.  Some longer and bigger weddings with 2 photographer coverage have gotten many more than that.  Having been doing this for a while, I can definitely give you tips that help to increase the amount of great photos that you will get on your wedding day.  Keep in mind, though, that it is better to have 400 great photos than 1500 so-so photos.

Here are my suggestions to you if you want to make sure to not only get great photos, but as many great photos as possible.

  1. Do a "First Look"

    It is an old tradition for the bride and groom to not see each other before the bride walks down the aisle.  If you want to follow this tradition, you can, but it does cut down on the amount of time that you could be doing more wedding party and bridal photos before the wedding.  When you do a first look, it increases the number of photos that you get not only by allowing more time for posed photos with the bridal party, but also provides an additional 10-20 photos of the two of you having that special private moment of seeing each other for the first time on the wedding day. 

    When you do the first look, it eliminates a lot of time that is often wasted before the ceremony.  So often the bridal party is ready and waiting around an hour or two before the wedding without much to do.  I can take some photos of the girls posing together and then the guys posing together when the two of you don't want to see each other, but that is about it for posed shots.  If you do the first look, then you can literally do just about every type of photo before the wedding as both bride and groom have already seen each other.

    In case you were wondering, I've photographed lots of "first looks" and yes, there is still a lot of emotion when the bride comes down the aisle.

  2. Do NOT get drunk (or high for that matter).

    I kind of want to highlight and underline and circle this entire section.  Most of my couples refrain from drinking before the wedding ceremony.  However, lets face it, everyone is gearing up for a party and sometimes that means people start drinking early on in the day.  This becomes a big problem when it is the bridal party or anyone that you want to be in posed photos.  When people are drunk, they are not exactly known for making the best decisions or responding quickly to requests.  When I'm posing people I need the full attention and cooperation from everyone.  Drunken shenanigans slow down posing.  Drunken funny faces ruin photos, unless you want photos of people with their eyes half shut, gazing in different directions randomly, and just generally not doing what they are asked to do without a battle.  If I cannot get certain members of the bridal party and/or family to behave for a photo because they have been drinking, I'm going to put it quite bluntly, "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit."  I can't make a person "undrunk". 

    Nowbefore you think I'm a giant stick in the mud, when people are drinking later on, after the posed photos are done, it often loosens people up and makes them more smiley, and makes for some great candids (and blackmail).  So if you want to have drinking at your wedding, go ahead!  Have a good time!  Just know that if you start the drinking party early on in the day, the posed photos of the wedding party and family are going to be a battle and waste a lot of time, and still not turn out as good as they could if people were not drunk.

  3. Love to smile, pose, and don't shy from the camera.

    This seems like it should be just a straightforward thing, but it isn't.  Some people just are very uncomfortable with having photos taken.  I personally have my own little battle with my self-esteem and having my pictures taken, so I get it.  I really do.  Its just that for one day, please let that go.  Brides, you look AMAZING on your wedding day.  So many of you invest in these amazing hair and makeup people, pick out the perfect dress, and you invest in a great photographer to flatter you by taking good photos!  So relax.  I know it can feel like all this planning went into the wedding and you are hoping above all hopes that everything goes off without a hitch and that everything is perfect, but letting go of all that worry and when the day comes, just letting the day happen, well... it releases so much tension!

    Also, don't worry about posing to the point where you are worrying about your waist and arms constantly (I can tell when you're doing this).  If you have an area of your body that you are self-conscious about, I do have my ways of handling that.  For certain photographs I will ask you to pose a certain way, but a lot of the time I'll change my angle and the angle of the camera to flatter you, so that you don't have to constantly worry about where your arms go and what to do with your feet.  If I see something that can be done to improve the photo, I will mention it.  Otherwise, just relax and SMILE!  Seriously though, be happy - you're getting married!!  So smile and be joyous through the day and you will get so SO many more photos than if you look nervous all day.

  4. Ditch the receiving line.

    Yes, this is another tradition that can turn out to be a big time-suck.  The receiving line for a wedding with 100-200 guests can often take about a half hour, sometimes longer.  When you do the line at the church/wedding ceremony site, people often hang around and want to talk to you for longer periods of time and this leaves even less time to do the posed family photos and bridal party photos.  You will get better and more photos if you wait to greet people at the reception after you eat dinner.  At that point, the posed shots are usually finished and you have time to truly relax and walk around and talk to your guests while they finish up their meals.  This is also a great time to get lots of candid photos of you with your guests at their tables.

  5. Have a big wedding.

    Have a big wedding, unless you're not into big weddings.  If you have bridal parties with 4+ people on each side, there just are more different poses that can be done, more photos with each individual member of the bridal party.

  6. Have a fancy wedding

    The more decorated your wedding is, the more things there are to take photos of.  If your wedding venue & reception venue are both pretty or interesting in some way, there will be more wide shots taken to show everything.  If you have a lot of nice decorations on the tables and nice place settings, there will be photos of that.  Basically the more decorative touches you put into your wedding, the more photos there will be.  Your wedding doesn't have to be crazy expensive to be fancy either.  I've been to some beautiful weddings where all the decorations were handmade by the bride or her family and friends.  You can rent lots of beautiful décor for much cheaper than buying it.  There are bridal bargains groups on Facebook where you can get used decorations at discounts, and you can also sell whatever you buy in these groups after the wedding.

  7. Look at bridal magazines and bridal blogs.

    Looking at current magazines that show great photos and poses.  See what is popular.  The days of "everybody jump and throw your arms in the air" are over.  Running away from the dinosaur... sorry.. that one isn't popular anymore either.  Groomsmen holding up the bride and bridesmaids holding up the groom is another one that is going away.  I highly recommend high quality bridal magazines that are focused mostly on photographs, NOT advertisements.  Trendy Bride is my favorite.  Barnes and Noble and other bookstores often have a better selection of magazines than your local supermarket.  Cut out the photos that are your favorites and share them with your photographer.  Its kind of like Pinterest, but without the cheezy Pinterest ideas (because a lot of them are pretty bad... come on).  Speaking of Pinterest, there are some good ones there too.  Basically it is just a good idea to be familiar with what types of poses people are doing now so that when your photographer suggests a pose, you already have a general idea of what they are talking about.

  8. Do away with shot lists.

    Wait, what?  This seems counterproductive, right?  There is one shot list that I feel is helpful, and that is a list of which family group shots you want.  That's it.  I ask for that simply because I don't know everyone's names and if you have a list, someone can call out names and we can get through that faster.  What isn't necessary is a list that says things like "up close shot of the ring, back of the dress" etc.  I'm doing those shots anyway whether you request them or not.  Now if there is something unique, like a special family heirloom, definitely let me know about things like that, but don't go crazy and give me a list of 100 shots you want, or I'll be buried in that all day and missing everything in-between.

  9. Keep the list of family groups small.

    The family group shots can really eat up time after the wedding and before you know it, there is almost no time left to get photos of the bride and groom alone.  This is why I recommend keeping family shots reserved to just immediate family members.  The standards would be grandparents, parents, and siblings.  In smaller more tight-knit families, its understandable to do some photos of cousins and nieces and nephews, but it often gets totally out of hand in big families - especially when people want to scatter.  So make a list of family shots that you want, but keep it reasonable.  Ask yourself if you will actually print and frame the photos.  The longer the family group shots take, the less time you will have for shots of the two of you alone together - which are the shots people usually hang on the wall and put in their albums.

  10. Make a timeline and stick to it.

    We can consult about how much time you need for various things, but what is ultimately important is having that timeline and sticking to it.  Do this well enough in advance of the wedding that you can go over it with your vendors and see if there are any potential issues.  When all of your wedding vendors have a copy of your timeline, they can help move things along and maximize the use of time as well.  There's nothing worse than missing out on photos of the two of you together alone because of a lack of planning what would be completed at what times.  There are great resources online for planning your wedding timeline, and I can help you create one as well.

  11. Choose 1 location for the bridal party photos.

    Again, this might seem counter-productive, but trust me.   Picking out one location to take the group shots cuts down on travel time.  If you're picking out 3 locations that you want to have photos done at with 10 minutes of travel time in between each, before you know it, you've lost a half hour of the day.  More locations can mean various backgrounds in photos, but each location means more scouting and setting up time too.  The trick is to choose a spot that has all kinds of different areas where you can pose.  A large park with various brick walls, buildings, ivy, trees, etc. can provide a lot of different looks without the transportation time.

  12. Be open to the photographer's recommendations on photos.

    I like to have conversations with my couples before the wedding about what locations they are interested in having photos taken.  Sometimes I have to suggest alternate locations.  For example, if you are getting married in a church but your heart is set on having some photos done at the beach in the middle of the summer, midday, on a sunny day, there will be issues.  Even if we luck out and have access to a beach where there aren't very many people hanging out getting in the way, there is often wind (hair mess!), squinting, sunburn, and the lighting is crazy harsh and unflattering.  Getting around the lighting situation involves bringing in portable lights... which means more setup time.  If we can find areas where the lighting is naturally better, we can fly through the photos a lot quicker and get you a lot more great ones.

I know that was long but I hope that I've given you some good ideas on how to get more of what you want from your wedding - at least in the way of good photographs.  Other photographers - please feel free to leave more suggestions in the comments on this blog.  Brides - as always, contact me if you are thinking about booking.  I am located in Muskegon, Michigan, and I photograph weddings in Grand Rapids, Lansing, Holland, Kalamazoo, Traverse City, and pretty much all of lower Michigan.