A novel. Sorry I’m not sorry.

April 25, 2013 § 2 Comments

Let me just say, if you are not interested in wedding photography, this post might not be for you.

You probably don’t know, but I am part of a supportive (& amazing!) online community for professional photographers and more than a few of them started hitting me up when I mentioned to one member that I could send her my tips for the job.  The response was pretty incredible and another suggested making a blog post.  “Brilliant”, I thought.  “Save the emails!”

So, here we are.  You’ll get an inside look to how I run a wedding.  And, maybe, a little bit into how my life values shape how I do things and why I do them that way.  Even if you’re not interested in being behind the lens ever, I’m confident you’ll find something in here that resonates with you.
Here we go. 🙂

Right out the gate, there’s a lot of info here.  And please don’t think that I am some sort of end all, be all authority.  This is how I do things, most of the time.  Each wedding is unique and each photographer is unique.  Figure out what works for *you*, but don’t be afraid to step out of the comfort box!  It might be best to take notes.  Ha, no, seriously.  I’m not kidding.  Feel free to ask questions in the comments and I will respond asap.  You have the right to stop and come back to this.  I want it to be helpful, not overwhelming.

Also, as I don’t know what your level of experience is with photography, I am assuming you know less than you probably actually know.  Don’t hate me.

Weddings are FUN.  It’s a celebration!  Remember that it’s all about Love at the end of the day.  Above all other things, remember to breathe.  When things get chaotic, take a step back, take the camera away from your face, and focus entirely on breathing.  Make it as discreet as you can.  It helps everything.

That word up there will be the name of the game on ceremony day.  Discreet.  Make it your goal.  The only time I’d encourage you to not make this your goal is during family photos.  You run that shit.  Otherwise, it will take all day and it will be the most unpleasant thing ever for everyone involved.  Do everything you can to make sure the elders feel considered and respected.  Make sure you do all children under 7 first and quickly.  Keep smiling.

SMIIIIIIIILE!  It will be your biggest asset.  Lots and lots of folks take their cue from the photographer because you’ve done this, you know this, you got this.  If you appear stressed and anxious, they will become stressed and anxious.  Realize that you set the tone in the room, not someone else.  Relax, smile, and breathe.  It will help the dynamic significantly.

Hang out with the bridal party!  You'll love it.  Promise.

Hang out with the bridal party! You’ll love it. Promise.

My primary rule is that if it was purchased, it gets captured.  Down at the bottom, I’ve listed an example of my flow for ceremony day that I’ve found works the best.  Walk through the flow in your head, with the details you know, and see if it sounds like something that might work.  At that point, you have two options.  Either use what you already know about the day to figure out a flow OR send your flow to the bride to see if it would work with the schedule.

What I mean by “if it was purchased”, dress, shoes, rings, flowers, tuxes, cake, whatever they got you name it.  Getaway car, etc.  In the end, details shouldn’t consume all of your shots, but should be a healthy mix of everything.  Again, I walk through the flow at the bottom.  I think that might help give you a better idea of this.

Details are possible.  Find them.

Details are possible. Find them.

Remember that your camera gives you rights others don’t possess.  It gives you the right to ask people questions, even if you don’t know them.  It gives you the right to walk halfway down the middle aisle (it does NOT give you the right to walk across the front).  It gives you the right to see the bride before the wedding.  It gives you the right to ask for some space.  Folks, when asked kindly, will be happy to give you some room.  This goes back to being discrete.  If there’s tears involved, tread carefully.  Ask quietly.  Be kind.  Let grace exude from your fingertips.

On the day of a ceremony, have someone be your right hand man.  Let them be the go between, get you water, trade out gear, answer questions by the families.  It’s amazing to have a teammate there, if only to give you someone to run ideas by and be silly with.  It helps corralling the families much easier, too, when someone else can do all the yelling.  This is an extra expense, yes, but it helps your morale and the day so much, it’s worth it.  Big props if you can find someone who will do this regularly and you can learn how you function as a team.

Eric is my right hand man.  It helps that he also loves to dance at receptions.

Eric is my right hand man. It helps that he also loves to dance at receptions.

If you can afford it, bring a team.  Over 130 guests and there are three of us-first shooter, 2nd shooter, assistant (who gets a camera sometimes, too).  Over 250 and now there are four.  They want a photo booth set up?  Five.  Having a team to work with adds to-do items, sure.  But, being able to sit in the middle of the ceremony because you’ve got coverage from every angle?  That, ladies and gentleman, is AWESOME.

My team hops in the photo booth.  Spring 2013.

My team hops in the photo booth. Spring 2013.

*Note: You’ll notice we’re wearing neutrals, but not all black.  This is not a funeral, it’s a celebration!  Ok, carry on.

In one of your chats ahead of time, walk through the schedule of the day with the couple.  My best wedding days are ones where I became part planner and the schedule revolves around the photographs.   Dedicate just fifteen minutes of just you and the newlyweds.  They’ll love love love the quiet and it will give you some alone time to breathe and them to breathe and some gorgeous to be captured.  Don’t skip it.  And don’t let them skip it.  Even if it’s just on the other side of the church, it’ll be great. 🙂

From our fifteen minutes.  Spring 2013.

From our fifteen minutes. Spring 2013.

Yes, they have a reception to get to and guests to respect.  However, this day happens once.  There are ways of creating win-win situations for everyone involved and respecting both the guests who have traveled far as well as the individuals who just exchanged vows.

It will help all chaos if  all immediately involved in the day can receive even a rough schedule a day or two out from the ceremony.  It eliminates a lot of back and forth because folks know where they are supposed to be!  My personal solution to this is to finalize details with the bride two weeks out from the ceremony date and ask for the last five minutes of rehearsal time.  Create a schedule and print 20-40 copies.  Bring it with you to rehearsal and take notes while everyone walks through their motions.  When they’re done, bring them up front, sit everyone down, and pass out that schedule.  Introduce your (smiling!) self, your team members, and walk through that schedule.  If there’s been a major last minute change, this is your chance to know it.  The parents feel involved.  The bridal party can’t say they didn’t know.  It gets you some face time.  Everyone wins.

That being said, everyone involved in every single wedding (literally, ALL) I have ever participated in has their claws-in-the-ceiling pre-ceremony.  Especially the bride and the mother of the bride.  STRESSED.  Tensions sometimes get high, even if it’s just one person.  One of your many hats is to be reassuring.

“Everyone stresses, everything’s gonna be just fine.”
“After you walk down that aisle, the joy overtakes the stress.  Let’s get you married!”
Make the verbage your own, but if things get tense, it’ll help.  Women need. to. hear. things.  If you take nothing else away from this, it’s that.  Write that down.
(I’m waiting while you go write that down.)

I stay with the bride all the way until she walks down the aisle.  We do silly things to help the nerves.

I stay with the bride all the way until she walks down the aisle. We do silly things to help the nerves.

Technically speaking, on the whole, keep your ISO as low as you can.  If you know enough, shoot on manual mode with auto focus.  If you’re not comfortable with that, keep it on aperture.  If your shutter speed is anywhere in the double digits, plant your feet, put your elbows close to your body, and hold your breath.  Tack sharp is the goal!  If that shutter speed gets below 1/50, CHANGE SOMETHING.  Everything’s going to be blurry.  Crank the ISO, do somethin’!

You might spend the whole day working on keeping things in focus.  It’s going so fast.  You might miss a few shots, but trust, you’d rather have fewer shots that are clean and gorgeous than a ton of shots that are a bit blurry.  Take the extra one second to ensure the shot.

Do not make the mistake of saying either of the following things:
“This is just a small wedding.”
“I’m not that experienced.  I won’t ask questions or get in anyone’s way.”A wedding day is just that.  The uniting of two souls into one flesh and it is both sacred and beautiful.  They’ve trusted you with capturing it and no matter if there are five people there, it’s incredibly important to them.  Give it the dedication and leg work it deserves.

Lastly, as a result of my personal beliefs, I never take a photo during prayer.  This is up to you and, if you want to, you should talk about it with the bride first.

I hope this helps!
You might need to reread this later.

You know this, but creativity takes time.  And, with any kind of event, it takes planning.

Don’t wing it.

Let me know if I can help with anything else at all.

You’ll rock it!!!!!
Can’t wait to see the images. 🙂


My actual flow from an August wedding (I’ve removed all notes about my other shooters-we had a team of six on this one and it’s just extra fluff for you): 
Day before ceremony (before end of the business day):
Gear Check 
Confirm charge on all batteries; Make sure all needed batteries have a home for the next day in bags; Confirm all memory cards are formatted and working properly; Ensure all necessary cables, lights, lens hoods, accessories, etc. are packed and ready to go; Clean all glass; Bags packed.  (Don’t put them in the car!)
Ceremony Day:
Quiet morning – big breakfast, phone ignored except for wedding related or my Momma; stretch it out (if you ignore this one, ha, it is your fault.).  Grab two green smoothies and a bottle of water and a 5hr energy on my way out the door.
11am – Call time at studio for girls hair appointment
1230pm – 2nd shooter arrives – hour break to grab light lunch
1pm – Church arrival and all team gear check
Introduce ourselves to minister, wedding coordinator, building coordinator
Begin capturing church details – see if flowers have arrived
2pm If dress and shoes are present, capture these (ensure location of groom!)
Capture girls dresses and flowers (if present)
If reception space is set up, do this now, too.
3pm Bridesmaids photos
Find an interesting wall and put them in front of it.  The light’s the most important part!!
Do one of each bridesmaid by herself formal and then try to capture them as individuals.  I call these “character shots”.  I love them.
Do some of them as a group.
330pm Groomsmen photos
*See notes on bridesmaids photos
345pm Around the Door photos (if they want)
4pm Bride in room with her family – gets them some quiet as a family before the ceremony
Be in there!
!!430pm Cameras down around bridal party and families – move to ceremony space and let them have half an hour without a lens in their face
5pm Ceremony!
*I strive to follow the bride in to the ceremony.  Get some shots of her and whomever is giving her away.  You’ll get some great stuff this way.  Just give her 30 feet or so and hunch down to stay out of everyone else’s shots that are in the service.*
530pm Bridal party exits and hides – All guests exit.  Bridal party returns.
Family photos!
!!*If you are able to obtain a list of all family that will be there, THIS WILL HELP SO MUCH.  Use that list to formulate a shot list and just go through it bam bam bam.  I can knock a family list out in 18 minutes.  True story.
550pm Family dismissed
6pm Bridal party photos
615pm Bridal party dismissed.  Bride & Groom photos.
635pm Entrance to reception!
11pm Bride & groom exit
1130pm Download all files on site to external hard drive.  Return cards to cameras.  (You’ll download again once home, but this gives you an automatic backup before leaving site.)
Photo team to the bar to drink.
Enjoy all of it!

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