Photographers Take On The Big Day
Updated: Jun 24
So the day has finally arrived, although I guess it has come around faster than you thought, that generally seems to be the case in the majority of weddings we cover. In this article, we thought it would be helpful and hopefully interesting to run through the wedding day timeline from a wedding photographer’s point of view. It will outline what to expect from your photographer and we will throw in a few tips we have learned over the years that might be of help to you both.
The Big Day for your photographer actually starts before the wedding day, it’s the preparation that needs to be completed. We have a checklist to ensure we carry out all the tasks before we even arrive on your doorstep. Camera and flashgun batteries all need to be charged, memory cards formatted, all the required equipment checked and tested, as a wedding photographer the equipment is duplicated just in case an item fails in the field. You would not be at all happy if on the Big Day your photographer ambles up to you and announces the camera has failed, but have a good day anyway and leaves!
We always check the weather forecast to get a good idea of what to expect and plan and pack accordingly. If it looks like rain we would bring a large umbrella just in case it’s required and add additional lighting gear for the group shots that might have to be carried out inside the venue. We also pack a few props that can be used for the wedding ring shots and cleaning cloths which we use to ensure when shooting your wedding shoes the surface they are placed on is clean, can’t get any marks on the shoes after all. Food, yes we pack our own food, we don’t require you feeding us during the day, more on this later on.
For those who are getting married in a church we like to attend the rehearsal, often a day or two before the wedding day, this enables us to also understand the running order of the service and take instruction from the church stewards on what we are allowed to do, trust me every church has different criteria in this respect. Being at the rehearsal also provides us with the opportunity to clarify and finalise any last little details. If a civil wedding, then we will have clarified details over emails and also have all the details provided by you in the completed wedding day contract.
We will have already discussed with you when we will arrive in the morning, we generally follow the bride’s preparations but from time to time it’s been the Groom. As a general rule, we like to arrive around the same time as hair and makeup, so that’s usually early morning. This is an exciting time, with the house/venue buzzing in expectation, from the matron of honor to bridesmaids and flower girls, pageboys and parents all getting ready. There’s a lot for us to capture, from the wedding shoes, jewelry, and dresses, the glasses of bucks fizz, wedding day bouquets, buttonholes, and corsages. We tend to stay in the background, capturing the moments as they unfold nothing staged or predefined, just everyone being themselves and having fun. We have a female assistant with us during preparation, this makes life easier for both you and us, as she can always walk into a room to check how you are getting along without causing any embracement or constantly asking if it’s okay to come in.
We stay with the Bride until she is dressed in her wedding dress, makeup done, hair styled and looking amazing. One very important part and sometimes missed or overlooked is that special moment your Dad or whoever is giving you away see’s you for the first time. If it’s your Dad it’s also a special day for him, his daughter now all grown up and about to get married, a picture we need to capture and one that you will cherish for many years to come. Time for us to now move on, if the Bride is ready in good time we can often catch up with the Groom, best man, and ushers for some pictures before the ceremony, if not we will take the time later on in the day to capture the group often with a few fun shots thrown in for good measure.
If the ceremony is a civil one, not only do the Bride and Groom individually need to see the registrar before proceedings get underway so do we. Just as with churches registrars also have a list of the do's and don’ts, we need to comply with these and interestingly they do differ from one region to the next and from one registrar to another.
For both church and civil weddings, we capture the Bride arriving for her wedding along with the Bridal party, assembled outside nervous and excited all at the same time, this is an ideal time to get some really lovely pictures before proceedings get underway. From here we like to position ourselves to be able to catch that precious moment the Groom sees his wife to be for the first time, this always makes for an unforgettable shot as she walks down the aisle arm in arm with the person entrusted to give her away.
Just breaking away from the timeline but one little but significant detail I would like to point out, regardless if it’s a church or civil wedding a reason that really makes being a wedding photographer such a privilege. Only two or three people actually see you getting married, yes I know there is a room full of guests but all they see is your backs and bums!. The minister or registrar along with the photographer see your faces, the expressions, the emotions, the love, it’s all there and we captured that, it’s such a privilege and one you can never tire of, it’s heartwarming every single time.
So back to the timeline, the secret during the ceremony is to be as quiet and discreet as possible, especially in a church if you are allowed to move around. There are key moments, the first kiss, various readings from family or friends, and the wedding rings all this need to be captured. Often in a church, the lighting conditions can be a challenge, when the church was designed and built originally they did not have wedding photographers in mind, in fact, they did not exist. You can’t have a flashgun firing, it would rather spoil the moment to stay the least and after a few shots blind the Bride and Groom, not a good look. So having a suitable camera and lens combination that can handle low light conditions is a must in these situations, your average point and shoot camera will suffer and the pictures would certainly reflect this.
As most already know you can’t take pictures of the actual signing of the register, it’s illegal in both church and civil settings, that’s why they are always posed after the event.
The page turned over so it’s blank and an empty pen handed to the Bride and Groom, in some ways that’s a shame, as a photographer I would rather capture the story as it naturally unfolded, but the law is the law and I understand why.
Often during the signing of the register, other events can take place, someone playing the harp to entertain the guests or someone singing, these are highlights that need to be captured as part of your Big Day.
Now it’s time for you to leave arm in arm, friends, and family clapping and patting you on the back as you both pass by, we will have moved to a position to capture this, the happy proud faces and the realisation you are now married.
Once you reach the doorway we will stop you for some pictures together and sharing a kiss before you venture outside and wait for your guests to congratulate you both and sharing in your enjoyment.
Your guests by now will be eager to throw confetti, this is a shot we manage for a few reasons. The first is location dependent, Church’s for example often have areas you cannot use confetti, so we have to marshall everyone to an approved area, normally just outside of the church grounds. The second reason is so we can get the guests to form a circle around the Bride & Groom, wait for a count down then everyone launches handfuls of confetti at once, makes for a shot with high impact, Bride and Groom laughing and all the confetti throwing guests having fun. We like the shots showing arms outstretched and the confetti streaking towards their target, the happily Married couple.
Whilst very much location dependent we generally avoid any group shots at the Church or Civil venue and instead wait until everyone has relocated to the Wedding Breakfast location. Church’s can be a challenge for group shots, especially if gravestones are to be avoided in the pictures. Some Registry offices can work really well, however, Bedford Registry Office, for example, has the Great River Ouse located behind it and a lovely bridge for some romantic shots, it’s as I said earlier, very much location dependent.
Whilst your guests now head for the Wedding Breakfast venue (unless a single venue wedding of course) we hang back to get some shots of the Bride and Groom in the wedding day car. Often a bottle of bubbly and two glasses are laid on for them both to enjoy and a chance to sit back and reflect on the day so far, it’s generally the first time they have been alone together as a married couple.
Once everyone has arrived at the Wedding Breakfast venue there are a number of considerations that affect the photography timeline at play. Getting the group shots done promptly is a good idea before guests start dispersing and there is normally enough time to complete this before sitting down for the meal. Whilst you can have as many group shots as you desire it is worth bearing in mind the following.
Group shots take time, they really do, gathering everyone required can be a task in itself. Uncle Jack might have gone to get a drink with a relative he has not seen in ages, so bringing them back for a shot is time-consuming.
We always start with a group shot of everyone at the wedding and then work our way down the list. This way people are not unnecessarily hanging around to the end for the group picture.
Prepare a list of the shots you want prior to the wedding day and share it with the photographer in advance.
Allocate people to help gather the required people for the pictures, after all, your photographer might not know who Uncle Pete is or Auntie Margaret.
The group shots can not delay the meal, the kitchen staff and chef would not be happy bunnies or your guests come to that. Any pictures we can’t complete in time can be done after the meal, however, in reality, this can be hard to achieve once people have really let their hair down and are enjoying themselves to the fullest.
Okay as a guide from many weddings we have covered try and aim for 6 to 10 group shots, it’s manageable and your guests will not lose interest.
As the day moves on we are always happy to do family shots on request, it's not a problem and happens at every wedding, it’s sometimes the only opportunity for such a picture to be taken anyway, so make the most of it.
Group shots completed and if time permits now is a good time for the more romantic and intimate shots of the married couple. We general move to a quiet location at the venue (having already scouted out suitable places) with a Bridesmaid to help if so required. Four or five lovely shots are ideal and will not keep you away from your guests and activities for too long.
If you have particular shots in mind, for example, a few pictures you have seen in a magazine please share in advance with the photographer, it will really help to achieve this for you. Should time not permit these shots can be undertaken after the Wedding Breakfast has finished but generally both the group shots and the romantic shoots can be done comfortably before everyone sits down.
All venues have their own merits and some really lend themselves to a sunset shot, for example, if that’s the case we would gather you later on for such a shot, same would also apply for fireworks and sparklers, you get the drift.
Time for the Wedding Breakfast itself, those of you who have had an engagement shoot will see the wedding day cards distributed around all the tables, including the top table (see wedding prices for more information). Another point to note here is the speeches, if any person making a speech is nervous or apprehensive why not have them at the very start, it saves sitting through the meal and perhaps not enjoying it as much as you could have done, so give it some consideration. We, of course, cover the speeches and really try not to be intrusive especially is the speaker is nervous, this is where a long focal length lens comes in handy.
As mentioned earlier in the article we do not require being catered for, this is the time we collect the wedding rings and go off to find interesting places to photograph them. We do it at this time because most people don’t want photographs of themselves eating anyway and it provides us with a least an hour to be creative, we enjoy that. Once completed we return the rings back to you. Okay we do take some pictures during the Wedding Breakfast and generally, it’s of the children present, being creative with the food is always a good one and can look really cute, there is also a general picture of the whole room, the guest seating plan and of course the wedding cake, gift table and so on.
Once the Wedding Breakfast has drawn to a close we really follow the timeline which can lead from one event to another, the secret here is to be flexible and go with the flow.
Often some guests will withdraw to the gardens for some old fashioned party games or there is a mobile ice cream tricycle serving delicious treats for both children and adults, we aim to cover all of these.
Anyone can request a picture, generally, these are family shots or couple shots, either way, we are most happy to accommodate all of these.
We may also use this opportunity to take a rehearsed cake cutting shot, this enables you to have a dry run and also acts as an insurance shot should come to the actual cutting someone accidentally blocks the shot, it has never happened yet but it’s a belt and braces approach.
Really the main objective here is to capture what’s going on all around, various activities or events you might not have seen so when you are looking at your pictures such phrases as “I don’t remember that”, or “When did this happen” are a joy to hear.
In addition any group shoots that were not completed earlier can slot in here and this also applies to any Romantic shots of you both.
As the evening gets underway the DJ or Band is in situ and the guests start to congregate in the one main room ready for the evening's entertainment. The first announcement by the DJ is normally the cake cutting, allowing guests to gather round in good time to watch. We will have already carried out a rehearsal and if not I will instruct you how to stand and most importantly how you both are going to hold the knife resting it on one of the wedding cake tiers. You will be looking towards the camera for the first few shots then I will give you the all-clear to cut the cake, at this point all the guests as well will be snapping pictures of you both. A tradition seems to be establishing itself whereby the Groom ends up with cake on his face or nose, we capture this fun moment and it makes for a lovely picture to add to the collection. Once completed the cake is moved away to be cut into portions ready for the guests later on, which leads us onto.
The First Dance. This is always an interesting part of the Wedding Day proceedings and one we really enjoy. Couples have two different approaches to the First Dance, some get into hold and follow the music’s lead whilst others have been taking dance lessons for the last few months with a view of putting on something a little special for the guests to enjoy.
Either option is great and from the photographer's viewpoint, any heads up in advance can be helpful. Let’s say you have planned one particular aspect of the routine that will wow your guests, bring the house down, you know the type of thing. Share that with the photographer in advance so they can be in the right position at the given moment and not miss a single shot, after all, you might have been practicing this for a while now so let us capture it in its entirety.
Normally the First Dance is in the early evening when the light outside has started to fade and the internal lights in the room are providing the ambient light and setting the mood. As the photographer, you want to capture this mood and when required light your subject at the same time, there is a technique to this type of photography and the results can be amazing. As the First Dance unfolds your guest join you on the dance floor in celebration this makes for some great shots and we often try to get some elevated position pictures during this time.
The rest of the evening is dancing and your guests enjoying themselves and generally letting their hair down. It’s at this point we draw the photography aspect to a close unless you have pre-arranged for an extended shoot. The reason for this is straightforward, all of you want to relax and not be concerned about the photographer capturing your every move and action, it’s a time for all to relax and enjoy.
So that’s it, a quick rundown from the photographer's view, over the course of the day thousands of pictures will have been taken so It’s now time to process them and prepare your online gallery for you and your family and friends to enjoy and perhaps see a few surprises along the way.