The Five Photographic Elements of Your Wedding Day

Wedding days can be stressful! You have the bride and groom trying to get ready and calm their nerves, you have family running amok, you might even have to coordinate with your vendors to make sure that everything is going according to plan.


Wedding-Day-ElementsLuckily you have at least one (and sometimes three!) good friends on your side. Realize that we are here to help and let us worry about some of the details so you don’t have to.

  1. Your event planner: As a photographer, I’m contractually obligated to butt heads with your event planner. (Just kidding…sort of) In a perfect world the planner and the photographer would be working hand-in-hand throughout the planning process to make sure that no details are left out and that contingencies have been planned for. In the end though, the bride and groom are typically the ones who contract with the photographer so I take my orders from them and them only. Caterers, florists, etc. are usually subcontracted though the planner and report to them. Making sure expectations are set in advance can avoid unnecessary miscommunications.
  2. Your Photographer: If you don’t have an event planner, your photographer is going to be the next best thing. It is our job to help you plan your pre-wedding timeline, your wedding day timeline, and give you advice on all the things that you might not be thinking about. After all, you are only getting married once and we (photographers) do this on a regular basis. We know how long it typically takes to get hair and makeup done (don’t believe your stylist when she tells you it will only take an hour!) and it’s our job to help manage the timeline of the day. Don’t be afraid to include us in the discussions with your other vendors; we like building relationships with each other and the more we communicate with each other the more easily we can all prevent mistakes and serve you on your wedding day.
  3. Your Musician: When it comes to the reception, the musician/band/DJ/MC is running the show . Your photographer and musician typically work very tightly together to make sure that none of the major moments are missed.

Now, as for the five photographic elements of your wedding day:

After photographing tons of weddings I can say that a normal wedding is broken into five major components; Bride/Groom Preparation, Creative Portraits, Family Formal Portraits, Ceremony, and Reception. The order of these might vary slightly from wedding to wedding, but there are very few exceptions to this formula. Generally speaking, our goal during your wedding is to help keep things working properly while being as unobtrusive as possible.

Bride/Groom Preparation:

Kathy-WeddingFirst of all, this is the one thing that I hear at least half my brides tell me they don’t want before their wedding, then they later tell me that they regret not having the photos. This typically starts about an hour before the bride’s hair and makeup is scheduled to be complete and it’s the time for me to get the detail photographs of the rings, shoes, hanging dress, and final touches of makeup. On the groom’s side there are usually some good photographs of the groom putting on his tie and cuff links or of having a shot of whiskey with this groomsmen. These photos almost never end up as wall portraits, but they are fantastic material for the wedding album and they help tell the story of the day.

The portraits during this session are semi-staged since I might ask a bride or groomsman to stand by a widow for better light or I might ask the makeup artist to “fake” putting on makeup for a particular shot.

This is also the perfect time to get the photographs of the bride getting zipped/buckled/tied/bound/or superglued into her wedding dress.

Creative Portraits:


Kathy-Vince-WeddingThis is the time when the photographer takes the bride and groom aside and spends 30-60 minutes with  them, either around the venue or at a separate location, to get some beautiful portraits of them interacting together. These are normally posed photographs with some candid moments thrown in for good measure. Since the makeup is already done at this point and the dress is still clean we don’t want to get “too creative” but you’ll definitely want some of these photos to round out your album or to print large for a wall portrait.

Timing for the creative portraits all depends on whether or not the bride and groom want to see each other before the ceremony. I personally prefer doing a “first look” where the bride and groom are revealed to each other privately before the ceremony, then we go out for the creative portraits. If that isn’t your style we’ll generally do these portraits after the family formals and during the cocktail hour.

Family Formals:


Baltimore-Wedding-PartyI’ll be honest, this was the most painful part of my own wedding day and I can’t say that I’ve ever had a couple tell me that they LOVED doing their family formal photos. Despite that, it is a necessity and these photos are often cherished.  I can’t count the number of emails I have gotten thanking me for taking the last family photo that a particular group had before someone important passed away.

Family formals can be tedious, boring and over-posed, but my goal is to keep them fun so that you have keepsakes that your families are going to appreciate. The rest of your wedding is about you; the family formals are for them.

Generally, these are done immediately following the ceremony, either at the ceremony location or somewhere nearby. I typically work with the bride and groom a month before their wedding date to offer suggestions for typical family groupings and get any feedback on their particular circumstances.


DC-Wedding-CeremonyOne would think that this is the hardest part of the day but it really isn’t. In fact, for most church weddings the photographer is fairly restricted in where he can move and what he can do. The key here is for the family and the officiant to speak before the wedding to have a conversation about the “do’s and don’ts” so there aren’t any surprises. Some officiants are perfectly fine with me photographing from the isle and the sides of the pews while others banish me to the back of the church or the balcony. Regardless, we make the best of what we have and capture the special moments as they happen.


Marlene-Sacha-ReceptionMany photographers are intimidated by photographing receptions because receptions are known for terrible lighting and untrained wedding photographers just don’t know how to work in this situations. For me, I have a tried and true method that gets me consistent results every time. The best part is that once I have it set up I don’t need to worry about it anymore and I can just concentrate on photographing the couple and their guests having fun and being themselves.

During the reception, the photographer will generally be photographing a series of staged and candid photos. Walking around and photographing each table of guests (with or without the couple) is important to a lot of couples and I’m happy to do that if requested. Events like grand entrances, the first dance, speeches, toasts, and cake cutting are all coordinated by the musician and it’s my job to be in place to make sure they are photographed properly. Other than that, I try to be as unobtrusive as possible unless I’m pulling groups of friends and family together for a quick posed photo.

(Optional: Grand Exit)

Karen-And-Jason-ExitFewer and fewer couples are doing grand exits today with sparklers, tunnels of guests, or cars with tin cans hanging off the back. If the plan is to have a grand send-off, the photographer just needs to know about it so he can plan appropriately.