Thank you to my friend Jill Reid of Raindancer Studios for giving her advice for this article!
Photographers, are you overwhelmed by the thought of photographing a wedding? Don’t be! All you need is a gallon of organization, a quart of flexibility, a cup of confidence and a teaspoon of joy. I’m here to help equip you to ROCK the next wedding you agree to photograph! I promise if you follow these tips, you will help a wedding day run smoothly and be able to capture amazing photos!
Here are the 8 essential planning tips I recommend before the Wedding Day
#1 – Meet and Greet with the Bride & Groom/Sign Contract
I always meet with a Bride & Groom for coffee at Starbucks to determine if our personalities will click, to allow for questions to be answered, to show a slideshow of more photos if desired, to discuss my collections and fees, and to sign a contract/pay deposit.
I see this meeting as an opportunity to market myself as a photographer but more importantly to get to know my clients on a more personal level. I ask them questions about how they met and invite them to tell me about their engagement day. I try hard to focus on the Bride and Groom more than myself! I also ask them questions like the following: What are you most excited for on your wedding day? Have you bought your dress yet? What colors have you chosen? I invite them to share all the fun details and their vision for the day. I see this as an interview process for both of us. If I do not feel like I would fit into the vision of their day or if I have any hints of a bridezilla on my hands, I will suggest they find someone else to photograph their day.
This is a time where my clients typically either sign the contract and pay the deposit or they take it with them to mail back to me when they are ready to put a deposit down. I require a 30% non-refundable deposit for whatever collection they select. The remainder is due 4 weeks prior to the wedding. I do include additional fees for driving if out of the Indianapolis area. This is written into the contract.
If they have decided to book me, I hand them a wedding planning packet to fill out over the course of the next several weeks or months in order to prepare for their Final Planning Consultation with me.
#2 – Hire a Second Photographer
I always always always shoot a wedding with a second photographer. That is my insurance for a smooth day and it ensures that more candid photography can be captured throughout the day! I choose photographers whom I know and trust their ability to take photos as well as how they interact with people. The last thing I want is someone who is going to add more stress to an already long day.
If you have to hire someone you don’t know, always interview them. Ask them very specific questions about their equipment and number of memory cards, their experience with photography in general and weddings in particular, and how they view their role as a second shooter on the day of a wedding. On average, my second photographer and I each end up taking about 2,000 photos on the day of a wedding and we shoot in low light situations. I need to make sure we are both well prepared to handle the needs of the day. If I need to rent a lens or camera body for the day, I will do so in advance. Then, I make sure my expectations are clear up front about the following items:
- where they are to be positioned during photos, during the ceremony, etc.
- how they are to interact with the Bride and Groom and family members (Generally, you want to ensure your second photographer is not going to try and take over the lead position or step on your toes. The lead photographer organizes people and facilitates the day verbally. The assistant photographer assists as asked or when needed. He or she is to capture different angles of all the photos I am taking. As the lead photographer, I position myself first. The second shooter then positions herself differently to get artistic photos)
- what you expect and need from them throughout the day (carrying items, taking detail shots, photographing the groomsmen independently, moving and shooting consistently during the wedding or staying planted in one spot)
- how much you will pay them and when
- your preference for the use of the photos on their own website or Facebook (likely the second shooter is a photographer as well with his or her own business or is at least portfolio building)
- what to wear (black or gray usually)
- if they need to bring snacks or drinks for themselves or if you will provide them
- how you plan to retrieve their photos (the night of or after the wedding day?)
On the day of the wedding, it is a good idea to restate some of the things you discussed that are key factors or are most important to you. It is helpful to have your expectations in writing and even in contract form when you are hiring someone you do not know.
#3 – Wedding Planning Packet
At the first Meet and Greet with the Bride and Groom, I always give them a wedding planning packet in hand to fill out over the upcoming months. I have not moved to doing it electronically yet, but I know others do it that way. I’ve not decided if I’ll move to an electronic version because I really like having it to give them in hand at the Meet & Greet and educate them of my desire to make the day peaceful and stress-free.
The Wedding Planning Packet I use can be downloaded here.
#4 – Free Engagement Session
There is no better way to connect with your clients before the wedding day than a free engagement session fee! This is something I offer to all my clients. It’s a great chance for us to get to know each other more and to get them comfortable in front of my camera before the big day.
It also gives me more insight into their personalities and allows me to prepare ahead of time to make sure I adapt my style of interaction to their personality and comfortability level on the wedding day. This experience fosters greater relationship with my clients.
If they use my photos on display in any way at their wedding, it is also a great promotion of my photography. Some of my collections include a custom photo guest book with their engagement photos in it.
#5 – Final Consultation
About 2-3 weeks before the wedding, I meet with the Bride alone, with the Bride and Groom, or even sometimes the mother of the bride comes along too, in order to discuss the Wedding Planning Packet they filled out and come up with an itinerary outline with times.
This is not optional.
Meeting at a Starbucks again and buying them coffee helps to sweeten the deal! When possible, this meeting takes place near the church or venue so we can check it out together. I use this opportunity to scout out the location in advance for the best spots to take photos based on the lighting.
We discuss all “must have” shots they would like including the break down of family photos on each side. I feel so much more prepared when we can meet face to face. If you can’t do so, skype is another great option! I feel like it sets the tone for a peaceful day when communication is strong and clear in advance. If a bride were to balk at the idea or try to make excuses about not having enough time, I tell them all I need is one hour and to trust me that it will help them to feel a lot less stressed on the day of the wedding. Because photographers are the only vendor who walks along side them throughout the entire day, it is our responsibility to help the day run smoothly.
I’ve yet to have someone balk at this final meeting because they know my heart is to help ensure the day goes perfectly and to make sure I capture everything well! If I don’t know what is going to happen and when I may miss capturing a piece of the day that is meaningful. I don’t want that to happen ever!
#6 – Create Wedding Day Itinerary/Shot List
There’s no way around it. You have to have an itinerary! Period. Along with that ideal itinerary, you also need flexibility, too. I always communicate that the itinerary is our guide for the day, but that if we need to divert at any point in the day to meet a need, we will.
Sometimes the bride isn’t ready on time. Sometimes the groom and his guys aren’t. Sometimes the groom’s car breaks down. Sometimes the best man loses the Bride’s ring. Eek! Things happen, but the important piece to understand is that all the main shots the Bride has requested will be on that itinerary. It is utilized throughout the entire wedding day as a point of reference and as a source of accountability so both of us photographers can ensure we did our job well.
My itineraries have time slots on it. One key factor is that I always build in grace time. I know that things never go quite as planned, so it’s important to have extra buffer time built into the schedule. Even if we don’t stay on track with time throughout the time pre-wedding, it helps keep me focused to ensure I capture everything and it reminds me of the important times, like when family arrives for photos, when the ceremony starts, when the couple is to be announced at the reception.
As the photographer, it is my job to make sure they get to the main events on time. This itinerary and shot list helps me. It’s my best friend on a wedding day, other than my second photographer, of course!
I also include the location addresses and contact #’s of the Bride, Groom, myself, one person with the Bride, one person with the Groom, and the wedding planner if their is one involved. This is helpful for everyone to have this information. It allows for strong communication in a pinch.
#7 – Email the Itinerary to the Bride
After the itinerary is typed up by me, I ask the bride to confirm the details and accuracy of it about one week prior to the day. Once she’s reviewed it, I invite her to forward it to anyone who will be involved in the photos, including the bridal party and immediate family members.
Be sure to communicate this very clearly in writing and verbally. We need the collaboration of all the other people involved in the photos to understand where to be and when. So this itinerary is not just for me, but it’s for the bridal party and family, too. We all use it as a basis for where to be when.
When this is all successfully communicated, the day goes smoothly and everyone is able to enjoy themselves without stressing about not knowing what is going on. AND it eliminates people asking questions to the Bride and Groom and their family all day long. It truly does create a more peaceful day for everyone
After I print the itinerary for myself, I write some of my specific ideas for posing. They don’t need to see those details, but I do come into the day with some fresh ideas or some must have shot ideas of my own. I have standard poses I always do with the Bridal Party, but I like to spice it up with either a new background
Sample itineraries I use can be downloaded here.
#8 – Planning Phone Call with the Second Photographer
Next, I forward the itinerary to my second photographer in advance. Then we discuss the details on the phone and I debrief her as to the personalities of the Bride and Groom, any special circumstances to consider, and remind her of the expectations I have for that day and specific requests of her that day.
We also discuss parking situations and driving arrangements as we hop around to different locations. Sometimes it’s helpful to drive together or to drop a car off at a location, especially when the couple hires a car and wants a photographer in it going to the reception!
ROCK the Day!
I hope these steps help you to feel better prepared to photograph a wedding. The more prepared you are, the more confidence you will have. The more confidence you have, the less stress everyone will feel. And that is where the magic happens in photography!