Everyone wants the perfect wedding photos. You spend ages (and buckets of money) on the venue, the dress, the suit, the party… so it makes sense that you’d want your event perfectly documented for posterity. I’ve been a professional wedding photographer for seven years, so at this point, I pretty much know exactly what works and what doesn’t—here’s the best advice I can offer for getting the best photos you can on your wedding day.
1. Figure out what you like.
What are wedding photos supposed to look like? There really is no right answer. Every couple has their own aesthetic, and that’s why there are as many photography shooting styles as there are photographers.
Do you want to look like you came straight out of a movie, with a dramatic sky and super-romantic poses? In that case, you will want to look for a photographer who showcases wide-angle shots with highly textured skies, for instance. You can search specific keywords on Google images, such as “Hollywood kiss on 5th Avenue,” or “bride leaning on limo in [your area]” to find a photographer who uses strong directing during his portrait session.
Would you rather keep your photography low-key to capture all the raw emotions in your images? In that case, you can look up “photojournalistic wedding photographer” in your image search. Also try “bride and groom laughing during ceremony,” or “tearful wedding toasts” to find a photographer who captures great candid images.
Blogs are also a great way to narrow down your photography style. Check the “Real Wedding” section on websites that cater to different kinds of clients—The Knot is great for more traditional weddings, Offbeat Bride for anything off the beaten path, or Junebug for trendy couples. Figure out what you like first and pick a photographer who is on the same page as you.
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After you have narrowed down your search to a few photographers you like, your first step should be to look for any information regarding their pricing. Usually, photographers have an investment section on their website; if not, look at their FAQ or information page, where they could be giving away some clues about the average amount spent by couples on their photography packages. An email to get specific information doesn’t hurt either and only takes a few minutes.
2. Be vocal about your wishes and needs.
Paw through your prospective photographer’s website, their Instagram, and their pro Facebook feed—you want to try to see as many of their images as you can. Since most photographers deliver pictures online via gallery websites such as PixieSet or Pass Gallery, don’t hesitate to ask them for some full wedding galleries—they can help you get a good sense of what your wedding pictures will look like too.
For instance, if you’re not sure whether you should get pictures while you’re getting ready or when everybody is drunk dancing in the late hours of your reception, ask to see a full wedding where your prospective photographer did not cover those portions of the day, and one where they did. This will be a very concrete way to visualize the two options and pick the right one from there.
It is always better to keep an open dialogue. If there are any specific moments or people you want captured, make sure to tell your photographer beforehand. We can usually think fast on our feet, but I remember almost missing a church exit when the couple started sprinting back up the aisle (and they were fast runners). So if any unusual events are planned for your day, like a surprise toast or a special dance, let us know!
3. Get to know each other.
It might sound obvious, but photographers are people—we love getting to know you, and you need to know a bit about us too. This will help everybody bond a little and feel more comfortable once the big day arrives. So make sure to meet your prospective photographer in person, on Skype, or at the very least, on the phone before you make your decision. Once you know you share the same love for cats, indie horror movies, or Game of Thrones and can small talk easily, you will be that much more comfortable spending hours with them on your wedding day—which will lead to better photos.
4. Engagement pictures: Hell yeah or nah?
Engagement photos can be a great way to break the ice with your photographer and get you used to being in front of the camera. They can also provide you with some pretty options for your invitations or wedding website. Some brides even use that opportunity to get their makeup trial done—this can help you see whether you’d enjoy a certain makeup look in the photos for your big day, or if you want to adjust.
Engagement pictures are hardly a requirement, and lots of couples don’t find a need for them, but if you decide to get engagement pictures, please, please don’t color-match your clothes: There is nothing worse than two people each dressed in a slightly different shade of baby blue. If they are even slightly different, and they almost certainly will be, both shades will look off, and it will look like you tried too hard.
… but leaving room for the unexpected is vital for you to keep your cool and enjoy your day fully.
Instead, go for a subtle match and pick one color palette. For example, one of you can wear dark brown pants that will echo the other’s cool camel-colored jacket. Avoid t-shirts with big letterings or people’s faces printed on them; these details can be quite distracting.
If you can, stick to one outfit so you won’t have to carry a bag around with you, which will allow for more movement and comfort. It’s often best to pick an outfit that is both casual and formal: skinny jeans with heeled boots, a cute dress with a leather jacket, a t-shirt under a blazer with dark jeans—you get the idea.
5. Plan your day around your pictures…
… but don’t make it the central interest of your wedding. Try to plan your wedding portrait session around the sun. The best time to take pictures is an hour before sunset, which is what photographers call “Golden Hour.” The low sun and warm light are great assets to play with to get some gorgeous images. So if you want to take your pictures before your ceremony, plan the ceremony around sunset. If you want to take your pictures afterward, plan the ceremony an hour or so before Golden Hour.
Of course, a professional photographer can create some awesome portraits anytime, so don’t sweat this too much, especially if you are having a church wedding and the only time available is 2 p.m. A high sun and its dramatic shadows can also be very fun to work with (especially for a city portrait session) and so is dusk.
6. When you let go of perfection, you can make room for something even better.
Your photographer totally understands that you want your wedding day to be perfect, but leaving room for the unexpected is vital for you to keep your cool and enjoy your day fully. Wedding photographers have seen it all, so at some point, you have to sit back and let us do our job. We will get the best out of you and deliver beautiful images—yes, even if it hails or if the strap on your left shoe snaps.
I remember being stuck in terrible traffic with a couple on June 27, 2015: the day after marriage rights laws were passed through the whole country. We were on our way to Washington Square Park for wedding pictures, but all the roads were closed because people were celebrating. It was also pouring rain, so walking dozens of blocks wasn’t an option. We ditched our cab on Sixth Avenue (sorry again, dude) and walked around for a short while with umbrellas. My shoes were wet until the end of the night, but the bubble umbrellas and the shiny wet streets of the city made for some wonderful shots (plus, yay, gay rights!).
Those little incidents will be great stories to tell later, so you are better off embracing them and making them part of your day.
7. Treat your photographer well.
Remember to treat your photographer with respect. As professionals, we’re badasses and can power through anything—hell, I even shot a wedding five days after major hand surgery once. But we also have feelings and get tired, and walking around for eight hours with heavy gear and huge responsibilities on our shoulders doesn’t get easier if we are not treated with kindness.
Make sure a meal is included for us with your caterer and arrange so that we can eat while you eat, so we don’t need to inhale our food before running back to your table to catch your mother’s speech. Don’t snap your fingers or shout “Hey, you!” to catch our attention so we don’t miss that cute moment of your great-uncle dancing with your youngest nephew (yes, we have all gotten the finger snap at some point).
Besides, we’re pros—chances are we took pictures of that cute moment minutes before you noticed it was happening anyway. Keep the good vibe going!
Carole Cohen is a wedding photographer from Paris, who is based in Brooklyn, where she lives with her sound engineer husband and their cat-child. When she isn’t shooting weddings, she is binge-watching crime documentaries on Netflix. And when she isn’t doing that, she is taking pictures of her travels and daily life with some really old and moody analogue cameras. You can find her work on her Instagram, Facebook, and on carolecohenphotography.com. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.