This guide is full of top tips for great photographs and happy memories from over a decade of photographing weddings. But a quick disclaimer and my first top top: this is a guide, not a manual. If anything doesn’t vibe with you, don’t do it. Listen to yourself and what feels right.
After all, this is your day. Make it yours. I say that because there really is only one guarantee to ensure your wedding day is epic and unique from all others: YOU!
So if you want an epic wedding and great photographs to match, you just got to do you. Make the day utterly and completely yours. Walk the aisle as a couple, have a 90 year old flower girl, have a man of honour, or completely skip the receiving line before the wedding breakfast. You don’t have to have an unplugged ceremony, throw the bouquet or do the first dance unless you want to.
This guide is broken down into the main key parts of the day with little bits of advice to help you really and truly enjoy your day. Keep scrolling or click one of these links to skip ahead to specific sections:
Ask your MOH/Best Man or close friend with similar music taste to make a playlist and crank those tunes while you’re getting ready to set the mood. And no, they don’t have to all be wedding songs – play what you like!
In the rush to get ready, bridesmaids’ zippers often break or usher’s rip holes through their trousers. Have an emergency kit at both getting ready locations with matching thread and a needle. For some reason florists often forget to deliver pins for the buttonholes or they get lost, so have some back up pins to hold those in place. Also have someone pack baby wipes in case someone gets an awkward smudge on a dress or suit. Basically, create an emergency kit that has things like extra bobby pins, lipstick, mascara, plasters, hairspray, etc. And have someone take the kits with you to the ceremony and reception! Here’s a whole blog post covering what to pack and why.
Get your things together the night before and anything you want photographed, like the rings, invitations, jewellery, perfume, your something blue, cuff links, etc. Doing this little bit of prep work will save you the stress of trying to get them together on the day – and it also means your photographer (ahem, me!) can quickly photograph all of details as soon as they arrive and can then focus on capturing candid moments.
It takes time getting ready. So get changed at least an hour before you need to leave and tell everyone that they need to be ready before you get changed. This ensures those helping you get ready are relaxed. If your wearing a dress in particular, you don’t want them stressing while they are helping you do the buttons up the back – it will stress you out too! Added perk is that group photographs can then be taken immediately after you’re dressed – so win-win all around!
If you are having photographs of you getting ready, reserve an area to get changed into that is well lit and clean – such as by a window. You’ll also typically want to ensure all lights are out when getting ready. Artificial lighting rarely does anyone’s complexation any favours compared to window light and creates harsh shadows.
ADVICE FOR BRIDES
The number one reason ceremonies start late is because of hair and makeup. If you’re having this done, be towards the middle or first depending on the size of your party, and if need be, get a quick touch up at the end. The added benefit is you’ll know if you need more bobby pins or hair spray to last you the day by giving your hair a bit of time to settle.
If you hate being seen without makeup, save yourself from wanting to burn the first 100 or so photographs in your wedding gallery by having your makeup done before hair. This is a non issue if you’re confident in your own skin or aren’t having photography coverage of you getting ready, but if you are, think about this when deciding when you want your photographer to start their coverage.
Limit those helping you get dressed to 2-4 people otherwise it gets too crowded to take photographs and often ends up making you stressed and even overheated if it’s a hot summer day in an already cramped room.
ADVICE FOR GROOMS
YouTube is going to be your best friend for getting ready. I can’t count the number of times I’ve attached the buttonholes. It’s also a good idea to practice a bit and find a style you like for your tie beforehand – but also for your pocket square. This advice also works for all the ladies rocking suits on their big day!
If you’re getting ready at a different location than your soon-to-be spouse and you choose not to have a second photographer, your photographer can leave a bit earlier to ensure you get some photographs of you prior to entering the church and photos with the ushers and parents. With that in mind, have these people arrive a bit early to the ceremony location. The photographer (aka me!) can also use this time to photograph the church décor and guests arriving.
If you’ve got a load of downtime while your other half gets ready, you should take advantage of the morning and help yourself relax. Head to a local pub with your mates for a pint and nibble, have a massage, or even play a cheeky round of golf if that’s your jam.
It used to be puffy shoulder pads, but nothing dates your photographs quicker than technology. So opt for pictures of family soaking up the moment over being absorbed in devices. You don’t want guests in the aisle blocking the professional photographs either – or worse, your view of each other as you come down the aisle (THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENS)! Nervous how your guests will react? Your celebrant can make an announcement limiting pictures to just after signing the registry. I have a whole blog post that will help you decide if an unplugged ceremony is for you
You can and definitely should watch your other half walk down the aisle. This most likely isn’t an arranged marriage and you don’t have to face forward. You can even say a few words, hug and hold hands during the ceremony – and you know, look like a couple that’s in love. Unless your religion is very strict and forbids it, your celebrant is not going to halt the ceremony if you turn around to watch their grand entrance, I promise.
When it comes to the kiss, mean it! If you two hate PDA, give a few pecks that last more than .00002 seconds to ensure you’ve got the kiss on film. Depending on how dark your ceremony location or the location of the sun, it can take a camera a few seconds to focus, and if your kiss is over and done with in the blink of an eye, you might not have a photograph of it.
When you walk back down the aisle as newlyweds, just keep walking, stopping for a few kisses, punching the air and high-fiving your mates – whatever feels natural in the moment. Couples often seem to think the photographer wants photographs of them standing still in the aisle and panic a bit. This is not the case – like, ever. They’ve already got plenty of you standing still at the altar, this is a moment of celebration – so do just that and CELEBRATE!
Sneak away right after the I Do’s to celebrate for 5 hot minutes. Your guests can wait till they throw confetti at you to shower you in their love. My couple’s favourite photographs are almost always from this moment, and it’s because this moment is packed with a lot of genuine emotions. So pick a place where you two can escape (such as the other side of the church) and walk straight there after the ceremony so you’re out of sight and can take in the fact that you just got married!!!
While I’m taking the above said photographs with a giant lens to give you privacy, arrange for friends to organise the confetti tunnel and have someone set to come get us once it’s ready. And maybe let your parents and bridal party know you plan to have a few minutes of alone time so they can stop people from following you.
If you can, give yourself time immediately after the confetti toss to greet guests. They are going to be so excited and full of emotions. Find the ones you love most and give them a hug.
Ditch the all group photograph unless you’re really set on it. It’s the biggest time suck. If you really want it, blast music and get guests to boogie into a mosh pit of sorts for a fun shot.
Keep your list short for group portraits and have two designated helpers to keep things moving (someone who knows the people needed or has a really loud voice).
Each group photograph takes about 2 minutes depending on size, but sometimes Cousin Ted hits the bar early or Papa goes to the loo for 20 minutes – so take that into account when deciding how much time you’re allocating to photographs and how many groupings you want. A bit of buffer time is key to keep you from getting stressed.
Make everyone that is needed is aware that they are required for formal photos before the day (that way maybe Cousin Ted will stick around rather than making a dash for the bar).
Tell parents they can ask for any photographs as the photographer captures the reception but that you’ve chosen the group photographs you want. Otherwise chaos can ensue and those pictures you really want can get missed.
Make sure you both are aware of the number of photographs you have chosen and are in agreement. The last thing you want is your partner walking off in a huff because they are hangry.
Discourage people taking photographs during group portraits as it significantly slows the process and you will find your professional photographs suffer as a result. It is hard enough sometimes getting everyone with eyes open, let alone looking in the same direction. I usually take care of this, but if Aunt May is taking no notice, it helps that you are prepared to tell family to put the cameras away and go party.
Tell your photographer in advance if there are any family dynamics or disabilities that could impact photographs. You don’t want the photographer telling dad to give mum a kiss if they had a nasty divorce just last year! And if there are any disabilities or aliments in the family, we can do those portraits first.
Set aside at least 30 minutes for family photographs and another 15 minutes with your bridal party (and maybe more for the latter depending on size).
Start with big groups and whittle your way down. That way when we’re done with guests, they can go and enjoy themselves and you can get more intimate photographs without distractions. Use the example below as a template, nixing any combinations that don’t apply:
1. B&G with all family
2. B&G with parents & siblings
3. B&G with parents
4. B&G with siblings
5. B with siblings
6. B with parents
7. B with Dad
8. B with mum
9. B&G with all family
10. B&G with parents & siblings
11. B&G with parents
12. B&G with siblings
13. G with siblings
14. G with parents
15. G with mum
16. G with Dad
The Wedding Breakfast
Decorate how you want, eat what you want, do what makes you happy, and don’t stress about the details. Chair covers, for example, are probably the most overrated expense and don’t often improve things that much – heck jackets and shawls will be covering them in about .5 seconds anyway.
You don’t have to do the traditional father of the bride, best man and groom speech. If your best man has terrible stage fright, have Dad give the speech. The bride can do a speech too and so can the MOH!
If you want great photographs from start to finish, you’ve got to help keep the photographer happy, creative, and full of energy for the 8+ hours they are on their feet. That means a warm meal. We photographers are only human and a good meal gives a real burst of energy to see them through the rest of the day.
If you’ve ever kicked off your shoes and gone full Footloose on the dance floor, you know just how black your feet get. Guess what? That’s what the bottom of the dress will look like – so let that baby flow free for great portraits. And pro tip: baby wipes work wonders at getting dirt and smudges out if you really want to keep things white for as long as possible.
Have about 30 minutes for couple portraits once you’re done with group ones. You’ll also want to find out when golden hour is and make sure you set aside another 30 minutes for portraits in this light as it is the best. Make sure you work toasts, first dance or cake cutting around this so you can sneak off.
Never. Stop. Touching. Hold hands when you’re walking and go hip to hip and all sorts of snuggled up during your portraits. I’ve got lots of prompts to get you interacting and laughing so just focus on enjoying the moment. The photographs you’ll love most will have a sentimental moment attached to them, so we’ll end with me putting on my giant lens and you two quietly sharing a few promises to one another so just you two can hear.
The Evening Disco
Play the kind of tunes that will get your guests up and moving. Unless you book the hours, your wedding photographer is only there for so long in the evening so you want to get the dance floor packed. Avoid slow songs during this time, tunes only your great grandpa would love, or anything that kicks people off the dance floor.
The key for a packed dance floor is to know your people. Having guests request songs on their RSVP can give you an idea of what will get people moving and grooving. Pass on your favourite suggestions to your band or DJ.
When your photographer is just walking around getting candids of people is a great time for group photograph requests from either you or your parents of old friends from uni or a shot with your cousins. You can even grab these portraits during a lull in the wedding breakfast. I usually try to get portraits of your parents all loved up too, so let them know they can grab me for this before changing into more casual attire.
A last word of advice
You want to know the real secret to an amazing wedding and great photographs? It’s you. A happy, well rested couple is what makes for great pictures and a lively wedding. If you’re stressed or tired, it will be written all over your face – and subsequently, the photographs.
So with that in mind, do yourself a favour and stop planning, prepping and worrying at least three days before your wedding. Set yourself an early deadline so to speak. Don’t stay up till 4 AM the night before putting confetti into individual baggies. If you’re personally planning to decorate the venue the night before, recruit lots of help and give yourself a cut-off time where you stop fluffing bows and go home. The little things will not make or break your wedding – if something is not finished or done right, none of your guests will notice and you probably won’t either on the day. But if you are so focused on these small details, they will break you, and you’ll be exhausted on your wedding day. So do your best to just let it go.
Until next time,
Kelsie Scully Photography – Brighton wedding photographer serving Sussex, the UK and beyond.
My goal as your photographer is to ensure you have belly-aches from laughing so much throughout your entire experience with me. I help you feel completely yourself around me and ensure that every photograph I deliver is a timeless reflection of your best memories.
These images are about you and telling your story in all its raw and beautiful glory so that you have tangible memories. From the way your partner holds you to the way they make you laugh, you should have these memories you can hold on to forever: ones that you can feel in your hands, share with friends and your future generations.
If you’re interested in booking my services, get in touch!