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:
- Most brides who don’t book a HMUA trial, find fault on the day. Or things didn’t hold up and they didn’t have spare lipstick or bobby pins. So do a trial and pack makeup and hair essentials for touchups. Having an emergency kit with other essentials like plasters, sewing kit, baby wipes and lint rollers is a sanity-saving must.
And if you do a trial, have a fitting the same day so you can see the full look. You can also check if your hair catches on your dress. And if your veil doesn’t feel secure enough to withstand winds and hugs, you can see how best to bobby pin it in place.
- If logistics allow, you both should get ready at the same location – ideally at the venue. This has several perks: your photographs will look more cohesive, and you’ll typically cut down on your photographer costs (either in terms of needing a second photographer or hours of coverage).
- 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’s your day and the last thing you want is to be waiting for everyone else to get ready. So tell everyone they need to be ready before you even get changed.
This also ensures those helping you get ready are relaxed. If your outfit has loads of complicated buttons or you’ve never done a pocket square, for example, you don’t want others stressing about themselves whilst also helping you – it will stress you all out!
Added perk is that group photographs can then be taken immediately after you’re dressed because everyone else is ready too – 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. If it’s particularly dark, I often pop a light outside to create gorgeous natural light on the darkest of days.
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 by giving your hair time to settle into place. The last thing you want is to be rushing out the door without a chance to really take in what you look like – and finding out you don’t like your hair for several hours.
- If you hate being seen without makeup, get your makeup done before hair. It will save your from wanting to burn the first 100 or so photographs in your wedding gallery. 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 2-3 people. It can get too crowded to take photographs. And even worse, often ends up making you stressed or overheated if it’s a hot summer day in an already cramped room.
- Plan to get into your dress an hour before you intend to leave. This gives time for bridal portraits, last minute fixes, and group photographs.
ADVICE FOR GROOMS
- YouTube is going to be your best friend for getting ready. 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.
- 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 your 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.
- How guests are seated for the ceremony can be a unique opportunity to do something different. You can have families switch sides so that that your parents are seeing your reaction more clearly rather than the back of your head. You can also have loved ones sit or stand beside you. The aisle can also be organised like a runway, in a horseshoe, or circle.
- 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 and how to go about it.
- When it comes to the grand entrance, do you! I’ve had grooms rush halfway down the aisle and greet the bride, couples walk in together, and also had very traditional entrances where the groom faces forward the entire time.
But in that last instance, it’s usually down to nerves and not knowing what to do. So hear it from me first: you can and definitely should watch your other half walk down the aisle. This most likely isn’t an arranged marriage. 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.
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.
- And as for the processional song, you can either keep it traditional with “Here Comes the Bride”, choose an instrumental version of your favourite song, or choose one with tear jerking vocals. But whatever you do, I recommend having the song play for a bit before you enter. Family and friends will all be talking to you, so playing your song will give you a chance to recenter. Here is a playlist of some great options.
- If you’re doing readings at your ceremony, check out this blog post for lots of ideas. Some of my favourite readings have been something a mother has written, and a funny song by a friend. You could also do the readings yourselves or have your own vows.
- 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. If your kiss is over and done within 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. Feel free to stop for a few kisses, punch the air, kiss your Nan, or high-five your mates – whatever feels natural in the moment, do it.
Until I started telling couples beforehand what do, everyone would just stop and smile for the camera. I already had loads of similar pictures from 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.
And here’s why: 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. Task someone 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. Most couple’s do this group photograph because it’s the done thing, but in truth, the all group shot is the biggest time suck.
So be real with yourself. If you have no plans to hang this photograph in your home, why spend so much of your day corralling unwilling guests?
If it is a shot you want or family has pressured you to do, I promise I will do everything I can to make this image great, happen quickly, and even do some photographs that are genuinely fun. I have most definitely have a pep talk to convince the reluctant ones to commit 1000% to the moment, and have been known to blast music and encourage mosh pit level chaos. I have different methods for every wedding as every crowd is different, so don’t panic if that style isn’t you! I’ll have hopefully figured that out long before your wedding!
- Keep your list short for group portraits and have two designated helpers to keep things moving (someone who knows the people needed and/or has a really loud voice) They can find anyone who is missing and keep a close eye on those itching towards the bar right before they are needed.
- 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 Bettie is taking no notice, it helps that you are prepared to echo my statements and 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.
- As a general rule for most weddings, 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 or adding photos you’d love to frame:
1. B&G with all family
2. B&G with parents & siblings
3. B&G with parents
4. B with parents
1. B&G with all family
2. B&G with parents & siblings
3. B&G with parents
4. G with parents
The Wedding Breakfast
- Decorate how you want, eat what you want, do what makes you happy, and don’t stress about the details. Those white chair covers, for example, are probably the most overrated expense which don’t often improve things that much – heck jackets and shawls will be covering them in about .5 seconds anyway.
My advice is to focus on your top priorities, and then if there is budget, you can spend on the finer details.
- 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 instead. The bride can do a speech too and so can the MOH!
- Lastly, for the reception, and this is important: feed your photographer a glorious, hot meal. 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. I’ve worked with 50+ different photographers in my career and every single one starts to fall apart around meal time. All it takes is a hot meal to bring us back and renew our energy. Food is life.
- 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. I am more than happy to be the one faffing with stains on the skirt of a dress.
- Have about 15 minutes set aside 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 30 minutes for portraits in this light. 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
- If you’re having a first dance, I recommend doing this right after you cut the cake. But the question most likely on the tip of your tongue is what song should you dance to? That’s a hard one, and I’ll admit I immediately knew my husband and I’s song choice was the wrong one as soon as we started dancing. So while it might be cheesy, a practice run in the lounge isn’t a bad idea.
But what’s really going to help you find the right song, is talking to your band. They probably have loads of suggestions, and you could even chat to them about tweaking the lyrics of a song. Some songs take on completely different moods and meanings when you hear acoustic versions, so ask if they can do something like that as well. I made a YouTube playlist of first dance songs, which you can find here. You can either play right through or click the hamburger in the top right to skip to something that takes your fancy
- 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 instinctively ushers most people off the dance floor. You’ve seen it happen, we’ve all seen it happen. Don’t let it happen at your wedding.
- 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. Get those shots 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, and stick to it. 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!