Behind the Scenes Tips from a Wedding Photographer

You’re a planner. Someone who likes to check things off a list. You love insider information and you hate the nagging feeling that you may be overlooking something. You’ve hired your wedding photographer and want to make sure you make their life easy so you get awesome wedding photos. If this sounds like you, then check out this list of behind-the-scenes tips that will ensure your wedding day goes smoothly and your photos come out gorgeous.


Timing is everything, as they say. I’ve read a ton of wedding advice over the years, but sadly I don’t see this important tip mentioned often enough (or with enough detail). Now, every wedding photographer has their own strategy, so the key thing to remember is that things always take longer than you’d expect.

Side note: Please don’t let these tips overwhelm you. After 50+ weddings, the rundown of a wedding has become second hand for me, but is most likely brand new to you. An experienced wedding photographer will help you navigate and plan a timeline for your day. I include these tips on timing because I’m a planner, and if I like to know these things, I’m sure you do too! (Or you wouldn’t be reading this, right?)

Things you may not realize take longer than expected:

bride sitting in chair putting on high heels

Putting on the dress. On a regular day, putting your clothes on probably takes no longer than 5 mins. But on a wedding day, strapping on special undergarments, carefully lowering a dress over your hair, cinching up a corset, delicately placing your veil, and even putting on shoes (it’s not so easy bending over in a corset!) require finesse and patience. Plan for a minimum of 15 mins just to put on your wedding dress.

groomsmen portraits with classic volkswagen

Travel. Hopping in a car is the easy part. But waiting for all 8 of your wedding party to gather their things, someone forgetting something and running back to the room, figuring out who is driving with who, getting directions, and actually leaving the parking lot is another! However long Google says it will take to drive somewhere, double that in your wedding day timeline. Flustered and stressed is not how you want to look in your wedding portraits.

woman hugs groom at wedding receiving line
Receiving line/Greeting all your guests. Thanking your guests for attending your wedding is a traditional and polite thing to do. But be prepared–if you spend just 30 secs with each of your 100 wedding guests, it will take 50 mins to say hello to everyone! Set aside an hour to greet your 100 guests.

If you are planning on going from table to table during the reception, please realize that if you don’t add additional time to your dinner reception, you will probably not get to enjoy much of your meal and you will have many more distractions keeping you from greeting all of your guests (besides eating, there are also your first dances, other guests grabbing you to chat, needing a bathroom break, some guests wandering off before you can greet them, other guests wanting a photo taken with you, etc).

purple and gold lake wedding portrait
If only it was as simple as “everyone stand in a row and smile!” Instead, it’s more like “guys, button your top vest button, ladies–please put your purses over here, sunglasses off everyone, ok everyone move into a line…let’s get this line straight…okay do we have everyone? Wait, where’s Uncle Norman?” At a minimum, I suggest 30 mins for family portraits, 30 mins for the wedding party, and 30 mins for bride and groom portraits.

This may sound like a lot of time, but I promise you–this is moving really fast and all the pieces have to be in place to make sure it goes smoothly (having a list for your requested family formals is one way of making this go quickly). Depending on the number of family formals, you may get limited creativity by sticking to the minimum requirements of this timeline. And if we finish early, huzzah! More time to party.

Note: Want to spend time at your cocktail hour? Great! Many of my couples do this, and it just requires a few adjustments to the timeline. You could have an extended cocktail hour, fewer portraits, or the best and most popular option is a first look (where the bride and groom see each other before the ceremony and take many of the formal portraits then).

Before the Ceremony

high key bride putting on bracelet

Getting ready. If you love those light and bright getting ready photos, then make sure to request a room that gets lots of natural light! This usually means a larger room, which is a bonus because you’ll have more space and less clutter (underwear, food, ceremony decor, etc) in your photos. Your make up artist will also love you. And if you want getting ready photos of the guys–please be kind and give them a nice large suite as well! Too many times the guys get the short end of the stick and end up crammed into 1 tiny dark room like sardines.

The Miscellaneous. It’s happened enough times that I feel I should say something: Grooms, don’t forget a belt that matches your outfit and socks! Also, practice tying a tie (or make sure someone else will be there who can!). Ladies, a nice dress hanger really adds the finishing touch to your dress photos. It doesn’t have to be a fancy wire one that’s twisted into your new last name–even a solid wooden one will look much better than a cheap plastic hanger.

The Ceremony

Everyone may be seated. Honor, love, and nerves can get the best of anyone. If you are having a close friend or family member officiate your ceremony, ask them to put a reminder in their paperwork for when they should tell your guests they may be seated. Many times, they can get so swept up in the emotion of the day, that they forget to tell your guests they can sit. Besides the minor annoyance and confusion for your guests, having everyone stand when it was not planned really limits the angles your photographer can get for photos.

Side bangs. You probably love those teary-eyed vows just as much as I love photographing them. But fair warning: if your hair style sweeps over the right side of your face, it will be difficult to capture photos from multiple angles where your face is not obscured. Keep this in mind and talk to your hair stylist about other options if this concerns you.

bride and groom laugh flower wedding recession

The Recession. Right before announcing “you may kiss the bride,” a helpful thing for your officiant to do is warn everyone to get their bubbles/confetti/rice ready to toss. Many times, your guests are so wrapped up in the final emotional moment of the ceremony, that they forget to prepare for what comes immediately after the kiss. Your wedding exit will look much more spectacular with a coordinated effort by your guests to shower you in flower petals, so give them a heads up!

The Reception

The First Dance. Do you get chatty when you’re nervous? I know how you feel. I totally understand that having a million eye balls watching you can make you uncomfortable. And by the time the first dance comes around, you probably feel like you haven’t really gotten to talk to each other much. But talking during your first dance will majorly limit your selection of photos. Be sure to pause for a little bit and just smile at each other.

ambient versus flash wedding reception lighting
This can really impact your reception photos. While I do use off camera flash to subtly mix ambient lighting (candles, lanterns, or Christmas lights) with enough fill flash to take photos, your images will always look better with more ambient lighting. Above is one example of 2 parent dance photos taken at the same wedding. In the first, the background is a blank wall on one side of the dance floor. In the second photo is another angle, where the bride decorated some tree branches with Christmas lights. (And don’t worry–I swung around and got lots of photos of the groom and his mom in front of the Christmas lights!)

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