Congratulations! You've found your truly beloved and sealed it with a kiss. You've chosen your outfits, booked the venue, informed the authorities, invited the finest, and dreamed of the big day. So now it's time for the fun stuff: the planning!
Let me be the little angel on your shoulder and, what the hell, the tiny little devil too and give you a bit of guidance on how to make your wedding day photography as spectacular as you could ever dare dream.
I'll provide a few stress-busting tips, words of wisdom and help you administer the lightest sprinkling of fairy dust to make the next few months, weeks or days (seriously?!) a whole lot cooler and calmer.
1. Find your photographer
Fairly obvious, yes, but the question should always be asked: What are your priorities?
Quality? Budget? Family commitments ("Uncle Buck's got a new camera for Xmas and he'd love to take your wedding photos....")?
Start by looking around. Whatever your requirements, there's nothing wrong with a bit of inspiration and there's plenty of that out there.
Bridal fairs, photographer's websites, glossy mags, recommendations from recently married friends, ask for help on your Facebook status and Tweet the hell out of the hashtag #weddingphotographersextraordinaire .
Wedding blogs (here's an example) are a great source of inspiration for engaged couples, photographers, florists and event stylists but, most of all, a wonderful platform for photographers to show off and entice you to their personal website.
Once you've got a couple of snappers in mind, it's time to think cold hard cash money!
Most of us mere mortals (not including swashbuckling Wall Street titans) have a budget of some sort but keep in mind that your photography should last for at least a lifetime, which is why you should consider your photographer very carefully.
Remember: bad photos will last forever. Possibly even longer.
Do you want to be the butt of Antiques Roadshow jokes a century from now ?
You can pay anything from $99 on eBay to more than $10,000 for a photographer.
The rule here is, if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys!
OK, so you get it down to a couple of people who suit your style and your budget.
Now let's get down to business...
2. Meetings, meetings, meetings!
Even the world's finest photographer might raise your hackles within five minutes of meeting. Best that this happens before the wedding day.
Get rid of anyone that you're not comfortable with because you're going to be spending an awful lot of time with them on your big day.
Make sure that, photography aside, you'd invite them as a guest. We're not talking dancing on the table and champagne guzzling here, but if you'd be happy to have them sitting next to Uncle Harold and Aunt Maude or, even better, at that top table, this person is a surefire hit.
Sometimes, location doesn't allow for face to face meetings but Skype is a wonderful thing... get down with that techie stuff!
See their final products: albums, slideshows, blog postings, wedding magazine features.
Make sure to see a full wedding, from the earliest preparations right through to the first dance, not just their favourite portfolio images. Anyone can get a few good photos from a wedding. You want someone whose photos shot from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. will melt the very cockles of your heart!
Does the photographer have insurance? What cover is in place should they (heaven forbid) get sick or have an accident that prevents them from photographing your wedding?
Most importantly, is the person you've just spent all this time auditioning going to be the same person who shoots your wedding? Or do they have a partner who'll turn up on the day having never met you or discussed any of your plans with you?
Finally, will they be working with an assistant and, if so, can you see some of their images? I have great faith in my second shooters abilities and am always more than happy to show images from their recent shoots with me. I'm putting my reputation in their hands and I trust them!
You're getting scared now, right?
3. Discuss what you want from the packages
I have three photography packages, ranging in price depending on hours spent at the wedding and the size of album offered. My packages are customizable and I believe this should be the case for everyone. (I'll await the hate mail from angry photogs!)
If you want fewer hours, a super-size album, a proof book, a disc, one of your photographers to be a dwarf in racing red knickers, I'll see what I can do. (Although red really isn't my color. And I ain't short.)
If your package includes a CD of images, what printing rights do you have and at what resolution will the images be?
Again, we're at the money stage. Think carefully.
Long after the cake has been eaten, the suits are bursting at the seams and the late night necking is but a distant memory, your photos should hold amazing memories that make you bawl happily when you open that album and that may cost you!
4. Check with the chosen venue about photography access
You've found the world's coolest photographer, you've booked your venue, you've made it down to your wedding weight. Now, if the location allows and the venue are open to the idea, do a walk through with the photographer. If they've never shot there before, they'll be glad of the opportunity to check out shooting locations, the light and the venue's restrictions to the ceremony shooting.
5. Pre-wedding Engagement Photo
I love a pre-wedding engagement session. An e-session. A couples shoot. Call it what you will, this is when you'll meet up a few months before the big day and take some photos that you'll display at your reception party.
I blow up a signing board or a guest book with the photos from the shoot, some people prefer to have the photos on disc and decide what to do with them at a later date.
Some people just use it as a chance for a practice session.
This is such a great chance to let loose and have some fun, get to know your photographer, let them see what you're comfortable with and if you're not sure how to pose or what your best side is, this is the right time to find out and if you've got the right photographer, they'll help you...Why not really go nuts and incorporate a story in the shoot?
Did you meet on the train? Head to the rail track and stage your very own Kerouac shoot there.
You met in the library? Go to your local book store and lie amongst the books (might need permission from the be-cardiganed staff there).
How about an Oz shoot ? Yes you can follow that Yellow Brick Road, Toto?
Top hat and tails, vintage, drag or simply the two of you huddled together in your scarfs and hats at the local park. It all works, it's fun and you get some extra shots to remind you how exciting this time was.
It may not feel it when you're bogged down with the wedding minutae but there are some amazing things around the corner and this shoot will capture that moment.
6. Plan Your Day to Include the Photos
When you're planning your wedding, make sure you include time for the photos. You'll be amazed how often people forget.
Formal photos: If you're having them, (known as Granny shots in the industry because you'll get a stern telling off if Nana doesn't get her traditional line-up) normally follow the ceremony (unless you have time before and have opted for a first look, see below.)
The formal photography should take nomore than half an hour, depending on how many photos you're requesting, how many guests you have and how spectacularly drunk they've managed to get. This should leave a good half hour for the bridal party photos and the important ones--the two of you!
If your photographer is open to it, by all means write a shot list but be aware that some photographers do not work from a list and if you do this, keep it to a minimum.
Group photos: For me, they work like this.
Big group shot. Both families, sisters, brothers, kids and in-laws next while the friends and long lost rellies head to the bar. Immediate family to follow.
Leave the in-laws to chase the kids around the grounds.
Parents and step-parents with both couples.
Parents and step-parents number 2 with both couples.
Any extras made on a shot list (and sent to me in advance!) are fitted in as and where they work most seamlessly and I always buy my second shooter a glass of wine for helping with this and making the process fast and smooth.
If you need to make sure that someone special isn't left out make sure you tell your photographer!
If you've booked a photographer with a photojournalistic style, they may balk at a request like this. Or throw the shot list back in your face!
True to their profession, they will not move something that is obstructing the perfect photo, nor will they ask that someone moves an arm to make a more flattering image. A great photojournalist is an artist and the photos they produce are stunning, showing exactly how your day looked. If this is your style and you find a good one, maybe best to leave the shot list on your desktop!
7. Consider a First Look
Now you're talking! I'm based in England and tradition here dictates that the first time you lay eyes on each other all dressed up in your flamboyant finery, should be at the end of the aisle. In the States, however, brides and grooms are bucking that tradition in order to get some damn fine photography out of the way before the ceremony. This time will still be magical.
Your photographer will have one of you standing facing them and bring your partner into shot behind you. If they have a second shooter, they'll be photographing from the opposite angle to get the best of both of your expressions which, "on the count of three, turn around!" will range from shock, awe, love and tears.
To capture this emotion on film is such stuff as dreams are made of. Yes, you'll get the same expressions at the aisle but the photographer may be limited as to their positioning. With a first look, the light will be perfect, the composition dynamic and the moment, unforgettable.
Now that you've seen each other and dried your tears, the photographer will get some photos of the two of you away from the hustle and bustle of the wedding and maybe some shots with your bridal party, leaving you more time after the ceremony to start guzzling the champers.
8. Decorate: Details, Details, Details.
A wedding without decorations is a day without sunshine. Not only do these items make your images appear yet more stunning, they show your personality off to guests and make your day completely unforgettable. Whether this be mason jars, bunting and rustic signs or diamonds, candles and imported swans from the Cotswolds, put your stamp on your day and let the world know that the two of you, together are one whole hell of a couple.
As a photographer, walking into a room where the betrothed have obviously spent time perfecting the vision of their day, is super exciting.
9. Plan in Advance for Post-Wedding Paraphenalia
This may not be your thing but if it is, planning ahead is worth giving up a night of TV for. It only takes five minutes for your photographer to capture these extra shots and they'll add so much pizzazz to your albums story-line.
Hold up the L.O.V.E. letters with pride, hide behind the whirly lollipops and pout in your moustaches and heart shaped sunnies. If it's you and it's fun, do it.
A Thank-You photo is a great added extra that your photographer can shoot on the day.
Whether this be words written on a blackboard, the palms of your hands (best not to go for permanent ink) or with vintage metal letters scored from a rundown cinema (nice!) this photo for your thank you cards, again, shows off your personality and will make all those receiving one jealous that they didn't think of it first! Which is, of course, vitally important.
10. Smile! Relax! Enjoy Your Day!
Most importantly: smile and relax. This is your day. Your moment. Anything that doesn't go to plan, just makes for a great photo. Honestly! Some of my all-time favorite shots (and my couples always agree) are those where the ring wouldn't go on, the heavens opened, the bride had a fit of giggles and the best man got it on with the maid of honor. OK, OK, the last part never happened, but it might at your wedding and it'll just make it all the more memorable. Especially for their wives and husbands!
This will be the greatest day of your life. It's cheesy as all hell but it's true. Make the most of it, grin like a Cheshire Cat, smoulder (and smize) like Tyra, throw your new husband/wife into the air and dance like no one's watching. But most of all choose your photographer wisely. (Or just choose me!)
All views expressed are my own and will most likely be haughtily dismissed by the high and mighty wedding photographers of the world. They're the wedding photographers you might want to avoid!