FREE RESOURCE

WEDDING
PLANNING
GUIDE

I’ve been photographing weddings since 2012 and have picked up plenty of tips and tricks along the way.

I WOULD LIKE TO SHARE THEM WITH YOU

This is the day.


I won’t attempt to play down the significance of a wedding day in an effort to appear casual—this is a big deal.

You’ve spent valuable time and emotional energy arriving to this level of commitment with your favorite person and the day is here to become a family and celebrate it for all to see.

That being said, traditional rules are, in my humble opinion, meant to be a little bit bent and sometimes completely broken.

Maybe you’ll be surrounded by just a few loved ones in your backyard or on the patio of your favorite bar on a Tuesday afternoon in August, or you’ll have 200 of your nearest and dearest partying in a warehouse with glow in the dark cotton candy and tacos until 2am. Perhaps you’re planning a 3 day party in the woods or are flying 12 hours to a faraway destination.

Whatever you have in mind, I’m honored to be documenting every big and little moment for you.

PHOTO
TIP 01

Feeling nervous before photos?

Most of my direction during the portrait portions of a wedding day will bring the focus back to you two, so don’t be afraid to physically connect with your partner. When in doubt or wondering, “what do I do with my hands?!” try making contact with your person by holding their hand, touching their cheek, looking to them, or caressing their arm. Since photography is a visual medium any way you can literally and visually ~ connect ~ with one other will support the story being told.

PLANNING 101:

the schedule

A schedule is vital and helps with the flow of a Wedding Day, eliminates any unexpected surprises, and keeps me from missing any key moments. Unless you’re eloping or having an ultra chill wedding at a single location, some sort of schedule is essential. There are a lot of optional elements added to this schedule, feel free to customize, omit, and rearrange this schedule as you see fit.

Make sure to send me the final schedule no fewer than two weeks before the wedding date to give us time to make adjustments if necessary. It’s also a good idea to share the finalized schedule with the wedding party, family members, and other vendors.

You can find a copy of this sample schedule to save to your account on my Google Drive here.

Refer to these articles in BRIDES and A Practical Wedding–both of which I utilized when assembling this–as you’re customizing the schedule.

01: Getting Ready

  • LOCATION! LOCATION!
  • include addresses for every location on the schedule
  • add an extra 5-10 minutes to all travel time
  • if you’re getting ready in a hotel room, share the room number with me + other vendors

This is a sample activity you may or may not have planned with your friends and/or family before the official activities of the day begin. This could also be a chance for you and your partner to share a few quiet moments before the craziness of the day sets in. (I love this idea!) Feel free to omit this section, if necessary.

I honestly have no idea exactly how long it will take you to get ready from start to finish. I only have this slotted in here to give you a jumping off point – make sure to check in with your hair/makeup artists (HMUA) to customize this time.

*This is just a sample time slot – we’ll schedule my start and end times around your specific wedding, don’t worry!

I like to arrive a minimum of 30 minutes (no more than 90 minutes) before you get dressed. This gives everyone a few minutes to get comfortable around me and my camera and for me to photograph details such as your wardrobe, rings, perfume or cologne bottle, accessories, and invitations. Please try to have all of these items on hand before I arrive.

If you’re getting ready separately from your partner and would like to have both of your getting ready time photographed, this time will either have to be staggered or may require me bringing along a second photographer.

I’ll also be photographing everyone who is getting ready with you at this time – these images are meant to be candid, but it’s a good idea to give your friends and family a heads up that they’ll be appearing in casual photos.

This is a typical ballpark start time for my 8-10 hour packages. Please note, a second photographer’s time will occur concurrently with mine and we cannot be staggered throughout the day, so they would start at the same time as me.

The bridal party + any key family members should be dressed and ready by the time your hair and/or makeup is complete. This way, everyone can participate while you’re getting dressed (buttoning, zipping, etc). Unless you have meal or snacks planned prior to the ceremony, I recommend you take a moment to eat something light around this time, before getting dressed. You’ll use up a lot of energy in the next few hours and an empty stomach will only make you feel frazzled.

Make sure anyone who isn’t getting ready helps clean up the area so no one is tripping and there are no neon duffle bags, garbage, or empty water bottles scattered in the background.

This is typically a candid activity; your friends or family are helping you get dressed, assisting with shoes and jewelry, hugging, and maybe tearing up a little bit.

Prior to the day, please encourage your friends and/or family not to live through their phones during this process. There are few things more sad to me than going through photos and being unable to see a mother’s face behind her iPhone when she’s seeing her child in their wedding clothes for the first time.

Just you, at or near the place you just got ready, or at a designated location near/on the way to a first look location, if time permits. It’s great if you have the flowers at this point, but not required.

This time greatly depends on how long it will take to get to the first look location, if you’re leaving your getting ready space at all. You might be walking down the hall or you may be driving across town.

02: First Look + group photos

This is just a sample time slot – we’ll schedule my start and end times around your specific wedding, don’t worry!

The first look is when you see your partner for the first time, away from the dozens of eyes that will be watching during the ceremony. This time also helps ease the nerves you may be feeling and to take some of the first portraits of you two during the day.

If you want to keep this moment intimate, I recommend telling your family and wedding party to give you privacy. If they insist on joining and you’d rather they don’t, you can always tell them that I requested it.

These are the group photos with all members of the wedding party or key friends who will be with you throughout the day. We can also do individual portraits of you with each person, if you want them. If you prefer just a handful of group photos, this shouldn’t take longer than 10 minutes. Once we add in individual portraits with each person and assorted groupings, we need to allocate at least 1-2 minutes per person.

This time slot is easily swapped with the Family Photos if necessary.

Family photos can be stressful for everyone involved, but I promise they won’t be if you follow my lead. In my experience it’s best to keep all family photos to one time slot; I explain why in the Family Photo Tips section below.

If you don’t want to see each other before the ceremony we can do the family photos at once afterwards, but will need to be sure we have plenty of space away from the other guests and have scheduled for the appropriate lighting during this time. It can be a bit like herding cats if we save family photos for post-ceremony, so I recommend avoiding this if possible.

This is when you take a few minutes to relax, drink some water, go to the bathroom, take a shot, hide from guests, and get excited!!

03: Ceremony + Cocktail

  • GOLDEN HOUR PORTRAITS
  • since these are often the last photos during sunlight and some of your first photos as a married couple, we may spend 10-20 minutes
  • find out below why i love this light so much

Most weddings don’t actually start right at the listed time on the invitation. This gives your habitually late cousin a chance to find their seat before the aisle is littered with the wedding party, or to make up for the fact that the President is in town and their motorcade is messing up traffic (true story). There’s typically music playing at this time, and I keep seeing more pre-ceremony cocktail hours or welcome beverages.

The first look is when you see your partner for the first time, away from the dozens of eyes that will be watching during the ceremony. This time also helps ease the nerves you may be feeling and to take some of the first portraits of you two during the day.

If you want to keep this moment intimate, I recommend telling your family and wedding party to give you privacy. If they insist on joining and you’d rather they don’t, you can always tell them that I requested it.

This time is different for every wedding and entirely depends on the type of ceremony you’re having. Typically secular ceremonies last around 10-20 minutes, while religious ceremonies can last up to an hour or more.

One wedding I photographed included the couple’s friend reading the monologue from “When Harry Met Sally” as well as several other performances and bits by friends, and that definitely lasted more than 20 minutes, so it’s totally up to you two here.

This is just a sample time slot – we’ll schedule my start and end times around your specific wedding, don’t worry!

Invite guests to cocktail hour while you and your new spouse get a few things done first. 🙂

This will only take a few minutes, and couples often have someone bring them over a few appetizers + drinks from the cocktail hour to enjoy during this time.

We’ll sneak off for those “Oh shit we’re MARRIED!” photos I mentioned earlier. I don’t want to keep you from mingling with your guests + enjoying cocktail hour, so we try to keep the photos during this time as quick as possible.

04: the Reception

  • THINGS TO CONSIDER
  • any events and scheduling beyond the cocktail hour will need to be confirmed with the venue coordinator, caterer, or DJ
  • you can find this schedule on my Google Drive where you can save it to your own Drive or download for editing to your heart’s content
  • don’t forget to send me the semi-final schedule two weeks before the wedding so we can make any necessary adjustments

Before guests are invited to dinner, either myself or my second photographer will want 5-10 minutes before to photograph the table setting details, if this is important to you.

If you’re planning to do a grand entrance to the reception, you and your new spouse will be hidden away at this time.

Time for lots of applause and cheers while you and your new spouse enter a room like you’re the Queen of England.

This appears to be less common now, but the first toasts in the wedding reception timeline are considered welcome toasts or a prayer before dinner and are typically offered by the parents, officiant, friend, or a family member of the couple, if not the couple themselves.

This 10000% depends on what kind of dinner you’re having, and it will be best to check with your coordinator, planner, or caterer for timing on this.

This is just a sample time slot – we’ll schedule my start and end times around your specific wedding, don’t worry!

These are those dreamy, romantic, golden-hued photos you’ve probably seen. We can definitely chat more about these photos and where exactly you want them to take place, but I recommend at or near the reception location. I always check the time of sunset when we’re planning the schedule, but you can do so, too, by Googling: “sunset [date, location]”

As dinner is wrapping up any members of the wedding party or family can offer their toasts during this slot of the wedding schedule. Always give a time limit to these people; less than five minutes is a good rule of thumb.

These dances typically take place shortly after the toasts. If you or your partner don’t wish to participate, I’ve seen many weddings start the open dance with a wedding party dance and a high energy song.

This is just a sample time slot – we’ll schedule my start and end times around your specific wedding, don’t worry!

Not everyone wants to do a Cake Cutting, Bouquet/Garter Toss, or Money Dance/other traditional dances, and this is, obviously, totally up to you! And honestly, I salute you for doing whatever makes the most sense to you two.

You don’t have to end the night when I leave, but if you want photos of a sparkler line or some sort of fun exit on the way to your after party, this would be the time to do that.

Arrange for a specific song with your DJ or band ahead of time and to be cued that the that song is coming up. If you’re having an exit with sparklers, make sure to plan ahead with the venue coordinator and ask their advice for best practices. I recommend using the 20″ or 30″ sparklers intended for this (they should last a 120 seconds or longer) rather than choosing a shorter or budget option.

PHOTO
TIP 02

Trust your gut!

This is your wedding day, and ultimately it should be a reflection of what you and your partner want it to be rather than an overly curated or designed creation from someone else’s mood board. There are no wrong opinions or ideas when it comes to what you want your day to be and represent. I won’t tell you exactly what to wear for engagement photos (unless you want me to) or shame you for any of your choices on the wedding day. I am there to document the day exactly as it occurs, weird lighting, dated wallpaper, ugly crying and all.

PLANNING 1O1:

lighting!

GOLDEN HOUR

I’m sure you’re already aware of this one. I love golden hour light; it’s soft, dramatic, warm, nostalgic, and so fun to play with. I call it honey light, and it’s hard to take a bad photo in this light. A wedding ceremony that takes place during this time (~60 minutes prior sunset) is memorable, but also means we would likely be unable to get portraits in this light.

Some of my favorite photos during the day take place when I sneak off with just the couple for a few intimate, romantic, “WE’RE MARRIED!” portraits right after the ceremony, so it’s great if we can do this for 10-20 minutes during the golden hour, the closer to sunset the better. I always take sunset into account when helping to build a schedule, but you can see when it is, too, by googling: “sunset [location] [date].” Certain venues or locations make it tricky to access this light, so we’re not always able to play with it.

BEST FOR: Intimate ceremonies, portraits, cocktail hour, reception…everything! I WISH IT LASTED ALL DAY!

Indirect Window Light

This is always nice light. Your makeup artist will want to utilize this during the getting ready portion of your wedding day to avoid weird and unflattering shadows which may be caused by lamps, overhead lights, or bathroom lighting. We can also play with window light during portraits, and use it to illuminate family or group portraits if there are multiple or a single window is large enough.

If possible, use gauzy curtains to soften windows with direct sunlight. This will help scatter the light and make it softer and more flattering for multiple purposes throughout the day. When we’re in a room with bright window light, we’ll want to kill the room lights to avoid getting a funky mixed lighting scenario (which can be a pain in the ass to edit).

BEST FOR: GETTING READY, PORTRAITS, FIRST LOOK, GROUP PORTRAITS, CEREMONY, RECEPTION.

Full Sun

This is the kind of light you’ll find in the middle of a clear sunny day, typically in the summer months from mid-morning until mid-afternoon. Late fall, winter, and early spring full sun can be a different, wonderful, magical beast that sits lower in the sky and may err on the side of hazy and is almost always wonderful and easy to work with.

Summer full sun can be a challenging time to take some of those more staged or traditional group portraits without a shady spot (because of squinting) but we can almost always get some very dramatic portraits of you and your partner during this time.

BEST FOR: Summertime couples’ portraits, wintertime group portraits.

DAPPLED LIGHT

This one is relatively unpredictable; I’m not always able to plan for when it will hit unless I’m incredibly familiar with a location. This is direct light that hits in a magical way, for just a few moments and will disappear as quickly as it appeared. We’ll often find this light in the woods or near a tree, which is what creates its signature shadowy effect. Dappled light is one of my most requested and referenced light types, but we can’t always perfectly plan for it.

BEST FOR: PORTRAITS, FIRST LOOK, ENGAGEMENT SESSIONS.

OPEN SHADE

This one is sort of an amendment to Full Sun. When we’re photographing group portraits, a first look, or anything else that I have some control over during a clear, Full Sun day, I’ll inevitably try to find a large enough area of open shade for at least some of these photos.

I’ll be on the lookout for buildings, tall & full trees, or other structures next to which I can tuck people for posed or semi-posed portraits while still illuminating them beautifully. When in doubt, I’ll try to have you stand in the shade while facing wherever the light is coming from.

As with dappled light, unless we’re familiar with a location it can be trickier to plan for shade. I always keep a sun tracker app on my phone though, which helps me figure out the exact position of the sun in the sky at any time in the future.

BEST FOR: PORTRAITS, FIRST LOOK, GROUP PORTRAITS, SHORT CEREMONIES.

OVERCAST

I used to hate overcast days. I thought they were flat and uninspiring, but after living in the grey PNW for 5 years realized they’re almost always soft, gentle, and flattering. If your wedding day is overcast, you should be excited! It’s one of the easiest and most predictable light sources to work with, so all of your photographer’s energy can be entirely dedicated to documenting your day rather than anticipating the ever-changing nature of full sun.

BEST FOR: EVERYTHING!

TWINKLE + CANDLE LIGHT

Stringed lights are sort of like the golden hour of artificial light: always flattering, magical, and fun to play with. A reception with lots and lots of twinkle lights is one of my absolute favorite environments to photograph. String them above your ceremony seating, over the dinner tables, weave them through the trees, or create a circus tent-like effect over the dance floor. Candle light is another magical little light source that adds immediate intimacy, romance, and nostalgia to any setting. I love the way a tiny flame dances as guests erupt in applause after speeches or the first dance.

I always make the most of twinkle lights or candles when they’re around and love to utilize them to give photos an extra special unique sparkle with filters that I carry in my kit. I have yet to see too many being used, and often wish there were more. So if it’s financially possible, always add more lights! If you’re using candles outside, a hurricane candle holder is always a good idea to keep the flames lit.

BEST FOR: PORTRAITS, CEREMONY, COCKTAIL HOUR, DINNER, RECEPTION, DANCE PARTY.

AFTER DARK

The time after the sun has set can be a challenge for some, but I fully embrace it and love to run around with my flashes for a paparazzi-style pop of fun. Street lights, string lights, neon, shop lights, headlights, DJ lights, candles, firepits, and my flashes are all game here. These photos are often a little darker, more grainy, a little less perfect, and full of motion and energy.

I avoid using my flashes during any part of the day where I would rather go unnoticed, so I typically don’t pull them out until after the speeches during dinner.

It’s no secret that I have a soft spot for neon portraits, and I’m always game if you want to incorporate this element into your portraits. Lots of weddings are featuring custom-made neon signs (here and here) that you can later display in your home.

BEST FOR: PORTRAITS, COCKTAIL, RECEPTION, DANCING.

PHOTO
TIP 03

Tech etiquette

Snapping a few quick photos occasionally is one thing, but we have all witnessed that person whose phone is an extension of their arm all day long. Being hidden behind a screen during the most intimate moments means your loved ones are unwittingly cutting themselves off from totally experiencing what they’re seeing; there’s literally an obstacle between them and their loved one. And from a visual standpoint, it communicates that they don’t really care when we know it’s the exact opposite.

You might already be familiar with unplugged ceremonies, but I think it’s equally as important to have a conversation with family and friends prior to the wedding about intentionally putting their phones down throughout the the day. You can tell them that you want them to be able to live in the moment and really experience every aspect of it and that you’ll have a professional photographer along to document those important moments for them. I promise it will make your photos that much more impactful when you look back on them in 20 years.

PLANNING 1O1:

family photos

tips

MAKE A LIST

Make sure to supply me with this detailed family list no later than 2 weeks before the wedding. If I don’t have a second photographer, designate your most responsible family member or friend (preferably not someone in a majority of the photos) to help me identify and organize people. Be sure they know about it and are introduced to me ahead of time.

ORGANIZATION IS KEY

Unless we’re missing people, I like to work down from the top of the family photo list, according to each of your families. Also, keep grandparents and young children in mind when organizing the list; it’s usually easier to swap out your sister and keep Grandma Sally in place for consecutive photos.

ANSWER THE QUESTIONNAIRE

Let me know in the pre-wedding questionnaire (my client management system will send it to you 1-2 months before your wedding date) if there are any sensitive relationships (divorce, step-family, estrangement, adoption, etc) or situations of which I should be aware. Since all families and their relationships are different, I try not to assume that you’ll want a photo with anyone specific unless you include it in the list or it’s evident on the day that you have a close relationship.

BEFORE THE CEREMONY, PLZ!

In my experience it’s best to keep all family photos to one time slot before the ceremony so we’re not scrambling to find people amidst the sea of other guests and most importantly, so everyone can get right to socializing and celebrating during cocktail hour as they’re meant to. I also prefer taking those precious, immediate post-ceremony minutes to grab some “WE’RE MARRIED!” portraits of just the two of you, as you’ll both be feeling a variety of emotions at that time.

TIMING IS KEY

For key family photos (parents, siblings, grandparents) we’ll spend a little more time posing and doing assorted groupings that you’ve included in the list. A general rule of thumb for these smaller family photos is to plan for 1-2 minutes per photo listed. So if you have 20 total photos in the list, we’ll want approximately 30 minutes for this.

If you wish to do large group photos with multiple extended family groups (aunts, uncles, cousins) we’ll need to keep these groupings limited and allot more time for this in the schedule. Keep in mind that while these large group family photos are often harder to schedule for before the ceremony, they can be extra tricky to get once all of the guests are present and everyone is wandering off to the cocktail hour.

WE ALL HAVE THAT ONE COUSIN…

In order for family photos to flow well we need to ensure every person being photographed is at the agreed upon location on time. We all know who our habitually late cousin is, so if it’s necessary to tell them to arrive 15 minutes earlier than everyone else, so be it. 😉 Out of interest for the day’s schedule, we can’t delay family photos if someone is missing and will do our best to get a photo with them later.

sample FAMILY list

  • THINGS TO CONSIDER
  • arrange by families
  • include names + relationship identifier
  • assign your loudest friend or planner to help me on the day if I don’t have a second photographer
  • I like to work from the top of the list down
  • keep grandparents + young children in mind
  • find this list on my Google Drive to save or download & edit your heart’s content

ALEX’S FAMILY (11 photos = 15 minutes)

Alex + Sam w/ parents (Sue + Bill)
A+S w/ sisters (Sara, Tara)
A+S w/ parents, siblings
A+S w/ Anderson grandparents (Marjorie, Jim)
A+S w/ Clinton grandparents (Karen, Oscar)
A+S w/ parents, siblings, all grandparents
Alex w/ Mom
Alex w/ Dad
Alex w/ women (Sue, Sara, Tara, Marjorie, Karen)
Alex w/ sisters
Sam w/ Bill

SAM’S FAMILY (15 photos = 20 min)

Sam + Alex w/ parents (Erica, Sean)
S+A w/ siblings (John, Sally)
S+A w/ siblings, spouses, kids (+ Jane, Jake, Anna, Sue)
S+A w/ siblings, spouses, kids, parents (+ Erica, Sean)
S+A w/ kids (Anna, Sue)
S+A w/ Smith grandparents (Susan, Oliver)
Sam w/ Smith grandparents
S+A w/ aunt, uncle, cousins – Johnson family (Sarah, Greg, Jenna, Peter)
S+A w/ grandma (Carla)
Sam w/ grandma, mom (Carla, Erica)
Sam w/ Mom
Sam w/ Dad
Sam w/ siblings
Sam w/ men (Sean, John, Jake)
Alex w/ women (Erica, Sally, Jane)

Total family photo time for 26 groupings = ~35 minutes