Writing a Wedding Story with Must-Have Photographs

When most writers sit down to produce a novel, they may spend weeks, months, or years researching their subject before they put pen to paper. A photographer is very much like an author, using photographs to document one of the most important days in a couple’s life. I have found that having a good sense of structure (what photographs you will take) helps to build the complete story of their day.

Keeping an open dialog with your clients is important because they are going to be able to answer your questions such as:

  • What will be the schedule of the day?
  • Are they throwing rice or lighting sparklers?
  • How long is the ceremony?
  • Are there important people attending that I should know about?

You can get by with “just winging it,” but to make your day easier and your mind clearer and relaxed, you should do some research.

Many couples have a wedding website where you can take a look at some of the wedding party, along with names. You can also get an idea of the venues by going online to get your creative juices flowing. When you drive in, look for places you may be able to take the the couple and their guests to later for creative or exceptional photo opportunities.

One word of warning about preparing for the event: I do not ask clients to create a list of must-have images. If you ask them for a list, there is a good chance you may get several pages of shots they “must have,” and you will spend the entire day checking that list, and your chance at catching creative images will be diminished. While it is important to make sure your clients are happy, you can cross into dangerous territory and even lose some of your style by trying to re-create other photographers’ images.

Act One: Getting Ready

I like to start with images of the dresses, shoes, flowers, and rings. Taking these pictures first gives the people in the room time to get accustomed to my presence, and they will soon go back to their normal business. As I shoot these items, I try to converse with as many people as possible to develop a connection with them that I may use later in the day.

With introductions complete, and my shoe, dress, flower, and ring photos on the memory cards, I move on to images of people. I try to get reflections and framed images here. For example, the bride looking into a mirror, a reflection in a wall hanging, faces framed through a doorway, a dining room chair, or even an arm on a hip adds depth to your images. This is also a time for laughs and anticipation. An image of two people expressing a connection through smiles, possibly a touch, or a nervous look is always a poignant or emotional memory to capture.

After the bride is dressed and, if time permits, it is a good idea to shoot a solo bride portrait. As the wedding party exits, an image of the departure—such as walking down stairs, going out the door, or getting into the car—is a great transition-photo to the ceremony.

Act Two: The Ceremony

Just like earlier in the day, I try to set the scene by taking pictures of decorations, kids moving about, the ceremony programs, a wide angle shot of the venue, arrivals, greetings, and people waiting in anticipation for the ceremony to begin.

The ceremony is the moment where everyone has come to see the bride and groom, not the person with the camera. With that in mind, I am mindful to stay out of the way. I move while music is playing or when other people are moving, and I keep a low profile. The ceremony is usually the most restrictive part of the day, often taking less than 30 minutes, and as such, I really only look to get five specific shots.

Shot One: I like images of the wedding party moving down the aisle and all the smiles and emotions that follow. Do not forget to turn your camera in the direction of the people watching. I do not walk or stand in the aisle. Instead, I will sit in one of the rows and then lean out because I don’t want people to know I am there. 

Shot Two: The bride walking down the aisle either from the groom’s point of view or from a balcony. This shot varies from wedding to wedding because every venue is different. This is where venue research pays off. I usually have a second shooter, whom I place in the balcony to catch the faces of people looking back at the bride as she makes her way to the groom. 

Shot Three: The bride and groom together during the ceremony, taken from a distance. This is the classic wedding shot, but remember the rule of thirds, to try different angles, and to experiment with image framing.

Shot Four: Exchanging rings and/or vows and a shot of the bride looking at the groom. I like using a long lens for this in order to capture an image from a point of view typically only seen from the bridal party’s perspective.

Shot Five: The kiss. This shot gets a lot of attention, as it should, but it doesn’t always work out too well. I try to position myself in a spot that will put the officiant out of the frame, which can sometimes be impossible. To correct this, you can take an up-close shot of the couple kissing later and “substitute” those images in for the real kiss. They often will never remember, and many times the “substitute” image is better because it will look more natural.

Act Three: Group Shots

I try to keep the group shots to a minimum because it can be difficult to find people, organize them, and keep all their attention on your camera lens. If my clients ask for my opinion, the only group shots I do are:

Shots One and Two: Bride’s immediate family and then the groom’s immediate family. Since it is the bride and groom’s day, and all the focus is on them, I typically place them in the center of all my family shots.

Shots Three, Four, Five: Wedding party-just the women, just the men, and then everyone together. If time permits, I quickly grab paired shots of each person in the wedding party with either the bride or groom. 

Shot Six: Bridge and Groom. When taking your bride/groom shots, you must remember that you are not dealing with models. It is important to give direction to your couple such as positioning, where to look, when to make delicate kisses, etc. I like at least one photograph where they are smiling and looking into the lens, another of them being candid, and a final one of them kissing. To keep your couple comfortable, they will also need positive reinforcement because it can be awkward for people to kiss in front of a camera. A favorite action I ask my clients to do is see how close they can get without kissing, which often leads to laughs and a great candid photograph.

Act Four: The Party

A lot of time was put into selecting and setting up all of the details for the reception, so I always get detail shots of the table settings, the cake, cards, and favors before people disturb them. 

During the reception my “must-have” shots are speeches as well as dances: father/daughter, mother/son, and bride/groom. If you miss the first dance, typically the couple will dance together later and some of the most intimate, emotion filled images come from those late night slow dances. If the wedding has a cake-cutting or garter/bouquet toss, I will pick those photos up as well and some action shots of anyone brave enough to venture onto the dance floor.

With the sun going down, most photographers know of the “magic hour.” Around sunset, if it is possible, try to sneak the couple out for some wonderful warm light shots. Towards the end of the evening, once again, I try to pull the couple out for some night shots. Positioning them near a light, or placing light behind them, produces some of the most dramatic and loved shots of the day. It is the perfect concluding image. 

As long as you break down the day into manageable parts, you will be sure to get the must-have shots. If you do miss a shot, keep a mental note of it, learn from your mistake, and try to get a similar shot later in the day.

Erik Korver is a Central New York photographer with a primary focus on weddings. You can see more of his photography here.

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    • Very nice stuff!

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    • A very accessible piece for anybody starting out in the wedding business.

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