A Photographer’s Guide to a Perfect Wedding Day

We all have high hopes for our wedding day. We want all of our best friends and family to be there, we want the laughter to be abundant and the memories vibrant. Finding and creating your vision for your wedding is where things can get more complicated. You have all these ideas, but how do you make them happen?

This year I’m coming up on hitting 200 weddings photographed over my career. I have seen quite a few weddings that were a total dream, and then some that were a bit more toward the chaotic. I’ve worked with a bunch of wonderful wedding planners and been the wedding timeline planner for smaller weddings. This post is a collection of most all of my tidbits and tips that I’ve learned through photographing weddings for my career.

I hope you find this information valuable to plan a wedding that fits your personalities and your dream for your wedding!

Planning for a stress-free day

I always encourage assessing what’s most important to you and then plan according to those goals. I’m biased most towards keeping the timeline relaxed and prioritizing photography. Other factors to consider are decor, the dance floor, drinks, venue, and the whole look of everything. I’m going to focus more on the things that I have experience working with, but in general my philosophy is to write down the things most important to you, then plan ahead to get those things figured out well ahead of time so that the things you’re looking forward to don’t become causes of stress.

Create a Realistic Timeline

One of the most important part of avoiding stressful situations is to create a schedule that is realistic and not incredibly difficult to follow. Consider the possibilities of hair or makeup going long (the most common schedule time discrepancy) or family being late for pre-ceremony getting ready. Sorry mom, much love, but the second most common time delay is mom being late for helping get in the dress.

A good way to avoid these delays is to account for and expect things to take a bit longer than you think and add some padding time in between events.

At the end of the day, while creating a perfectly balanced timeline is great and all, it’s important to keep in mind that not everything will go according to plans, but that’s okay. You will still be getting married and you’ll be with your people.

Doing portraits and first look before the wedding ceremony will also greatly affect your timeline. I’ll get into this more in detail in another post, but in relation to your timeline, the first look will help make your schedule more flexible. I’m not one to rule out the traditional or only ever recommend having a first look, but this is definitely something you’ll want to take into consideration on how your wedding will come together.

Planning for Great Photography

A great photographer will go a long way to help this make great photography happen. (subtle links to my portfolio and contact page ;)) A few of the ways a photographer can help with this are creating great portraits in not a lot of time, keeping things enjoyable and relaxed through the inevitable delays, and work in non-ideal lighting conditions. But we’re going to focus more on creating the best situations for photography no matter who your photographer is.

If you love the golden hour, sun-kissed look, it will be important to factor in the time the sun sets into your wedding day plans. Two ways to make this happen are to plan portraits to be at golden hour or to be available to leave the reception for a few minutes to get a few portraits around sunset. The second option of doing a few portraits later in the day is a bit easier to plan for since it takes less massaging of the schedule, but you can’t go wrong with either option if you want that pretty sunset look to your portraits.

Even slightly considering lighting can get you better light quality in your photographs. You may not want to go with the schedule that puts your portrait time around sunset, but even something as small as pushing portrait hour from noon (where the sun is straight up and most harsh) by a few hours later can make a substantial difference.

Step-Back Analysis

My last piece of advice is to take a step back from your wedding planning ask ask yourself what your expectations and hopes for your wedding are. Just as with relationships, weddings often involve some sort of compromise. Compromise isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important to assess what you truly want your wedding to be and stay true to that.

Setting Expectations

“The [planning] road to [wedding] hell is littered with good intentions.”

proverb by ancient wedding priest, probably.

Through planning your wedding you’ll be showered with as many opinions as you’ll be able to handle (and maybe a little more). It’s important that you find what you and your fiancé(e) truly want your wedding to be and filter plans and advice accordingly.

My advice (which you should also take with a grain of salt…because this is your thing!) is to go with what will make you happiest on your wedding day and you’ll be able to look back fondly on. Don’t plan around someone else’s dreams, plan around your own.

Plan According to Your Goals

If you want to have an elaborate DIY wedding that is also relaxed, try to plan to have your DIY decor items finished well ahead of the wedding day and make sure that the items that you’re excited to have in your wedding don’t become a reason to stress. Sometimes hiring a planner or finding friends that would be happy to help is the best way to make this happen.

If you’re wanting to have the party of the century, a live band or great DJ (and drinks) will go a long way.

If you want to go on an adventure and aren’t wanting all your friends and family there, maybe eloping is your thing. Or if you want something smaller, an intimate or destination wedding may be for you.

Basically, assess your priorities and what’s most important, then find the best way to make that happen without compromising the enjoyment of your wedding day.

You got this.

RECAP

  • Plan around your own goals and dreams, not those of other people.
  • Create a timeline is realistic and gives sufficient buffer time for delays.
  • Make your schedule and plans that result in great photography that you’ll forever treasure.
  • Base your wedding expectations on your goals for your wedding and plan accordingly.

BONUS tips

Ignore all the well meaning advice thrown at you and do what you really want.

– Rachel Caruso

Hire a day of planner EVEN IF you have a venue coordinator and/or a highly organized mom/friend because honestly do you want your mom stressing out about running your wedding or enjoying it & getting great photos of her enjoying it?

– Alyssa Campbell

Something will go wrong, but your guests will likely never even know. Let it go. Don’t let that ruin your wedding day. 

– Christine Tremoulet

If you try to make your wedding (decor, pictures, ceremony style) like someone else’s you’ve seen (friend, acquaintance, Pinterest stranger who might actually just be a model…) then you will really miss out on having it authentically represent you and your spouse. Other people aren’t the ones getting married. You are. Let your wedding represent you, don’t try to make everyone else happy or live up to some “standard.”

– Rachel Johnson (a wonderful client! Check R&J’s engagement session and wedding)

Don’t skimp on the photographer.

– Eleah Anz /// editor’s note: preeaaaach. ;)

I wish we had spent more money on pictures. We had some friends who took our pictures who were trying to start their own photography business…. and I wish we hadn’t. They missed a lot of shots we wanted that a more experienced photographer would have taken.

– Friend that wanted to stay anonymous for the sake of their aspiring photographer friend. I here this story somewhat frequently that’s always hard to hear.

I planned my whole wedding try to wow the guests instead of it being about me and my husband. I regret it all other than marrying my husband.

– Kala Rath

Thanks to everyone that helped add to this and for all of my wonderful clients that have me document these precious memories. I’ll have more informational posts like this coming up as well. Feel free to drop a comment, message me about your wedding, or follow along on my Instagram.


Top 5+ Iceland/Reyjkavic Day Trip Destinations

This Fall I traveled to Iceland for a wedding (Ellis & Kristen) and it was one of my favorite trips ever. It’s such a beautiful country that while small enough to feel familiar after a few days, can’t be fully experienced in the short week that we were there. We were able to pack in a lot of beautiful places in the few days that we had free after the wedding, and I’m happy with our itinerary enough to highly recommend these if you’re making the trip.

In no particular order, these are my favorite Iceland destinations. Drumroll please…

  • Glymur — possibly my favorite hike of all time. We took the lower trail up the ravine, crossed the stream and then hiked back down on the other side. I’d recommend doing the same. A bunch of the pictures from the blog post were from this hike. Not the most novice level hike (crossing the stream was slightly scary) but most definitely worth it. (IG photo)
  • Gljúfrabúi — little cave waterfall by the more iconic Seljalandsfoss. Definitely check them both out. I enjoyed all the more popular touristy waterfalls, but this small waterfall in a cave was much more secluded than the rest. (IG photo and story)
  • Black Beach near Vic — this place can get rather busy, but it’s definitely worth the trip east from Reyjkavic.
  • Geothermal pools at Hverasvaedid — self expalatory. Long-ish hike, but amazing and a neat experience. (map to it)

We also did the golden circle and a bunch of smaller destinations. I found this map to be very informative for finding good destinations. Some bonus items that didn’t make the list would be one of the islands nearby (that I didn’t have time for) that you can travel to by ferry or plane. Also the fish and chips stand by Skogafoss is worth a stop. :)

All in all, wonderful place. Highly recommend going when you can! A++ Enjoy the photos. :)


Ellis + Kristen // Iceland Destination Wedding

With marriage being one of life’s greatest adventures, why not make your wedding one of your life’s greatest adventures?

I imagine this is what went through Kristen and Ellis’ head thinking ahead to this day. But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. Let’s rewind to the backstory.

Ellis and Kristen had been friends for a little while through work and mutual friends. Kristen has always wanted to backpack up to Everest Base Camp in Nepal and Ellis mentioned wanting to go as well. As this dream turned into concrete plans, the plans turned into first dates of training for the climb. Nothing was official in their relationship until after their trip when Ellis asked if they should date. I’m assuming that a few other events likely happened in between, but now our story resumes here. In Iceland. With nearly 30 of Kristen and Ellis’ favorite humans.

This whole wedding trip was so personalized and unique to Ellis and Kristen and their desire to spend purposeful time with friends and family. We were able to take several day trips as a group, go hiking, swimming, having a great dip off (who could make the best dip), worshiping together at our nice cottage, exploring Reykjavik, and chasing waterfalls. This three day wedding adventure was concluded with a nice dinner at the harbor.

All this feels like a wonderful reunion. Spending so much quality time with these people made these old and new friends feel like family. So happy for these sweet newlyweds. Words and photos can’t capture all of the beauty of God’s creation and His workings in the lives of these two, but it can show a whole lot of the magic. And that’s enough for me.

Here we go.

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