wedding planning guide

How To Get Gorgeous Wedding Photos You’ll Love

Welcome to the most comprehensive guide to getting gorgeous wedding photos – chock full of helpful tips from your expert wedding photographer who was also a bride!

I was married somewhat recently myself and as someone who has been through it all AND photographed dozens of weddings to date, these are the things I wish someone had told me prior to my big day in order to help capture gorgeous wedding photos.  

> Let’s start with the getting-ready photos! If you’re planning to have photos in a getting ready room, put your bridesmaids in charge of tidying up and moving bags, clothes, purses, phones, shoes and items to a corner of the room or if there is closet, bathroom or storage space where these items can be out of sight, this is ideal.

Your photographer is going to use the natural light coming in from the window for a lot of the getting-ready shots, and you don’t want distracting elements in the shots which isn’t a cute look.

Maybe you don’t want or need those photos of the bridal party in matching robes, but even if you’re wearing something cozy while getting ready, opt for something that’s going to photograph well like a button-up shirt (which won’t mess up your hair and makeup) paired with black or neutral leggings, shorts or bottoms. 

Additionally, if your wedding dress is strapless or backless, you may want to avoid wearing a bra beforehand that could leave marks or impressions on your skin! This may seem like an odd suggestion but I’m speaking from personal experience… I had bra band compression marks that stuck around for over 2 hours after I had changed out of my bra during getting ready photos and into my backless dress! *facepalm*

I’ll typically remind everyone to remove hair ties from their wrists. And speaking of wrists, (this tip is for both brides and grooms) if you have a prominent smartwatch tan line, consider wearing a bracelet or a classic wristwatch on your wedding day which will help disguise those tan lines in photos.

One popular photo opportunity that my brides love and in retrospect that I wish I had included for my wedding are the matching robes photos of bridesmaids and the bride popping a bottle of champagne. Don’t dismiss those shots that you might think are too cheesy or so cliche. They may surprise you and end up being some of your favorites!

> Will you want to have a moment alone with your mom, a moment with your dad, a moment with your grandparent(s) or sibling(s)? A bridal gown “reveal” for your bridesmaids? 

Similar to the first look, these are super meaningful moments that you may want to make sure are included in your day-of schedule or they can easily get overlooked when you are caught up in the moment or not captured by the photographer if they are photographing something else.

> Have a dedicated box that contains your invites, ring boxes, perfume, cologne, jewelry and any sentimental elements you may want to include in your detail shots. Make sure it’s packed the night before your big day!

Additionally, make sure you have a cute hanger for shots of the dress. To clarify, it can absolutely be a simple nice wooden hanger but you will want to avoid having that expensive dress photographed on a cheap plastic hanger. If you want to go the extra step to have a personalized hanger, check Etsy to purchase one with your new last name and the wedding date on it. 

> Will you and your significant other be giving gifts and opening them prior to the ceremony? Reading a letter, a note or a card? Having your bridesmaids/groomsmen open their gifts? Let your photographer know so they are sure to capture it and help situate everyone in a flattering way for photos. 

> Discuss with your photographer if you know there are specific spots at the venue that you’d really like photos of!

> On that note, talk to your photographer about how much time you think you need and what your photographer recommends for photos. The cute couples portraits are ALWAYS some of the top favorites and I would 100% recommend giving at least an hour for these photos.

That’s not including the family portraits and your full bridal party portraits. The time needed for all of those classic photos is actually a significant reason couples will opt to have a first look so they don’t have to cut down on the time spent celebrating after the ceremony is complete.

Veils can be tricky to get in and out by yourself so it’s best to have your hairstylist place it in when you’re ready and have a bridesmaid take note of how to help put it in and take it out if needed!

I’ve seen many a veil get pulled out accidentally by an eager groom going in for that romantic dip kiss or stepped on by an inattentive guest OR (and this one is the worst in my opinion) – blowing in front of your face throughout the ceremony and during the first kiss.

So make sure if it’s a cathedral veil aka the kind that trails behind you on the ground that you have the end in hand when you are on the move and that your partner is aware of it as well! To keep it from blowing in front of you while outside during a windy ceremony, have a bridesmaid help hold it out of the way if necessary. 

> If you decide to forego a wedding planner, do yourself a favor and hire a day-of coordinator. Trust me, it will allow you to enjoy your day without having people coming up to you to resolve issues the entire time.

You don’t want to pile on additional stress on your big day. I cannot recommend enough that you hire a professional to take that responsibility off of your shoulders and keep the day running smoothly and on schedule. 

> If you have a DJ and he’s also providing your ceremony sound coverage, make sure you know if he’s going to mic everyone and be sure to AVOID a microphone stand that is set up in front of the bride and/or groom. These tiny elements can ruin some of the best shots that you won’t have a chance to recreate later. 

> Another DJ/Photo combo tip; for table photos, have the DJ make an announcement that he’s going to play a song and call each of the table numbers up to the dance floor to get a group photo with the bride and groom.

The guests at each table have until the change of song to get their group photo taken by the photographer, congratulate the couple and have a mini dance party. Once the song switches, their turn is up! This keeps things moving along on track while ensuring you get photos with every guest and it’s SO fun to get your groove on with your guests.

> Considering an affordable videographer? Make sure you ask them the right questions about their experience and qualifications. Too often I see inexperienced videographers with inadequate equipment standing right behind the bride or groom or bridal party during the ceremony or jumping in and redirecting shots in a way that causes unnecessary stress to the couple and other vendors. Want to know my recommended videographers? Just ask!

> Brides, make sure you have a touch-up kit for your hair and makeup throughout the day! Keep your lipgloss poppin’ or you may need to freshen up after sobbing from your significant other’s heartfelt personalized vows. 

> Put together a mini emergency kit filled with band-aids, headache medicine, allergy medicine, cough drops, cold and flu medicine, tums, hair ties, bobby pins, tissues, safety pins, and anything else that you may need throughout the day. 

> First looks – should you do one?

There’s a few reasons why you may want to go with a first look!

1) You have limited time (and sunlight) between the ceremony and reception for family photos, bridal party and couples portraits. Doing your first look before the ceremony can allow you to take advantage of daylight and get the portraits taken care of early on so you can go straight from ceremony to celebratory mode.

2) You want the first time that your husband or wife-to-be sees you on your wedding day to be an intimate moment shared just between the two of you (and your photographer). This option is great if you want to have a special moment without all eyes on you. It also can help calm any jitters you have and tends to be an extremely emotional interaction.

Also, keep in mind that the moment you walk down the aisle, your groom may be overcome with emotion BUT he has his own way of displaying it. He may not start crying or be grinning from ear-to-ear, and that’s OKAY!

Be careful not to create an unrealistic expectation in your head just because you’ve seen a ton of reaction photos on Pinterest or Facebook. Everyone displays emotions differently and I can guarantee he’s going to be giddy to see you walking down the aisle regardless of his facial expressions.

> SO you may have heard of unplugged ceremonies. What is it exactly? You want your guests to be fully present during the ceremony to enjoy the moment of you and your future spouse committing yourselves to one another while watching it unfold without a phone or camera in front of their faces.

Not to mention you’ve probably paid a lot of money to have someone do this for you professionally anyway and when given the option to watch the professional photos and videos over a poor phone quality variation you’re probably going to have little use for their phone recorded memories.

Have a sign stating that you’d appreciate for everyone to put their phones away and allow the photographer and videographer to capture the moment.

Additionally, have your officiant or reinforce this message before the procession by reminding guests that you would like them to be present and able to enjoy this moment with you and trust the professionals you hired to capture the photos/video so they can sit back, relax and enjoy.

This can help avoid photos of people’s arms with phones sticking out in the aisle and blocking the photographers shot as the bride is walking down with her father. See the photo below for reference. This is exactly what your photographer wants to avoid. Photo from Hannah Way Photography.

photo credit:

> Speaking of phones, grooms, groomsmen and other key members of the wedding party and family will want to keep phones in their back pockets or leave them someplace secure. This will help avoid bulky square pockets which can be distracting in photos.

> Ceremony lighting

One thing that you may not consider until the day of your wedding is how harsh mid-day lighting could cause you and your bridal party or wedding guests to end up squinting into the sun or it may cast dramatic and uneven shadows that are unflattering.

When speaking to your venue coordinator or choosing the ideal location for the ceremony at your venue, try to back-light or shade the altar.

Ideal lighting for outdoor ceremonies is typically in a fully shaded area or mid to late afternoon depending on the season and where the sun will be at in the sky.

Below are two photos illustrating the difference that even lighting makes. In the first photo, you can see the ceremony area was evenly after the sun dropped behind a mountain which allowed for nice even lighting on the entire venue. This results in – absolute chef’s kiss – beautiful, filtered soft lighting.

The second photo shows the sharp contrast between the unshaded area at the back half of the ceremony venue.

o'donnell house wedding photographer

Fortunately, in this scenario, it’s not that big of a deal that some of the guests were not in the shaded portion of the ceremony venue, but the point is that lighting during your ceremony matters because you may not want this sharp contrasted look to be cast on yourselves or your bridal party during your ceremony.

Sunglasses – outside ceremonies can be bright but trust me when I say you do not want your wedding party to rock shades through your ceremony. The same goes for your immediate family members who are participating in the entrance processional and if they can go without them throghout the ceremony, this will allow me to photograph their authentic reactions without blocking out those emotional teary-eyed moments.

Drinking prior to the ceremony for a lot of bridal parties is without question gonna happen. And why not?! It’s a full-day celebration. Make sure you set boundaries for your bridal party members and that you and your partner are on the same page.

You’re going to want to be able to remember your vows, not slur your way through your “I do’s” and walk rather than stumble your way up the aisle. My husband and I had one celebratory drink beforehand with our bridesmaids and groomsmen but waited for after the ceremony and portraits to let loose (and that’s when our open bar began anyway).

> This tip is primarily applicable if you opt for a venue that requires you to bring in ALL of your own vendors. Our rental crew handled a certain level of set up and break down BUT we didn’t hire anyone to do the small things like set out the centerpieces and take down the extra decoration pieces we had brought ourselves at the end of the night.

Fortunately, our day-of-coordinator came in clutch with helping us with these things but we did get charged extra for going past the end of our rental time ensuring clean up. UGH. Check out sites like thumbtack for clean up crew or check with your wedding planner/coordinator to get their recommendation!

> Leftover food…since we brought in our own catering and it was buffet style, they packed the leftovers in the venue kitchen for us and I woke up the next day panicking that we had left them at the venue!

Fortunately for us, my sister-in-law had grabbed them but I could have lost out on a lot of delicious food that weshared with family the next day AND would have been charged by the venue for leaving it there.

> Does your venue have a hard stop time but you’re not sure if you’ll be ready for the party to end at that time? Provide your guests with an after-party option by scouting out the nearby bars and venues where you can invite family and friends to keep the celebrations going.

Shot lists – after photographing hundreds of weddings, I have all of the standard shots memorized so you don’t need to provide one. Furthermore shot lists turn your wedding experience into a long checklist of chasing shots rather than focusing on being present and enjoying each moment while I capture it candidly.

If you do have a must-have photo specific to your venue or that falls outside of the norm when it comes to standard wedding photos, then you can absolutely let me know and you’re more than welcome to share your inspo board with me, but overall my goal is to document your day naturally as it unfolds so you can enjoy it in the moment and I have the creative freedom to come up with artistic shots you’ll love instead of a checklist that restricts my ability to document it authentically.

That’s all I have for now, but I will add to this as my experiences continue to evolve and I’d love your input! Send me a message if I’m leaving out anything super essential whether you are a bride-to-be or have already walked down the aisle so we can help other brides-to-be have the BEST DAY EVER!!

As your photographer, I’m there to capture the meaningful moments on your big day, but from the very first time we connect I’m more than just your photographer. I want to be like your wise wedding industry experienced friend who can share lil nuggets of knowledge that will help you plan, prepare and reassure you every step of the way. Got questions? Lay them on me!! Suggestions for improving the ultimate Bride Guide? I’ll take those too.

Ready to take the next step and lock in photos you’ll LOVE from your wedding day? Let’s make it happen! 🙋