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Planning A Wedding? Ask a Photographer for Advice
By Kathryn Gabriel, New Mexico

A groom recently asked me, as a wedding photographer, to suggest a beautiful location in our area to marry his sweetheart.  I responded immediately with three locations, and he said, “It’s always reassuring that the professionals know the best places.  By your response I’m sure you'll do a great job on our wedding photos.”  The wedding photographer is a valuable planning resource, yet all too frequently they’re hired when it’s too late to make changes.

One couple scheduled their intimate ceremony in a tiny, picturesque chapel late at night in December before searching for a photographer and videographer.  Since they were marrying on their own, they wanted both still and video photography to show friends and family.  Both photographers tried to convince the couple to reschedule the ceremony earlier in the day when the landscape, the historical architecture, the falling snow, and possible sunset could enhance the pictures—but it was too late.  The only light source was candlelight, and so the artificial light on the two cameras competed with each other with less than perfect results.

Wedding photographers are usually familiar with most of the popular venues in their area and have shot under various and challenging lighting conditions at all hours of the day. They will know when the optimal time is to begin a ceremony at a particular location, a time when the light turns a pond to golden glass, or turns stained glass radiant.  I recently shot a wedding in a chapel with windows only on its north side, and I prepared for what I thought would be a lack of ambient light to illuminate the colorful floor-to-ceiling mural behind the altar.  To my surprise, the sun poured through the clearstory window over the altar and lit the row of flower vases on the altar’s mantel just as the bride walked down the aisle. I’ll now be able to advise couples of this stunning effect.

Wedding photographers are usually sensitive to the movements of the sun and will generally be able to tell you where it will be at a given time over a given place.  The placement of the sun is crucial to outdoor photography, as well as to the comfort of the bridal party and guests.  It is a misconception that subjects should face the sun for proper lighting, and doing so makes them squint and look like they’re in pain.  (They are!) Photos that are shot with the subjects’ backs to the sun results in an evenly lit face and highlight effects in the hair, provided there is enough flash to compensate for the sun. The best compromise is to orient the outdoor wedding ceremony crossways to the sun so that no one is looking directly into it, but again this requires ample fill flash to avoid “raccoon eyes.”  The photographer’s keen eye will also be able to spot stray telephone and electrical wires, unsightly backgrounds, and other details that might mar the wedding pictures.  One officiant I work with always asks me for the best angle to position herself and the bridal party so that their guests (and camera) can best see them, while the background is at its best for pictures.

If at all possible, photographers should attend the rehearsal (even if for an extra fee) or at the very least scout out the venue beforehand so that they can advise on lighting conditions mentioned above, or on the timing of events in the wedding itself.  Most people think of the wedding photographer as someone who remains in the background and quietly documents events as they unfold.  While photographers should not intrude on the sanctity of the ceremony, they are connoisseurs of style and the visually appealing, and they can make recommendations on such things as the lighting of the unity candle or the placement of the cake so that they may be photographed properly.

Unless the bridal couple is organized, the photographer can become master of ceremony—and this is okay. At one casual outdoor wedding, I asked the bride if her father was to escort her to her groom. “I hadn’t thought it through that far yet,” she said. The wedding was to begin in just a few minutes!  If the photographer has planned and advised well, he or she should be able to move with the ceremony like an intricate member of an orchestra (if not the conductor in some cases) and will be able to photograph with less effort.  The harmonious result will show up in the pictures.

I have had a couple of brides ask for advice on particularly photogenic bouquets or makeup.  For flowers I suggested arrangements that compliment the body, as opposed to overly enhancing a robust figure with an exaggerated bouquet.  Some photographers say white flowers don’t photograph well against a white dress, but white calla lilies with their green bases and stems are quite elegant. Red rose buds with eucalyptus leaves are another favorite.  Make-up tips include avoiding sunburn and facials that turn the skin red the week of the wedding.  Wear more make-up for formal, evening weddings, and natural makeup for outdoor weddings.  Women of color should avoid face whitening products.

This is important: If at all possible, avoid churches or reception halls that use too many fluorescent lights; they turn the skin green and the photos a sickening yellowish-pink color.

The most important aspect of any wedding, of course, is the couple’s ceremonial vows and what will make that special event enjoyable and memorable.  As my friend the wedding officiant once said, “This is not a photo shoot…we’re doing a thing here.”  With the money and expectations invested, however, planning for beautiful pictures is worthwhile.  Don’t hesitate to ask your photographer:  They leap at the chance to use their experience and creativity to please their customers and enhance their own portfolios. 


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