Managing Mayhem: Survival Guide for a Wedding Shoot

Part I

A wedding is one of those occasions in life that must be captured with photos. When a couple entrusts you to photograph their special day, it’s quite an honor.

But with that honor comes the stress of knowing this isn’t an event you can re-shoot. The ceremony and celebration that follows are over in what seems like an instant. There is no way to recreate that first expression when a groom sees his bride come down the aisle or the tears of a mother watching her daughter give her hand in marriage. You have to get the shot and you have to get it right.

On top of that stress is the added chaos that often accompanies managing people. That’s right, as a photographer you are often thrust into the role of making sure the wedding party and family members are present and accounted for in all the shots your bride and groom have requested. If you’re fortunate, a wedding coordinator the couple has hired or a ceremony director will be around to assist in keeping those being photographed nearby when the time comes to snap pictures. In many cases, this doesn’t happen. That’s where a little pre-planning and organization will help you capture a wedding amidst all the mayhem.

In part 1 of Managing Mayhem: Survival Guide for a Wedding Shoot, we will discuss what a photographer can do prior to the big day to prepare for this important job:

1. Meet with the couple preferably two to three months prior to the wedding. Share your portfolio and ask them to bring samples of other wedding photos they like, whether from other photo sites or wedding magazines.

2. Create a list of photos you think the couple may want and have them check off the ones they would like you to take. This might include basics such as the bride and her parents, the groom and his best man, and other standard photos. Add spaces for the couple to write down other “must have” shots such as a photo of the bride alone with a special aunt.

3. Ask for the number of attendants in the wedding party. Find out if any children are included in the party and get their ages. This will help you plan in advance for various poses.

4. Visit the ceremony and reception venues. Be familiar with where you can set up your equipment. Check lighting and find out if flash photography is allowed (some churches forbid it during weddings). Walk the property and note any areas that would create interesting backdrops.

5. Determine what photos can be taken prior to the ceremony. Does your bride want photos on a beach or in the studio in her gown? Take a day a few weeks before the wedding for a bridal shoot, then showcase one of the portraits at the reception.

Some couples are ditching the tradition of waiting to see each other until the ceremony and opting to take as many shots as possible prior to exchanging vows. If this is the case, plan time earlier on the wedding day for creative photos with the bride and groom.

If the couple does not wish to see each other before the ceremony, you can still take plenty of shots beforehand. For instance, gather the bride, her wedding party and family members for pre-ceremony photos, then do the same with the groom, his attendants and family.

6. Meet with the wedding coordinator or director. If your couple has enlisted a professional to plan or direct their special day, this person could be your best friend on wedding day.

Sit down with the coordinator a few weeks prior and go over what the couple has asked of you. Request times or approximate times when the couple will be doing certain things such as cutting the cake, having their first dance, and other special ceremony elements. Give the coordinator times you need the couple, families or wedding party members for photos. Detail specifically who needs to be in these photos so the coordinator can assist in making sure everyone is where they are supposed to be at the time they are needed.

As you can tell, a photographer’s work on a wedding job is not a one-day gig. But preparing in advance will certainly make that job much easier the day of the event.

In part 2 of Managing Mayhem: Survival Guide for a Wedding Shoot, we will discuss how to handle the challenges of wedding day chaos.