Don't Recreate Trending Photos - Capture Your Moments
Magazine, Pinterest, social media, the internet...as a bride or groom to be it's to get sucked in. It's easy to find trending wedding photos and add them to you "shot list" or your "wedding photography" board. It's easy to expect your wedding photos to turn out similarly and for your wedding photographer to be able to recreate those gauzy shots.
Reality check: You will never recreate those photos. Why? Because that was an authentic moment in a stranger's wedding. (Actually more often than not, it's models posed for a photographer's portfolio). Don't get me worn, we prioritized photography highly in our wedding.
That said, we did not prioritize posed or staged photos. We took no extra time to do couples shots. We did not do a first look. We kept the family photos to a time-crunched minimum. Do we wish we had more posed photos? Do we regret not doing a first look?
Here is a (slightly biased) look at the pros and cons of professional wedding photography trends: Getting Ready Photos, Staged First Look, Family Portraits, Posed Couple Shots & Bridal Party Shots, Party Photos, and Candid Photos.
Please note: the photos I use as examples reflect the privacy of my husband and other family members and friends.
Getting Ready Photos - Do Them!
Getting ready photos seem to be a recent trend. A professional photographer hangs out with the bride and bridesmaids while they get ready and snaps candid, atmospheric, perfectly flattering photos. It is Realistic? And pricey?
We had two photographers hired for the entire day. Our getting ready schedule was very relaxed (post to come). The photographer, Emma, had lots of time to take pictures of all of my wedding details: the rings, my brooch bouquet, jewellery, and of course, getting ready. I am so happy she was there to capture all of my bridal details and some key "getting ready" moments. She was very creative and ended up shooting many of the bridal accessories on the window sill. Some of my favourite candid shots came from that series of photos.
The male photographer, Jay, had less direction over at the venue with the guys. They didn't get ready at the venue, they just showed up dressed. (Except my husband who changed in a tiny bridal suite). He did get some shots of him getting ready but the room was so cramped and the "getting ready" so rushed that the photos aren't our favourites. Typical guys did not think about the potential photos in the moment; they were just there to get the venue set up and get the job done. For example, one of our groomsmen had a spider man costume that he was going to bust out later in the night as a party surprise (actually). What I didn't know is that he WORE IT UNDER HIS SUIT the whole night. (ACTUALLY). That would have made a fantastic picture - a groomsman buttoning up his shirt over a spider man costume! Come one. But they didn't think of it. Sigh.
What I would have done differently
I wasn't even anticipating getting as many "bridal detail" shots as we did, but I'm very glad it ended up that way. In retrospect I would have made a shot list for the both photographers. I would have liked to capture some of those details on the groom's side as well: his heirloom cuff links, the groomsmen putting their jackets on, a few shots of the boys only all together, etc.
professionally capture moments such as the bride getting into her dress
someone you don't know very well will be present for personal moments
This moment otherwise not captured
Staged First Look - Skip It!
The first look. Quite a debate.
I'm gonna cut to the chase: we did a first look. It was when I walked down the aisle to my groom.
Whether or not you stage a first look or do it traditionally you will get good pictures. Keep that in mind.
The idea behind a staged "first look" is that you get to take lots of pictures before the ceremony, saving your guests from a lengthy break in the day or cocktail hour(s). Doing a first look also allows the bride and groom to spend more of the day together, treasuring moments and staying relaxed. Taking photos before hand means you can spend as much time as you want getting those perfect couple shots. You can also take many bridal party and family shots which will save time later on. It can even account for going to an extra, photogenic location. Since you will be in exquisite wedding attire and have your hair and makeup done nicely (if not professionally), it's a great opportunity to get glamorous, once in a lifetime photos.
On the contrary this process can make the morning of your wedding and over-all timeline much busier. (Think bridesmaid hair & makeup at 7:00am). This puts extra time demands on your bridal party and family, not to mention the travel to and from alternate photo venues. The first look before the ceremony also takes away some of the magic. Even if the bride hasn't been dreaming of walking down the aisle to a surprised groom, maybe he has dreamed of her walking down in her dress for the first time. Also, something my husband pointed out: if there's this big built-up moment to a staged first look, the groom could feel pressure about how to react. Will I look surprised enough? Happy enough? What if she doesn't look how I expected? Is that going to show on film? There are many pictures on pinterest of teary-blissful-psyched grooms seeing their brides for the first time. Will he be able to live up to that?
Either way the pictures will be good. It's a Sublime moment and all eyes will be one both of you.
What I would Have done Differently
Nothing. I'm happy with the photos and video we got. More than that I'm happy with the experience of walking down the aisle being the first look. It's such a special surreal moment that I got to share with my groom and with everyone witnessing our union. Yes some of the groom reaction shots online are beautiful, but your authentic moment will be more beautiful.
Pros (Staged first look)
More time for couple photos
More time for bridal party and family photos
You can actually be present and enjoy yourselves during cocktail hour
Potential for alternate photo venues (more atmospheric/artistic shots)
Opportunity for a glam photo shoot on arguably the most glam day of your life
More time together as a couple on wedding day
Missing out on the moment of revealing your bridal look down the aisle
Groom may feel pressure about how to react during photos
Busier/earlier timeline for getting ready
More time commitment for bridal party and family
More time and expense for wedding photographer
Can be considered bad luck
Family Portraits - Do Them, But Don't Stress!
I can't think of a wedding without at least a few family portraits (elopements aside). If family pictures are a given, how you go about them is not. Family pictures can be as simple as one with the groom's side and one with the bride's side, or as complicated as individual pictures with individual family members, various pairings, group shots with and without the couple.
We are lucky to have a huge, blended, inter-faith, divorced family. And so our family photos ended up being pretty complicated.
Posed family photos can be done at a few different times. If you're doing a "first look" all the immediate family photos can be done well before the ceremony. This means cocktail hour is reserved for other photos, or, god forbid, actually enjoying cocktails.
we ended up with time to kill and did get some pictures of the bridesmaids and my family. A few of my favourite photos came from that impromptu photo shoot, including one of my top three shots.If you don't choose a staged first look you can still take family shots before the ceremony. The Bride and her side and the groom as his side. We hadn't planned for any formal shots before the ceremony. However since we had a photographer for getting ready photos at the hotel, and since our wedding day timeline was so relaxed,
These candid photos are all from the impromptu shoot in the lobby - two of these made my Top 5 wedding photos
Family photos during cocktail hour seems to be standard practice. The dream? All your family, prompt and organized, take photos quickly in a pre-arranged area, while the rest of your guests happily sip cocktails and eat appetizers. The reality? Family wanders in and out and around, so giddy that they're not listening to anything, while you stand, exhausted from smiling, for two and a half hours, trying to get all the shots they wanted in the first place. Yes, shots are missed. And yes, the rest of your guests get hungry and impatient. (Our reality wasn't quite that. But you get my point). I wish there was a way to avoid the super long cocktail/photo hour, but there just doesn't seem to be. We had an extremely detailed shot list with two photographers, two staging areas, and an MOH who ran the show. It still ran long, we still were exhausted from smiling, and shots were still missed. But hey, we tried! (Fun Fact: None of my top 25 photos come from posed family photos).
I call this "Waiting: Behind the scenes of posed family portraits"
Chaos aside it is important to get family photos. When will you all be together again? And look this fancy? (Maybe your cousin's Bat Mitzvah). My opinion is that these days family members appreciate the posed photos more than the couples do. And it is especially important to get photos with older family members (grandparents). You will be thankful to have those photos once they pass away.
What I would do differently
I wouldn't have stressed so much over every photo on the shot list being taken - I did stress a lot, and photos were still missed. What can you do? At the end of the day the photos that were missed were because family members failed to communicate and follow the plan, even though they were the ones insisting on the photos. I got the shots I wanted, including great pictures with my parents, with all my grandparents individually, and big group shots with branches of family. Most importantly they will be treasures to look back upon later in life.
The Pros (Photos during cocktail hour)
No additional time requirement for family
No additional cost for photographer
Treasured memories to look back upon later in life
Family will appreciate them (maybe even more than you do)
It will run over schedule
Other guests may get impatient/hungry
If you rush it photos could be missed
No opportunity for special photo venue, have to use the venue you're in
Posed Couple & Bridal Party Photos - Do Them! But Don't Take Time Away from Your Event
Think of your parents' wedding album - the taffeta bridesmaid dresses, big hair, awkwardly smiling bridal party standing in a row on a golf course or against a reception hall backdrop. Or - the best - the newlyweds wistfully staring into the future, their portrait edited into their own silhouetted shadow.
Couple and Bridal Party Photos have come a looooong way since then.
A quick internet browse can present tons of viral, trending, funny, creative, beautiful, over-done or atmospheric wedding party photos. Many couples are tempted to spend time and money on lengthy wedding party photo shoots. For many the same reasons as the staged first look, I think: everyone looking done-up and glamorous wearing beautiful wedding attire. I was tempted as well by this, but in the end I prioritized the reception running smoothly and not taking a lot of time away from the party.
To capture specifically staged wedding party photos could take an hour, two hours, or more. The most realistic way to do this is to take them before the ceremony, which in turn goes hand in hand with a first look. Otherwise you're looking at cocktail hours, not cocktail hour. At one point we considered doing some bridal party shots before the ceremony - the groomsmen together, bridesmaids together, and then switched: the groomsmen with the bride and the bridesmaids with the groom. As cute as that could have been ultimately it would have disrupted and complicated the getting-ready schedule.
As for posed couple photos - honestly, in retrospect, we didn't take that many! I've seen many couples take a lot of time to take gorgeous staged photos on their wedding day. Sometimes at a different venue, often with large sweeping landscapes behind them, or in an atmospheric location. These portraits of the couple on their wedding day can be stunning, artistic and very beautiful.
Just remember that they take time, time, time and money, money, money.
Allow me to present my arguments against lengthy, posed couple shots (and this opinion may not be popular. Oh well).
If they are before the ceremony they're not wedding photos, they're actually last-minute engagement photos.
The couple's not married yet; they haven't undergone the unexpected and high spiritual transformation of the ceremony (post to come).
If they're taken during cocktail hour the couple is missing time away from this guests, their event, their party. Yes they are dressed up and looking beautiful, but posed photos aren't capturing the authentic moments - they're creating posed moments.
My biggest argument perhaps is that there are so many opportunities to get dressed up, hire a photographer and take dreamy portraits. But this is the only wedding day, and this is the only chance to capture the union authentically.
Those magical bride and groom portraits on Pinterest? They were once in a lifetime candid moments. And now that they're trending, couples want to recreate them. Why not capture your own once in a lifetime candid moments instead of recreating someone else's?
What I Would Have Done Differently
Almost nothing - we took simple photos in front of the venue during cocktail hour. At the end of the day we only needed one group shot of everyone together, and we're happy with it. I did get impromptu shots with just myself and my MOH which are fabulous - that's the one thing I would have done differently. I would get taken individual shots with the bride and each bridesmaid, and the groom and each groomsman. As for couple shots, we left those almost 100% candid (on purpose).
glam photos while your friends are looking glam
potential to creative staged, creative photos
create beautiful portraits in your wedding attire
adds more time to your getting ready timeline and/or cocktail hour(s)
before the ceremony: higher cost for photographer, more complicated day-of schedule
before the ceremony are actually last-minute engagement photos, not wedding photos
spending time creating staged moments rather than capturing authentic moments
Some examples of our couples' shots. Fun Fact: 4/5 are candid. And the last three were actually taken by our MOH, who is also a photographer.
Reception & Party Photos
How long your photographer stay is completely up to you. Some couples just finish the cocktail hour photos and then release the photographer (money saver). We opted to keep our photographers for the entire night and take pictures of the party. My grandmother made an excellent point about taking photos of the crowd, of people dancing, etc: Later in life you will look back on those photos and notice every single person in the crowd, and it will bring back special memories. I have sat with my Grandma and done just that with her wedding album. It's a good opportunity to capture the atmosphere of the reception and in the future can serve as a time capsule. Also, a good photographer will be looking for special moments to capture that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.
What I Would Have Done Differently
Nothing. The photographers stayed till the bitter end and we ended up getting some of our favourite photos. We even went back outside to the street to capture some midnight photos.
Well folks, we're arrived, the thesis of this piece.
I've said it already and I'll say it again: we prioritized candid wedding photography. Our photographers were hired from 2pm to 2am to capture every moment. We did have a shot list for certain things: some getting-ready shots, and the family portraits. The main focus was for the photographers to shoot everything and anything to capture our day as it was. Having photographers around all day also allowed us to improvise photo shoots as we went. Extra time in the hotel? Let's take some shots of the dress. (One of my top 5 photos). Oh and let's get some with the father of the bride (one of my top 3 photos). Taking a breather from dancing? Let's go outside and get some midnight pictures (one of hubby's top 5).
Without the emphasis on candid photography we would have missed so many moments.
What I Would Have Done Differently
capture your wedding authentically
cost of having photographers for entire event
Candid Photo Collage - None of these photos were on our shot list
Summary: Candid vs Planned
As an experiment to test my thesis my husband and I sat down one night and independently chose our favourite wedding photos. From there we narrowed it down to top 25, top 10, top 5, top 3, and favourite wedding photo. Here are the stats on candid vs planned photos.
Of our top 25 we had 17 in common (15 candid, 2 planned)
Our favourite wedding photo is the same (candid)
Our top 3 selections both included: the mutual favourite photo and a candid shot of us with our fathers
Getting Ready Photos: Capture details vs added cost for photographers
Staged First Look: More time together on wedding day vs missing out on down the aisle look experience
Family Portraits (at venue): No additional time for family vs super long cocktail hour & hungry guests
Posed Couple & Bridal Party Photos: Glam portraits & fabricated moments vs longer day of schedule & authentic moments
Reception & Party Photos: Time capsule vs added cost
Candid Photos: authentically capture your day vs extra cost