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The Wedding Photographer’s Guide to Planning a Wedding

Wedding planning tips

Of all the professionals you’ll employ on your wedding day, it’s your wedding photographer who you’ll spend the most time with. We’re hanging around from first thing in the morning often until your first dance or later, so we see everything! We won’t claim to know anything about hair, makeup, flowers, dresses, wedding bands, how to give a meaningful address during your ceremony or how to decorate your venue, but what we do know is exactly how a wedding works from start to finish, and how tiny glitches can have a huge influence on your enjoyment of your day and on the quality of your photographs.

On the wedding blogs and magazines you’ll find endless tips about planning your wedding; when to order your invitations, how long your bridesmaids’ dresses will take to be delivered, what kind of dress is perfect for your body shape. But still on wedding days we hear time and time again “oh I never thought of that!” or “I forgot about that!”. Because once all of the big plans are in place, the little things are often forgotten.

I’ve been photographing weddings for over 6 years, so I’ve seen something approaching 200 of them. And every time I see a bride stressing over something that could have been avoided I remind myself that I must write that blog post of tips, and the list in my head gets longer and longer. Finally, in the break between winter weddings ending and the busy season starting up again, I’ve got the time to do it. I’m sure that I’ll add to it in the future, because there are bound to be things I’ve forgotten!

So what makes great wedding photos? If I had to choose one thing I’d say it’s time. I don’t mean an extra-long photoshoot in the middle of the day, the idea of taking a couple away from their guests for hours on end is thankfully falling out of fashion. It’s the little bits of time that you can save throughout the day. Time to enjoy a glass of champagne in the morning, and still arrive stress-free at your ceremony. Time for a relaxed portrait session with no more time than necessary taken up by formal groups. Time to eat a canapé, chat with your friends and enjoy the reception musicians you searched so long for. So while there are some specific tips on how to help your photographer make the best possible photographic record of your day, most of the information below is focussed on giving you the time to breathe and enjoy yourself, because a relaxed wedding means great photos.

Wedding planning tips

 

BEFORE THE WEDDING

Usually by the time a couple contacts me they have already organised their wedding location, and an experienced photographer will be able to make great photos at any venue. Most brides will have already carefully considered the following points, but I thought it was worth putting them down in writing.

  • does your venue have outdoor space? Most brides are keen to have their portraits and family photos taken outside, and even if your venue doesn’t have formal gardens there can still be great photo locations. A simple small area of greenery or a path through some trees is often all we need. Also think textures; walls, columns, old barns or woodsheds. If the venue really doesn’t have anywhere suitable, then consider an alternative location for portraits or taking family photos earlier in the day outside the church.
    Wedding planning tips
  • do you have a wet weather plan? Any photographer who has been working in Northern Ireland for a few years will have experienced every kind of weather condition, and will be confident in getting great photos no matter what. But there are always way to improve your chances of making beautiful images. Think greenhouses, covered archways, barns or even just small overhangs (most photographers won’t mind getting wet as long as you’re sheltered!). Again, if there is nothing suitable at your venue you might want to think of stopping off at an alternative location.
    Wet wedding planning tips
  • great photo locations often not obvious. Your wedding coordinator will usually give you an idea of the ‘usual’ photo spots around your venue, but often the locations they suggest will not suit the style of a modern wedding photographer (dark staircases and gazebos spring to mind). But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other fantastic locations to take photos at your venue. Ivy covered walls in the car park, fire escapes, or the corn field next to the hotel (please get the farmer’s permission!), it’s always good to look beyond the obvious spots. The same goes for alternative locations on the way, it could be a layby with a great view, a forest car park with a huge stack of logs or a family member’s home with a rustic farmyard – take a look along the route and you might be surprised at what you find.
    Wedding planning tips

 

THE TIMELINE

Couples are often confused about how to plan their timelines, and it’s one of the questions that I get asked most by my brides and grooms. The most difficult part of the day to plan is the time between the ceremony and the meal, so these are the things you will need to take into account.

  • ceremony start time. No matter how punctual you are, your ceremony is very unlikely to start on time. I always recommend that brides aim to be at the ceremony around 5 minutes late, if you arrive early on bang on time then you can be sure your guests will still be arriving – there are always stragglers! Save a nervous sit in the car or a few laps around the block by planning to be ever so slightly late. But do factor it in when planning your timeline.
    Wedding planning tips
  • ceremony length. Celebrants, priests or ministers are usually bang on with their estimates for the length of your ceremony. No worries here!
  • the getaway. The most commonly overlooked part of the day for couples planning their timeline is the bit after the ceremony. For most of your guests this is the first time they’ll have had a chance to talk to you, and everyone will want to pass on their congratulations. Even if you plan a speedy getaway you should factor in around 15mins here, if you are having a receiving line outside the church then it can take as much as 45mins.
    Wedding planning tips
  • the drive. If your wedding is in more than one location then you will need to factor in the driving time. Google maps is useful for checking timings in advance, but take it as a low estimate of the time it will really take. Often you’ll get a glass of champagne from the car driver just before you depart, and from the venue coordinator when you arrive, so add 5 mins for that. If your car is vintage, ask the car company for an estimate of how much slower they will be. On a 2hr drive across the country with lots of motorway, you might find you’re adding an extra half hour onto the journey. Finally, think traffic! This is particularly important for weekday weddings, especially those passing through busy towns and cities on a Friday lunchtime. Having a trial run can save some nasty surprises on the day.
  • arrival. Your venue coordinator will often request to have a quick word with you when you arrive at the reception venue, to go through the final details and check the room layout. Include a quick toilet break or makeup touchup and this can add another 15-20mins before you’re ready to start your photos
    Wedding planning tips

Once you’ve added up whichever of the above points are relevant to you, do you still have 30-60mins available for your portrait session and family photos? Before sunset?

If not, don’t panic! The list above is a worst case scenario, so once you’re aware that you’re going to be tight on time there are things you can do to speed proceedings up:

  1. leaving immediately after the ceremony can save huge amounts of time, so consider dropping the receiving line or moving it to later in the day.
  2. can you / do you want to have an earlier ceremony time? Even half an hour can make all the difference to stress levels later in the day.
  3. have you considered a first look? This is especially popular for winter weddings with a 2 or 3pm ceremony time. Get ready a bit earlier, see each other for the first time in privacy (if you ignore me!), get your portraits and maybe even family photos out of the way before the ceremony and then you’re 100% free to enjoy the rest of your day with no stress and no interruptions for photos. And no worries about the light.
    Wedding planning first look
  4. for summer weddings, can anything be moved until after the meal? Not recommended for family photos as people will inevitably be harder to track down, but saving some portraits until sunset can be a great idea. Make sure you look up the sunset times in advance to make sure the timings work, factoring in possible speech overruns!
    Wedding planning sunset photos

 

THE NIGHT BEFORE

The usual pattern on a wedding morning is a few hours of calm and enjoyable preparations followed by one final hour of increasing chaos. But it doesn’t need to be that way! There are a few things you can sort before the wedding day so that you have more time to enjoy the morning, they may seem obvious but I see them week after week:

  • cut labels off all dresses
  • remove protective covers – dresses with fine detail/beading can have plastic or tissue paper loosely sewed onto the dress, this can be very time-consuming to remove!
    Wedding planning tips
  • deal with wrinkles: if you are worried about creases in your dress the night before the wedding, it’s best to deal with it in advance. It’s possible but unlikely they will fall out before morning. Iron the dress through a sheet or try using a hairdryer for thin or delicate fabrics.
  • shoes: remove labels to save time on the wedding day. Scuff up the soles if the shoes feel slippy. Insert gel insoles or heel shields if you need them. And pack a few blister plasters just in case!
  • pack your overnight bag. I can’t stress this one enough, after seeing so many flustered brides in full hair and makeup trying to gather things together at the last minute. If you’ve booked a hairdresser and makeup artist then all of your toiletries can also be packed in advance. Remember a phone charger.
  • think bows and ties. If your dress has a bow, make sure your designated bow-tying bridesmaid has had a chance to practise or has been given instructions by the dressmaker. Often I end up being asked to give it a shot and bows are not my strong point! For the men, if you’re going for a fancy knot, find an instruction video on youtube, have a practice run and keep it handy for reference on the wedding day.
    Wedding planning tips

 

THE MORNING

Being with the bridal party as they get ready in the morning is one of my favourite parts of the wedding day! Your makeup artist and hairdresser should have the timings all organised in advance, and in my experience they are great at sticking to schedule. I love to get some photos of you getting into your dress, but you should note that I have to leave a little bit earlier than you (around 20mins) so if you would also like photos of you and the girls putting those final touches to your outfits then it’s important not to let the schedule run behind at the last minute

  • magic underwear. Not the most glamorous topic! But putting on any control pants or bodies under your dressing gown before you get your makeup done means you’ll be ready to get into your dress without delays.
    Wedding planning tips
  • food. You will undoubtedly be nervous on the morning of your wedding, but eating a good breakfast means you won’t be desperate for some food just as you were scheduled to be getting into your dress. Your appetite can do funny things on a wedding day!
  • gather your accessories. Keep shoes, jewellery, perfume etc together and close at hand. This is also useful if you’d like your photographer to take photos of those things.
    Wedding planning tips
  • hair supplies: your makeup artist will probably be with you for touchups until you’re in your dress but your hairdresser will often leave a bit earlier. Having a can of hairspray and some hair pins can be useful if any stray pieces of hair make a break for it at the last minute. Make sure you ask the hairdresser to show a bridesmaid how to remove your veil without disturbing your hairstyle if you’ll need to do that later in the day.
  • makeup supplies: usually you will have made arrangements with your makeup artist for a lipstick to keep with you. But often if bridesmaids have a different colour then they won’t have anything to top up with. A minor thing, but something to think about!
    Bubzbeauty wedding photos
  • music. It’s amazing how a little bit of background music can relax everyone on a wedding morning. Silence is not good for the nerves! If you decide to go for a music channel, be careful that the TV in the background isn’t going to be difficult for your photographer to crop out of the frame.
  • the dreaded buttonholes! In my experience these cause more difficulties than anything else on a wedding day. If you’re not lucky enough to have an expert on hand, then it can be useful to ask the florist if they wouldn’t mind pinning them on the jackets before he/she leaves, even if the men are not planning on getting dressed for a while
    Documentaire bruiloft fotografie nederland

 

THE CEREMONY

As wedding photographers, we’re used to unexpected surprises on wedding days, and we can work around most things. But advance notice and a few simple tweaks can make our job easier and therefore your photos better:

  • restrictions. Check in advance for restrictions on photographers and videographers. Are these fairly normal (minimise movement, don’t walk on the altar etc) or are they extreme (no photography during ceremony or banished to a balcony)? If you’re not happy with the restrictions, let me know in advance and I can arrive in the mood to charm, negotiate or simply make the best of the situation – I can’t promise anything but sometimes a quick discussion can put your minister’s mind at ease.
    Wedding planning tips
  • floral arrangements. Take a look at your church or ceremony venue and think about where your photographer will have to stand to be able to see your faces during the vows. Were you planning to put a huge floral arrangement there? Often the obvious place for the flowers is the only place where we can get a good view. Sometimes we enjoy using obstructions to frame our photos, but in general we will thank you if you move them a little bit out of our way!
    Wedding planning tips
  • musicians. Similar to the floral arrangements! A large group of musicians can take up all of the available space at the front of a ceremony. Consider asking them to leave some space when setting up.
  • confetti. I love confetti shots, so you can imagine my frustration when I’m crouched down trying to get a great photo of a flower girl outside the ceremony and turn around to see a couple of guests throwing tiny flurries of confetti over the bride while I’m not looking! Most couples who supply confetti want to get a great shot of it, so just let me know and I can arrange for the guests to throw it all together, this is fairly simple to organise and gives much better results.
    Documentary wedding photographer Northern Ireland

 

THE PHOTOS

The arrangements for your portrait session will vary depending on your personal preference, but family photos usually follow the same pattern. This can be the most boring part of the day for you, but for most people it’s also one of the most important! So it’s good to make it as painless as possible.

  • make a list. I normally recommend keeping formal photos to bridal party and immediate family only, so parents, siblings (plus kids and partners) and grandparents. When I estimate 20mins these are the groups I’m factoring in. If you would like extra photos of friends or extended family then definitely let your photographer know in advance, for large extended family groups the photo time can increase dramatically. It just takes one aunt to go missing! It can also be helpful to consult with your parents about this before the wedding, some assume that there will be a long list of family combinations so if you don’t want this you will need to warn them in advance. The “just one more group” session can be hard to stop unless everyone is on the same page.
    Wedding photographer in Northern Ireland
  • warn the families. I don’t like to stereotype, but it’s usually a brother who goes missing. He thinks he’s not particularly important, since he’s not in the bridal party, so he heads off to check into his room or stops off somewhere on the way. It’s good to warn anyone in your family groups in advance of when they will be needed, this will depend on your individual wedding but the time can usually be roughly confirmed with your photographer in advance. Make sure your brothers know how important they are!

 

THE SPEECHES/DANCING:

After the formal photos the rest of my day is mainly spent taking documentary style photos, the day flows on without my intervention and I capture all of the fun as it happens. So there are just a few more small tips to share

  • floral arrangements. Yep, again! This time on the top table. Large table centres can look beautiful, but they can really block the photographer’s view of the bride and groom during speeches. Consider low arrangements or taking them off the table before the speeches start.
  • speaker position. Often speakers will walk away from the top table to do their speech. Although this may be necessary for some speakers (eg at a round table where the father of the bride would have his back to the guests), it does make for better photos if the groom is beside the bride when he’s doing his speech, and likewise that the best man is close to the groom. As a photographer we love to get those interactions
    Documentary wedding photographer in Northern Ireland
  • special events. If you’re planning to sing happy birthday to a guest, open the floor to speeches or having surprise entertainment like a singer waiter, let us know! This is especially important for videographers who need to think about recording sound.
    Wedding planning tips Northern Ireland
  • timings. Having the speeches before or after the meal won’t have any influence on the quality of the photos, but it is something that I get asked for advice on quite regularly. If I had to choose, I’d say that before the meal is best because then the speakers can relax while eating dinner, and it usually helps to avoid speeches running late and delaying the band from setting up.
    Weddings at Chateau Canet France
  • the lull. There is always a bit of a gap between the end of the meal and the first dance, but it’s good to avoid a very long lull. Ask your venue if there’s any way the band can set up in advance behind a screen or curtain, or if there’s a table setup which minimises the number of tables that need to be moved in the turnaround. If you think there will be a big gap, a photobooth (or DIY polaroid station) can be a good way to occupy your guests and keep the party atmosphere going.
    Wedding planning tips

 

So that was it, the sum total of my wedding wisdom so far! I’m sure I’ll be adding even more throughout the wedding season. To my couples, I’m always here for you if you need advice on planning, suppliers or any other aspect of your day, a quick email can ease many concerns. If you can take a few useful tips from this article then I know you’ll have an amazing relaxed wedding day, and you’ll get some awesome photos to show for it.

Enjoy the planning!

 

First dance wedding photographer Northern Ireland

Job vacancies!

I need a new Colin!

Colin and I met when I shot his wedding back in 2011, and since then he’s been my trusty assistant, second shooter and occasional comedy double act. Unfortunately for me (fortunately for him) Colin now has a successful business of his own, so soon the time will come when he’s much too busy and important to be fetching and carrying for me, and maybe someday I’ll be carrying his bags!

Northern Ireland wedding photographer

So I’m on the lookout for some new assistants and second shooters, and I’m not looking for just one person. It might not be very regular work at first, as Colin is still on the scene, but I’m especially looking to get a few names that I can trust going into 2014. At some weddings I just need an assistant: someone to hold bouquets, carry umbrellas, laugh at my jokes and just generally be a helpful soul to my brides and grooms – this might suit someone at the start of their career who’s interested in seeing what a wedding photographer really does. At other weddings I’ll need a full-blown second shooter, taking responsibility for groom preparations in the morning and shooting both alongside me and independently right through the day – for this I’ll need someone with a bit more experience, who shoots in a similar style to me and has a good eye for a documentary-style photo.

When I was in the first year of my business, I was lucky enough to be chosen to second shoot for Janine Walker, and it was one of the luckiest breaks I’ve ever had. I was able to see first hand what happens at weddings, all the different venues, circumstances and weather conditions that I might find myself in, and I really felt like I was ready for anything after a season working with her. I know how hard it is to get experience in wedding photography, so I’d love to give someone else the chance that was given to me.

Wedding photographer in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland wedding photographer

If you’ve got this far and you’re still interested, then here is a little list of things I’m looking for…

You must:

  • Be punctual! This is a biggie. Nothing annoys me more than lateness, so if you’re the kind of person who is always 15 minutes early then you could be my new BFF. Colin is always (and I mean always) 4 minutes late when we meet personally, but I know that when he’s second shooting for me, he’ll be there.
  • Be professional. When you’re at a wedding you’re one of the faces of my business, and you need to be happy, polite, unobtrusive and helpful at all times. If you happen to be male then people *will* assume that you’re the main photographer and ask for your business card, so get used to pointing them in my direction : )
  • Show initiative. Always be on the lookout: if I’ve just taken the bouquet from the bride, grab it, and maybe get a nice photo of it. If you see that the bridesmaids have abandoned the bride, help her with her dress. If the dark clouds start gathering, run and get an umbrella. If I spin around and you’re suddenly in the background of my shot, be on your toes and get out of the way. If I look stressed and flustered, stroke my hair (ok, maybe not that…)
  • Be able to get to weddings all over Northern Ireland (and potentially further afield). A reliable car and a SatNav are essential.
Northern Ireland wedding photographer

Always on the ball...

If you’d like to be my second shooter then there are a few more requirements. Some are essential, some are preferable, so don’t let any of them put you off getting in touch. Needless to say though, solid technical skills, a good eye for a photo and an understanding of light are a must.

You should also:

  • Shoot Canon. I have nothing against Nikon shooters, but I need your files to fit seamlessly into my workflow. A 5D, 5D2 or 5D3 would be best, and you should have a decent backup camera in case of a failure during groom prep.
  • Have a similar style to me. I shoot almost exclusively with prime lenses, so it would be preferable if you did too, or at the very least have some fast zooms (f/2.8). As a second shooter you’ll mainly be shooting documentary style, but I may need you to shoot room details if time is tight, or quick portraits of the guys at the church.
  • Be aware of what I’m doing at all times. If I’m not allowed to move around in the church, and you see that I can’t get near the string quartet, then get that shot for me. If you notice that the only view I can get of the reader is the beautiful hat on the side of her head, grab a shot of her face from the other side. I don’t need you to replicate my shots, if I can get a photo of the reader then I don’t need you to take one too, but always be thinking about whether you’re in the prime position. 
  • Be creative! This is your chance to shoot with very little pressure on your shoulders. I’ve got the important bits covered, so I want you to get something different for my couples – the shots of the guests having a laugh while I’m shooting the family portraits, the kids playing outside the church, the great angle that I didn’t spot, the interesting architectural details around the venue. Don’t worry if your creative ideas don’t work, I’ll just ignore those ones, but have some fun!
  • Be comfortable using on-camera flash in a flattering and appropriate way, at evening receptions and winter weddings. An ability to balance directional bounced flash with available light (or a willingness to learn) is key, and if you’re a dab hand with a black foamie thing then all the better! If you own any kind of tupperware diffuser then please don’t mention it… 
  • Have some experience of, or a vague idea about, off-camera flash (again mainly for winter weddings). By this I mean that you know how to set up a speedlight in a softbox or umbrella, and know roughly where to hold it! Nothing too complicated, I promise.
Northern Ireland wedding photographer

 

I think that’s about it… oh, one last ‘must’, and probably one of the most important ones:

  • You must be lovely! At some weddings we’ll hardly get a chance to chat at all, at others we’ll be spending a lot of time together, so I need us to get on. A good sense of humour would be great, I like to have fun at weddings and it’s so nice to have someone to have a laugh with in the quiet moments. If you give good life advice then that would also be most helpful, though I’m sure Colin would tell you that I never take his advice anyway : )
Northern Ireland wedding photographer
Northern Ireland wedding photographer
Northern Ireland wedding photographer

 

So if you’re *still* interested, drop me an email to lauren@laurenrutherford.co.uk with the subject line “Colin Mk2” and let me know a bit about yourself. Include the boring things like your kit, your skills, your availability and your experience levels, but also a bit about yourself, your style and why you want to work with me. If you’re looking to second shoot then a link to some photos would also be great. I know that some people have contacted me at various times in the past, so if you’re still interested then let me know, this is a good opportunity to get everyone’s details in one place. I would love to get a shortlist drawn up at the end of the month, so the sooner the better, but I’ll always be happy to hear from you.

Thanks!

L xx

Northern Ireland wedding photographer

Merry Christmas!

This is just a quick little post to wish all of my blog readers a very merry Christmas! I hope you’re all having a fun-filled and restful holiday season. I’m spending mine eating far too much food, catching up with old friends and relaxing with my family – you can’t ask for much more than that.

I know we don’t have any snow this year, so here’s a suitably festive little photo from a couple of years ago! See you all soon for my 2012 Review of the Year!

Northern Ireland photographer

International Professional Photographers’ Network Awards: February 2012

It’s been a while since I blogged any awards from the International Professional Photographers’ Network (IPPN). Things have been pretty hectic here over the past while, so I haven’t managed to enter every month, but I’m very honoured to have been awarded some medals in the months when I did enter. The standard of photography there is improving every single month, so I’m constantly feeling like I have to up my game to stay in touch – which can only be a good thing! The lineup of recent winners includes some of my favourite newborn, family and wedding photographs from recent times, here’s a little rundown!

Family photography award winner in Northern Ireland
Pet photography award winner in Northern Ireland
Wedding photography award winner in Northern Ireland
Family photography award winner in Northern Ireland
Newborn photography award winner in Northern Ireland
Wedding photography award winner in Northern Ireland

 

Ch ch ch changes…

It’s that time of year, when photographers try desperately to take advantage of the slight lull before the storm of the wedding season to tick off all those little (and big) tasks that have been lurking at the bottom of the To-Do list since October! I’ve deliberately blocked two weeks off from shooting to try to get through them, from tax returns to editing, promo design, wedding fair materials, sample albums etc etc. I think I might have been a little bit optimistic, two months might have been more realistic…

One of my main priorities this weekend has been my web presence. The eagle-eyed among you might have noticed some changes around the blog recently, a tweaked background, new header, new font and watermarks. It’s not finished yet, but I’ve been using it as a bit of a testing ground for ideas for my portfolio website (www.laurenrutherford.co.uk), which is currently undergoing a bit of a rejigging. It’s early days, but the basic structure, colour, and overall look has been set so I thought I’d show a little preview!

Northern Ireland wedding photographer

It has also been announced that Showit, the amazing company who I use to build my website, are introducing html5 mobile capability! This is big news for us Showit users, and something we’ve been waiting on for a long time. I can’t wait to get the new website and mobile version launched, I hope you like the look of it too : )

F a c e b o o k