Simple Tips for Better Wedding Photos, with Ross Willsher Photography
English Wedding Directory member Ross Willsher is a professional photographer based in Essex. His book, “How to have a wedding as individual as you are” is brilliant, inspiring, down to earth, reassuring and beautifully written. So many of us – me included – get a little nervous in front of the camera. While I’d worry about my chin (both my chins) and my tummy, the way I was standing, how to get my hair to stay in the right place, and what to wear, I know in my heart that being happy and confident makes for the best and most beautiful images. But confidence is probably the hardest thing to have! You can’t pluck it out of the sky, and it’s way harder to fix nerves than flyaway blue hair…
I imagine ten minutes with Ross would set my nerves to rest. Even from his book I can tell he has a way with people, is a listener and understands our anxieties and quirks. This article is an extract from “How to have a wedding as individual as you are” (available on Amazon).
I believe strongly in collaborating and working closely with couples to create the best wedding photos possible. Wedding photos are your lifelong memories and therefore it seems a no-brainer to me that you are actively involved in the process of capturing such treasured moments. Whilst us photographers are experts on the technical aspects of photography such as lighting, composition and posing, the amount of input you have before and during the day can make a massive difference to both the quality and quantity of photos your wedding photographer produces for you.
Buy ‘Celebrated’ by Ross Willsher on Amazon – it’s beautifully written and filled with empathy, empowering and inclusive: highly recommended by English Wedding!
Before the Wedding Day
Communicate any anxieties – make your photographer aware of any concerns that you have (especially in terms of confidence or feelings of anxiety with regards to photography). Don’t wait for your photographer to turn up to your wedding day preparations before you declare “I hate having my photo taken”. Use your engagement shoot to relay these fears, and if you haven’t booked a pre-wedding shoot, make sure you meet with your photographer to discuss why you do not feel comfortable in front of the lens and allow them to reassure you and plan an approach that minimises your stress and worries.
Try on your outfits and practise moving about in them – trying on on your outfits before the big day seems obvious, but it is surprising the number of bride and grooms who don’t try everything on until the morning of their wedding, only to realise the fit isn’t perfect and they aren’t fully comfortable. It’s hard to enjoy a day when you don’t feel comfortable in what you are wearing and wedding clothes can take a little longer to get used to compared to everyday wear. Have a little practice so that walking, dancing and rocking your wedding photos all feel a little easier on the day.
Gather any information requested by your photographer – if your photographer has asked you to find certain things out prior to the big day (and even if they haven’t) make sure you have done the necessary research and pass on any important information. Timings are the most important thing to make sure you and your photographer are both up-to-speed on. Knowing when everything is happening and how the photography coverage fits in with the timeline of the day is perhaps the most crucial part of the planning process. Everything on a wedding day takes longer than normal – from getting dressed to eating a three course meal – so timings are always set with a little flexibility in mind. However, your photographer will need to know if speeches are before or after the wedding breakfast (or if they are happening at all), the time of the first dance and other key moments. This is especially essential if you have opted to stray from the traditional wedding format and the flow of the day is vastly different to most weddings. You may also need to talk to the venue, vicars, registrars and other wedding suppliers about any other rules or restrictions on photography during the day and inform the photographer in advance whenever possible to do so.
Plan your group shots (and any other essential images) – whether you sit with your photographer to produce a shot list or simply jot down this list as a couple, make sure you have written down all of the various group shot combinations you want photographed on the day and your photographer has a copy. I recommend between 6-10 group combinations to avoid the process becoming too time- consuming and boring for all involved. However, this is a rough guide only and very much depends on the size of the wedding party and whether these images are to form a key part of your wedding day memories. Also make sure to share any key shots that you want your photographer to capture – is your watch a family heirloom? Is there a private joke regarding your choice of aftershave? Make sure your photographer knows the story behind some of the shots requested.
Inform guests of any photos requiring their involvement – once you know which guests are going to star in your group images, do let them know in advance and if possible inform them of when these shots will take place. This avoids them rushing off to the reception venue or heading straight to the bar when they should be smiling beautifully in a group photo. It also prevents surprises on the day and cries of “Oh I don’t want to be in this one – do I have to?”. I always suggest that an usher or “vocally-gifted” member of the wedding party helps to round up friends and family for the groups shots and so informing them of this role before the day is also useful.
During the Preparations
Choose a room with space and light – if you have any control or choice over where you are getting ready and want some stunning preparation shots, look for a room with large windows or which is naturally bright and spacious. Small, dark, poky rooms can limit the look and variety of images that can be taken of you sprucing your hair up and donning your finest. Aside from the implications on the technical aspect of the photography, a dark room isn’t the most uplifting and celebratory atmosphere for a wedding day and you will feel and look so much calmer and happy in a bright airy room.
Gather all the little details together – to save time and to become your photographer’s favourite ever client (for one day at least – we’re a fickle bunch), have all the little important details ready for when your photographer arrives; the flowers, the rings, the hip flask full of neat gin – whatever has been thought about and is special to you on your big day. It saves time and it helps your photographer to remember everything that plays a part in the narrative of your wedding.
Have a quick tidy before the photographer arrives – all photographers work differently, but most of the preparation photos are taken towards the end of the process and so it it not unusual for us to arrive to a scene of chaos and clutter. A little bit of wedding-related mess creates a sense of occasion but too much can be distracting in the images. A quick tidy-up before your photographer is due will be something they thank you for – trust me!
Factor in photo time – I always recommend that to get beautiful shots of you in your wedding attire (whether a dress, suit, kilt or polka dot bikini), be dressed and ready at least 30-45mins before your transport is arriving to collect you (if the ceremony is at another location) or the same amount of time before the start of the ceremony (if taking place at the same location). This is the minimum time needed to feel calm and relaxed and get the best possible images.
Walk slowly – when walking down the aisle (and when walking through a confetti shower) walk nice and slowly. Savour the moment and take your time. It allows your photographer to get lots of fantastic images of you both. I know it can be a nerve-wracking time (especially on your way to the ceremony) but breathe deeply and try not rush these little journeys.
Keep your head up – as well as walking slowly, try to avoid looking at the floor. Talk to each other, make each other laugh, and / or smile at your guests because as beautiful as the top of your head may be, you can’t beat seeing your happy faces in wedding photos!
Kiss Slowly – your first kiss and everyone is watching – get it over with quickly right? No! Once again slow down and enjoy it – make it count. A quick blink-and-you-miss-it peck on the cheek doesn’t make for a great photograph so make the most of your first married kiss.
The Photo Session
Stay in one place for the group shots – it’s tempting when you know everyone who should be in the next photo to wander off and look for them, but this wastes a lot of time. Stay put and let that aforementioned loudmouth do the donkey work. By staying put, you also ensure a consistent look to the group photos as you can remain in a central position throughout the set of images.
Ask what to do with spare limbs and body parts – if your photographer hasn’t directed you and you feel a bit awkward, don’t be afraid to ask what to do with your resting hand or arm. It might be that you look great just as you are, or that the photographer is simply sorting their settings before they pose you a little more. Either way it doesn’t hurt to show that you are thinking about how you are looking and actively engaging in the shoot – be confident to say
“Does my arm, leg, chin (insert relevant body part here) look OK?”. Don’t feel guilty about not mingling with your guests – even those of you who want to invest a lot of time in getting some stunning photos may feel a bit bad about leaving poor Carol from the office being chatted up by boring Uncle Bob, but relax; everyone can cope without the newlyweds being in their eyesight at various points throughout the day. It’s perfectly acceptable for you to be out and about having your photographs taken during certain moments of the day.
Heads up for the speeches – aside from making sure the photographer knows when these are happening, make sure the photographer also knows if a particular surprise has been planned by any of the speakers so that they can be in the right place to capture the reactions of the married couple and their guests. However nervous you and your speakers are, try to remember to look up from your notes from time to time. It makes for a more interesting photo and keeps the audience a little more engaged.
Milk the first dance moment – yes another occasion when all eyes are on you so try not to spend the next 4 minutes looking directly down at the dance floor. Even if you are more of a wallflower than a wannabe Strictly champion, try to move a little around the dance floor (or at the very least turn on the spot). It allows your photographer to get a wider variety of shots. Look into each others’ eyes, have another kiss, and then smile – it’s a magical moment.
After the Wedding
Share with friends and family – most photographers now provide a facility to share an online gallery of images and even allow guests to order prints and digital copies of their favourite photographs from the day. Some of you may happily allow your photographer to share some highlights across social media, but this is not something that every couple is happy with. However you decide to share your images with loved ones, try not to leave it until too long after the day; sharing your photos whilst the event is still fresh in their minds shows consideration and appreciation for the part they played in celebrating your marriage.
Of course, there are many many more hints, tips and tricks for improving the chances of getting fantastic images but hopefully these are enough to get you thinking about how your input can make a big difference.
As photographers, we don’t expect you to remember all of these things and we will remind you when appropriate of how you can help us get great images of you and your loved ones. The main thing to remember is to be honest, open and involved in the photographic process. Photographs mean so much more when you feel you have played a huge role in the creation of them.