This super useful article is by English Wedding member and London wedding photographer Fiona Kelly Photography
I am happy to share some top tips for how to get the best out of your wedding photos during the ceremony and reception. These will hopefully help you to understand timings and it will ensure you get the photos you want on your wedding day, while having an amazing time, not rushing and not having to think about your wedding photography at all!
The specifics of the ceremony are generally lead by the place you are getting married and the person who is performing the ceremony. There are a number of things that are out of our control from a photography point of view, such as where you can stand in a church, the available space or the lighting in a room. However, there are some things that can be done from the time you start planning your day that will help you get the most out of your photography.
For ease, I’m going to separate this into church wedding, civil ceremonies and outdoor ceremonies. This should cover most of the possibilities!
When it comes to marrying in a church you will generally be choosing the place based on your religious beliefs, the church you attend, the place your family go to worship or somewhere close to your reception venue.
Wherever you choose if you would like photography during the service the most important thing to do is to ask the vicar/priest/rabbi/imam or whoever is in charge of the day to day running of the church or temple what their stance is on photography. The earlier in the planning process you can do this, the better!
You would think that there would be a general consensus on photography during weddings, but there really isn’t. Every single place is different. Some are open and welcoming and are happy for photography to take place during the ceremony and service. Some refuse to let a photographer move from the top of the aisle. Some don’t allow photography at all. Do you want your wedding photos to capture you walking down the aisle towards the love of your life, or the moments you exchange rings? Would you like to have a record of the little glances to each other during the readings or that first kiss after you have said ‘I do’? If you want your wedding photos to capture all these moments you need to discuss it from the start.
Happily many churches are now moving with the times and accept that couples would like to have these special moments photographed. For many, the only restrictions are to not use flash and to be mindful of the importance of the ceremony (which any decent professional photographer should do!) BUT…it is always good to check!
If you are choosing the church based on where it is in relation to the reception venue then there can be some flexibility in finding a place that offers a little more in aesthetics. Many churches are stunning and beautiful but by design, they can often be a little dark. If you come across a church that has larger windows and lots of natural light streaming through, this is always going to make your photographer happy. We photographers love as much natural light as possible! That said, if you fall in love with a church then choose it for that reason.
One more final tip for church weddings. When you are looking around, check out the outside space. If you think you would like any photos outside the church make sure there is plenty of space. Is there a nice looking area for photos and somewhere that is shaded or not in direct sunlight? There is nothing harder than trying to squeeze family photos into a tiny space outside a church, when you have the car park in the background and harsh direct sunlight. These will never be the best photos! If there isn’t plentiful space I generally recommend that family photos are done at the reception venue.
In the UK, if you aren’t marrying in a church you will most likely be getting married at a registry office or venue that is licensed for weddings. Here you will have more options for the kind of place you can get married. Be warned… I’m going to talk about natural light again!
When you are looking around venues and considering where you want to say your ‘I do’s’ try to look at the light in the room. I know its tricky because the human eye is a clever thing and can make quite dark rooms look not so dark. Here are a few things you can easily check:
• where do you stand to say your vows?
Is it near a window, do you have natural light on you as you stand in that spot?
• how dark is the rest of the room?
If there is only one small window the rest of the room can be quite dark and will, therefore, have to be lit with overhead lights. These are the lights that can make people look orange! This is not necessarily a problem for a professional photographer as they can adjust for this and work with it. But, if you like the idea of photos that show you saying your vows and also being able to see your guests behind you, then a darker room will make it harder.
• how is the room set out?
Is there space to move around the area you will stand? I like to be as unobtrusive as possible and tend to keep still during the ceremony, but it is good to have a little space to move so I can get myself into the optimum position to capture the vows, ring exchange, your first kiss as well as any readings by guests.
• what does the room/space look like?
Your photos will show what you see, so if there are ceiling tiles and patterned carpet you will see these in some of the photos. If you want photos that show a modern and elegant space or a quirky rustic barn for that laid back look then you need to choose a room or space that reflects what you want and the style you like. If you want pretty and rustic but you choose a modern-looking registry office, no matter how much decorate the room will still look like a modern space.
As with churches, it’s worth bringing up the topic of photography when you have your first meeting with the registrar. Most are very laid back and, as long as its not disrupting the ceremony, are happy for photography throughout. I have still come across one or two who are a little more strict and have a problem with photos being taken during the ring and vow exchange. Definitely worth checking!
Due to the laws of the land you are currently unable to have a legal ceremony that is fully outdoors. There are plenty of venues that offer outdoor ceremonies with some sort of permanent structure in place that means you can get married officially.
Here are a few of my fave venues where you can have a legal ceremony while being primarily outdoors. You are married under an awning or gazebo, with your guests sat outside, so you essentially have an outdoor wedding. Preston Court is one stunning venue that offers this. South Farm is a beautiful venue that allows for you and your guests to be in the garden for the ceremony. One of my fave venues of the moment, Larmer Tree Garden, is also set up for outdoor weddings.
A fully outdoor ceremony will generally be a blessing or a humanist ceremony and led by a celebrant. I have photographed a few celebrant led weddings and outdoor ceremonies and they are really special. I’m still waiting for the day I’m booked to photograph a wedding on a beach or in a beautiful woodland!
There are few things to consider when planning an outdoor (or part outdoor) wedding ceremony. The first and most important for photography is the time of day you get married. In summer the sun is at it’s the highest from 12pm-2pm so between those times you are most likely to get harsh shadows on faces, people squinting and photos that show all that. I would always recommend pushing a summer wedding back to about 3pm or later, as the light will start looking nicer from that time. For a winter wedding you need to bring it forward to about 12-1pm as the daylight is gone by 3.30pm.
If you are at a venue where you can have a part outdoor ceremony why not ask the registrar if you can stand fully outside for most of the ceremony, so your guests can see and hear you clearly, and then step under the building for the legal part. Many registrars suggest this anyway, but it doesn’t hurt to mention it.
If you choose a celebrant led wedding, or have a fully outdoors ceremony, think about the location. Somewhere that offers shade will always work well for photos. A large tree, or a wooded area would be beautiful. If you are on the beach or somewhere more open try to set up the ceremony so you have the sun behind you, which will backlight you and make for much softer photos (I love backlighting, it’s understatedly romantic and pretty). Why not provide parasols and fans for your guests so if they do sit outside in the sun they won’t get too hot.
General Tips & Round-Up
1. Make sure the most important people are at the front.
If you really want photos of your mum’s reaction while you say your vows, or you would love to have a photo of your gran during the ceremony then make sure they have a place at the front. I always try to capture guests reactions during the ceremony and while you can get photos of people towards the back it’s always easier for the key people to be near to the action!
2. Ceremony Timings
I mentioned it above, but I’ll talk about ceremony timings again. For most photographers the middle of the day is the toughest time to take photos, especially if it is a very sunny day at the height of summer. The higher the sun, the stronger and more unflattering the shadows on the face. If you are having a summer wedding, think about having your ceremony a little later and go for a 3-4pm time. This way when you exit for confetti and reception time you aren’t doing it when the sun is at its brightest. The photos will be much nicer and you won’t have ‘panda eyes’! If you are having a winter wedding you have the opposite problem, where the sun is gone by 3.30pm. If you would like any natural light photos at all during your winter wedding you need to ensure that you marry early enough to still have light. For winter weddings I always recommend a ceremony no later than 1pm.
3. Anywhere you go think about the amount of light in the room. The more natural light, the better.
Its all about light, light and more light!
So, you have said the ‘I do’s’ and signed the register. You will walk back down the aisle, hand in hand to cheering and confetti. Its the happiest moment and you are excited to chat to all your guests, have a glass of something fizzy and start the celebrations. This is as it should be! I was ecstatic in those moments after my wedding ceremony. I was on cloud nine and really wanted to start enjoying the reception and time with the people who had come to share my day.
To make sure you have the fun-filled, laid back and fabulous reception that you are dreaming of you need to make sure you have enough time for everything that you want to happen to… well, happen! This is where a bit of planning ahead makes all the difference. The wedding reception is by far the busiest time of the wedding day for photos. During this time there will be group photos if you want them (check out my guide to ‘group photos made easy‘ for a little extra guidance), detail photos of the wedding breakfast room, photos of the two of you (this is a lovely time, a little escape for you both) as well as capturing the reception itself with candid, natural photos of you and your guests having a grand old time. That is a lot to fit into what can be a fairly short amount of time. Add in some travelling if you get married at a different place to your reception and you can see how easily it can become fairly hectic for photos and something might have to give.
Here’s how you make sure you get all the amazing, wonderful photos you want and have time to enjoy your wedding reception!
1. Make sure you have enough time for the reception.
This is the big one. More than anything else please, please make sure you give yourself plenty of time for the reception. If you are travelling from one venue to another make sure to take the travel time into account. The standard for a reception seems to be an hour and a half, however, I always recommend two hours if you can do this. If you can’t an hour and a half is great, but please make sure the time is from the end of the ceremony to your guests being called for dinner, not dinner being served. This is a distinction I am making because many venues will give you the time for dinner, and then you will find out they will call your guests to dinner 20-30 minutes before that time, which means you lose 20-30 minutes of your reception time. With two hours you will have plenty of time to speak to all your guests. You will get loads of wonderful, natural photos of you and your guests chatting, laughing and enjoying themselves. You will get the group photos you want. You will get fabulous photos of your table setups, the flowers, the cake and all the details you have spent time and effort on. You will get beautiful photos of the two of you, away from everyone, taken in a relaxed way, with no panic about timings.
If you have planned anything special for the reception time (a little surprise for your guests) you want to make sure they have time to enjoy it. The only thing you need to think about with a slightly longer reception is drinks and canapés for your guests. In my experience, no guest will complain about an extra 30 minutes for the reception as long as they have a little bite to eat and something to drink!
2. Work out group shots beforehand
Limiting the number of group shots you do is also highly recommended. Please do check out the Group Photos Made Easy post I wrote as this goes into a lot of detail about getting great group photos with minimal hassle. Briefly, confirm what groups you want before the day (I recommend a maximum of 10 individual groups). Let your photographer know who is in each group. Make one or two people responsible for helping your photographer round up the people for the groups. This pre-wedding organisation can make the difference between group photos taking 20 minutes and group photos that take up to an hour. Trust me when I say you really don’t want to be spending the best part of your reception standing in a line having your photo taken!
3. When choosing your venue bear in mind where you might go for the reception if the weather isn’t nice
Is there enough room inside or somewhere undercover for the group photos you might want? With the best will in the world we all want a wedding where the sun is shining and a warm breeze is keeping us at the perfect temperature to enjoy a Pimms sat outside. However, we are in the UK and the weather can be somewhat erratic. When you are looking for your venue think about the inside as well as the outside. If you do have a day where it’s a little cooler or it’s raining, is the space inside where you would want to spend the reception time? The photos that are taken during the reception will capture where you are, and if it’s not a space you like then you will have to look at it in the photos forever.
4. Confetti time
If you have the chance to get a bit of confetti thrown at the end of the ceremony or at the start of the reception I will always encourage it. It can be such fun for all your guests and makes the best photos. Nothing beats a good confetti face! This does tend to need a little co-ordination. If you can throw confetti straight after the ceremony consider hiding away once you have walked down the aisle. This way all your guests can make their way outside and be ready to shower you with confetti as you make your grand exit.
5. Think about the time of the day you have your reception…
…and therefore when you have your wedding ceremony. This is probably one of the last things on your mind, but from a photography point of view light is everything and the time of day that you are taking photos makes a huge difference. If you are having a summer wedding and you choose a midday ceremony, this means that your reception will be from about 1 pm. This is the brightest time of the day, the sun is at its highest and it can mean lots of squinting guests. My natural style is to shoot backlit or in the shade, which makes for much more flattering photos and for your couples portrait photos is absolutely something I do. The later into the afternoon, the softer the light goes. If you choose a 3 pm ceremony, then the reception will be from 3.30-4.40 pm and the light will be starting to get less harsh. If it’s a particularly warm day, your guests will also be grateful to not be standing outside, dressed to the nines, in the midday sun. The opposite is the case for winter weddings, the light can be gone by 3.30-4 pm, so if you are wanting reception photos with any kind of natural light you need to make sure that you give enough time to do that. By choosing a midday ceremony, this will allow a good couple of hours of daylight for the reception time.
6. Have make up on hand
Handy so you can have a quick make up touch up before the portrait session. This seems like quite a small thing, but before you go for your couples portrait photos you might want to touch up your lipstick and have a quick check of your make up. Especially if the ceremony was a bit of a teary one! The easiest way to do this is to pack a couple of essentials in a small bag and have your mum or one of your bridesmaids carry that for you. This way, it will only take a minute or two to have a quick check, rather than having to go back to your room and hunt down the makeup you want.
7. Go with the flow.
This is slightly contradictory to my general organisation pre-wedding, however, the organisation is for a good reason. To make sure that there is plenty of time to get all the photos you want during the reception and to ensure the ones you do want go as smoothly and easily as possible. When it comes to the day, however, it helps to have a bit of a ‘go with the flow’ attitude. There is a chance things might run late, or not go fully to plan. That’s fine, it happens, and it happens far more frequently than you would imagine. Not getting stressed about the small stuff will mean you enjoy the time fully. Coming from someone who is a complete control freak, I know how hard it can be to relax and let others take over to sort things if they aren’t perfect. Once you hit the wedding day if somethings not right delegate it to a bridesmaid or groomsman to sort. Don’t try to sort it yourself and end up missing half your own wedding reception. You want photos capturing you there, at the moment, having a wonderful day. This goes with weather concerns too. You have no control over what is going to happen with the weather, so try not to worry too much. If it does rain, just go with it. Plan ahead if it looks likely and get yourself a cool umbrella and some wellies and get out for photos in the rain! Whatever happens, remember this is your special day and you should be drinking Prosecco, having a laugh and enjoying every moment.
8. Which flows nicely to my next point…ENJOY YOURSELVES!
It seems a bit crazy to have to say this. After all, this is your wedding day and one of the happiest days of your life. However, sometimes the stress of the build-up to the day or the nerves on the day can get the better of you. Try to take a step back, relax and be in the moment. You have married the love of your life, you are surrounded by the people who mean the most to you and its one hell of a celebration! Enjoy it. It shows on the photos if you are, and it might show if you’re not. I love to capture fabulous natural smiles, awesome emotional moments and true joy. The kind of smiles that are so wide they almost hurt, smiles that shine through your eyes and make you radiate happiness. This is what wedding days are about, so leave the stresses and worries at the door and embrace a wonderful day.
9. If your photographer offers the option of adding a second photographer it could be worth considering.
Not all photographers offer this, but if they do it might be worth having a second photographer. It can make a real difference on the coverage you have during the wedding ceremony and reception, especially if time is a little tighter or you have a fair bit of travelling to do from the ceremony venue to the reception venue. I work with second photographers and find it’s great during the wedding reception. The role of my second photographer is mainly to concentrate on capturing the natural, fun, documentary-style photos of you and your guests. This leaves me free to do the group photos, the detail photos and portraits with the bride and groom. If I have time I will then capture some of the candid photos too, but this way it’s much easier to get everything covered.
There you go! Lots of top tips to get the best out of your wedding photos during the ceremony and reception. Hope this helps to give some ideas and guidance.
I am always happy to chat wedding plans and share advice if you need it, so just ask.
Fiona Kelly Photography is an English Wedding member