A wedding photographer’s work begins way before the big day. Follow this timeline and you’ll have snaps worth showing off for a lifetime, says Natasha Radmehr
You know all of those achingly cool couples whose weddings look totally effortless? Leather jackets slung over their shoulders, bundles of wildflowers scooped into mismatched vases, shots of them walking barefoot on the beach. They might look as though they rolled out of bed one weekend and decided to get married on a whim, but I’ll let you in on a secret: they planned every seemingly casual detail with meticulous precision, right down to those candid, magazine-worthy photos.
Wedding photography is a fine art – one that tells the story of your day. No matter your style, you’ll want a photographer who understands you and your partner and what your plans are for the wedding. And that won’t happen overnight. Put in the groundwork early on and you’ll get photos that put the McCools to shame. Here’s what to do and when.
What to do before booking a photographer
Even if you’ve yet to book a venue, you can still start researching photographers. “I think it’s something a couple should discuss as early as possible,” says Neil Jarvie of Pocket Square Photography. “There are so many options out there that it’s important to take your time to look through what’s on offer so that when it comes to booking, you know exactly what you’re after.” Browse this mag, scroll through blogs and do a social media deep dive, taking note of anyone whose style you love. It’s wise to make a shortlist of a few names; that way, if your top choice isn’t available on your date (it happens!), you’ll have other options up your sleeve to soften the disappointment. It’s worth asking to see full albums so you’re not simply selecting from edited highlights on social media.
When do I need to book a wedding photographer?
Venue booked? With the date set, you can start making proper inquiries. Ideally you should get your photographer locked in as soon as possible, but don’t rush into it in a panic. “Make sure you find the right photographer, as in the actual person – not just their images,” advises Lynsey Melville of Lynsey Melville Photography. “You need to be certain you’re comfortable and can be yourself with them. You should feel that you trust them, and that they understand who you are and what you’re looking for.” If it feels right, book them. You’ll have to make a deposit at this stage to secure the booking, and then most
photographers will ask that you pay the remaining balance somewhere between two and six weeks before the big day. Most can be flexible on this, however, and many are happy to set up payment plans if you’d prefer.
What happens after I’ve booked a photographer?
Once you’ve booked, the photographer will want to chat through all the details you’ve planned so far and get to know you a little better. “I always try to have a meeting with couples at the booking stage,” says Gail McCarthy of Gail Photography. “I will email them a couple of weeks before to get all the info I need, and then we have a face-to-face meeting to go over the details of the day. If it’s a venue that’s new to me, I’ll always try to do a site visit with the couple to look for areas that will be good for pictures on the day.”
Holly Blackwell of For Love + Thistle Photography likes to send out a wedding guide to her clients at this stage containing handy planning tips and recommended suppliers. “I also love getting to know each and every one of my couples and strongly encourage them to add me on Instagram and message me if there’s anything they need,” she says. “I welcome it all – even sending me links to Pinterest boards!”
Do I need a pre-wedding shoot?
Awks in front of the camera? A pre-wedding shoot will help you relax. “This is a fab opportunity to start getting comfortable with the style your photographer has, so you can start to visualise how your wedding day will go,” tips Lynsey Melville. “You could use these images for your save-the-dates, a slideshow for your big day, a wedding website… and, of course, you can frame them for your wall as a snapshot memory of this love bubble time!” Lots of photographers will offer this free as part of their package; some will charge a bit extra.
“I actually offer everyone who inquires with me the chance to meet up and have a 20-minute pre-wedding shoot for free,” says Pocket Square’s Neil Jarvie. “Sometimes people can’t make this pre-shoot, but want to book anyway, and I always encourage them to meet me before the wedding to have one. There’s not really a preferred time for this, but it’s always worth doing to get the practice in!”
What happens next?
It’s unlikely you’ll have your entire day organised the first time you meet the photographer, so they’ll check in with you a few months before the wedding to find out what’s on the cards. Often, this will come in the form of a questionnaire. “This is to gather all there is to know about your plans and to create your own personal timeline and list of family portraits,” explains Holly Blackwell of For Love + Thistle Photography.
They’ll want to know things like the venue’s timings for the day, what entertainment you’ve booked, if you have any extra surprises planned (hello, singing waiters) and if there are any restrictions (some venues, for example, may not allow flash photography). Supply as much information as you can, and if there’s anything you’re unsure about, ask your venue’s coordinator.
Photos captured on your wedding morning
Wakey, wakey! After an army of hair and makeup pros arrive and your room disappears beneath a cloud of hairspray and perfume, your photographer will come to capture those precious – and sometimes chaotic – moments before the ceremony. Usually this will be towards the end of the beauty prep, around an hour and a half before the ceremony begins. They’ll either split their time between snapping you and your partner, or will have a second shooter on hand so that each of you has a dedicated photographer. “Once I feel I’ve captured what I can of the prep, I’ll speed over to the ceremony venue to get some nice candid shots of the guests arriving as well as some pictures of the venue itself,” says Lynsey Melville.
A trend gathering pace in recent years is a ‘first look’ shoot, where the couple opt to see one another before the ceremony. “You get to share that first moment more privately and are able to talk to one another as well,” says Neil Jarvie of Pocket Square Photography. “You can also use this opportunity to get your couple shoot done before the ceremony, which frees up loads of time for afterwards.”
“Allow a good 45-60 minutes before the ceremony to get into your dress. If you’re in it within ten minutes, then just see it as more time for photo opportunities and extra time to sip champagne!”
How long does it take to shoot wedding photos on the day?
Between the ceremony and evening meal, it’s all a bit of a whirlwind: one minute you’ll be sipping a glass of fizz, the next your maid of honour will be collecting grannies like they’re Pokemon for some group shots. “Ensure you have enough time for your drinks reception – around an hour and a half is ideal,” suggests Gail McCarthy of Gail Photography. “Aim to keep to between five and ten family shots. If you try to do more than that, you’ll all get fed up and feel the whole drinks reception is taken up with pictures.”
Once all the formal shots are done, your photographer will whisk you and your partner away for some pictures on your own – or they might do it the other way around. “This is roughly 45 minutes to an hour depending on the season and the weather,” says Holly Blackwell of For Love + Thistle Photography. “I like to split this time by doing half an hour after the ceremony and then half an hour later in the evening for golden-hour portraits.”
Throughout the day and into the evening, your photographer will grab candid shots of key moments and guests mingling, usually staying for a few songs after the first dance.
“Put timings in your schedule for things like group shots and the couple shoot. Having a set time will make it much more organised than just trying to find a point in the afternoon when everyone is around for group shots, and it means you can organise your guests beforehand”
Neil Jarvie, Pocket Square Photography
When will I get my wedding photos back?
In days of yore, you’d be waiting yonks before you caught a glimpse of your wedding photos. These days, most photographers will send you a small selection of images in the days immediately afterwards to whet your appetite. “As soon as I get home, I back up the images and start looking through them to pick out some favourites to send as sneak peeks,” smiles Lynsey Melville. “It’s lovely for the couple to share these on their socials if they like to do that, and to start feeling happy and excited about the rest of the collection.”
It takes a photographer between four and eight weeks on average to send over your edited gallery of images. Sometimes you’ll get them sooner, especially if you marry off-season, but during busy periods such as summer you may have to be more patient. “I ensure my couples receive their online gallery two to three weeks after the wedding,” says Gail McCarthy of Gail Photography. “I never take on more weddings than I can handle, as customer service is very important to me. No newlyweds should be waiting months and months for their wedding pictures.”
Once you receive your gallery, you can select your favourite shots to go in an album. Your photographer will send a draft layout which can be tweaked until you’re happy, then your finished album will arrive anywhere between one and six weeks later, depending on the manufacturer. Remember, you can always order your album at a later date if your budget won’t stretch to it right away.