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Wedding Photography Basics

Martha Stewart Weddings, Volume 5 1998

Your wedding photos will be the most tangible memories of the day. To make sure you will be happy with your pictures, it helps to familiarize yourself with some basic information.

Finding a Photographer
Start looking at least six months before the wedding day; begin by asking friends and relatives for recommendations. You can also ask your caterer or wedding consultant for the names of recent brides who may have recommendations. Interview at least two or three photographers, paying close attention to both the person and the work. Ask to see one complete album -- not a "best of" collection. Look at a sample proof book as well to assess the depth of coverage; for an important moment such as the cake cutting, make sure there are five or six shots to choose from, not just one or two. Tell the photographer what you are planning for your wedding, and ask him to describe how he would shoot the event if hired to do the job. It will become clear when you and a photographer share the same vision for your wedding.

The Budget
Photographer fees start at about $1,000; generally speaking, about 10 percent of the wedding budget should be allocated to photography. The final fee will be based on the number of hours of coverage, the number of exposures the photographer will take, and the number of proofs he'll show the bride and groom. Many photographers use four hours as the base for calculating their fees, but in reality, that is not enough time to photograph an average wedding, much less a large wedding, which will last at least eight hours. The only time a photographer should spend less than four hours is if you're having a very small wedding. Otherwise, don't agree to a four-hour package thinking you'll save money: Overtime charges can be exorbitant, and you'll end up racing through the cake-cutting and the bouquet-throwing at an unnatural speed so the photographer can capture these moments without it costing you much more than you expected.

Exposures and Proofs
At an average-size wedding (around 150 guests), count on a photographer shooting 250 or 300 exposures. Keep in mind that the more candid shots you request, the more film will be used. Photographers often edit out 10 percent to 20 percent of their shots for the proof book. Therefore, you should expect to see around 200 to 250 proofs for an average-size wedding. Find out if you can keep the proof book; some photographers do include it as part of the package.

Choice of Film
Discuss with the photographer the percentage of images you want in black and white and the percentage you want in color. Black-and-white film is especially well-suited to group photographs because it balances skin tones and complexions, and it simplifies odd combinations of colors in clothing. Black-and-white photographs are often developed by the photographer on archival paper; this means they will not begin to fade as quickly as color prints, which might start to fade in as few as seven years, depending on how they were processed and how they are stored. On the other hand, color photography captures the brightness of the day and better records the moment. Combining both black-and-white and color is often the best solution.

 
Several weeks before the wedding, the bride and groom should meet with the photographer and decide how they wish the event to be documented. Creating a list of photographs you want to have taken helps the process go smoothly. Determine in advance which guests you would like to have formal portraits taken of. Other people can be remembered in your album, which is often more enjoyable when filled with casual shots taken during the celebration.

Here are some other essential shots:

About a week before the wedding, the photographer should follow up with a confirmation of the shot list and the previously outlined schedule, either of which may need to be adjusted to accommodate last-minute changes in your overall plans. Although a wedding planner, if you have one, can handle logistical issues, only you can decide what images you want to capture.

Visiting the Location
You want a background that will not vary too much when shot at different times of day. Your photographer can help you figure this out when you tour the location with him a few weeks before the event. Time your visit as close as possible to the hour when most photos will be taken to get the best idea of how light and shadows will fall. Going to the site allows the photographer to imagine roughly how to arrange people and to make note of any special equipment he should bring to light a particular room or otherwise enhance the scenery.

 
Many brides and grooms struggle with the question of when to take the formal, posed photographs. Here are a few things to consider: If taking the pictures before the ceremony lacks romance, it makes up for it in practicality. The most obvious advantage is that after the ceremony you will be able to go directly to the cocktail hour if you are having one, but there are a couple of other benefits as well. Everyone will have just gotten dressed and made up, so you will all look your freshest and most beautiful. And for couples who feel nervous about the ceremony, seeing each other beforehand can be calming.

For other brides and grooms, however, the moment when they face each other from opposite ends of the aisle is the most anticipated part of the event. This means taking most of the photos after the ceremony. In this case, don't worry about your guests -- they will be enjoying the cocktail hour, which should not be delayed on account of the photos. But the newlyweds and their attendants and immediate families often do miss most of this part of the reception. As a compromise, you might take some pictures before the ceremony, such as all the ones with just the groom's family and groomsmen, while the bride is dressing.

Group Photos
Group shots do not have to be stiff or even posed -- in fact, they can be as natural and lively as candid photos. An unexpected setting adds interest; members of the bridal party or relatives might all lean casually over a porch railing or sit close together on a pretty staircase. The most beautiful portraits are taken when the subjects are relaxed and their personalities shine through.

The various groups being photographed have to be gathered together, primped, and arranged. If just one person wanders off, this can delay the whole affair, so someone should be in charge of collecting people to stand by before their turn comes. Sometimes the photographer will have an assistant who can do this; the wedding planner, or even an efficient member of the bridal party, can also help.

 
You should receive your proofs around four weeks after the wedding, unless your wedding is in the busy months of June or September. Don't be surprised if you end up ordering a rather small selection. Select the images that most touch you, and you will have a timeless record of your wedding day. The different methods of presenting the final prints should be reviewed and resolved before the wedding. Some photographers will edit their photographs and make albums that create a visual narrative -- a photo essay that recalls a magazine layout starring the bride and groom. Other photographers let the couple design the album themselves.

Expect to wait about three to five months to receive your completed album. You can often get a discount if you consolidate all the photographs and albums relatives and friends want into one order.

Comments (6)

  • 20 Sep, 2012

    how many couples can wait from 3 - 5 months to get their album? With the technology today. Album printing should be much faster...... I'm thinking to add album printing in my service here too .. www.kamyauphotography.com

  • 28 Dec, 2011

    Reel in the talons there! The article clearly states the date it was printed, in 1998! Obviously it is dated, but there are some pertinent points that are still good to keep in mind. For a mesmerized bride it is a great point at which to start.

  • 12 Feb, 2010

    Agreed! Why bother outlining the details of a film photographer without even mentioning digital in the article? I would think twice about any professional wedding photographer that only shoots film... with only 250 to 300 exposures expected! The rest of the article has some valid tips. But the fact that this is how the article starts; I should assume the rest is just as outdated.

  • 26 May, 2009

    As a bride and the daughter of photographers, I would be against hiring you as a photographer by your attitude here.

  • 14 Feb, 2009

    i think most readers are aware of the advances in digital photography. no need to be defensive. i think the article provides plenty of other pertinent information.

  • 15 Jan, 2009

    Choice of film? WOW is this out of date or what? I know of no self respecting pro wedding shooter who still uses film. I haven't for the past 4 years and the past 300 weddings. 200 to 300 images? maybe with film but with digital I shoot at least 800 to 1000 and the bride gets all of them with no proofing. Let;s get up to date Martha!!!