Your wedding day guide to stunning photos

With your wedding only a month away, I wanted to shower you with some tips to make your wedding day go smoothly and help you get the best photos along the way. After photographing countless weddings and seeing some seriously stressful moments, I’ve put together this guidebook so you don’t have to make mistakes to learn from them - you’ll be prepared before things have a chance to go wrong! Strap in, everyone!

 
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Getting ready: 60 to 90 minutes

During this time, you’ll be putting the final touches on your signature wedding look and having your friends and family help you wherever they can. This part of the day is SO special because it will encapsulate all of the nerves and excitement before you see your lover and let the details you chose for your outfit really shine. Here are a few tips for the best getting ready images:

  • If your venue allows for a room to get ready in that has natural light, USE IT! open the shades, turn off excess lights, and plan to do your hair/makeup/tie tying near the windows. That light is a huuuuuge game changer when it comes to beautiful, sunlit photos.

  • Try to keep the space you’re in tidy and free of clutter. I know firsthand this can be difficult during the whirlwind of everything, but it will help create photos where YOU truly shine through and distractions are minimal.

  • Put some music on! You need a playlist that’s going to pump you up and get you ready for one of the most important days of your lives. And it will help shake some nerves so you look cool as a cucumber in your photos. A portable speaker is never a bad idea!

 
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Details & accessories: 15 to 30 minutes

Without even knowing the exact details of your wedding, I know for a fact that you put together some seriously incredible details! And while that can be a huge variety of things from the perfect shoes to heirloom jewelry to killer invitations, the photos you get of these will remind you down the road how much planning and thought went into this big day. Here are some expert ideas to get the best photos:

  • Before your photographer arrives to begin shooting, gather all details and accessories and have them ready to be photographed. This might include shoes, jewelry, vow books, perfume/cologne, tie and tie clip, rings, or anything else that’s special to you. That way we can start shooting immediately and make the most of our time before things start happening!

  • Bring a spare invitation that’s in prime condition (include the envelope and RSVP card, if you have them!).

 
ashley and peter kitsap memorial state park outdoor wedding first look van gachnang photography
ashley and peter kitsap memorial state park outdoor wedding first look van gachnang photography
 

First look: 20 to 30 minutes

This part of the day is totally optional, but if you do choose to have a first look you’ll want it to go smoothly! You can see your love and shake off some nerves, spend a few minutes alone really taking in the day with them, and avoid having to tiptoe around the venue all day waiting for the ceremony. Plus, some of my favorite photos from weddings are produced during these few minutes. If you want to see each other for the first time during the ceremony, no sweat at all. Skip to the next section, friend! Here are some things to think about for your first look:

  • If you have a place in mind you want the first look to take place, that’s wonderful. But if not, I’ll find a perfect spot! I always show up a little early to weddings so I can scout out locations for photos, including a first look area.

  • Plan for this time to truly be alone (aside from your stealthy photographer, obv.) so distractions are minimal and you don’t have to worry about a single thing. Sorry, mom!

  • Wipe from your mind any expectations for how you or your partner will react. I’m serious. We all process stress, love, and excitement in vastly different ways, so it’s hard to really say how either of you will react upon seeing each other for the first time. Just let things happen naturally.

  • This is the perfect opportunity to sneak in 5 or 10 minutes with each other with no one else there (including your photographer. We understand the importance of having a few minutes to breathe, believe me). If this is something you want to schedule during your wedding day, I’ll make sure it happens.

  • A first look opens up the flexibility of getting some formal photos done, which could include your whole wedding party and/or family photos before the ceremony so you have more time afterwards to enjoy your cocktail hour and reception. If you need help with your timeline, I’m your girl!

 
MJ and Jon backyard battleground washington wedding van gachnang
 

Ceremony: 10 to 60 minutes

I won’t try and dictate much about your ceremony because it very well may be THE most special part of your wedding. Get married in a church or in your parents’ backyard or in front of a massive mountain - no matter what I’ll probably cry through most of it! I do have a few helpful thoughts for getting the best photos during your ceremony:

  • Backlight, please! Do a mental (or physical) walkthrough of the ceremony space and determine where the sun is going to be when you say “I do". The best photos are going to be lit from behind (i.e. with the sun starting to set behind the altar) without uneven or spotty light patches caused by sunlight through trees. If the sun is scheduled to be beating down on your face during the ceremony, consider moving things around so you won’t be squinting or too warm. Plus, it’ll likely make for a super original ceremony the venue hasn’t seen before!

  • Consider writing your own vows! You don’t have to be an English major to get your point across to your love. Write what you feel and be genuine. That’s all.

  • Plan your exit strategy ahead of time. If you want everyone to shower you in flower petals (or rice, hello 1995) or blow bubbles as you end the ceremony, DO IT! These can make for some seriously special unique and fun photos, and the options are basically limitless. I have some one-of-a-kind ideas up my sleeve if you want some insight!

 
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Family photos: 20 to 30 minutes

It’s no secret that these images will be ones you look back at when you’re showing your loved ones photos from the wedding. These ones usually get printed and hang up in grandma’s house, so I want to be sure they look lovely. These can either take place immediately after the first look or after the ceremony (or a little of both!), which should make it easy to wrangle everyone up that needs to be in a photo. Let your family and loved ones know where they need to be at what time for photos so we can make them super quick and easy. Some tips for great family photos:

  • Make 10 to 15 pairings of your family that we absolutely cannot miss. I’ll carry this list with me all day so we can cross each grouping off as we go. Add names so I can shout them out and get everyone where they need to be!

  • Think of a simple location near your ceremony site for family photos. This will make it easiest for grandpa to get in the photos and we won’t waste any time corralling everyone to a separate area.

Most common family groupings:

Couple + bride’s parents

Couple + bride’s immediate family

Couple + bride’s extended family (including grandparents)

Couple + bride’s siblings

Couple + groom’s parents

Couple + groom’s immediate family

Couple + groom’s extended family (including grandparents)

Couple + groom’s siblings

Couple + both bride’s and groom’s parents

Couple + all extended family members from both sides

 
rachael and hayden tucannon cellars sugar pine barn benton city washington van gachnang photography
 

Wedding party photos: 10 to 20 minutes

There are quite a few times during the day to take bridal party photos, but these can often derail quickly if things aren’t reigned in! I’ve become a total expert at directing wedding parties so we can knock out the photos quickly and have a little fun along the way so you all can get to the reception much sooner. Some things to remember:

  • These images don’t have to take long at all! Your wedding party is probably your favorite group of people in the world, but this day is about YOU and you alone. Make sure everyone is on board with getting wedding party photos done at whatever time you specify so we can all be in the same place at the same time.

  • Be prepared to get close for these photos. I MEAN CLOSE. Some of the best photos are where everyone is snuggled up together!

  • I’m not afraid to take charge if things start to get crazy so we can get everyone to the reception ASAP.

 
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Newlywed photos: 30 to 90 minutes

This part of the day can come right after the first look or it can take place in little pieces throughout the day after the ceremony, it just depends on how your timeline is set up! I recommend a minimum of 30 minutes set aside for JUST you two and the photographer to head out and get some quality photos during your wedding day. Some tips for the best photos:

  • These photos tend to go smoothly when it’s just you two and your photographer. No distractions, no family members watching and inevitably wanting to chat and congratulate you, and no bridal party. That way you can relax, focus on each other, and really let your love show through in the photos.

  • I will definitely scout out some places to do portraits, but you know the secret to really great photos? It’s not the location. IT’S THE LIGHT! I promise if we can take these photos once the sun starts to dip down towards the horizon, we’ll get some stunning photos you’ll be proud to show off.

  • Consider stepping out of your reception for 15 to 20 minutes to get photos during what we photographers call The Golden Hour. The sun makes light that’s all dreamy and romantic during the hour before it’s completely below the horizon and I wouldn’t want you to miss out on the incredible photos that can be created during this time. I’ll get you back to your party before too long, I PROMISE!

 
rachael and hayden tucannon cellars sugar pine barn benton city washington van gachnang photography
 

Reception: ‘til the end!

This is probably the most fun part of the day and when you can really loosen up and scream-sing to all of your fave songs (and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see me attempt to dance)! Most receptions typically have the same flow and order of events, but if your reception won’t look anything like this, don’t worry! I’m still 100% here to party with you and get photos along the way. Here are some key parts to a reception:

  • Entrance: Whether you want a truly grand entrance or you just want to show up to your party in style, I’ll be positioned in the perfect spot to catch photos of things as they unfold.

  • Dinner: Please, please, please feed your photographer (and all the other vendors still around). We’ve likely been on our feet without much food or water since we arrived, and most couple’s don’t have a desire for photos of guests as they’re stuffing their faces with your fabulous food, which means we can take our dinner break during this time. If you have a seating chart for your guests, add your photographer to that list and have a designated spot for them (and their second photographer or assistant, if they have one) so they aren’t shoved in a back closet away from all the potential action happening. A hot meal can make ALL the difference between being totally drained and mentally exhausted and being prepared for the party that’s about to start.

  • If you’re hiring a DJ that has a really sick lighting set up, request that they keep the colored lights off until after the first dances are finished. Those lights are great for the Cha Cha Slide and Sweet Caroline, but make for some pretty tough editing situations during the sweet, slow moments. Then they can go crazy!

  • Not sure if you want to stage an exit at the end of the night? Consider a few things: Does your venue have a strict lock up time that all guests need to be out by? Do you want to leave the party in style while everyone gathers around and wishes you well? Do you have a honeymoon to get away to (or maybe just a post-wedding make out session, honestly)? If you can answer yes to any of those questions, then you should TOTALLY do an exit! That might be sparklers, cell phone lights, candles, paper airplanes, confetti poppers, or just your favorite song to dance to. Whatever you choose, it’s going to make for some incredible photos that I know you’ll enjoy looking through after the wedding.

10 hour timeline

For 8pm Sunset

12:00pm Detail and getting ready photos

1:45pm Couple finishes getting ready

2:00pm First look

2:45pm Bridal party photos

3:00pm Family photos

3:20pm Break before ceremony

3:30pm Ceremony

4:00pm Couple photos

4:00pm Cocktail hour starts

5:15pm Grand entrance

5:30pm Dinner begins

6:15pm Toasts and first dances

6:30pm Reception dancing begins

7:30pm Sunset photos with couple

8:00pm Couple returns to reception

10:00pm Couple exits, coverage ends

8-hour timeline

For 8pm Sunset

1:00pm Detail and getting ready photos

1:30pm Couple finishes getting ready

1:45pm First look

2:15pm Bridal party photos

2:30pm Family photos

2:50pm Break before ceremony

3:00pm Ceremony

3:20pm Couple photos

3:20pm Cocktail hour starts

4:45pm Grand entrance

5:00pm Dinner begins

5:45pm Toasts and first dances

6:00pm Reception dancing begins

7:30pm Sunset photos with couple

8:00pm Couple returns to reception

9:00pm Coverage ends

6-hour timeline

For 8pm Sunset

2:00pm First look

2:15pm Bridal party photos

2:30pm Family photos

2:50pm Break before ceremony

3:00pm Ceremony

3:20pm Couple photos

3:20pm Cocktail hour starts

4:45pm Grand entrance

5:00pm Dinner begins

5:45pm Toasts and first dances

6:00pm Reception dancing begins

7:30pm Sunset photos with couple

8:00pm Couple returns to reception, coverage ends