We always love to have our favorite Charleston wedding vendors swing by to share their insight on a particular topic, and I'm thrilled to have the talented Rick Dean Photography joining us today! Rick's experience as a professional photographer has given him an interesting viewpoint on accomplishing the perfect photographic wedding day...
The Makings of a Perfect Wedding Day
Observations from a Photographer’s Point of View
In the course of the 13+ years and hundreds of weddings that I have photographed, I have seen all sizes, types and styles of weddings, from the simple and understated to the elaborate and eye-popping. They were all truly amazing events because they were the vision of the bride (and some grooms), something that has been dreamed of for years and years. Fortunately for the clients that I have worked with, I have never witnessed a wedding disaster. But, I have seen my share of “oops” that could have or did make for an anxious bride or at best, a lot of laughs! So I write this post to share with you some of my observations, from the photographer’s point of view --the person that is on a constant state of alert, observing every moment of the event. I will cover topics that have recurring themes: professionalism, timing, and communication-- from the wedding planner, the hair stylist, and of course, the photographer.
Observation #1: Choosing the right photographer with the proper skills and experience is critically important. Yes, I know this may sound a bit biased, but I think your photography is the most important aspect of your wedding. Also biased, but, think about it: you spend months, maybe longer, planning this most magical day of your life and at the end of the day when the music has stopped, the cake is eaten, and the last toast has been made, all you may have to help you remember your wedding day are your photographs.
At every wedding I shoot, I hear horror stories from the guests who are attending the wedding about their wedding photography. At a recent event, as I was packing up for the evening, a young woman walked up to me and said, “… (bride) is going to be so happy with her wedding pictures, I just know it. You were everywhere you needed to be. I could tell you covered every detail. When I got married I hired a friend to do my photography because she said she knew what she was doing and promised to do a good job. There are so many things that she missed, pictures of really important parts of our wedding day that were not captured. She had no idea how to pose us for our portraits. I still cry when I look at my pictures.” I recently heard of a wedding where the inexperienced photographer had to borrow a guest’s camera when her one and only camera stopped working during the ceremony. Another guest told me about her “friend photographer” -- she showed up with just one camera and a small flash. The camera was so basic it was not capable of shooting in dark rooms with low light so all of the reception pictures were dark, pixilated and out of focus. While I am sure there are many good experiences that I do not hear about, but please consider this: Uncle Bob, or your college roommate, or the husband of your sister’s best friend may sound like a great way to save some money, but there are several pitfalls to consider. Will your friend or relative also be a guest at the wedding? Will their focus be on you (the client) or on having a good time? Do they have the knowledge to make you look your best? Do they know how to use posing techniques that will make your pictures look “not posed”? Do they have professional quality camera and lighting equipment to shoot a wedding that may be both indoors and out, from rooms that are very dark to being under the noon-day sun with severe shadows? Most importantly, do they know what needs to be done when their equipment fails or how to work under very stressful conditions so they can capture those “once in a lifetime moments”? These last two questions go hand in hand because equipment failures can happen to anyone, even a pro. It is how your photographer handles the situation that sets a professional apart from a personal friend or family member. My suggestion is to do your homework when evaluating potential photographers. Hire an experienced professional and ask them how they would handle any or all of the situations I described. Their answers will be the best way to gauge their competence and their ability to provide you the best pictures of your most important day.
Observation #2: Developing a detailed and comprehensive timeline of events will make your day less stressful and your wedding support team more successful. Your timeline should detail all of the various wedding day activities from beginning to end, chronologically throughout the day. It should contain the name and contact information of all of your vendors. You will want to make sure your timeline includes the start and end time and delivery and pick up times of all of your vendors. Common scheduling mistakes include the actual time needed to lace up the wedding gown and ample time to travel from the ceremony to the reception venue. I have seen gowns that take only one minute to get into, and I have also seen those that take twenty-five minutes. Your timeline should include having your photographer arrive two hours before the ceremony to ensure they have ample time to capture the important pre-wedding images you desire, including the bride’s “getting ready images” and any pre-ceremony group shots with the guys and the gals and other intimate moments before the ceremony. Remember that 30 minutes before the ceremony, the groomsmen will be seating guests and your bridesmaids assisting you in those final preparations, so that may limit the photographic possibilities if you cut short when your photographer begins the day. And remember, your exit is as important as your entrance so please detail your departure plans to make sure your photographer is still present to capture the end of your day. It is important to include every detail imaginable in this very important planning tool and to distribute your timeline to all your vendors at least 10 days before your wedding day. This way any scheduling issues or overlaps can be identified and remedied averting potential wedding day ‘disasters’. And finally, you will want someone to be in charge of executing the timeline for you on your wedding day. Timelines and their pitfalls are easily taken care of by hiring a professional planner/coordinator. Which brings me to, ….
Observation #3: Choose a professional wedding or event coordinator. Whether you desire full service event planning/coordination or strictly “day of” coordination, using a professional, experienced wedding planner, is the best way to make sure your day is managed exactly how you imagined it. Once again, please be careful if a family member or friend offers to manage the events of your day. She may also be a guest at the wedding and if so, may find it difficult to coordinate your day and simultaneously, enjoy it with you. Some clients also find their coordinator through their caterer or venue as a value-added part of their service. I have seen this option create amazing weddings that are flawlessly executed but I’ve also witnessed the planner that has “flown the coop” once the cake has been cut. If you choose the value-add approach, here are some things to consider: Make sure that you have a dedicated person from the staff that will be with you from the beginning of your day to the moment you are driven away. They should not be the person that gets pulled away to spearhead a food or venue crisis. As your planner, she should take the issue to the person in charge (chef or building manager) so that she can get back to her other duties as the event coordinator, and most importantly, helping you. Something as simple as not having enough staff on hand to open both of the church’s double doors as you start your walk down the aisle or moving your guests to your exit location when the “partying” is over, is the job of a good wedding planner. A professional event coordinator will make sure every detail is managed – from the start of your day to your formal exit ensuring the end of your day is as important as the beginning.
Observation #4: Communicate, communicate, and communicate. This may sound simple but it is second only to your timeline. Ask almost any wedding planner or photographer and they will agree that hair and make-up takes longer than is usually planned, especially when you have a large wedding party. The key to success is communication. When scheduling your stylist and make-up artist, in addition to telling them the start time of your ceremony, you also should communicate the exact time they must have everyone coiffed, beautiful and ready to go. Just to be safe, you may want to add an extra half hour into this part of your timeline and communicate to your hair stylist and make-up artist how important staying on schedule is to the success of your day.
I started with photography and so I’ll end with photography. Most of my weddings include a staff of three (a primary photographer, a second photographer and an assistant) for the critical portions of the day. There are times when your photographer needs to be in two places at one time. For example, a wedding with lots of reception details that must be shot before the event begins may overlap with the time needed to capture the bride’s “getting ready” images or the groom and groomsmen preparations at an off-site location. And let’s not forget during the ceremony when your photographer’s ability to move around is limited by space or church rules. A “second shooter” covers other angles of moments that can not be repeated from the first kiss to the last dance, every moment is important and capturing them all will make for lasting memories.
Every bride wants her wedding day to be a reflection of her happiness and joy. Choosing the right team of professionals is the first step to ensure this happens. Her wedding support team will make sure her day is as wonderful as she imagines it to be, and will ensure the she and her new husband are able to enjoy their wedding day without worry. From the ‘eye’ of the photographer, I hope that you found my observations informative and more importantly, useful as you plan your wedding day.