Have you ever been to a wedding as a guest and watched the wedding photographer and thought, that must be the best job to just show up with a camera and take photos?!  Or are you are an up and coming photographer who has your sights on getting into wedding photography and wants to know what a typical wedding day is like? 

That’s what this post is all about – what exactly goes on behind the scenes of each and every wedding we photograph & what our game plan and mentality is for each key component of the day.
Weddings are a serious matter and it is crucial to be completely prepared and ready before each and every wedding, it all starts weeks and months before the wedding when working with your bride & groom and reviewing (or helping create) their timeline for the wedding day & also other key items such as the family portrait list to ensure the day is set to run as smoothly as possible.

So you have already answered the initial phone call or email a long time ago, met with the bride & groom in person, booked the wedding 8 months ago, and worked with them on the wedding day timeline and family portrait list; its time to rock and roll, the wedding is tomorrow!

Prepping for the Wedding

1. Get Gear Ready – The night before the wedding I make sure all of our batteries for the cameras and flashes are charged up, also make sure the memory cards are formatted in in the cameras.  We then pack up our gear and have ready by the door so we can just grab the bag and cameras and head out the door.  Check out this video post to see what camera gear we take for weddings.

2. Print Documents – We always make sure to print out 2 copies of our formal family portrait list and also the timeline for the wedding day so we are prepared and ready for all the days events.  Also – if getting ready location is at a hotel, make sure to communicate and coordinate with the wedding coordinator or even the bride herself to make sure someone notifies you of the hotel room number once they get it.  Ideally get this info the day before when they likely have checked in, since the day of the wedding there is so much already going on.

Wedding Photography Family Portrait List

3. Eat! – Most of our weddings are 8 to 10 hrs of actual shooting so we are gone 10 to 12 hrs, its important to have a good meal before we head out the door as we will be going non-stop typically until dinner time at the reception when we get a chance to take a quick break.

Prepping for the Wedding Recap: Have gear ready and packed in advance, print all needed documents and eat!

Pre-Ceremony Photos

Bridal Prep – Once we step foot in the room for getting ready photos, my primary objective is to smile, introduce ourselves and crack a joke here and there if need be.  Within the first minute of stepping into the room we will easily be able to get an idea of the overall “vibe” in the room – sometimes its stress from running behind schedule, many times its happy and all the girls are laughing and having fun listening to music and other times its somewhere in the middle.  It is hugely important to us though to keep the mood light and fun and never be in the way or add to any stress.  We are very hands off and shoot very candidly during these getting ready moments.  Typically we divide and conquer by having one of us immediately begin shooting the details such as the dress, shoes, garter and anything else of importance while the other focuses on the bride and candids of the bridesmaids & family.

Bride Getting Ready Photos Bridal Prep Photos Bride & Mother Wedding Photos

Groom Prep – Every wedding is unique and different and because of that, not every wedding we shoot we have groom prep photos.  For the weddings that we do groom prep shots as well as bride, I will typically break away from the bride getting ready room once we got the details done leaving Nicole there to continue working with the ladies while I meet up with the guys.  Most often the groomsmen don’t have much “prep” which is totally cool – what I am going after is just getting photos of them hanging out and having fun.   Don’t be afraid to loosen them up with a joke if they are a bit timid with the camera – the more you can just go with the flow and even make small talk with the groomsmen while you are working, the better.  They will get more comfortable with you and that will lead to more natural photos!

Groom Prep Photos

Groomsmen Wedding Photos

Note: Unless logistically not feasible, we always try and get bridesmaid photos & groomsmen photos done before the ceremony.

Ceremony Photos

Nicole and I get to the ceremony early (30 min or so) to get some photos of the ceremony decor and details and also a handful of photos of guests as they are arriving.  Once the ceremony gets going we make sure we are getting all the “must-have” shots but then its important to also keep an eye on family members or bridal party members who might be crying or being emotional or laughing – these are great shots to mix in and shooting with a longer telephoto lens will allow you to secretly get these photos.   Keep in mind, that first and foremost – it is a wedding ceremony and being very quiet and not in the way is very important.

Wedding Ceremony Details
Post Ceremony Photos – Family, Bridal Party & Bride & Groom

Family Portraits – Right after the ceremony is by far the best time to get family portraits done, since everyone is in the same place – or should be!  The reason why we print out two copies of the family portrait list is so we can enlist the help of a trusted family member and give them a copy of the list to ensure that all the people on the list are actually there and ready to go.  Then we simply go right down the list… the routine is:

1.  Call out the names for the photo as shown on list.
2. Help pose them and make everyone look good
3. Take photo & move on to next photo

It is important to take 2 or even 3 frames per grouping though to ensure that everyone’s eyes are open in at least one of the shots

Family portraits can get a bit hectic...Family portraits can be super hectic sometimes as shown above!

Wedding Family Portraits

If the reception is at the same location as the ceremony then I will often have Nicole break away and get details of the reception room and candid photos of the guests during cocktail hour.  If different location than she will standby with me and assist with family portraits by “manning” the family photo list and ensuring we get each and every shot.

Wedding Reception Decor

We spend about 15 to 20 minutes on family portraits, roughly 1 minute per shot on the list – assuming that all needed people are there and ready when called upon.

Bridal Party – If our bride and groom have chosen not to see each other before the ceremony and do a 1st look then we will go into photographing the bridal party as soon as complete with the family portraits.  The idea at this point is taking care of the large groups and letting them go off to cocktail hour… i.e. family photos first, then bridal party.  If our bride & groom didn’t do a 1st look then we will spend about 10 min on average with bridal party, because its crucial to get the necessary shots but you have to be mindful of the clock to ensure you aren’t not leaving sufficient time for the bride & groom photos!

Groomsmen Photos

Bridemaids Photos

Bride & Groom – With adequate timeline planning and if family photos didn’t run over on time we typically have around 20 to 30 minutes (the more the better…) with the bride & groom.  It is crucial to already have your game plan in order of where you want to shoot and which poses or ideas you want to suggest.  Unlike the engagement session, with weddings, there is certainly a schedule that we all have to adhere to for the most part.  We typically work pretty fast anyway and try lots of different ideas and shots in a short amount of time, simply because we have to.  However, this is also the primary reason why doing a first look is so awesome and when you are first working with your couple on timeline feel free to educate them about the pros and cons of doing a first look – I’ve never had a couple who did a first look and wished they didn’t.  With that said – with our couples that do a 1st look, we don’t have the strict crunch timeline after the ceremony and once we are done with family photos we usually will take just an extra 10 or 15 minutes to get some additional photos for the bride and groom and then let them enjoy cocktail hour, which for many, is a main reason why they choose to do a first look anyhow 🙂

bride & groom wedding photobride & groom wedding photobride & groom wedding photo

Reception – Woo hoo! Once its reception time, its usually a big breath of fresh air…after being on the go relentlessly for 5 to 7 hrs you finally have a chance to catch your breath.  But not for long…  Everyone’s reception schedule is different but most often the first big event is the bride and groom will have a “grand entrance” – sometimes after the entrance they will go directly into the first dance or first dances, so its important to be ready and confirm your timeline with the DJ’s timeline just to make sure you are all on the same page.  Dinner is typically next and at this point if we are doing a Same Day Edit slideshow then I plug in my laptop somewhere out of the way and upload photos from 1 of our cameras and spend about 15 minutes putting together a slideshow that will play on my laptop during the reception.  Once I have the slideshow done, I quickly take a break and eat something while we review the timeline to know what events are next and depending on which events they are will change lenses if need be.

first dance wedding photosWedding Reception PhotosWedding Reception PhotosWedding Reception Photos

Wedding Grand Exit
The key during the reception is
– always be one step ahead and be ready for the next event, have the right lens & camera settings set and be in communication with the DJ and work together because the reception events will likely move up or back from the original scheduled time.  Also, when no events are happening, don’t just stand off to the side, this is your chance to get candids and dance floor photos but also walk the room and ask guests if they’d like their photos taken.  Not only is it nice for the guests to have a nice photo but also nice for the bride and groom to see their guests having fun!

Post Wedding Workflow

Uploading – Once the wedding is over we always head straight home, always.  At this point security and safe handling of the photos is the number one objective.  As soon as we get home I upload all of the photos to our computer and onto our external hard drive, once they are uploaded I will then burn a copy of all the images on DVDs to have as an additional backup source.  At this point we will have the photos on our computer hard drives, the DVDs and they are still on our memory cards as well so I know they are safe and I gladly get some rest and sleep!

Sneak Peek – Most of the time, unless I have plans first thing in the morning, I quickly go through and pick out a couple images that I post on our photography Facebook page as a “sneak peek” for our bride and groom to wake up to…its a great surprise and they love being able to see some edited professional photos and not only iphone photos posted from their wedding guests!  I am not always able to post 1st thing in the morning but I do always put a sneak peek up the next day, always.

Wedding Photo Sneak Peek

Editing – Typically the next morning I wake up and I import all the photos into Lightroom where I cull through all the images and have our final selection picked out so whenever I am ready to start editing them all I can do so.  Working with my presets in Lightroom that I have setup for us I can work pretty efficiently and only spend about 5 or 6 hours in total editing a wedding.

Blog – I always find out when our bride and groom are coming back into town from their honeymoon and typically will post on our blog their wedding the day or so after they get back to give them something to get excited about.

Online Gallery – Once the blog has been posted and all of the photos are done and edited then I will upload the final set of images to our Zenfolio account to their own online viewing as well as ordering gallery set up for them.  Most of the time this is 3 weeks after the wedding.

There ya have it!  That is what a typical wedding looks like, at least how we view and run them at Cole Joseph Photography.  As you can see there is so much more that goes into photographing a wedding than just showing up on the day of with a camera in hand 🙂  But that is what makes it so rewarding exciting and fulfilling.  To read more about what its like to be a wedding photographer check out this post: Insights of a Wedding Photographer & Why We Love It!

Thanks for reading!
Cole