Of all the things to go wrong at your wedding, bad photos are particularly heartbreaking. Even if you’ve invested in a top-notch photographer, subtle snags can take your album from amazing to mediocre.
To help brides and grooms get the best record of their momentous day, we asked the nation’s top wedding photographers what people can do to avoid common photography mistakes. Here’s what five of the photographers listed in American Photo magazine’s top 10 wedding photographers of 2012 had to say.
• Focus on lighting. There is no magic a photographer can pull when the bride has blinding sun in her eyes and the groom is in a shadow, so do some lighting reconnaissance ahead of time, says David Getzschman, an associate at San Francisco-based Chrisman Studios.
If it’s an outdoor wedding, visit the site at the time of day your ceremony will take place and figure out how to arrange the guest chairs and altar so both bride and groom are backlit and the sun is even on both faces. If you can, time the ceremony (or at least the posed photo shoots) for when outside light is most flattering, about an hour or two before sunset. Pictures look worst under midday sun.
For indoor ceremonies and receptions, venues tend to be underlit to create ambience, making the backgrounds of photos appear black and cavernous, Getzschman says. Including strings of colored holiday lights or spotlights in the decor adds some visual interest.
• See each other pre-ceremony. Though many couples cling to the tradition (and superstition) that they must not see each other before she walks down the aisle, that relegates the photo shoot to a rushed 15 minutes during the cocktail hour, says New York-based photographer Angelica Glass.
Get the formal shots with family and the wedding party out of the way before the ceremony so the photographer has time to work and you can relax and enjoy the reception. It’s also an intimate moment when the bride and groom reveal themselves to each other before the ceremony — a rare time to get candid photos of the couple alone.
• Give fair warning for preparation shots. Figure out who you want with you during your getting-ready shots and let them know so they can be finished with their makeup when you need them, says New York-based photographer Ira Lippke. Also, ask hair and makeup artists to wear neutral colors, no brights or patterns, so they won’t be a distraction in shots.
• Hold that pose. Formulaic poses can look forced. It’s helpful when the bride and groom put advance thought into how they most naturally cuddle or pose together, says Kitty Fritz, co-owner of New Mexico photo studio Twin Lens. Same goes for wedding attire: “a bulky or too-tight wedding dress can do a lot to unhinge the flow of a portrait session,” she says; wedding finery should be comfortable and “you.”
• Two shooters are better than one. It’s more expensive, but hiring a photographer who brings along a second shooter results in more good pictures, says Ron Antonelli, who shoots weddings for New York’s Brian Dorsey Studios. The main photographer is free to be more creative when he has someone covering the basic shots.
“The bread and butter are the pictures you have to get, and the gravy is the risk you take,” Antonelli says. “If there’s no second photographer, it’s nearly impossible to take risks.”