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20+ Tips From Your Wedding Photographer: What We Wish You Knew

Kierstin is a former wedding photographer who didn't enjoy beach weddings as much as you would think.

These 20 insights come from a real wedding photographer and are based on experience.

These 20 insights come from a real wedding photographer and are based on experience.

You know not to scowl, stick your tongue out, or jam Doritos all over your face before the ceremony, using your gown as a napkin. But there are some other less-obvious tips and expectations your photographer would like to gently pass along to you, like . . .

1. It's Hard to Get a Good Face Shot if You're Constantly Sipping Your Drink

Also, in whatever area you're getting ready (hotel room, church nursery, sister's bedroom), open up a curtain and allow for natural light to seep in so we can get the best available angles, even in a small space.

Why It Matters

It's hard for us to get a good face shot when you and your girls are constantly sipping mimosas to "cool your nerves." Try to get the majority of the drinking out of the way before we show up if you're hoping to get decent "getting ready" pictures.

2. I Can't Make You Look Like Beyonce in a Wedding Dress

And I don't want to. You're gorgeous and lovely in your own right. Expect to look beautiful in your pictures because you are beautiful, not because you think we're going to do some crazy Photoshop magic.

Why It Matters

Unfortunately, brides always tell me they hoped to look "prettier" in their pictures. What I say is, "You look amazing!" But what I'm thinking is, You do look pretty. You look like you. Not like the picture of the 16-year-old from the David's Bridal catalog.

Stand tall, lift your chin, push those shoulders back, and get that skewed thinking about what you should look like out of your head before the big day.

3. Don't Wear Too Much Eye Makeup

A little makeup goes a long way. Curl your lashes and double-swipe that mascara, but please don't wear dark eye shadow and liner.

Why It Matters

If you wear too much eye makeup, you will look like an Oompa Loompa who's had their eyes gouged out. In editing, your eyes will most likely get lost in processing. Likewise, don't fake tan or cake on the makeup without brushing some bronzer on your chest and shoulders to blend the darker tone. Otherwise, you'll create some pretty scary coloring in the editing process.

Don't go overboard on that makeup!

Don't go overboard on that makeup!

4. Don't Ask to See the Pictures While We're Trying to Take Them

Or after.

Why It Matters

We'll show you them when they're done—as in edited. There's a reason you're paying us and not Aunt Jan to photograph your big day—the raw photos are only the beginning.

5. I Can't Create a Soft Ambiance in a Dark Room

One time, we shot a wedding in a beautiful lodge where the only windows were low to the ground and offered little to no natural light by dinner time. It wasn't great. This is when photographers pull their flash out and you lose the soft dreaminess of naturally lit pictures. This is why we try to get you near windows as often as possible. We just love 'em.

Keep this in mind when placing the cake. Most brides and grooms want that smashing-cake-in-each-others-face picture. Plan it in the most well-lit corner of the room for optimal detail.

Why It Matters

A dark venue equals dark pictures. While professional photographers will do their best to capture natural light, there's only so much we can do in a room with no windows.

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6. Please Shut Your Mother Up

She gets two "loose suggestions" before I friggin' throw down. No, I'm not going to take 50 pictures of her with her second cousins on the balcony because you, the betrothed, are walking down the aisle in 90 seconds, and I feel that's a more important event.

Why It Matters

I know she's probably paying for the pictures, but seriously, I need to do my job.

7. Your Bridesmaids Talk Crap About You While You're in the Bathroom

They're just jealous; don't worry about it.

Why It Matters

It doesn't.

8. Keep Your Bridal Party Hydrated

I've seen this happen, or almost happen enough times to be able to say with all certainty—keep that bottled water and Gatorade flowin'! Also, if you're having an outdoor wedding in 90-degree weather or in a thunderstorm or in a hot dance hall, we may opt to cut our time photographing you down drastically as we're liable for our safety and that of our assistants.

Why It Matters

People pass out when they're logging long hours catering to the bride(s) and groom(s). It's a fact of life when you're in the wedding industry.

9. Yes, I Do Think Less of You When You Yell at the Children

It's really mean.

Why It Matters

They didn't ask to be a part of your day by having their mom and dad dip into college funds for a fufu dress and princess shoes.

Or maybe they did, but still, it's not nice. Be nice.

Be nice to the kid. She's probably bored out of her mind.

Be nice to the kid. She's probably bored out of her mind.

10. You're Not Going to Get Every Single Picture I Took

You will see a choice few hundred, and they will be amazing, and the others will burn in Crappy-Wedding-Picture Hell forever. This is best for both of us.

Why It Matters

Because I took thousands, and although I'm good, I'm not that good, and I don't want you to know that.

11. Sometimes We Get Pardoned in the Elevator

It's icky and gross and in some cases is a breach of contract.

Why It Matters

Make sure you read your contract carefully because being sexually harassed by a member of the bridal party or a guest can lead to total contract termination for some photographers.

12. Plan Your Reception Carefully

Get all of the big-to-dos out of the way directly after dinner—first dances, cake cutting, and bouquet tossing. That way you're guaranteed to get these shots before we start packing up for the night.

Why It Matters

Most photographers stay for the first couple hours of the reception, but once the booze starts sinking in, there just isn't much to photograph.

13. Don't Call Me "Photographer Girl" Ever

"Hey, you" is acceptable, or you know, the name my parents gave me at birth, but calling me "photographer girl" in front of your in-laws is really degrading.

Why It Matters

I'm human?


14. Don't Contact Me Asking for Your Pictures Early

I know you really want to get on to tagging yourself in all those pictures, but I'm working hard to deliver a finished product that I can be proud of.

Why It Matters

We have a contract. We have a date on the contract that your photographs will be finished by. Look at that date. It is not fourteen hours after the wedding commenced.

15. For the Love of God, Eat Something

Keep healthy snacks like dried fruit, nuts, mini sandwiches, and hummus and veggies around for you and your party as you all get ready for the ceremony and consider having snacks on hand afterward if you'll be taking more photos after the ceremony.

Why It Matters

You'll be much happier and enjoy your day more and it'll show through in your pictures. If you stave off your first meal of the day for the reception, you'll be cranky, tired, and pale and none of these things make for stunning wedding photos.

16. You Get What You Pay For

I know, we're expensive. And it can be hard to see at first, but—you get what you pay for when it comes to wedding photographers. Keep in mind, when choosing a photographer that you are paying for...

  • Equipment: Many of us are still paying off the cameras and equipment that give us the ability to capture all of those little moments.
  • Time: For some photographers, weddings aren't their full-time job, and they may be taking time off from their day job to shoot your day. Then, there is the time it takes post-shoot to sort through and edit your photos.
  • Insurance: Both business and health. Since we operate independently, we must pay that on our own.
  • Assistants and Employees: They gotta get paid too.
  • Taxes: Again, since we operate independently, we have to pay out self-employment taxes at the end of the year, and that comes directly out of our upfront price.
  • Wardrobe: Hopefully we're not showing up in rags.
  • Gas, Food, and Lodging: If you're hiring one of us to travel, we have to factor those expenses into our final package price.

Why It Matters

If you want to save on a wedding photographer, hire local amateurs who are just starting out and looking to build their portfolio. Check out their pictures beforehand to get an idea of their style and ability. While you won't necessarily receive magazine-quality pics, many beginners do a fantastic job.

Another way to save is to prioritize what part of the day is most important to you to have photos on then ask about discounted rates for shorter sessions. Say, four hours from the start of the ceremony to the first dance.

17. Be Kind to Your Betrothed

Again, it shows in the final product. In editing photos, it's pretty obvious who was getting along that day.

Why It Matters

There's just some things that can't be photoshopped out.


18. If You're Not Into an Idea, That's Totally Cool

We may randomly decide it would be super cool to get a picture of you being carried away by the groomsmen.

Feel free to say a hard no.

Why It Matters

Our job is to deliver the types of poses and combinations you're looking for, not to express our every creative whim.

19. A Million Pictures of the Bride Will Never Be as Special as Those With Loved Ones

I eloped with maybe half a dozen camera phone pictures of the day I married my best friend and I still get worked up about gorgeous bridal shots. They're so enviable! Still, a few go a long way.

Why It Matters

Ten years from now, you probably won't be as taken with bridal portraits of yourself as you will be reminiscing over photos of your with your dear great grandma or your sweet ring-bearer nephew who is now graduating high school. Try to limit your bridal shots and make more time for photos with special friends, family, your party, and of course, your new husband or wife.

Other Things We Wish You Knew

  1. Hold Your Bouquet Below Your Waist: Otherwise, it looks like you're wielding those flowers like a weapon!
  2. Keep Your Makeup Close: Designate a bridesmaid to carry a small bag of makeup that includes everyone's lipstick and some translucent powder so you all can keep your look fresh as we take photos.
  3. The "Sunglasses" Shot Looks Cute in Your Head: But we'll do it anyway if you ask us to.
  4. Reflectors Are Hot: But we know that, and we're hurrying. They give you a golden glow, so hang in there.
  5. Write Us a List of "Musts": We don't know that you handmade the napkin rings or monogrammed your dad's tie, so write us a little list of shots to get beforehand so we won't miss anything special.
  6. Don't Tip: The practice of tipping vendors is sort of out-dated and doesn't apply to photographers. Don't bother tipping us after the event or throwing more into the check unless you really, really want to.
  7. Feed Us: Whether you're giving us a plate at the reception or ordering pizza and salad from across the street, it's common courtesy (and practice) to feed all of the vendors at your wedding.
  8. We Take Breaks: Photographers have to pee once in a while too!
  9. Don't Offer Us Alcohol: And if we take it, whoa! Unprofesh!
  10. We Have to Go Home: Maybe you're finally starting to have fun at 1 A.M. but for us, it's bedtime.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Do I have to tip my wedding photographer?

Answer: No, you should not tip your wedding photographer. Here’s why - professional photographers build their packages and pricing to make sure that all of their costs are covered while also making a decent profit, so tipping is unnecessary and even awkward for your photographer.

Instead of tipping, just make sure that your photographer and other vendors are included in the reception meal and that you provide them with an adequate space to take breaks and use the bathroom while they’re working for you.

Also, avoid contacting them after the wedding to see your photos earlier than the date they promised you the photos would be ready by. Sometimes, brides and grooms tip photographers hoping to have their photos done faster or to see previews. But since photographers have many clients they’re working with at one time, it’s not only uncool to put that extra pressure on them, it’s unethical to pay a higher price through the tip in the hope that your photos will be made a priority over other couples ahead of you waiting for their finished photos.

Question: Do you need to feed your wedding photographer when you feed your guests, or is it okay to exclude them from the meal?

Answer: This was something that no couple seemed to have a solid idea of when I was still photographing weddings, and one of the things that can make the whole thing super awkward. If you plan on having your photographers stay during and after any meals served during your reception then yes, you need to include them in the meal or at least provide a separate meal for them. The same goes for all other vendors including DJs, childcare providers, planners and any other outside crew you’ve hired to stay with you throughout the majority of your wedding day.

In some cases, my assistants and I were just added to the meal, asked if we wanted chicken or fish, and given a table off to the side so we could eat and rest for an hour (because photographers aren’t going to take pictures of you during your meal). Other times, we were provided with a separate meal, like delivered pizzas and salads in a back room where we could all just take a minute to decompress, check our phones and have a bite before returning to work for the rest of the evening.

While it may seem like a hassle to spend extra on feeding your photographers and other vendors, it’s really just a common courtesy that should be extolled to anyone working what is likely to be a near 12-hour day. The only way you can get away with not feeding your vendors is if you give them an hour off to go out and grab a meal off-venue on their own. Either way, people gotta eat to stay busy!

One thing that all photographers and anyone else working your wedding should not be included in is the drinking. Anyone who’s providing a professional service shouldn’t be drinking on the job, plain and simple, so it’s not a bad idea to let any potential DJ’s, day-of coordinators, photographers and makeup artists know that you’ll be feeding them but expecting them not to imbibe. If any of them seem to take issue with this maybe skip along to the next vendor on your list.

Question: Is it a good idea to hire a college student to photograph your wedding?

Answer: It’s a good idea depending on your expectations. If you’re willing to potentially sacrifice some quality and some of the luxuries of hiring a professional photographer in order to get a (likely much more reasonable) price on your wedding photography then go for it.

Here’s what I can tell you about the differences between amateur and professional photographers from my own experience as an amateur photographer in my college years - most professionals carry photography insurance. This ensures that if someone steals their equipment, if their cameras are damaged in a fire or the computer they use to edit their photos is damaged in a flood they’ll be insured replacements. When you hire a professional, the cost of this insurance is factored into the rate and is one of the reasons you pay more than you would for an amateur like I was who didn’t carry that kind of insurance.

Another difference is that I didn’t have a lot of equipment outside of my camera, besides flashes and reflectors and my brother and sister-in-law to back me up. I didn’t have any professional programs for editing (this was also years ago when there weren’t as many programs and apps that were as accessible to me as they would be now) whereas my professional counterparts’ higher rates afforded them better equipment for taking and editing wedding photos.

Speaking of my brother and sister-in-law - we split whatever we made three ways even and only worked in the city we lived in to cut down on travel expenses. When you hire a professional photographer they’re going to make sure that they make enough to cover their own costs (like gas, insurance and the price of their equipment), plus profit, plus whatever they need to pay their assistants and editors. That’s all falling into the higher price you pay for a photographer. That also usually means you’re getting better quality by trained professionals not three college kids who grew up to be a writer, a police officer and an office administrative professional and none of whom do any photography outside of their iPhone these days.

If you’re looking to save money by hiring a college student three things to keep in mind are:

The quality won’t be as magazine glamorous as the photographer who costs $8,000. But find a student with a nice portfolio and you’re still going to get attractive work at a fraction of the cost.

The less money your photographer costs the less magic they’re going to be able to work. They probably don’t have the same training as a professional, expensive photographer so don’t go into the deal thinking they’re going to have the means to really pamper you. If you pay the big bucks for a wedding photographer you might get a free boudoir session with the wardrobe included, an online gallery for your images and maybe even a few meetings leading up to the big day to really define the style your going for. Hire cheap and you’re not going to get that - you’re not paying for it.

You’re probably going to wait longer for your pictures. Amatuer photogs are usually editing the event themselves while most professional photographers will pass the images along to their assistants to edit. More people working on your event means a quicker turnaround for your photos. Having a college student who’s also probably working another job and taking classes isn’t going to be able to hand those over quite so quickly.

Question: Can I take my own wedding photos?

Answer: No, it’s a really bad idea, here’s why:

Even if you’re a seasoned photographer who knows how to work a camera from afar, set up the right lighting and direct your bridal party all while working the remote, you still have to haul all of that equipment, and you won’t really be able to interact with guests.

If you don’t have a lot of experience taking photos on a professional level, then you’re even less likely to take quality photos without feeling completely overwhelmed. You only get your big day once - it’s worth investing in a professional photographer or at least an amateur who knows how to work a camera.

Question: What questions should I ask a potential wedding photographer before hiring them?

Answer: So, before contacting a photographer to see if they’re the right fit for your wedding, you need to do a little sleuthing first and figure out what their packages cost, what their packages include (how many hours of work, the format you’ll receive your photos in, etc.), what their working radius is (to make sure they’ll be able to work the specific location of your wedding), and how long it usually takes to get your edited photos back. You’ll also want to know what their cancellation policy is, what their bad-weather plan is, and what would happen in the really rare instance that they suddenly couldn’t make it to your wedding (car accidents, the flu, etc.) A lot of this can probably be found on their “About Us” section of their website, but if you can’t find the answers to all of your questions there, you should make sure to contact them through the Contact section of their website to find out.

Another thing you should check into, of course, is to make sure they’ll be available for the date of your wedding (you can usually find this in the Calendar section of the photographer’s site) and what their process is for capturing the look and feel you’re hoping to get on your big day.

Some other things that I know some clients liked to know before I photographed their wedding was what kind of equipment I used, if I had any backups, if I had assistants and what I used to edit the photos. When I was doing it, I was pretty amateurish and my equipment - and experience - was minimal. I think a lot of couples expected me to work magic and while I wasn’t half bad, my abilities weren’t as prime as a lot of other photographers in my area and my prices reflected that. So if you find a photographer who seems to be charging a too-good-to-be-true rate, ask them how long they’ve been shooting weddings professionally and make sure you take a good look at their work to see if it fits your expectations before settling.

© 2013 Kierstin Gunsberg


Britt Bogan on January 10, 2017:

A close friend of mine is a professional photographer, and she's definitely been miffed about some of these things before! I hope this reaches a bunch of people so that everyone can have a better experience. :D

Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on April 09, 2015:

heidithorne and Venkatachari M, thanks for reading!! Wedding photography is not for the faint of heart, as it turns out. But it really is a lot of fun and you end up meeting a lot of sweet, fun, lovable people. It's an adventure!

Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on April 09, 2015:

Sallybea, thanks so much for sharing this! I'm glad (or am I?) someone else can relate to and laugh at this : )

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on April 08, 2015:

It's very interesting to read this. You have mentioned so many important points that may look funny and silly, but they are facts one should keep in mind.

Voted up.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on April 08, 2015:

OMG! So, so true. You are saint for working in this market. :) Voted up, useful, funny and sharing!

Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on April 08, 2015:

Kierstin Gunsberg,

Oh my goodness, been there done that and you have the wedding photographers nightmare packaged into one Hub! Very funny. I loved reading this and it certainly deserves to be read more, which is why I am going to share it, tweet it G+++ Thanks for putting a smile on my face this Wednesday morning.

Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on July 06, 2013:

Thank you! Thanks for reading :)

Jennifer from Pennsylvania on June 26, 2013:


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