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How to Take Charge as a Wedding Photographer

As the wedding photographer, your job is to help the formal portraits flow as smoothly as possible. You can lay much of the groundwork in the months before the actual wedding date as you communicate with the couple. If you do your homework, you can focus on keeping the portrait sessions organized and maintaining control over the many people coming and going.

Minimize confusion with a schedule and a list of names

When you talk with the couple before the wedding day, discuss the portraits and come up with a photography schedule and a list of the people they want to include.

Ask questions that help both you and the couple establish the order of the schedule. For example, will they see each other before the wedding (a situation known as the First Look)? If so, can all the formal portraits of the wedding party and family be taken before the ceremony?

If they choose not to do a First Look, what portraits can you do before the ceremony to alleviate the postceremony time crunch? Is the reception at the same location as the ceremony, or is it off-site? These questions help you get a good feel of how the wedding day will run.

Let the couple know approximately how long each group of pictures takes so that they can set realistic goals. For example, here’s a general schedule of the time needed for the following portraits:

  • Bride: 30 to 40 minutes.

  • Groom: 15 minutes.

  • Bride and bridesmaids: 20 to 30 minutes.

  • Groom and groomsmen: 20 to 30 minutes.

  • Bride and groom together: 45 to 60 minutes.

  • Full bridal party: 20 to 30 minutes.

  • Family: 6 minutes per grouping. Depending on how many groups the couple wants, this portion may take 30 minutes to 2 hours.

This general schedule doesn’t include time to travel between different locations, should the couple choose to have the pictures somewhere other than the ceremony location. Let the couple know that if they choose to take pictures at an off-site location, they need to adjust the schedule accordingly.

Ask to have the schedule, the list of names, and the location addresses a month before the wedding. This time frame gives you time to look over the schedule and make any suggestions. If changes are necessary, ask for a finalized schedule two weeks before the wedding date to ensure that you and the couple are on the same page.

Make sure to bring the lists and schedule with you on the wedding day, and stick to the schedule to the best of your ability.

After you have the finalized schedule from the couple, you should ask that they send that schedule along to all the people who will be involved in the portraits. That way everyone knows exactly when and where they are supposed to be throughout the event.

Appoint a wrangler

Because you spend the portrait session in flurried picture-taking mode, having a wrangler who knows all the important people on the bride and groom’s list is extremely helpful. The wrangler should manage the list and stage the groups while you’re shooting. This setup keeps the process flowing and well organized.

Ask the couple to recommend someone who isn’t in the wedding party to act as the wrangler. If they don’t have a recommendation, asking the wedding coordinator or your second shooter (if you have one) to assist you is another option.

Stay flexible

On the wedding day, some things are beyond your control. The father of the bride may show up 20 minutes late, or all the groomsmen may forget to go to the second location where the wedding party shots are being taken. Even if you have a detailed list, an established schedule, and a helpful wrangler, you run a 99.99-percent chance that the formal portraits won’t go exactly as planned.

To help de-stress the situation and stay in charge, keep that smile on your face, tell the couple “It’s okay!”, and use your problem-solving skills to get the job done. Move forward and don’t let unexpected events induce a blowing-into-a-paper-bag type of panic!

Use your outside voice

For most of the wedding day, you’re the quiet observer who blends into the background, but the formal portraits are the exception. Don’t shy away from getting people’s attention and giving them directions. Assume a commanding presence and truly take charge of the situation.

To get the attention of a large group of people, use a loud voice (but don’t scream) and say things like “Can I get everyone’s attention please?” or “I need the Smith family front and center!” To give people a direction to look toward when they hear your voice, you can raise one hand in the air so they know to look at you.

If you have a particularly chatty group of people who aren’t paying attention to your voice, you can whistle loudly (if you’re one of those lucky people who can do that) or clap your hands to get their attention first.

After you have the group’s attention and begin giving them directions, continue speaking loudly enough that they can all hear you clearly and use some visual aids, like pointing your fingers or waving someone forward, as you position them.

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