What’s the one decision that will have a really big impact on your wedding day? I am, of course, talking about the wedding photography decision. Not whether you should hire a wedding photographer (you should), and not what wedding photographer you choose (choose a good one). I’m talking about how you plan to use your photographer on your wedding day.

Lets dive right in.

Wedding Photographers Work Actively, and Passively

Broadly speaking, in the flow of your wedding day, your photographer is going to work both passively and actively. Some things they do will require you give them the authority to direct what’s happening, and listen to their instructions. At other times, they’ll need to remain out of the way, but continue to capture whatever is happening from some distance.

Anytime your photographer needs to disrupt the organic flow of events in order to get the images that are important to you, they’re working actively. They’re taking some charge; think portraits, details and family formals. Anytime your photographer is going with the flow, and putting in efforts to get the shot while avoiding any disruption, they’re working passively. These are usually the candid images we all love, but not strictly speaking.

Wedding Photographers Are Not in Service of the Present Moment

You don’t hire a wedding photographer to make the wedding day better, you hire a wedding photographer to make the days after the wedding better. You hire them for an unidentified moment in the future, when you can be sure you’ll want to look back on this day, on all the effort you put into it, on all the money well spent, and the people you appreciate. A flower arrangement makes for a beautiful setting. A dress makes you feel beautiful and highlights you as a person of honor. The venue is a place to enjoy time together. The food fills bellies and helps guests and family bond. A DJ makes it a party. These are all things that, without them, you might spend the wedding day feeling like something is missing.

A photographer though, what does a wedding photographer bring to the wedding day? I’ll level with you—the answer is nothing. A wedding photographer, in and of themselves, have no real purpose for a wedding day. As I said, they’re working for tomorrow, while you’re enjoying today.

You Acquiesce When Your Photographer Must Work Actively

When you imagine your wedding day, you probably picture the time with loved ones. You picture heartfelt sentiments delivered through happy tears. You picture nervously waiting your walk up the aisle. You picture that first kiss and all the joyful smiling faces as you retreat back down the aisle. You picture getting down with old friends on the dance floor and playfully shoving cake in your new partner’s face. You probably do not picture spending hours with your photographer.

Yet, to get everything you want from your photographer, you’re going to acquiesce to giving your them quite a bit of your undivided attention on your wedding day. Personally, I don’t love that. I think that when you wake up on the morning of your wedding day, you should be able to enjoy the nerves. You should be able to move from one organic experience with your friends and family to the next. I think you should be able to sit in the wedding suite, taking shots of tequila, or sitting in quiet contemplation—whatever is more natural for you.

A Wedding Should Not Have to Feel Like a Production

Of course, it is. With all the planning and effort you put into every little detail, it could hardly be anything else. But, it shouldn’t feel like a production. As in, once you’ve set up those dominoes, they should be able to fall into the pattern you envisioned without you having to keep your eye on them the whole time.

The thing is, almost everything on the wedding day will fall the way you want them to, and mostly without your intervention. The cake knows when to show up and where to go. The caterer already knows which course to bring out and when. The DJ is well acquainted with your song list. The wedding planner—or helpful bridesmaid—is already making sure the family is sitting where they’re supposed to sit. The flowers will show up on time and they’ll be waiting for you when you’re ready to walk up the aisle.

At every turn, in spite of all the planning and moving parts, your day will be spent flowing from one natural moment with friends or family to the next. Except for, you guessed it, the photographer. The photographer needs you to be ready early. They need to move you around. They need to group you with this person, or that person. They need you to stop that organic flow of meaningful social interactions so they can create the images you hired them for.

Yes, There’s Another Way

Imagine for a moment that you had 99 balloons, and one medieval flail. If you wanted to sort all these objects by their shape, you’d sort the balloons and the flail together. But when you did, quite a few of those balloons would pop, as they came into contact with the spikes sticking off the flail. You’d damage some of your balloons in order to maintain an arbitrary, shape-based sorting method. Wouldn’t it be better if, instead, you sorted these objects by their purpose instead of their shape?

Your wedding is 99 balloons, and your wedding photographer’s active work on your wedding day is the flail.

See, the active work your photographer does on your wedding day is somewhat arbitrarily grouped with other wedding day events. Arranging everyone for a portrait around an interesting riverbed or in front of a rustic barn has almost nothing to do with the sentimentality you should be able to feel while making the most far-reaching commitment of your life.  It’s done this way almost strictly as a matter of “convenience”. But, if we’re all that concerned about convenience, why not just pay a quick visit to the local courthouse? The answer is, because the larger process has real value. So, you acquiesce. You give up a good chunk of those natural moments in lieu of having some special images later. It’s not the end of the world, but you don’t necessarily have to do it that way.

With planning (which you’re doing a lot of anyway), about 80% of the active work a photographer is expected to do on a wedding day can be done a few days before or after the wedding! And, if you don’t want to be distracted by pragmatics on your wedding day, and you want your photographer to be able to move about, like a fly on the wall, then that’s what you should do.

So Here’s How We Can Do It

If you want to create more room for your wedding day experience to feel natural and organic, then taking care of formal photos before or after the wedding day is the way to go. Instead of taking out nearly two hours on your wedding day for portraits, do them early.

Here’s what will need to be considered:

Hair / Makeup – You’ll need to have hair and makeup done twice. This is going to increase your wedding budget, but this can sometimes coincide with existing hair and makeup trials, reducing cost.

Dress / Tuxedo – You and your wedding party will need to get dolled up again.

Wedding Party Availability – This might not be an option for you if your wedding party is not local. If they are local though, a few emails and a couple of phone calls is all it takes to get everyone on board.

Location – If you want to do your wedding photos at the same venue where you will be married, securing permission to use the space on another day will be necessary. However, shooting the portraits a few days before or a few days after is a great chance to create images that would be otherwise impossible to create on the wedding day.

That’s about it. Yes, this will take you a little more time in planning. And yes, it will run you a little more money as you might have to keep suit rentals a little longer, and will need to pay a hair and makeup artist to do their thing. However, the benefit of all this is that you’ll be much better equipped to really experience the ebbs and flows of your wedding day without be distracted by a photographer’s pragmatic requirements.

It’s one of the best ways to get everything you’re hoping for, without driving the photographer’s fee through the roof and without having to compromise on the wedding day experience itself.

I’d love to talk with you about this option in more detail. Check out our Wedding Photography page for more information on our wedding services, or shoot us an email and lets start a conversation!