Do you know what to hire your wedding photographer for? How many hours and what extras to add on? Should they start shooting earlier in the day, or finish later into the night?

Over nearly a decade, I’ve answered probably every one of your wedding photography questions. And while every couple is unique, there are some general tips I give nearly all of my clients as they choose their wedding photography coverage.

Some of these “this or that’s” are a toss-up, but others have definitive answers (in my book). So let’s get to the big questions…

Engagement Photos vs A Newlywed Shoot

The best reasons for opting for Engagement Photos: If you are anxious in front of a camera, engagement photos are a fantastic way to calm your nerves before the wedding and get comfortable with your photographer. The more your photographer knows you, the better the photo results will be on your wedding day.

The bonus of this is receiving fabulous photos to feature on your Save the Date and documenting that special time when you and your love were wee engaged ones (so cute!)

When to book a Newlywed Shoot instead: Are you a destination wedding couple? If so, you may not live near your photographer, making travel to an engagement session too costly. Opt for a Newlywed Session the weekend of your wedding, providing even more photos in your special destination. Take advantage of your photographer’s travel to take honeymoon photos, featuring another beautiful vista, a lively town, or your lavish hotel.

Rehearsal Dinner vs After-Wedding Brunch

Photo by Claire Eliza

If you’re deciding between the two, I have advice: book the Rehearsal Dinner (or “Welcome Party”) coverage.

Why? Imagine you just had the night of your life, drinking and dancing until your legs nearly fall off at 7 am. You wake up four hours later and stumble down to the poolside brunch, sunglasses on, paralyzed from all that boogying, groaning in pain with your fellow partiers, and a photographer appears to document your bloody mary slurp. Sound pleasant? I promise it’s not pleasant for the photographer either.

Few people want to be photographed when they’re hungover, and taking photos of motionless sleep-deprived people is not easy (and rarely sexy). While we bet you’ve selected a dope venue for this event (pool? beachside?) your friends and family may not want photos taken in their altered state. Furthermore, that midday sun isn’t the best light for photos.

Similar to engagement photos, having your photographer present at the Rehearsal Dinner helps you and your guests feel comfortable in front of the camera, making wedding-day photos all the better. Guests are usually excited at the welcome events, creating jubilant photos. And if your dinner takes place at sunset, you benefit from extra golden hour portraits together, score!

Getting-Ready Bridal Portraits vs All-Night Dancing Photos

I always tell my couples to evaluate their priorities – are you more interested in bridal portraits and beginning moments of the day? Or do you care more about capturing your ruckus party and dancing? It’s all up to your own vision for your wedding photos.

I normally advise booking up to an hour of getting ready photos, and at least an hour of dancing photos. Depending on your schedule, and how many hours you’ve hired your photographer for, you can tack time onto either end of your day. Consider too when the sunset is, factoring in how many of your photos will be shot in daylight and in the dark.

The First Look vs After-the-Ceremony Portraits

First look, or not to first look, that is the controversial question.

Let’s look at which option is right for which type of couple.

Pros to having a First Look: If you want to relieve nerves and spend time with your love earlier in the day, or your ceremony takes place at sunset (and thus won’t have proper light for portraits after) you might want to consider doing a first look.

First looks allow you to have ample, stress-free, private time for photos with your partner without loads of onlookers. Additionally, you can take your bridal party and family photos beforehand to allow moving to the party straight after the ceremony.

Why take portraits after the Ceremony: Dreaming of that magic moment when you see your partner for the first time down the aisle? Us too! If you forgo the first look, I recommend holding your ceremony sooner before sunset, to allow plenty of light for photos together during and after the “I do’s”. Jack and I will be waiting for the ceremony for our dramatic reveal.

Do We Have To Do Family Portraits?

Short answer: Yes, you should.

Long answer: Yes, but you don’t have to include your second cousins or great-aunt Betty. There are ways to make it less gruesome if the act of lining up for family portraits sounds painful.

While you may dread this process (I feel you), taking a few essential parent and immediate family photos will save you from decades of “we didn’t get any family photos” resentment. Here’s how to make it quick and easy:

  1. Tell your photographer how you feel about family portraits. When I know my clients want minimal lined-up photos I can save them from being dragged into too many combinations. In my experience, you can finish family photos in five or ten minutes.
  2. Make a list beforehand of must-have groups. My minimalist approach: both sides of the family, both sets of parents, both sets of siblings and one group altogether. If you do these seven photos, you will cover all of your bases and get everyone off your back down the road.
  3. Manage your family’s expectations early and hold your ground. Tell them, “Absolutely! We will be taking a few minimal family portraits with xy and z.” Answer any objections with “This is the plan we’ve discussed with our photographer, and we appreciate your support.”
  4. Take the photos away from the party area. Tell immediate family, and anyone else included when and where the photos will take place, that way extra members won’t naively crash the photos.

If you prepare and are clear with all parties involved, it doesn’t have to be dreadful!

Do We Need A Second Photographer?

My answer may ruffle a few photographer feathers, but if you’re hiring me my answer is “no”. As a destination wedding photographer, I learned to cover a wedding entirely on my own from the start, so I feel comfortable shooting a wedding alone. That being said, I offer a second photographer at an extra rate if it’s a make-or-break for my clients. While I don’t always find them necessary, I can entertain a few reasons why you may consider one.

When to request a second photographer: you’re having a large wedding (300+) with a very long aisle. A second photographer will help document all those extra guests while your main photographer focuses more on the important parties. If you have a lengthy aisle, one photographer can stand at the altar capturing reactions at the head of the aisle while the other takes the long walk.

My reason for not hiring a second is more philosophical. With so many photos already taken in a day, I know we’ll have plenty to cherish, we’re not worried about capturing “every single moment”. The fewer photographers (and videographers) present, the more they can blend in – thus, taking more intimate photos rather than looking like paparazzi.

Find more vendor tips in our planning section. Still haven’t found your dream photographer? Browse our real weddings and discover which photography style is right for you.