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Essentials of Visual Storytelling for Wedding Photographers

A wedding is often one of the most important days in a couple’s lives, and as the wedding photographer, there’s a lot of pressure on you to capture those memories in the best way possible. Try our free course, Wedding Photography for Beginners to learn about everything you’ll need. In this lesson, you’ll find out what you absolutely can’t miss when it comes to photographing a wedding.

Essentials of Visual Storytelling for Wedding Photographers

Essential photos, are… essential! They’re the kind of shots that are going to be a huge hole in your album if you don't have them and you can guarantee the couple will spot.

Have a list of essential shots with you on the day and tick them off as you go so that you don't forget anything. Your list will come from the itinerary of the day so it might vary depending on the wedding, but it'll become easier and more instinctive as you do more weddings and at some point it might be something you just have with you more as a reassurance than a go to tick list.

What Are ‘Essential’ Shots?

We can’t go through all the shots you’ll need to take, but hopefully this will give you an idea of what kind of thing you need to get.

Before The Ceremony

Straightening a bowtie / Envato ElementsStraightening a bowtie / Envato ElementsStraightening a bowtie / Envato Elements
Straightening a bowtie / Envato Elements

If you’re with one of the couple to photograph them getting ready, get closeup details of clothes, jewellery and other little details. They’ll make nice additions to the album.

If you have a bride with a corset-style dress, it can be nice to get bridesmaids fastening that up at the back, or someone straightening a tie for example. Snap away candidly as everyone interacts and get the bride or groom with whoever they’re with, too.

At the Ceremony Venue

Wedding ceremony / Envato ElementsWedding ceremony / Envato ElementsWedding ceremony / Envato Elements
Wedding ceremony / Envato Elements

If you were with one of the couple prior to the ceremony, you should try and get the other person when you get to the ceremony venue, otherwise your photos will be very heavily weighted to just one of the couple. Get candid shots of family, friends, and people participating in the wedding milling around and socialising with each other.

Make sure you’re in a good position for when the car(s) arrives and get any grand entrances from the participants and then swiftly position yourself inside the venue — which you’ll have scouted prior to the event – and get ready for the couple walking down the aisle, or to the front of the room.

Be careful and respectful during the ceremony itself you don't want to get in anybody's way and it might be worth avoiding taking pictures during the saying of any vows as the click of the shutter can be very distracting. A mirrorless of rangefinder camera, which tend to have much quieter shutter mechanisms, are useful in this situation, and some even come with sound-dampened modes. 

Surreptitiously snap when you feel appropriate but two things that you really don't want to miss are the exchanging of the rings, and of course, the kiss! If you miss these or you’ve not got good enough pictures of them, don’t worry too much, you can have them re-enact the moments again at the end of the service.

Some registrars won’t let you take pictures of the signing of a legal document, so you may need to have the couple pretend to sign again afterwards; get each one of them doing it.

Afterwards, get outside before your couple do so that you can photograph them leaving the venue if they’re travelling to a new one. If they’re staying where they are, get them leaving the room where the ceremony took place as people will gather to congratulate them.

Between the Ceremony and Reception

Bride and bridesmaids / Envato ElementsBride and bridesmaids / Envato ElementsBride and bridesmaids / Envato Elements
Bride and bridesmaids / Envato Elements

This is a great time to get posed shots with your couple and the rest of the wedding party. If you’re heading to a local beauty spot or the grounds of the venue for some photos then now is the time. Be aware of the weather though, if it’s really cold you don’t want to freeze your clients, so try to be quick while still being thorough and professional.

Now is also the time to get into the reception room before the guests and get all of the little details like place settings and favours.

Rounding People Up For Photos

Couple celebrate wedding / Envato ElementsCouple celebrate wedding / Envato ElementsCouple celebrate wedding / Envato Elements
Couple celebrate wedding / Envato Elements

One of the most important things you'll want to do at a wedding is get to know the chief bridesmaid and best man, or equivalent. They can be absolutely essential in helping you gather people together for group shots. They know the family dynamics and it's better for you if they can round people up from the bar and bring them to where you need them to be. If someone wants to go off to get a drink and everyone else is waiting to have their picture taken, be confident explain the situation politely and tell them they can get a drink just as soon as you've taken what you need to take. Throw some humour in if you can, without sounding cocky or show any irritation. This leads us nicely to the next point… make it fun!

Nobody wants to look back at photographs and remember an awful time and it's down to you to get the best out of people and organise them without annoying anyone. Once you've got a shot of everyone, gradually peel people off and do each couple’s separate family shots.

Be sure to get any elderly parents or grandparents in the pictures as sometimes they leave earlier than other guests and can end up missing from all the photos because of this.


Friends at a wedding reception / Envato ElementsFriends at a wedding reception / Envato ElementsFriends at a wedding reception / Envato Elements
Friends at a wedding reception / Envato Elements

As the couple receive guests in the room where they'll have their meal, get candid photographs of the greetings, lots of general guests milling around, and then position yourself in a good place to capture the speeches.

After the meal is when they’ll usually cut the cake if there’s one, but ideally you should try and get them to mock this up beforehand, otherwise you’ll end up potentially pushed out of the way by a barrage of smart phones as everybody tries to take a picture of the action. Once you have your ‘cake cutting’ shot then you can let them cut it for real.

Evening Party

A first dance / Envato ElementsA first dance / Envato ElementsA first dance / Envato Elements
A first dance / Envato Elements

As the day rolls into night, everyone tends to be a little more relaxed – the important stuff is mostly done and everyone is a lot more focused on having a good time so try to do the rounds and get everyone in the evening photos.

Remember to revisit tables if new guests arrive, which will probably take up quite a lot of your time but it’s important to keep an eye on the main wedding party and make sure you get lots of photos of them interacting with their guests and having a good time.

In the evening, the most important event will likely be the first dance. Be prepared to physically move around the dance floor to get the best angles and also be sure to capture the delighted faces of the watching guests.

Finally, It's Over!

Hopefully, a short time after the first dance is when you can say your goodbyes and head off after a long and no-doubt exhausting day.

Preparation is the key to a successful day, so have those lists with you to make sure you get absolutely everything that’s essential. Don’t be afraid to redo anything that you aren’t happy with and have the confidence to group and pose people where needed.

Hopefully, you’ll have a little insight into how a typical wedding day worked for me and this will give you a basis to make your own essential shot list.

More Resources for Wedding Photographers & Videographers

About the Authors

Marie Gardiner created the video course that includes this lesson, and wrote the updated text version. Marie is a writer and photographer from England, with a background in media.

This lesson was edited and published by Jackson Couse. Jackson is a photographer and the editor of the Photo & Video section of Envato Tuts+.

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