Your wedding flowers won't last forever. Your tiered cake? Devoured by night's end. But your photos will live on for generations, so splurging on your wedding photographer (typically 15 percent of your total budget) is worth it.
So what makes a fabulous, lasting picture? How can you guarantee great shots? First, choose the right photographer. Seek word-of-mouth recommendations, meet candidates in person (or on Skype), and ask to see weddings that look like the one you're planning. Be sure he or she isn't shooting more than 30 weddings a year (hello, burnout!) and that he or she is truly jazzed about capturing the particular magic of someone's big day.
Also, it helps if you actually like the person. Engagement sessions are a smart way to figure that out. (Should things go awry, there's still time to change your mind before game day.) And if you fall in love with someone just out of your price range, negotiate! Book him or her for fewer hours or consider a date in low season (or maybe he or she had a cancellation and will give you the date on discount). On the day of, take portraits outside if possible (nothing like natural light, especially in the morning or before sunset) and point out the important players; your photographer will get them in the frame (and spend less time trying to include your brother's girlfriend of the month).
Oh, and P.S.: Do consider a toss, because confetti equals instant joy. (Birdseed works too!)
At left: "This couple was married in Sonoma, California. What started as a torrential downpour turned into a sunny wedding day! At the first sight of the sun, they ran outside and enjoyed a quite moment together, soaking in the beauty of their day — and their first moment as husband and wife."
— Jasmine Star, Jasmine Star Photography
"I love images that provoke curiosity and ask questions. The question this photo begs is: What on Earth is happening here? It's a moment not likely to be reproduced — ever. (And, by the way, the guy in the monkey suit is the father of the bride.)"
—Dave Robbins, Dave Robbins Photography
"I love the excitement that's so apparent here! And... I love exits. The couple is always so completely over the moon, as are the guests who get to shower them with a toss of some kind. In this shot, guests were relentlessly throwing birdseed at the newlyweds as they exited. Every shot I have of the couple has their eyes squinted shut, with huge smiles on their faces as they make a run for the car!"
— Shannen Norman, Shannen Natasha Weddings
"This is from a wedding in Seattle. A freak snowstorm hit, and all plans were canceled. No ceremony, no reception, but the couple did get all dolled up. So we hit the road and made some beautiful images. Love conquers all! And then I got a double sinus infection from the weather two days later...."
— Matt Miller, Diamond Eyes Photography
"I love this shot so much for so many reasons. I love the movement, the grain of the film, and how it literally was a fleeting moment that I was able to capture and preserve for the couple."
— Jonathan Canlas, Jonathan Canlas Photography
"I'm really into black-and-white images at the moment. I love images like this because they can never be re-created. As a wedding photographer, I have to be ready for moments like this; you've got only one shot at getting it right. For me, the expression on the groom's face was unforgettable."
— Jose Villa, Jose Villa Photography
"I love this photo not only because it was the fashionable bride's third outfit of the night but also for its passion. You can feel the intensity of this post-cake-cutting kiss! It was at once both public and intimate."
— Kristi Drago-Price, Kristi Drago-Price Photography
"I love this image for so many reasons. The little flower girl here was about three years old and was trying her best to listen despite being in a lavender field buzzing with bees. It was when her curiosity took over and she had to touch the lavender that this shot happened."
— KT Merry, KT Merry Photography
"If I could have a superpower, I would definitely choose an invisibility cloak. In this day and age, everyone is very aware of getting their picture taken, but what I love about this shot is that I'm capturing a multilayered narrative and no one seems the least bit aware that I'm taking the picture!"
— Liz Banfield, Liz Banfield Photography
"The wedding day can be so hectic; moments of peace and reflection are rare. This photo was taken minutes before the bride was to see her groom for their first look."
— Michelle Hoffner, Paper Antler
"There's just something magical happening here. The composition, body language, lighting — everything feels perfect. I love the way her arms are reached out to hold him, and his body is leaning into her. And the warmth of the color palette just adds to that feeling of intimacy and love."
— Alexa Maxine, Bright Bird Photography
"I love the tenderness with which the groom is helping the bride up the steps. This was right after their ceremony, and in such a everyday gesture, you can see the love and thoughtfulness between them. I also love seeing the light pouring through the pine trees behind them, and the light hitting the back of her dress."
— Charlotte Jenks Lewis, Charlotte Jenks Lewis Photography
"It's unexpected. It's real, it's raw, and it's how their elopement played out. I love that she's chowing down on her food and he's checking out his goods. It's just fun and playful and 100 percent me."
— Christina McNeill, Christina McNeill Photography
"I love the quietness of this image; you can sense the bride's anticipation as she heads down the stairs to the ceremony. I like my work to have a timeless elegance, and I think this photograph embodies that sentiment."
— Corbin Gurkin, Corbin Gurkin Photography
"I love this photograph, because in a city of eight million people, with infinite possibilities, these two managed to find each other. At such a busy location like the Empire State building, they still look like they have the city and their futures to themselves. It shows how unique finding 'the one' really is!"
— Jen Huang, Jen Huang Photography
"Many photographers like to direct the bride and groom. I prefer to be ready for the unexpected moment that reveals a truth about the couple. This photograph of my great friend Joe and his bride Suzy makes me happy because it speaks to their joyous bond. They look attached at the hip and that is actually what their marriage is really like."
— John Dolan, John Dolan Photography