The Ultimate Guide to Wedding Photography

How to capture all the magic—from ring selfie to sparkler exit—and look your best in every shot

Updated 06/26/18

Sylvie Rosokoff

Wedding photos offer you both immediate gratification (morning-after IG post!) and lifelong memories (decades from now, your granddaughter will be in awe of your style). With that much pressure, of course you want to capture images you’ll love! To pull that off, first, you need to establish what you like—and what you, um, really hate—in wedding photography. You can do this by checking out Instagram accounts and browsing real wedding features on our site and our social media feeds.

Kate Headley, a photographer in Washington, D.C., says three major styles are trending right now: classic (lots of composed shots with natural lighting), artsy (dark contrasts and filters), and truly creative, meaning the approach is unique to the photographer. (Headley calls those “the true gems.”) Decide which style best fits your personality and aesthetic, then start asking around for recs—and make newlywed friends your first stop.

“I get most of my inquiries from word of mouth,” says Headley, who even booked a bridesmaid from a wedding she shot last year. “She remembered how I worked—she’s like, ‘You were so fun!’—and, honestly, that was the most flattering compliment,” she says.

After you’ve narrowed down what and whom you like, send inquiries to all prospects. Feel free to blast emails (not texts) to multiple photographers, and be sure to mention how you heard of them and include your wedding date, guest count, and venue. (Knowing the scale and place helps the photographer figure a rough quote, which subsequently helps you determine if she’s in your budget.)

“This is just an information exchange,” Headley says. “We’ll get to know each other later!” Once you have a few finalists, ask to see three full photo galleries of events that are similar in size to your wedding. “Always ask for a rainy gallery,” she emphasizes, since finessing the lighting on soggy days separates the women from the girls. Looking at a full gallery helps you assess her consistency over hundreds of shots and proves she didn’t just get lucky with the half dozen snaps on her Insta.

Finally, schedule a time to get to know this person (talk on the phone, grab a coffee), and then discuss numbers in detail, such as rates, travel expenses, and hours of coverage. On average, couples shell out 12 percent of their total budget on photography—but remember, there’s no hard rule on that. (Your wedding, your priorities.) If there was ever a time to make a decision based on personality more than money, your photographer pick is it: This is a person who is going to see you at your most stressed/Spanxencased/emotional/happy.

Don’t you want to sit next to someone you like on that roller coaster?

Is This Photographer The One?

Ask these questions to gauge whether you and a photographer will click...or not.

What should I tell you about us?

When San Francisco-based Sylvie Gil meets clients, she asks them as many questions as they ask her. “A photographer needs to be a little bit in love with her couples,” she says. “That’s how I create my best work.”

How did you capture this shot that I love?

You’re attracted to photos that feel natural, but those pics don’t just happen—that’s the mark of a good photographer. Ask what his secret is, whether it’s adjusting your hair or telling jokes, says Dallas-based Ryan Ray.

Can I see your favorite Instastory?

“Instagram stories are a great way to get to know each other,” Gil says. Social media helps you get familiar and friendly before the wedding—and feel comfortable together on the big day.

How do you help make the day run smoothly?

“The last thing a wedding needs is to become school picture day,” Ray says. “Efficiency is key. Your photographer should have a system that works and that people love.”

Will you fix my zits?

Find out how much editing the photographer does, like touchups and filters (and if it costs extra).

What You Get For Your Money

Photographers usually have standard packages plus add-on expenses. Here’s a look at what you can reasonably expect.

Communication: You may book up to a year in advance, but don’t expect to be in constant contact, says Brooklyn-based photographer Chi-Chi Ari. After you sign the contract, you probably won’t really hear from her until the month before the wedding. Then meet to put together a list of must-have pics (like group shots with Grandma). But remember the best pics are candid, so don’t load her down with too many guidelines.

Package: A standard job usually includes 8 to 10 hours of coverage, with prices ranging greatly, depending on the photographer’s location and experience. Our recent survey found the national average is $2,100, while the high end tends to be about $20,000 and up to (are you sitting down? Is your dad?) $60,000. Each additional hour is about $500, as is a second shooter for a full day of work.

Delivery and deadline: You’ll get a few preview photos the next day—for your Instagram, obvi!—but expect to wait about eight weeks for the full edited gallery. A digital, downloadable gallery is standard; if you want prints, expect to pay at least $7 for each one, and an album could run an additional $1,800, says Los Angeles-based photographer Rebecca Yale.

How To Be Photogenic, Even if You’re Camera-shy

Stop being the person who hates how you look in photos and smile like you mean it. And communicate. Tell your photographer what makes you self-conscious. “If I know a bride is uncomfortable about her arms, then I’m mindful of that,” says KT Merry, a Miami photographer. Trust the pro to guide and position you. Foundation is your friend. “So many brides want a natural look, so they skip base and load on the concealer,” says Tiffany Patton, a makeup artist with White Rose Collective, a beauty service in NYC.

“Flash photography turns that into a reverse raccoon eye.” The fix? An even canvas of tinted moisturizer, which looks flattering in every light. (We like the Sephora Collection Bright Future Skin Tint.)

Remember, you’ll be smiling a lot. “Consider what your face looks like when you’re smiling,” says Patton, and apply makeup with that in mind, concentrating blush on the apples of your cheeks, drawing a long swoop of liner on upper lids, and adhering false lashes at the eyes’ outer corners. Fake it till you make it. Grinning on demand can feel awkward, so Merry says, “I ask my clients to give me their best fake laughs. It feels so goofy that real laughter quickly follows.”

Quick Video Tips

Keep it short.

“Our best videos are three to five minutes max,” says Forged in the North’s Heidi Browne.

Make it personal. But not TMI.

Imagine strangers watching it— do they want to see you making out?

Share it.

Include emotional, crowd-pleasing moments like the vows exchange and first dance.

Related Stories