You’re the visionary, the service provider, the confidante and the photographer.
When a bride hires you, she’s envisioning her wedding photos as the perfect reflection of her special day. If you’re like every wedding photographer I’ve ever met, nothing would make you happier than to exceed her expectations!
Yet I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a bride say, “my photographer didn’t get XYZ and I really wanted that picture!” At the same time, what I hear photographers say is, “the bride was upset that I didn’t get XYZ, but how in the world was I to know she wanted that picture?”
So many of these stories can be avoided by asking the right questions in the pre-planning stages.
Based on all of our wedding experience as well as stories of countless brides and fellow photographers, Sean and I have fine-tuned our wedding pre-planning questionnaire over the years. I’m going to share some pivotal questions with you here – key things to ask to ensure all of your ducks are in a row and that everyone will walk away happy when the images are revealed.
The first items on our list are standard, but incredibly important. As we dig deeper, you’ll find questions that are less commonly asked during standard pre-planning, but yield incredible insights into what your bride and groom want on their wedding day.
1. What are your wedding colors?
Of course, you’ll figure out the answer to this question by the time you get to the wedding, but knowing in advance is helpful when photographing the couple’s engagement session. Should you be looking for bright, bold backdrops? Or should you seek more muted scenes? The colors they choose for their wedding décor tell you a lot about what they are drawn to outside of their wedding day. The answer to this question can also be helpful when deciding how to tone the images from their shoot to suit their style. Obviously, this is not the only thing to take into account when determining how to compose an engagement session, but it is a great place to start!
2. Who are your wedding vendors?
Ask your couple to list their vendors for you ahead of time. This way, you gather contact info and send them images as soon as possible. You can also reach out before the wedding to offer to shoot anything they may need (time permitting). All of these things nurture goodwill, forge partnerships and lead to future referrals. This info is also a must if you plan to submit images to publications, blogs and magazines!
3. What does your dress look like?
Ask your bride to send a picture or at least give you a detailed description. The shape and style of her dress reveal her personal style, and will be beneficial when brainstorming ideas for the wedding day. If you have a magazine tearsheet in your camera bag of a girl in a long, flowing dress that you plan to use as inspiration, it won’t be of any use to you if your bride is wearing a sleek gown with no train.
With these answers, picking music for their slideshows later on will be a breeze! Even if you don’t use their favorite songs, you’ll be pointed in the right direction when making selections.
A great source of royalty free music for your wedding day slideshows is Triple Scoop Music.
5. What are the names of your wedding party?
Get the names of all immediate family and wedding party members. These are your allies. When you need to know if all the aunts and uncles are present and accounted for, these are the people who can tell you. If the bride asks you for a photo with a particular guest, these are the people who can seek that person out for you, etc. Calling a bridesmaid by her name may just be the added bonus that makes her feel comfortable enough with you to want to hire you for her wedding. Remembering the names of child attendants, especially the little ones, can help you greatly as they are much more likely to respond quickly when called by name.
Now, if you can’t remember the names of every bridesmaid, you can at least remember the Best Man and Maid/Matron of Honor as well as the parents of your couple. This is a nice personal touch that reflects warmth and thoughtfulness. Besides, everyone responds more willingly and happily when called by their name rather than “hey you”.
6. Are there any strained relationships we should know about?
After their names, this is the very next most important question about the wedding party. Divorce and hurt feelings are common, particularly among the parents, and you need to know about this. It’s up to you to make the wedding day as stress-free as possible for your couple, and sometimes that means keeping family tension low and a cat-fight at bay.
If the parents don’t get along, offer to split up family formals so that they don’t have to be in the same place at the same time. For example, if the groom’s parents’ attitude toward each other makes everyone else uncomfortable, take all the photos with the groom’s mother first so that she can leave, then bring in the bride’s family for photos, and then photograph the groom’s dad last. This will make it so that they don’t even have to wait in the same room together.
Side tangent: Make sure that you get approval on the family formal list with your couple ahead of time. Some brides or grooms want a photo of themselves with both of their parents together, even if they don’t get along. Others would rather take two sets of photos in order to keep them apart. Confirming all of this ahead of time is especially important when some of your subjects are at odds with each other.
7. Would you like your family portraits to take place at the altar or in a beautiful spot with flattering lighting?
Many times we’ve heard from photographers that despite their wishes, they have to photograph the family at the altar. Unless you’ve asked the bride, you don’t actually know that’s the case.
Some more traditional couples and will want the family photos at the altar regardless, and for them, we are more than happy to oblige. For others however, showing them there is an alternative may be all that’s required to sway them toward planning family photos elsewhere.
For more info on how choosing a great location for family formals can make all the difference, read this: 6 Steps to Amazing Family Formals on the Wedding Day.
8. (If applicable) Do you realize some or all of your photos will take place after sunset and will be in the dark?
Yes, I know this seems obvious, but often bride’s mentally comprehend that the sun sets after the ceremony, but are still pinning natural light images on their Pinterest boards and thinking that this is what their wedding photos will look like!
Asking this question enables you to prepare clients for the different look their images will have and ensure that their expectations are in-line with what you are capable of delivering after dark. If your night-time style doesn’t appeal to them, they have the opportunity to rearrange things in their schedule ahead of time to accommodate their vision.
9. Are there any special elements, details of surprises that we should be aware of?
Maybe the bride is surprising her Mom with a dance at the reception. Ask for a cue in order to be honed in on the Mother’s face as they make the announcement, if you know about this ahead of time!
The bride’s earrings may have belonged to her Grandmother, or her Mother’s train may have been used to make the aisle runner. We have even had handkerchiefs pinned to the inside of gowns, and without knowing to look for these things, they are easily overlooked.
10. Are there specific people you would like to be photographed with at your reception or special relationships we should be aware of?
This is a prime opportunity for you to discover ways to make photos meaningful for your client. By knowing the people who are special to them, you can carefully watch for interactions between them throughout the day.
Also, by having a list of people who they would like photos of at the reception, you are able to avoid the “are there photos of so-and-so?” question we all love so much! You know– that aunt or neighbor you really weren’t even aware existed until now, 6 weeks after the wedding has passed. They slipped out early or were hidden in the crowd and you had no idea they needed to be sought out. It’s an honest mistake and not even your fault, but you can actually avoid this issue by having the bride list those key people. You’ll enlist your allies – from question #5 – to help you find them. 🙂
A word of caution: prepare your bride ahead of time that reception guests are a moving crowd and you can’t promise that you’ll get everyone on their list. Also, encourage them to keep the list small, as they won’t want to be interrupted for yet another group shot during the reception!
11. If you had to choose just one photograph to keep from your wedding day, what would it be?
You could also say, “When you think of your wedding photos, is there something specific you’ve been envisioning?” This question gives us valuable insight into the bride’s priorities and is therefore important to our pre-planning success.
Bride A will tell you it’s an intimate photo of their first dance. This bride values candid moments over posed portraits. Think through how you can make those images special for her and really be on your toes to capture the emotions of the day.
Bride B may say she prefers a beautiful portrait of her and her groom. This bride’s priorities are different because they involve quiet time. Make sure there’s time for those images in your schedule and that you really nail those shots!
You may be thinking that you could just ask if they prefer posed images or photojournalism, but my advice is to stick with this veiled question. The reason is simple: photographic terms are often misused and misunderstood, even by photographers. For example, if your bride says she loves photojournalism, what she might mean is that she loves casual portraits. This question removes over-used terms from the equation and reveals what’s really important to her.
This is one of my favorite questions and I always tell the bride that she can give me more than one answer. What we’re looking for are moments she values. You can be sure we’ll be paying close attention to them when they happen. Dreaming up interesting and beautiful compositions for these moments ahead of time is also a nice added touch.
There are many important questions about wedding pre-planning that we’ve not covered here, but by adding these to the list you already have in place, you’ll be able to make wedding photography a richer and more enjoyable experience for everyone involved at your next event!
About Melanie McLellan
Melanie McLellan and her husband Sean are the Nashville wedding photographers behind McLellan Style. Their work has been featured by In Style: Celebrity Weddings, MSNBC: The Today Show, and other national media. In 2010, McLellan Style was recognized by the Adorama Learning Center in NYC as one of 10 top
inspirational wedding photographers in the industry.
Sean & Mel’s latest project is Kudize.net; a community of wedding photographers who actively work together to get more and better business by directly sharing qualified referrals. Got two minutes to find out how wedding photographers are building amazing referral based businesses? Click here to watch a two minute video that explains it all (and it also happens to be hilarious) + you can join for free!