I’ve been debating upon writing a blog on this topic for some time, but decided it was time.

What would a wedding photographer’s dream wedding to shoot look like?
It’d be in Paris, obviously.  Right under the Eiffel Tower.
Or perhaps London.  London would be good, too.
The gown would be exquisite and really pricey.  No exceptions.
There should probably be a lion tamer and maybe a roller coaster that goes between the ceremony space and reception area.
Tons and tons and tons of fresh flowers and a dessert buffet table with macarons and chocolate eclairs and the prettiest cakes.

As amazing as this would be (and if anyone wants to plan the wedding listed above and hire me, I’d appreciate it, and would shoot it for free, probably), it’s very, very unrealistic.
First of all, weddings are expensive.  I know that.  I’ve planned one.  I’ve shot weddings that probably cost 10 times the amount I spent on mine.
Secondly, not everyone wants a roller coaster or a lion tamer.  Some brides and grooms hardly want anything–just themselves and an officiant and a handful of friends and families.

If I could give some advice to brides and grooms who are planning their wedding and who want the best possible photos, here’s what I’d say:

1) Have as much natural light as you possibly can manage.
Natural light is a photographer’s best friend.  Images look crisper, cleaner, and better.  Period.
Consider an outdoor location or a venue with lots and lots of windows to let the outdoor light in.  I know that sometimes it’s impossible with a budget or another contributing factor.  But if you can swing it, book a venue that will have stunning light streaming in for a majority of your wedding, if not all.  I’m telling you–it’ll be worth it.
I would die of happiness if I didn’t have to break out my flashes during a wedding.
*Also, those string lights with the big bulbs on them put off a lot more light than one would think.  Those are good too, for dark  weddings.  :)

2) If you’re able, get fresh flowers or a unique/handmade bouquet.
Flowers die.  They just do.  I came back from my honeymoon and my bouquet had wilted and started smelling like something died.  It wasn’t pleasant.  But for my wedding day, I had the prettiest bouquet ever and wore fresh flowers in my hair.  The images of the flowers look so good because the flowers were real and vibrant and lovely.  Real flowers photograph well.  Homemade paper flowers are neat too.  Those brooch bouquets are also pretty cool.  And those don’t die.
Fresh flowers are expensive (I do have a friend who talked to a woman who owns a bunch of land with tons of wildflowers, so she picked all of her flowers herself and ended up spending nothing, so real flowers for cheap is possible, people!)  But they leave you with photos that rule.
If you have to or want to use fake flowers, try to get them as realistic looking as possible.  One of my friends got married last year and her bouquet was made of fake flowers, but you couldn’t tell unless you looked at it under a microscope.  Thumbs up, Sydney.

3) Have more time than you think you need for photos.
Last June, I shot a bride and groom who did a first look 3 hours before the ceremony started.  That meant we were able to roam around town, stopping wherever we pleased to take bride and groom photos.  It was so much fun for everyone and they got tons of images of the two of them.  I understand not wanting to do a first look in order to keep to traditions, but if you’re not tied to the idea of seeing each other for the first time at the ceremony, a first look is awesome for several reasons.
It stops any nervous jitters, because it’s you and your honey alone, talking, laughing, getting out any anxiety.  It also makes a great opportunity to get real emotion into photos and offers as a super time to get a few bride and groom portraits.  My husband and I did a first look, and it was wonderful.  We were surrounded by tall grass and flowers and his reaction to seeing me for the first time are some of my favorite photos from our wedding.  Before my wedding, I often wondered if doing a first look would stop some of the emotions he’d feel while I walked down the aisle towards him.  It didn’t.  Ethan was crying before I got up to the alter.  So sweet. :’)
If you don’t want to do a first look, please try to give your photographer AT LEAST 30 minutes after your ceremony where you guys can go off and get some shots.
Wedding party and family shots are also important.  I’d allow another 30 minutes to an hour for those.  Basically, just make sure you schedule enough time between parts of your day to get the photos you’ll want.
A good time approximation (to me) would look like this:

Getting ready/details: 2-3+ hours.  This would allow for plenty of great photos of the bride getting hair and makeup done, getting dressed, detail shots of the shoes, gown, accessories, etc.  Would also allow time for photos of the groom getting ready and all his stuff too.  Especially if the bride are getting ready at a separate location from the wedding venue, then having plenty of time to travel from place to place is also important.

First look/bride and groom portraits: 1 hour.  If you go with a first look, that means you can also get all your wedding party and family photos out of the way so you can go straight to the reception. :)

Wedding party/family photos: 1 hour.

More details of decor/ceremony space/reception area: 30-45 minutes.

Ceremony: (However long you need it to be–typically around 30 minutes)

Reception (Again, time frame is up to you, but you’d want enough time between the cake cutting, toasts, bouquet toss/garter toss, the important dance, etc): 2-5 hours typically.

I recently was sent a timeline from a bride (I’m shooting her 1920’s wedding next Saturday!!!!!!! SO EXCITED) and she had timed everything so we had enough time for everything PLUS a grace period in case we got behind.  Smart girl, right there.

4) Have unique touches throughout your decor.  Make the wedding yours.
This is a big one for me.  Should be for anyone planning a wedding.  Make sure the wedding is uniquely you.  Trends are great, but if you follow a trend, find a way to mix it up and put your own spin on it.  I shot a rustic wedding in October.  It stayed true to the rustic theme–lots of burlap and DIY elements.  It was a beautiful wedding, and the bride and groom are so wonderful.  I’ve seen a ton of rustic weddings, but this one stuck out especially because the bride and groom got chik-fil-a to cater, had custom cupcakes, and had vintage sodas for the food and drinks.  It was such a fun touch that made their wedding extra special.  The vintage sodas they chose ended up being great for props in their bride and groom and ring photos.
Whatever the theme of your wedding (if you have one), make sure to put your own touch on it.  Play with color schemes, decor, ideas, the gown, the groom’s clothes, etc.  No wedding HAS to conform to what’s popular on Pinterest (not putting down Pinterest or any of the ideas that come from there because Pinterest is awesome).  Have the wedding that fits you, your passions, your style.  Whether or not that is rustic chic, vintage glam, whimsical, bohemian, bright and colorful, or based on your favorite sports team, just make sure it’s yours.

I hope none of you feel like I’m putting down your vision, needs, wants, etc.  The above listed is a list that I’d LOVE to see at each wedding, but I know that isn’t possible for each one.  If you want to take my advice, that would be awesome.  If not, no hard feelings at all, because your wedding day is for you and not for me.
However, as a wedding photographer, I become a little bit emotional each wedding day as I watch people (who have likely become friends at this point) say vows to each other and look at each other like they’re falling a little more in love.  That’s how it should be and that’s how I hope it is forever.

The above suggestions are merely that–suggestions.  My overall goal for each wedding is to capture emotion, all the details that make your day special, and how great everyone looks.  I want to tell a story and I want the images I give to you to be stunning, unique, and timeless.

You all are wonderful.