Tips for Great Photos

Kate McElwee, Boston wedding photographer, wife to Josh, and mom to two black labs


how to get the best possible photos on your wedding day

Allow enough time for moments

If there is one piece of advice I would love all of my couples to follow, it’s to build in enough downtime on your wedding day to allow your emotions to flow and enable real moments to happen.

So often couples (or their planners!) create fast moving timelines that minimize any waiting around time, but when weddings run to tight schedules it allows very little time for you to really feel your wedding day. You bounce from one thing to the next, and don’t have time to soak it all in. It makes it almost impossible to truly be present and breathe in everything around you.

Funny and sweet things happen unexpectedly when there is time for those things to happen. Maybe you finish portraits before the ceremony and have time to relax with a glass of Champagne before the ceremony takes place. And then your grandmother pops in to say hi, and she gets choked up seeing you in your wedding dress, because it takes her right back to her own wedding day …

This is just a tiny example of something that could happen, if there is space and time for it to happen. I can’t predict moments like this, but I do know from many years of experience, that including some breathing space around the main events is the absolute best way to encourage the meaningful interactions that become the fabric of the day.

Build in clean up time before you get dressed

If you’re getting ready with a bunch of friends and/or family, plan to spend 15 minutes tidying up after hair and makeup (or watching the game and drinking) before getting dressed. A tidy room makes for better photos, and it will also make it less likely that you’ll accidentally sit on a half eaten plate of hummus and crudités once you’re in your dress or tux!

It also means you’ll come back to a nice tidy room after the wedding, which will feel a little more romantic.

bride getting ready at home before mea wedding boston

If you’re getting ready at home, you can designate a separate area for getting dressed – this way you don’t need to worry about cleaning up.

Keep the group photos short and sweet

If you keep the family and wedding party photos to a few really important groupings, your family and friends will thank you and they will enjoy the process. This will result in genuine smiles from all involved and you will be able to enjoy your day without feeling like it’s one giant photo shoot. There will also be more time for natural moments to occur.

Another thing you can do here is build in 10 minutes of “meet and greet” time at the beginning of the family photos. This is great for several reasons:

  • it makes for really nice candid photos of you seeing family members for the first time – lots of hugs and huge smiles for me to photograph!
  • it means we won’t run late with photos if someone’s a few minutes late getting to the arranged spot
  • your family will be glad to have the chance to greet you in a relaxed way before the bossy photographer starts organizing everyone for the formal photos 🙂

Here’s how I recommend setting up family photos:

A & B + A’s parents

A & B + A’s nuclear family (add in any siblings)

A & B + A’s immediate family (add in any grandparents, in-laws, and kids)

A & B + B’s parents

A & B + B’s nuclear family (add in any siblings)

A & B + B’s immediate family (add in any grandparents, in-laws, and kids)

And for the wedding party:

A & B + full wedding party (including any kids)

A & B + wedding party (adults only)

A + A’s side (e.g. bridesmaids)

B + B’s side (e.g. groomsmen)

Who you include in family photos should reflect who you are close to. If you are close to your grandparents, and your cousins on your dad’s side, please invite them for these photos!

During the time set aside for family and wedding party photos (usually around 45-60 minutes) I recommend an absolute maximum of 20 distinct groupings. More than that and we’ll need to allow longer and you are almost guaranteed to feel “photo fatigue” set in and it will be really hard to stay engaged and feeling happy and relaxed. I am very happy to help you to cull down any longer lists of group photos to what you will be likely to frame to enjoy for years to come. Let’s make sure these photos are great by keeping things moving!

I recommend taking any larger extended family photos / college friend groups either during cocktail hour immediately after the ceremony (this makes for the better photos) or during dinner or immediately before the cake cutting. If the groups for these photos are huge (more than 20 people) then split them into e.g. A’s mom’s extended family, A’s dad’s extended family, etc.

Please don’t plan to take any photos after the dancing starts – they likely won’t happen at all, or if they do they will be messy and likely missing people.

Please tell your wedding planner AND caterer if you plan to take a few group photos during dinner so they can let you know when to schedule these. Usually between courses works for everyone, as long as they know in advance.

Take some couples portraits at sunset

Even if you’re taking the bulk of your portraits earlier in the day, try to build in 10 minutes right at sunset to take advantage of the absolutely gorgeous light then. The photos will have a different feel to those taken earlier, and you will likely be feeling really relaxed and happy then. Sunset makes for magical photos!

couple having fun on beach at wianno club wedding

Sunset couples photos are especially great at the beach, and at other non-city venues.

Don’t create a shot list of must-have photos

With 13 years of experience photographing weddings, I know the “must have” photos list inside out. It is always my aim to capture all of the expected photos such as “bride and dad walking down the aisle”, “reception tables before guests enter”, “first dance”, and so on. However, if I’m working off a shot list for the day, I will be busy checking off items and will likely miss the unexpected, unplanned moments that make for the better photos! So, please don’t give me a shot list of photos, but instead trust me to document your day for you.

That said, if there is a special little detail or event that is likely pretty unique to your wedding, or something that you would be absolutely devastated if we missed, then please let me know about it in advance so that I can be sure to plan to capture it.