9 Tips For Achieving Beautiful Wedding Day Photos

As wedding photographers that have captured hundreds of heartfelt celebrations across San Diego we have picked up a thing or two when it comes to achieving beautiful wedding photos. At Emry Photography we pride ourselves on producing timeless wedding photographs you’ll want to look back on while keeping you fully present and relaxed for your wedding day.

Because at the end of the day beautiful wedding photos are great but an incredible, memorable experience is what its truly all about. We are here to tell you that if you plan ahead for your wedding photos you can have both. Ah, calm just washed over me saying that. We never want our couples to feel like they have to sacrifice experience in exchange for wedding day photos which is why we like to be by your side throughout the entire wedding planning process. Through our years of experience photographing weddings we have been able to distill down some of the ingredients that go into creating wedding photos that you would be proud to have a part of your visual legacy. Below we share with you our top tips on how to plan ahead for your wedding photos.

Slate barn wedding in Vista, California

1. Start with what’s most important to the two of you.

This tip rings in at number one on our list for a reason, the most important thing is staying true to yourselves and your vision for your wedding day. Sit down together over a glass of wine or cup of coffee and really think about what is most important to you as a couple. Write those things down and stay true to your wedding vision. Do you want to see one another before the ceremony?  Do you care a lot about having all of the details and decor of the wedding captured in an artful way? Are you planning on having special moments captured with family members, like a first look with a parent or a gift that you are giving to a parent or your spouse? Maybe you really love photography and want to have enough time with your wedding photographer for them to create their art during the portrait session. Some couples want their wedding portraits to take place in multiple locations which definitely should be planned ahead for timing. Are sunset photos a must for you two? Do you have a huge extended family (sitting here with my hand raised) that requires multiple breakdowns for family formals (over 14 combinations)? Are you planning on having a grand exit with sparklers, bubbles, fireworks, a getaway car etc.? Are you and your fiance planning on having a really large wedding party (10 or more)? These are all things that can be planned out ahead of time to come up with an appropriate timeline so that you can soak up every glorious moment of your wedding day while rest assured it is documented by your wedding photographer beautifully. List it all out from most important to least and then keep the list handy as the wedding planning process develops.

Wedding at Slate Barn in Vista, California

2. Amazing photos require amazing light.

We are wedding photographers so we are more in tune with visualizing light and discerning good from bad light than your average bear. But light is arguably the most important of ingredients to creating a phenomenal photograph. So we are here to educate you on good light vs. bad light and what to look for when planning your ceremony time and location and getting ready photos(more on finding the perfect getting ready location here). Your wedding day timeline will depend on the time of year you are planning your wedding. So knowing your sunset time or sunrise time, if you are planning a sunrise wedding ceremony is essential. You can very easily type your wedding date and then the words “sunset time” or “sunrise time” into google to generate this information.

The most flattering light will always occur when the sun is closest to the horizon line which means sunset or sunrise and the hour before or after (sunrise). Ideally your wedding timeline will plan for your cocktail hour (the one hour to hour and a half after your ceremony when we will be taking your wedding day portraits) to occur in that last hour to hour and a half before sunset time. There are some caveats to be aware of when it comes to sunset that if we are photographing your wedding we can plan for. Things like your wedding venues location will affect how early we will actually lose the sunlight, think valleys, mountainous regions, heavily wooded forests. Wedding venues with different topography will cause the sunset time to vary a bit. This is important to discuss with your wedding venue, wedding planner and wedding photographer.

We always recommend checking out your wedding ceremony, reception location and portrait(s) locations if you are planning on having them off site from the venue around the same time of year one year before your wedding date. Same time of year is important to note here as the light varies dramatically month to month and season to season. You can even plan a walk through one year before the wedding with the members of your vendor team responsible for the aesthetics of the wedding. Lighting to look out for would be dappled light, which looks like a scattering of bright spots and shadow spots and is unflattering especially on faces. Harsh midday light usually occurs between 11 A.M. and 3 P.M.  during this time the sun is directly overhead and can cause harsh under eye shadows. We have also seen that in this lighting situation if one person is situated with their back to the sun it can cast their shadow across the other persons face. We can always discuss how to best approach this, for example by having the shorter person with their back to the sun etc. But you can test it out at the ceremony site when you do your lighting walk through to see if it will be an issue.

We can’t stress enough how important it is to get your wedding photographer’s input when it comes to the different events you are planning for your wedding day and the timing and location they will take place.

Bride and groom in Palm Spring, Ca.

3. Schedule time for your photographer to create their art & trust them implicitly

While we are on the topic of timeline we might add that it’s important to discuss with your wedding photographer how much time they need to cover specific parts of the wedding day. Any experienced photographer will know around how much time they will need for things like detail shots of your decor and fashion pieces (if this is important to you to be documented), your couples portraits, wedding party photos, family formals etc. If you are working with a wedding planner they should reach out to your photographer to gather this information. After all, you hired your wedding photographer to capture your wedding day artfully so being sure to give them that time and space needed to create their art is important. We absolutely adore that couples want us to document their wedding and see our time together on the wedding day as an opportunity to create something unique together. But to do so requires time so having a rigid schedule or overbearing shot list will limit our ability to create the images our couples have come to expect from us.

Trusting and connecting with your photographer is so important. If you do not connect with your photographer and don’t trust them to create this visual legacy for you it will show in your photographs. This is why we recommend starting off by first hiring a true professional so you can have the peace of mind knowing that they have you covered with years of experience photographing wedding celebrations. We also recommend meeting your wedding photographer before you hire them. Whether in person or over a zoom call it is important you connect with the photographers work, manifesto or beliefs around how a wedding should be captured and with them as a human being. This is the person or people that will be witnessing a very intimate and personal day in your life, every tear, embrace, toasts about personal moments in your life, kisses, your family, your good dance moves or bad dance moves, we don’t judge! But we do witness. It is important to trust them implicitly.

That brings us to our next point, to get the best photos on your wedding day don’t hand them down a shot list. There are definitely things to clue your photographer in on which is why we love having such a close relationship through the planning process but giving them a shot by shot mood board of the day will only inhibit their ability to truly create something for you. Most photographers need their space for creativity and when you give them that space the images you will receive won’t be remakes of another couple that you saw on Pinterest but instead will be something you and your photographer created together that are representative of you and tell a more compelling story.

Couple kissing at Luce Loft in San Diego.

4. Minimize the number of people in the room for getting ready & plan for light

Finding a location for your getting ready photos that has incredible natural light will be game changing for your wedding photos. When planning for your getting ready location try to find a suite with large windows and ample natural light. Floor to ceiling windows are ideal for portraits. Minimize the number of people in the room whenever possible. This is a two fold, for starters more bodies in the room just makes it harder to get around and harder to get portraits of you without a ton of people in the background. Also the more people, the louder the more cluttered and the more chaotic the room seems to get which all leads into a less relaxed vibe. If possible keep the number of people clutter to a minimum. If you spent the night there before with your wedding party try to clean up the morning of. If possible when choosing your getting ready location choose one that has at least two bedrooms, one can be used for your hair and makeup and the other can be kept perfectly tidy for portraits. If your chosen getting ready location doesn’t have the natural light described then discuss with your wedding photographer having the dress put on and all other finishing touches done in an alternate location like outdoors or at the wedding venue.

Bridal prep before wedding

5. If you’re timeline is tight consider doing a first look

If not seeing one another until the wedding ceremony was on that list you created at tip 1 then ignore this and read on to the next tip because we never want to push against something that matters to you. But if you’re not 100% sold in either direction and you have a pretty tight timeline then you really may want to consider doing a first look. If you have no clue what we are talking about then let me clue you in, the first look as the wedding industry has dubbed it is when you see one another before the ceremony. We find it to be an absolutely incredible moment all to yourselves. In wedding blogs and online it can come across as a bit staged (picture bride tapping groom on shoulder) but it doesn’t have to. We love to collaborate with you in choosing a location at your venue where we can have the two of you walk from different locations to meet in the middle, around a corner, from either side of a fountain or on a staircase. Incorporating that movement can eliminate any forced or contrived feeling. The benefit to the first look is of course a more lax timeline, a moment for the two of you, and the opportunity to see one another pre ceremony which can calm any nerves. As wedding photographers it grants us the grace of time to document some of your wedding portraits along with wedding party photos and family formals for any family that are there before the ceremony. If you don’t want guests to see you before the ceremony then it’s important to plan the first look early enough that wedding guests who arrive early (there are always some of them) don’t see you. And the other benefit to the first look is that you, your spouse and your entire wedding party can hang out together before the ceremony begins. Here is an example of a wedding timeline with first look.

11:30- Photographers arrive at venue to scout

12:00- Photograph wedding details (tip: have invitation suite, rings, shoes, fragrance, styling details like tray, styling board, flowers from florist etc. in a box ready to go to hand off to the photographer to capture). Get our FULL WEDDING DAY CHECKLIST HERE so you don’t forget a thing and can stay cool as a cucumber the morning of.

12:30-Photograph getting ready, one photographer in each suite to capture getting ready and any other details.

2:00-Hair and Makeup wrapped

2:30-Get dressed

3:00-First look and couples portraits

3:30-Wedding party photos

4:00-Family formals of the immediate family & any other breakdowns present

4:30-Couple gets tucked away as guests arrive (we capture all your beautiful ceremony styling)

5:00-Ceremony start time per wedding invitation

5:15-Ceremony truly begins

5:45-ceremony end, signing of marriage license

6:00-Extended family photos during cocktail hour (while second photographer photographs cocktail hour and reception space)

6:45-Let’s get the party started! Grand entrance

7:30-Sneak out for sunset photos in that golden light

9:00 Sneak out for a night photo if you love our night photography (we love to have little moments of the day where we can sneak you away for a few quick portraits, it’s so fun to have photos of yourselves throughout the different emotional parts of the day. Photos of the two of you post ceremony will look and feel very different than the photos of you at the end of the night after a few glasses of bubbly but both are important when piecing together the story of your day and how it all felt.)

10:00-Grand exit

Best day ever, nailed it!

Wedding Ceremony at Padua Hills Theatre.

6. Planning for an extraordinary ceremony

Can you guess what we are going to bring up as the most important thing? Spoiler alert, it’s lighting! The common thread throughout this blog post which by now we may sound like a broken record but we can’t go without mentioning light. Try to choose a ceremony location that has even light. If possible try to avoid the harshest light of the day (11am-3pm) for ceremony as the sun is directly above you and it can cast dark shadows under the eyes. Enforce an unplugged ceremony, nothing ruins a beautiful ceremony shot faster than a ton of cell phones jutting out into the aisle. If you want to learn more about having an unplugged ceremony and why we strongly believe it’s important you can read about it here. Request that your audio team, venue or DJ use a wireless microphone for your celebrant or officiant. Microphone stands or podium stands for the officiants notes are never pretty. We also recommend making sure any required speakers are hidden far off to the sides and low to the ground. They’re an awful eyesore and take away from the beautiful atmosphere you and your wedding planner, event stylist and florist worked hard to create. Appoint a friend or family member to help any guests that require walkers/wheelchairs or strollers. Then stock them away after they’re seated and retrieve them after the ceremony. As storytelling wedding photographers we love to get that beautiful wide shot of your ceremony and nothing ruins that shot like a line of walkers, wheel chairs and strollers along the back row of seats. We also recommend having someone appointed to handle a flower girl or ring bearer “freak out”. It happens occasionally that the littles see all the people and make a mad dash! And while we think that’s super adorable and makes for a cute memory and photographs you’ll just want to make sure there is someone hanging back to catch them before they make their way to the parking lots.

If you have an arbor at the ceremony site try to get centered underneath it and if you are carrying a bouquet try to remember to pass it off to a member of your wedding party. We have seen so many weddings where that is a forgotten detail and the bouquet is awkwardly held throughout the ceremony, give those arms a rest and hold your partners hands. Which brings us to our next point don’t stand so far from your partner, this is a moment for the two of you, be in it and be close. Some other aesthetic details to note are not going overboard with chairs. Generally the chair count is planned for how many guests R.S.V.P but we often see the chairs half empty which doesn’t look as great as if there were just less chairs but they were filled with people. If it’s a sunny day having parasols out for guests, not only is it a kind gesture but it also looks much better having beautiful parasols rather than people’s mismatched personal umbrellas, people hiding beneath suit coats or holding up wedding programs to protect them from the sun.

If a friend or family member is officiating your wedding they may not know to jump out for the first kiss so be sure to let them know otherwise you’ll have their floating head in your first kiss photos. A lot of venues no longer allow sparkler exits so in lieu of a grand exit at the end of the night you can have your guests throw petals as you exit the ceremony. Options other than petals are confetti, lavender, or you can hole punch fresh leaves.

Bride and groom kissing at Padua Hills Theatre ceremony site.

7. You did it! I do’s, check.

Congratulations, the hard part or shall we say nervous part is over. Now you have to ask yourself if attending cocktail hour is something that is really important to you. If not and if you didn’t do a first look then now is the one hour of time that we will capture all of your family formals, the entire wedding party together and then sneak you and your husband or wife (doesn’t it feel great to call them that officially?) away for romantic portraits and a quiet moment together. If attending cocktail hour is really important to you then the first look is a must. Then after ceremony we will capture your extended family formals and the two of you can attend cocktail hour after. Keep in mind you will have the rehearsal dinner and your reception to mingle and celebrate with guests so you won’t miss out on anything by forgoing cocktail hour for some beautiful portraits of the two of you.

We recommend appointing a member of the wedding party who knows what you and your partner like to drink have some cocktails or champagne ready during family formals or your portraits. Also if you are wearing makeup you may want to have someone who can touch up your lip color and blot or powder your nose before your portraits. Blotting papers are an essential for a summer wedding. We are definitely the kind of photographers who will want to walk up that hill or through those plants for that dreamy photo and sliver of light so if need be maybe pack some flats to get around in on the wedding day.

Our best advice for your couples portraits is to just be in the moment, relish in each others company and all the beauty that surrounds you. Celebrate, emote, and get lost. We can only work with as much emotion as you two provide. We always work hard to make this time feel natural and fun while giving as much or little direction as desired for those “I don’t know what to do with my hands” moments but if you’re focused on the camera instead of the moment your portraits won’t be as compelling as what you have come to expect from us and our art.

Bride and groom embracing in a barn at night at Ethereal Gardens.

8. Make it your own, be unique.

If you want your detail photos to express your individual style and bring your wedding styling full circle we recommend having a custom styling board. We have our own that travels with us but for your detail photos to feel cohesive and help tell the story of your unique day having styling elements personal to you is important. This is something you can create on your own or collaborate with your stylist and florist to create. You can simply use the same linens you are using for your tablescapes, just have an extra one ironed and waiting in your suite along with a box of the details you want photographed. You can also include a tray or dish that you love and ask your florist to provide extra flowers for styling the details. You may also want to include ribbon in your colors, your wax seal stamp and extra wax seals. This is where we will photograph your stationary, wedding invitation suite, welcome bags, favors, rings, shoes, jewelry and any other accessories you want captured. If the details of the day don’t matter that is perfectly okay, let us know and we will be sure we don’t carve time out for these photographs and instead photograph what matters to the two of you.

Bride and groom's wedding details at Lake Oak Meadows in Temecula.

9. Follow your hearts, always.

Our closing advice and arguably the most important of everything we’ve stated thus far is to just have an amazing time and throw a celebration that feels like the two of you. Don’t get wrapped up in what you think you need for wedding photos. Tell us what matters most to the two of you on the day and we will be sure to hone in on that. We aren’t a one size fits all wedding photography studio where you have to prescribe to how we do things. We are chameleons and artists and what makes us most delighted is delivering the two of you wedding photographs that feel like you and take you back into the moments that mattered. It’s a collaboration and you must have shots need to come from your heart not a wedding magazine or a family member.




Ryan + Emily Burhop

of emry

We are wedding photographers for those who believe in love, because Emry originated out of love. Love for each other, for imagery and for creating things that were made to last. We serve southern California & beyond. Outside of photography, our life revolves around our son, Jude and our families.

read more