What are the most important wedding photos on a wedding day?

What are the most important wedding photos? The one in the major wedding blog you read? Here’s a thought. What if all those must have wedding photo top 10 lists are utter dross. I mean total garbage? What if they are nowhere near the most important wedding photos on a wedding day?

What if they are cynically posted in January rehashing a post from the same time last year to reach this year’s new to-be-weds. They are. PR and marketing go in cycles hitting key dates for the industry and if you’ve seen a top 10 lately, you are reading the result of an editorial meeting that probably first happened in October.

I’m a photographer and there’s a reason why these top 10 lists for me personally just scream a lack of actual genuine thought. I hate lazy thinking, albeit I did watch Die Hard last night, it’s a great movie, and yes I did watch two French language films last weekend in case you question my cognisance. And the general run of how these top 10 must have wedding photos is lazy thinking.

When you book your photographer, you book someone hopefully with a visual eye, but in a good photographer the actual mechanics of what makes good and sometimes great photos happen is distilled into thoughtfulness, anticipation and sensitivity in the thought process. This is what turns a photo from being one of the cake into being one of the cake’s creator, a bride clasping the artisan by the upper arm, and the grandma holding her hands as if to pray overwhelmed with the emotion. It’s a triptych of beauty, fact, emotion, nothing you could plan. You allowed your photographer to dance in that moment and to feel the ambience of the day you had created. You didn’t stick a straight jacket on the person you just spent a month’s net salary and bind them to what a lazy editorial meeting said you should have photos of, you let them be free to read your day like a book, and from that let the resulting emotions inform the photographs they are taking for you.

This is all about ignoring those shitty top 10 designed for lazy grazing social media digestion and all about how to allow your photographer to photograph your day beautifully and what you can meaningfully do to accentuate it. Those of you still with me sound like my kinda couple.

Ireland vacation road trip couple photographer County Mayo

Passionate moment in County Mayo, Ireland. Allie and Daniel trusted me to photograph them intimately without must have photos.

The first thing you need to do before you book the venue, and perhaps even a photographer is decide on what your wedding day is, how that marries up (see what I did there, yeah, watched Die Hard last night and made a pun the next day…) with actually what you want your wedding to be. Will it be a large family gathering, a knees up? Or is it perhaps basically one big party, a fiesta and a celebration? Or will it be quieter, all about having time to chat to parents in a meaningful way, or much smaller in a beautiful place say Loch Coruisk where you and a few very close family members witness your day? Decide that first, because everything you do after this will inform everything about your day. It sounds obvious, but it comes before any photos.

I ask you to decide this clearly first because it beats hands down any must have photo of the dress, because your decision on the above will change how and where that dress is photographed. Maybe it won’t be a static lifeless photo of the dress hung up, maybe it will be a series of flowing and delightful photographs that capture how your dress moved as you stepped on to the boat taking you across the loch in the mist, bringing it to life?

The key here is you didn’t put a straight jacket on your photographer of must have photos but allowed yourself to trust them as a feeling and living professional.

Beautiful Elegant Wedding Photographer Somerset Almonry Barn

Ashleigh and Ben let me dance through their Almonry Barn wedding day, feeling it and their love. No must have shots. Just pure unadulterated love.

If you want to know what must have photos for me are, I think they’re ones of me and my other half (not that I have one), and they would be the parent photos, and maybe those with my siblings. The rest are all whatever my photographer would want to take.

I can tell you as a photographer the less I am trusted, the more I am co-erced into ‘Is that okay like that?’ ‘Are you sure there’s enough light?’ ‘You can photoshop that whole emergency fire exit and burning pile of manure out. right?’ the more I start closing down inside because I will feel I am not being trusted, the more us photographers default to what is safe without trying to extend the boundaries of what we capture. We are not just sponges that exist to extend what we last saw on Instagram. Like any art form, it comes from learning and development, both of the eye and the mind. We’re not your electricity supplier, we come with thought and emotion, as well as a lot of history and perspective.

Like why am I one of the few modern photographers who enjoys close family photos. Why will I get you out in the slow rain to be together? I’ll tell you why, I drove both my parents back and forth between 2014 to 2016 to hospital after both succumbed and survived cancer: chemo, after surgery, measuring up breast prosthesis, sitting beside my mum and then my dad hoping that day ginger and lemon tea wouldn’t be like drinking acid…. I lost my grandparents due to ill health, and by 1998 at the age of 15 I had no grandparents. Most of them had left this mortal coil by 1993. So I hold my parents and siblings dearly. That is why those are must have photos for me. Everything else is my photographer or indeed videographer’s vision. And it will be yours too, you may not know it yet, but when the dust settles you will be there and part of all you will have for comfort is your memories.

You didn’t expect this top 10 to be uplifting did you? I don’t apologise for foresight. At 34 I can safely say this isn’t an ego driven opinion, this is fact. I’ve seen ignored and lonely hands dance over plain sandwiches in over-baked care homes for the elderly and experienced the specificity of an older person’s demands on how things should be. I’ve even been there when I almost died save for a blood transfusion in 2005. I saw the other side of the prism, it was quiet and like an old analogue television’s static, but on the other side a constant nagging for the revival of the past and the precious. If you don’t understand this, email me, I’ll tell you. But suffice to say I take photos to comfort you in your reverie and make your eyes lift in the cogent present.

Everything I do as a photographer is filtered through my prism of experience and thoughts.

So there’s your top 10. It’s not a top 10, it’s a top 3:

  1. What kind of wedding do you want? Decide, stick to it.
  2. Look at photographers carefully and thoughtfully, look at their photos and see what speaks to you.
  3. Trust your photographer to feel and experience your day.

Sorry I forgot, make sure your photographer photographs the confetti shot. Just in case they happen to have accidentally driven 25 miles away, fallen into someone’s garden, and found themselves at some kind of Austin Rover motorcar shrine and ended up photographing some old boy’s shot Morris Marina he’s had garaged since 1985 instead of your confetti photos. Because that could happen….. Thank god a wedding blog told you had to get that confetti photo.

All Saints Chapel Eastbourne Wedding Photographer

Grandma and bride as the light filters through All Saints Chapel, Eastbourne

Karen Braysher

January 15, 2018

Wonderful shots that capture the moment, far better than any staged photos any day of the week!

Eva Tarnok

January 19, 2018

I could not agree more, Vicky! It is fantastic to read posts like these! xx

Gary Maunder

May 28, 2018

Great article, really enjoying your blog and website. So useful for me, having just finished a three year photography degree, to then read some down to earth info from a proven professional as yourself.

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