The wedding rehearsal is deceptively important. As a wedding photographer, you’ve likely already been through dozens (if not hundreds) of ceremonies. You know the vows off by heart, have Canon in D perpetually stuck in your head, and mumble First Corinthians while you sleep. So why on earth would the rehearsal matter?
Simple. It’s your time to shine as an expert. Your clients are paying you for your expertise, so any opportunity you get to show that you are worth it is something to jump on!
Back when we were wedding photographers, we discovered that as time went on we found the rehearsal to be more and more important. In our first couple years we’d try to go to them, but didn’t always make it. But by the end, we made it a rule to show up. Here’s why…
Is The Photographer Here?
Almost without question, at some point in the rehearsal, the officiant will ask “Is the photographer here?”. Imagine how that would look if you weren’t! The question itself suggests that the photographer should be there. Suddenly the bride and groom are wondering why you didn’t come. That looks pretty bad on you!
See, you’re not necessarily showing up to learn how the ceremony will be structured After your first 10 weddings or so, you’ll have a good idea of how things go. There are bigger reasons for attending.
First off, it helps get you in “the zone”. Rehearsals usually happen the night before the wedding. By showing up, you’re getting comfy again with the couple, seeing their anticipation, and getting pumped to photograph their big day. Weddings require a lot of emotional presence from the photographer, so the rehearsal is the perfect kickstarter.
The rehearsal also gives you a chance to scout the ceremony spot, and plan how you’ll shoot. Decide where you’ll stand for each section. Figure out if you’ll need to use flash, and test all your camera settings. Take note of when they’re planning the kiss (some officiants change the order up, and that’s one moment you have to be completely ready for!) The more prepared you can be, the more confident and relaxed you’ll be on the day of. That means better images!
Chat with the officiant. Find out what rules they have for photography, and where you can and cannot stand. Give them an idea of your plan for the ceremony so they are aware of your movements and needs.
You’ll also have a chance to meet, and be met by, the important folks. You’ll want to know who they are, so you can be sure to get lots of photos of them! Parents and grandparents are especially important, and are usually at the rehearsal. Perfect time to memorize faces.
They’ll also want to meet you, and get to know who you are before you just show up with a big camera in their face. You might even have a little chat with the parents, asking how they’re feeling right before the big day. Those moments are part of what makes weddings really fantastic, getting to the know the people experiencing this huge event!
But, perhaps most important of all, you’ll be there as support for your clients. See, the bride and groom are going through this for the first time. They need help. They want help. They want their photographer to step up, and offer advice, insight, and that expertise they’re paying so much for.
Here’s a story of one time when we ended up really helping out and making a huge difference in the ceremony because we showed up to the rehearsal.
It was a small outdoor wedding. There would be no rules for the photographers and nothing fancy going on during the ceremony, so it was the kind of rehearsal that would be easy to skip. However, we were increasingly seeing the value of showing up, so we attended.
When we got there, it became clear that we were the experts in the crowd. The officiant wasn’t attending, there was no wedding planner—it was just the couple and their bridal party.
We listened as they started walking everyone through the ceremony and where they would be setting everything up. They showed us where they would be standing to exchange their vows. We took a quick look at the spot, assessed the light, and said “Uh oh“.
See, they were planning on having the ceremony in the full sun, completely in the open, at midday, with a super bright background. Pretty much the worst lighting condition possible. Our stomachs dropped. We knew that if things went down like this, the photos were not going to look good, no matter what we did.
So we had a quick discussion between the two of us. We agreed that we had to bring it up. We waited until the bride and groom could be grabbed away from the rest of the group, and then we let them know our concerns privately. We explained that the best light in the middle of the day is actually in the shade, and if they had the ceremony where they were planning to, they’d wind up with hard shadows, squinting eyes, and shiny skin. And it would be painful for their guests to look straight into the sun. We suggested an alternate location that would be in the shade of the trees.
They were absolutely thrilled. This was their big day, and they wanted it to look great. They didn’t know about lighting, so they would have never thought of those things we pointed out. We ended up completely changing the structure of the setup, from where they would stand, where chairs would be, and even where the entrance and exit would happen. We became the organizers of the entire thing, based completely around what would create the best photos.
And that right there is the key. They organized their ceremony around the photos. We all shared the same goal—great images–and we needed to work together to get there. If we hadn’t spoken up, and shared our expertise, the photos of their wedding ceremony would have suffered as a result. In the end we all got what we wanted, and it was one of the most beautiful outdoor ceremonies we’ve ever had the pleasure of photographing.
The Big Idea
As I’ve mentioned about a hundred times now, this is all about offering your expertise to your clients. You’re showing that you are committed to getting amazing images for them—to the point where you’ll come and spend your Friday night with them to help them prep for their big day.
Even if it’s a situation where you can’t actually change where the ceremony takes place, you’ll probably still be asked to weigh in on how the bridal party should arrange themselves, how fast people should walk (a really really important one for photographers! The slower people walk, the easier it is for you to get your shots, so remind them to walk slow!), where the signing table should be set up, and more.
Showing up to the rehearsal shows your clients that you really care. When you arrive at the rehearsal, ask them how they’re feeling, help them through the process, give them a hug at the end and remind them to get a good night’s sleep. You’re strengthening a very important bond with all of this. They’ll be comfortable and trusting of you, and those are two key elements necessary for great
Great relationships are what great photography businesses are based around. The couple from the story? When they had their first son, guess who they called up to take photos? Yep. Us. They said they couldn’t have imagined anyone else.
Tips For Attending Rehearsals
- Meet the bridal party and both sets of parents. Try to remember names, if possible.
- Dress nice. This is the first time the bridal party and parents will be seeing you, so make a great first impression
- Be on time. Walking in after things have already started makes you look unprofessional
- Speak to the officiant, find out their rules on photography, and let them know what you plan to be doing
- Bring your camera and test the light
- Plan out where you’ll be standing for each part of the ceremony
- Bring a pen and paper in case you want to take notes
- Offer suggestions and advice, especially when it comes to light
- Remind everyone to walk slowly, especially in the processional!
- Remind the couple to hold the first kiss for photos
- Have fun, and get excited for your couple!
Do you go to the rehearsal? Have you ever had to step in and help out? Any tips for making your rehearsal time effective? Share with us in the comments!