Why You Should Always Attend The Wedding Rehearsal

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.

True Story

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“.

Upload from July 18, 2011

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.

Upload from July 18, 2011

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&nbsp

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!

Lauren Lim

Hey friend, I’m Lauren! I’m a photography ninja here at Photography Concentrate. I’m downright obsessed with photography, and love sharing it with super cool folks like yourself. When I’m not shooting, or writing, you can find me cooking (and eating!), traveling, and hanging out with wonderful people.

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27 Comments // Leave a comment

  1. great post! Thanks so much for this. I don't shoot weddings yet but I have it in my mind now that if I do I will certainly attend the rehearsal! thank you.

  2. Good ideas! I like to go to the rehearsal as well. It's like the pep talk before the big game. It doesn't hurt to document some of it with the camera as well.
    If it's an outdoor wedding, it would be ideal to have the rehearsal at the same time and place as the real one.

  3. Such a good post! Thanks for bringing up some really important points!

  4. Great post guys! I always love attending the rehearsals for exactly these reasons. The last one I went to, one of the bridesmaids was totally shocked I showed up . She was all "wow that is so great you came-my photographer didnt care to show up at my rehearsal!". BAM!

  5. I've started attending them also. I find the couples treasure the photos of the rehearsal for the candid moments, and I have learned valuable information from them as well. Great tip!

  6. I'll be Devils advocate for a minute. Don't get me wrong, for some photographers attending the rehearsal can be great especially if they're not confident they can handle any situation but I don't think it's necessary for everyone. We have shot well over 100 weddings and don't attend rehearsals. We are able do develop great relationships with our couples in the time leading up to the wedding and with the families on the wedding day. This is especially true for out of town weddings where it's not practical to go to the rehearsal. Also, things don't even go necessarily as planned on the day. Light can change, people can do un-scripted things. Also, for some venues you may not be able to change anything about the location or flow even if you want to As Photographers we feel that we should be ready for absolutely everything and can walk into a room and judge what we need to do very quickly. Also, do you charge for that time? Either a la carte or rolled into the package? Obviously our opinion doesn't apply to everyone, but business can be successful and clients can fall in love with you even if you're not attending rehearsals. Just our two cents.

  7. *@Jennifer:* Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the post!

    *@Evan:* Good point. It would be super helpful to have the outdoor rehearsal at the same time!

    *@Nicole:* Thanks! The rehearsal definitely has more value than it may seem!

    *@John:* Thanks John! That's an awesome story. BAM indeed!!

    *@Danielle:* There is a ton to learn and absorb from rehearsals! Thanks!

    *@Haley & Michael:* Thanks for the comment guys! There are definitely instances (like out of town weddings) where the rehearsal just isn't practical.

    But I do think that, even if you're a well practiced shooter, there is a lot of value to be had in a rehearsal. Preparation and planning never hurts, especially on such a important day.

    There are many weddings where the first time you actually see the parents is in the middle of the ceremony. I've often arrived at the church with the bride and the parents are all seated. That's a critical time to get photos, and it would be quite difficult if I didn't already know who they were.

    You also can't ever know in advance which rehearsals are ones where the couple will need your help. We've often had church ceremonies where we were able to lend a hand organizing.

    All that said, you are of course right that a business can be successful even without going to rehearsals. There are no right or wrong answers! It all comes down to whether or not the photographer sees value in the rehearsal time.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

  8. I've participated in the rehearsal for every wedding I've shot except one, and that was a mistake. I paid for it the next day and won't make that mistake again as long as I can help it!

    • Thank you !! As the mother of the groom , I am forever devastated and extremely hurt and sad because of no photographer at our rehearsal . I can NEVER go back and get these pictures and beautiful “toasts” to and from the couple . I think the rehearsal gets overlooked sometimes and it’s THE biggest part for parents of the groom . I worked so hard on saving money for it and getting everything just right . It was so exciting for me and now I have nothing . No pictures or videos of the beautiful setting, toasts, family, nothing …

  9. Hey Adam! Thanks for the comment! I agree, you never know when the rehearsal you don't attend was a critical one!

  10. Angie Fraser says:

    I was just about to comment on your roll in our wedding ceremony and alas, you were talking about us!! To be honest, I wasn't sure why you wanted to come to the rehearsal, but thank goodness you were there to guide us in the right direction! We had no idea about the positioning of the light and certainly weren't thinking about that aspect of it. Not only did the photos end up coming out beautifully, but the entire ceremony set-up just made that much more sense and looked so much better than what we had imagined. When we look at the photos we still talk about how you guys being at the rehearsal was key to the success of our photos and ceremony as a whole. Thanks guys!

  11. :) Thank you so much for commenting Angie! So cool to hear about all this from the client's perspective!! We were so glad to be able to help you guys!!

  12. Wow! This post is so helpful. I have been photographing weddings for 10 years and never thought about attending rehearsal's until I read this. You have convinced me that I should! This is a great idea for strengthening relationships with the entire family as well as for getting to know the bridal party before the wedding. From now on, I will do my best to attend rehearsals when it's practical.

  13. Hey Danielle! I'm so happy that this was helpful! We had such a great experience doing it ourselves, I really hope it is useful for you! Thanks for commenting! :)

  14. Susan Matthews says:

    I agree that attending the rehearsal is not only good for checking lighting, meeting ppl, etc. It is just good business sense. It is likely that you are the last photographer that any of the attendants will remember & having established a good relationship will bring much more business your way!

  15. Diane Lundgren says:

    You wrote this post months ago, but I am just reading it today and thought I would add a story . . . I photographed a wedding back in September, but not as "the hired" photographer. I was hired by the Groom's mother (his parents were separated and she was almost considered an outcast – knowing there would be no photographs of her in her son's wedding, she actually hired me to shoot the rehearsal dinner, then ended up asking me to stay for the wedding). I was at the rehearsal of course, and proceeded to the dinner, establishing the most amazing relationships with not only the family, but very honored guests as well. Understand the family was from California, Washington, D.C. and Boston – the wedding took place in Cape Cod. The real photographer was hired by the Bride's father and once I was asked to stay for the wedding, professional courtesy meant working things out with the her and her second shooter before anything else happened.

    Because I had been at the rehearsal and shot it (more for my education than anything), then did a quick workflow on it that evening, I was so much better prepared for entrances and exits, as well as special things that were going on in the ceremony. Sadly, the hired photographer was not there and took all the positions I had taken the evening before – and they weren't good angles! My job was to stay out of her way – which worked absolutely phenomenally for me – it put me in all the right places at the right time. I was a hero! Not only did I get the best shots for the couple, I also delivered images in less than two weeks when it took the 'real' photographer 3 months before they saw any of the images – even teasers!

    I always go to rehearsals and echo your recommendation of attendance for all wedding photographers – even if they've done hundreds of weddings – every wedding and every couple is so different!

  16. How do you people have time to attend rehearsals? This is a joke right? We shoot weddings on Friday, Saturday and Sundays and in 2011 we shot 4 on Wednesdays and in 2012 we shot 2 on a Tuesday and Thursday. Now why would I want to attend a rehearsal for free? We have shot well over 1,000 weddings and to this day I have never had anything come up that was a surprise that we were not able to photograph. Why? We talk to our bride and grooms. My two cents is that I have a business and a life, and attending rehearsals for free cuts into my life. I am not in this business for fun or for art (been working pro since 1985) I am in it to make money, feed my family, and pay for my expensive toys. And I am not ashamed of that. Good luck and hope you think about the fact that wannabe photographers might be reading your post and believe everything you write.

    • Lauren Lim says:

      Hi Eric. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Nope, this article isn’t a joke :) Instead, it’s how we approached weddings. We didn’t shoot multiple weddings every week. Instead we would shoot just one per week, and worked hard to give our clients a LOT of personal attention. We might not have had a lot of volume, but because of our commitment to customer service above and beyond the standard we were able to charge a high premium. Included in this cost was the hour that attending rehearsal would require, so we didn’t attend them for “free” — rather it was calculated as part of the time we would spend on the entire experience (just like meetings and email correspondence).

      As mentioned in the article, part of the reason to attend is to give clients support and expertise. We definitely talked to our brides and grooms a TON, but if we would ask them how the light was in their ceremony location at the proper hour, they’d have no clue. We saw it as our job to make sure their photos were as fantastic as possible, and by attending the rehearsal we were ensuring that.

      That said, there are a million different ways to approach a wedding photography business, and this is simply our opinion. It will work for some people, and for others it just won’t be part of their strategy. I hope any photographer reading this article will think critically about our reasoning for attending rehearsals, and determine whether it will work for their business model. It’s not about “believing” us or not. It’s about considering all the options, and choosing what fits. We simply present one option, and our reasons for it.

      Thanks again for your comment!

  17. OK, so I’m really late to the show on the post but believe me we are never late to a rehearsal. We have attended every one since we started photographing weddings 6 years ago. Initially it was solely for us, so we could figure everything out; where we needed to be and all of that. Now we see it as a chance to build bridges with everyone. We talk with the officiate and ask those questions, we get to know Moms & Dads, siblings, children… sometimes this is the first time we have met them. We usually even get asked to the rehearsal dinner as guests which really helps with getting to know everyone. (Hint: study up on meal etiquette for fancier dinners). Our “glad we were there” story: We showed up at the location before the bride and groom to find the DJ had already set up his HUGE rig, speakers, lights, I mean everything right where they planned on preforming the ceremony. The bride was so upset that this would make her photos look like a rock show that she just started crying. After not being able to talk with the DJ things were getting even worse so we spoke up and said we had an idea. We called the studio and had them take down our 10×20 black backdrop, bring it and some clamps to us. We covered the front of the rig put some flowers in front and looked like super pros. Thanks for posting.

  18. I am even more late to the comments, but I have always tried to go to the rehearsal. At first it was because I was a newbie and had no idea what I was doing. After a while, though, I realized that it made everyone who was at the rehearsal much more comfortable with me during the actual wedding. The people in the rehearsal are usually the most important to the bride and groom, so it only makes sense to build relationships with them because they’re going to be in a lot of photographs. People relax more when they feel like, “Oh yeah, I know you.”

  19. I’ve been a second shooter on two weddings and shot one on my own. Of course, that was before I knew what I was doing. Me and my Canon Rebel. But the photos turned out well. Those were several years ago.

    I’d like to move into wedding photography. I primarily shoot in manual, but do you recommended AV for the cereomony? That’s what I’m nervous about.

    Also, how do break into that market when everyone has a digital camera. Is it worth undercutting price to get a body of work together? The three weddings I shot were three five years ago and my work is so much better. I don’t want to advertise with that.

  20. Thank you so much for this article! I am getting married in Oct 2016 and even though I researched, “What Questions to ask a Photographer,” none of them mentioned a rehearsal dinner. I’ll be sure to ask our potential photographer if he/she is willing/able to attend the rehearsal.

  21. Love your post so much because I found the great tips from this blog. I always love to read this kind of blog site. So please keep posting on this topic. Thanks for sharing with us.

  22. Love your post! Thank you so much!!!

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