lisa kathan photography
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you deserve amazing wedding photos...

That’s exactly why I’ve put together this wedding guide! We’ll cover everything from getting ready locations to family portraits to reception lighting so you can feel confident that you’re setting me, your photographer, up for success. So grab a cup of coffee (or glass of wine!) and let’s dig in together.


 
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Getting ready photos are easily some of my favorite moments of elopement and wedding days. There’s so much sweet anticipation in the air and I’ve captured some of the most beautiful moments in those hours long before guests arrive!

However, these moments can be easily be overshadowed by an overly cluttered bridal suite and not-so-ideal lighting conditions. Here’s a few things to consider when choosing a location and prepping for my arrival on your wedding day!

Pick a location that’s full of light and space.

If you’re getting ready in a hotel room, try to book a corner room or a room with light-colored walls, bedding, etc. A corner room or a suite will also have more space for photographing your gown, etc. We won’t use any lamps or overhead lights during photography, so check out how the room looks with no lights on, and the curtains wide open.

less is more.

Keep the numbers down, as far as people in the prep suite go. Also, a little background music and some champagne, as well as a sense of humor, help to disarm the awkwardness of being photographed, as well as any other tension in the room.

Clean up the clutter!

Have your bridal party spend time cleaning up the main space before we arrive. This includes all dress bags, shoe boxes and any other garbage and personal items. Put suitcases under the beds and in closets. And don’t forget to make the bed! This goes for both the bride’s and the groom’s getting ready areas.  

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 Have your details ready.

Set aside everything that you’d like photographed. This includes items such as:

  • Both wedding bands and engagement ring
  • Bride’s bouquet, groom’s boutonniere
  • Bride’s shoes
  • Groom’s watch and cuff links
  • Invitation suite (a clean copy of your entire wedding invitation)
  • Hanger for the wedding gown
  • Anything else special you want photographed in detail

It’s totally up to you if you want any of these items photographed. But if you do, please have the items set aside in a bag or box so we can begin photographing them as soon as we arrive.

 

Be fully ready by our scheduled arrival time.

Bride this includes hair, makeup, and undergarments. You should be ready to simply slip on your gown, your shoes and jewelry.

Groom: be dressed with pants and shirt when we arrive. We can photograph you putting on your tie, cufflinks, jewelry, jacket. Remove wallets and cell phones from your pants pockets.

The pre-ceremony photos…

In general, we'll be photographing your time as you finish getting ready (not actually getting dressed!). We’ll be capturing moments like when the bride puts on her jewelry, the groomsmen toast the groom, the bridesmaids help the bride with her dress, the couple reads notes they wrote to one another. For the most part, the getting ready photos will have a documentary feel, so as much as you can, relax and enjoy your final moments getting ready! 

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The first thing I want to make clear is that I want you to do what you want to do when it comes to seeing your partner before the ceremony. Don't feel pressured to do a first look because you think it means you will have better photos, or to not do a first look because you feel like you have to follow tradition. First look or not, do whatever you truly want.

Having a first look with your partner is such a special moment that you get to share together in private before the ceremony. Couples frequently mention that they loved getting to have a moment alone to just enjoy each other and calm each other down. I try to keep my distance during this time by shooting with a more "zoomed in" lens in order to give you space to enjoy the moment without a camera in your face. The first look often results in some of the most emotional photos of the day.

If you decide you don't want to do a first look with your partner, some couples have opted to exchange letters and read them alone. This option gives you the chance to still have an emotional moment alone, away from everyone else, while preserving your "walking down the aisle" moment.


 
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I  love to capture candid moments and the emotions around them. Rest assured that I'll get many of those kinds of photos of you and your guests, but there is also something to be said for getting a few formal photos with your family. 

But standing with a smile plastered to your face for too long gets exhausting! Therefore, I suggest couples limit their posed family photos to immediate family (parents, grandparents, children, siblings and their families). This way we can knock the family photos out rather quickly, and do other friends/group shots and extended family during the cocktail hour and reception.

About 6 weeks before the wedding I will send you a questionnaire where I will ask you for a list of all the family members you want photographed, so keep an eye out for that!

 

If you choose to do a first look I typically do the photos with your family and wedding party one hour before the ceremony starts and finish thirty minutes before the ceremony starts so you can be out of sight before guests arrive.

If you do not do a first look, then I will do these photos in the hour right after the ceremony (family photos first, then wedding party if you have one).

When it comes to group photos, having a clean, simple background is best. If you're getting married in a gorgeous location with a stunning backdrop, please keep in mind family and wedding party photos might be done in front of a grove of trees or against a clean, simple background instead. While I realize you chose your venue for the backdrop and location (and trust me.. we'll get plenty of photos there!), having soft, even light with a clean background is most important for beautiful family photos!

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You’ve spent hours planning your dream ceremony overlooking the city of Chicago or in a lush forest. However, you realize during the wedding the midday sun caused you to squint the entire time and your photos from your ceremony come back with harsh shadows streaming across your faces.

Many couples spend time thinking about the beauty of the backdrop of their ceremony, but really the light will play the biggest role in how your photos turn out!

Sunset is best: With few exceptions, I plan portrait sessions and bride and groom photos right before sunset because the lighting is most beautiful that time of day! It’s softer, golden and straight up gorgeous. That same light is just as important for your outdoor ceremony. I recommend doing outdoor ceremonies about THREE HOURS prior to sunset (TWO hours if you're having a first look) allowing time for bride + groom photos as well as potential delays + timeline emergencies.

Backlight: This is especially important if you must have a middle of day ceremony. This means setting up your ceremony so the sun is behind you, your fiance, and your officiant, and your guests are facing the sun. Straight up midday sun is not recommended for your outdoor ceremonies, because the light will be overhead and very strong and shadowy. Talk to me about a good time to schedule your ceremony if you must have it during the middle of the day.

If your ceremony is in the afternoon or close to sunset, your guests should be facing West (towards the sunset). For morning ceremonies, your guests should be facing East (towards the sunrise).

Indoor ceremonies: If your wedding is indoors, the same principal applies. Even though the direction of the sun isn't important, if you want to have a natural light ceremony, you should schedule enough time for natural light to fill your ceremony space. This means you should schedule your ceremony at least THREE hours before the sun sets (TWO hours if you do a first look).

 
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help your guests be present for your ceremony

I strongly encourage you to consider having an unplugged ceremony. This simply means that guests are encouraged (either with an announcement from the officiant, a sign, or a note in the program) to refrain from using their phones and cameras during the ceremony.

Not only is it important for your guests to be in the moment and fully present during this special moment, but it also allows me to do my job to the best of my ability. When guests are taking photos during the ceremony they may unintentionally interfere with my ability to take photographs of your ceremony. Having an unplugged ceremony allows your guests to be fully attentive and for you to have the best photos possible.

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Bar none, these are my favorite moments of the day, and why I love weddings so much! The moments you share on the day you become husband and wife are some of the sweetest memories of your day, that will be there for the rest for lives. They’ll be on your walls, in your heirloom album, and the pictures your children and grandchildren will look at one day. You're probably not going to hang a photo of your wedding cake on the wall, but the look you give one another when you are alone on this magical day will stay with you a lifetime. 

I like to plan for 60 minutes for photos. But the more time you give me for bride and groom photos, the better your photos will be and the more you’ll receive!

Post-ceremony: While most couples do a first look prior to the ceremony, we don’t do couple’s photos until after the ceremony. Not only because of the light later in the day, but because you are SO much more relaxed! There’s a lot of nerves building up to the ceremony, and once it’s over, not only are you MARRIED, but you’re in a giddy, I-can’t-believe-I-just married-you, love bubble of joy and it makes for some amazing moments!

Just the two of you, please! While mom, dad, and every other guest is so excited to spend time with you after the ceremony, I ask that the time during your portraits is just between us. Not only can guests watching be a distraction, but it often takes away from those sweet moments you’ll share after you say I do!


 
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I shoot using natural light as much as possible (with exception to dancing/party photos)! This means instead of me setting up artificial lighting during your reception, I’d prefer using the available light already in the space. I do this not only so the photos look more natural, but also because I strive to capture every part of your day not only by the way it looks, but also how it feels.

If you’re having an outdoor reception with beautifully strung lights through the trees and candles everywhere, you want to remember how your reception felt and the mood of the evening. I believe using flash detracts from that so I recommend providing enough light so I can capture your reception naturally!

As a side note, I'm 100% comfortable using flash at your reception if the need arises! While I prefer to shoot without it to preserve the feel and vibe of your evening, I always have my lighting with me just in case. 

Also, please feed your photographer! When wedding days are longer than 5 hours, or during the dinner hour, we ask that you feed us the same meal you are serving to your guests. Besides getting straight up hangry, a malnourished photographer is not a creative one! I usually plan to eat while you guys are both eating so your guests can relax and not worry about us photographing them during mid-bite.


 
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some private time at the end of the day

This is how it works...I grab you a few minutes before sunset, and we go outdoors and get some quick photos of you. It's a great way to end the story of your day (even if the reception continues!), and it also gives you two a chance to get away from the crowds and spend a few minutes alone.

Most couples really love the chance to get away from the crowd for a few minutes (especially the introverts!). And even if there is no sunset that day, we can find a few minutes to escape to a private place for a bit.


 
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After photographing and coordinating as many weddings as I have, I have a pretty good idea of how much time I’ll need to cover different aspects of your day. This may vary with your specific plans, but while putting together your timeline, here’s how much time I’ll typically need for photos:

Pre-wedding: 90 minutes

First look: 20 minutes

Family: 30 minutes

Wedding party: 30 minutes

Couple photos: 60+ minutes

To give you a better idea of what that looks like, I’ve put together a sample timeline based on beautiful light for photos! I’ve also noted the sunset time so you’re able to see how the sunset plays a leading role in the timeline and the rest falls into place around it.

 

SAMPLE TIMELINE - WITH A FIRST LOOK

2:00 Pre-wedding

3:30 First look

3:50 Wedding Party

4:20 Family Photos

5:00 Ceremony

6:00 Couple photos during cocktail hour

7:00  Sunset/dinner

SAMPLE TIMELINE - WITHOUT A FIRST LOOK

2:00 Pre-wedding

3:30 Ceremony

4:30 Family photos

5:00 Wedding party

6:00 Couple photos during cocktail hour

7:00  Sunset/dinner

 

 

If you have any questions while putting together your timeline, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’d love to help you plan out your day to allow for beautiful photos!


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You seem like you have a lot of thoughts about the timeline. Is it okay if we make our own suggestions? 

TOTALLY. I know all this information is a lot, but I have your best interest at heart! I understand that not every wedding day is the same and there’s different considerations depending on various factors. However, based on my experience, these tips will allow for adequate timing for your wedding day and have your best interest in mind when it comes to beautiful lighting for your wedding day photography.

I’m still not sure I see the point of a first look. Any advice?

I totally get it. We did not do a first look when Erich and I were married, and I definitely wish we had. For my personality, seeing him would have calmed my nerves, and we would have gotten more photos together. Also, I spent the entire cocktail hour doing family and wedding party photos, and missed all the wonderful time with our guests (as well as all the amazing food we picked out for them...I heard it was good, tho!). I’d encourage you to go back and look through the reasons why I believe doing a first look is important. But please remember that when it comes down to it, it’s YOUR decision and if you’ve always pictured the moment he first sees you is as you’re walking down the aisle, let’s do it that way.

Our outdoor reception is planned for as the sun is setting, but we don’t want a first look. Is that going to be a problem?

It most definitely will!  Without a first look, we still need 30 minutes for family photos, 30 minutes for bridal party photos and 60 minutes for bride and groom photos before the sun sets and we lose our light. I’d definitely recommend either doing a first look before your ceremony, or bumping up your ceremony time to 3 hours prior to sunset so we can fit all your photos in after the ceremony.

I noticed you didn’t mention much about grand entrances, dances, cake cutting and bouquet and garter tosses. How come? 

I see you were paying attention! Many of my clients choose to ditch some of these older traditions to focus on spending more time with their guests during the reception! While I love that most of my clients are laid back and focused on spending time with family and friends over traditions, I’m 100% down for capturing these elements of your reception if they’re important to you.

Do you have a sample Simply Wed timeline?

I don’t, because elopement and tiny wedding days are so simple and relaxed. However, I typically spend the same time on getting ready photos, then the rest of the time is spent on the ceremony and getting amazing bride and groom photos wherever you decided to elope!