Most couples planning weddings have images in their minds of what they'll experience on their wedding day. These are ideas compiled from personal tastes and interests, what the couple has experienced at friends' weddings, and what they've seen in magazines and movies. Regardless of what that image is, the day will be a whirlwind and fleeting, over in the blink of an eye. (Just please don't literally blink in photos!)
One of my favorite parts about being a wedding photographer is that I get to provide images to remind the couple of the essence of their wedding day and even show them parts of it they didn't know about - the way the bride's parents danced in the corner of the room, eyes closed in a tender moment at the end of the night.
Memories fade. Photographs keep those memories alive. That's why as much as photography is not front and center for many couples planning a wedding, how the day will show up in the photos is so very important.
Here are some tips I'd recommend couples keep in mind when considering wedding venues for their big day - for both the ceremony and reception.
1. Light matters
Just as you love the way you look under soft light in your bathroom mirror at home and are horrified to see yourself under florescent store lights, good light is a photographer's best friend, and bad light is a photographer's arch nemesis.
Consider: if you want "getting ready" photographs, does the venue have a well-lit (preferably beautiful, bright windows for natural light) space for you? If you have multiple options for a ceremony site, which is best lit? What about sunlight? I've shot outdoor weddings where the sun was sitting literally behind the bride and the groom leaving all guests and the photos angled right into the sun, which isn't comfortable for anyone.
Ask your photographer: you're not an expert in light but your photographer should be - ask for his/her input on how to best work with the situation at your venue. For example when you're picking a wedding ceremony time, moving it back just 15 or 30 minutes can make a world of difference for lighting!
Horror story: One wedding I did a few years ago had a small changing room in a storage barn for the bride and bridesmaids to get ready. It was in the summer and hot with no air conditioning and the windows sealed shut. There was one window in the changing space with a bright red curtain, which couldn't be pulled aside without impacting the bride's privacy from arriving guests. The entire hot, small space had a red hue to the light from the curtain. (Hint: not many people look great under red light!)
2. Size matters
For getting-ready shots, will 10 ladies be crammed in a room that would comfortably fit 5? Will 2 of you be piled on top of each other in a tiny bathroom to get hair and make-up done? Having room to move and spread out is so important for your comfort as well as the ability to capture the detailed moments while getting ready.
For the ceremony, churches are usually nicely set-up with permanent pews, but I find that other venues can run the risk of not having the right seating set-up. If the front row of seats are nearly on top of the wedding party as they stand up front, there is no room for the photographers to get those up-close shots you'll treasure later. Particularly for outdoor weddings, there's no need to do this - spread out and enjoy the outside space!
For the reception, consider separate spaces for different parts of the evening. Consider, too, any particular elements you want photographed. If you're doing a wedding cake cutting, you'll have better photographs if don't cram the cake table in a corner.
Ask your photographer: I highly recommend that all couples meet with their photographer on-site prior to the wedding to talk about their vision for the day and the flow. This is great opportunity to identify potential concerns with the space so that you can jointly come up with solutions as well as to get your photographer's input on spaces, where decisions can be made (like where to place the cake table).