After many years photographing weddings in every type of wedding venue imaginable I started thinking about some of my favorite venues to photograph in and ones that are really challenging to work in. The challenging ones have many different reasons that make them challenging and are not necessarily reasons to completely take them off someone’s list of choices, but knowing what the obstacles are beforehand would help facilitate an easier day on both the photographer and possibly even your guests! This post is going to be about some of the criteria I would use for choosing a wedding venue (as a photographer) as if I was choosing it for my own wedding… it’s some of the things I looked for in a venue when I was planning my own wedding more than 10 years ago because well, photography was my number one priority after marrying my husband! Hope these tips help!
1.) Picturesque Views – Colorado is full of amazing venues with equally amazing views… the better the view, the higher the price the venue commands (most of the time). Most couples want something in the mountains, but there are also a lot of venues in the Front Range that have mountains in the background as well. If you can’t afford a venue with a view then finding a park near the venue with some great photo opportunities is also another way you can still get beautiful photos with lovely scenery. We plan a lot of park visits in between the ceremony and reception especially if couples are getting married in a church, but still want beautiful outdoor photos.
2.) A Lot of Available Natural Light – Now there’s nothing wrong with having a church basement reception. I’ve covered a lot of events in some of the most plain establishments ever designed. A great photographer can use angles and lighting to make even the drabbest areas more interesting and there’s a lot to be said about decorating. But I’m talking to all of those people looking to have the most amazing photos ever! Lots of window light with beautiful views makes it so the photographer doesn’t have to use a lot of additional lighting unless he/she wants to. It also makes your event feel more airy and romantic. The key to this though is to not choose a space that is really dark inside with a lot of bright light pouring in, particularly behind the head table so that all of the wedding party is back-lit because even with a ton of fill-flash the area behind the people will still be very bright. Look for light and airy spaces for the best photos!
3.) Lots of Ample and Available Parking or a Solution to a Venue without a Lot of Parking – This year was really a difficult year for me with parking and at more than one event! The one that stands out the most is the one I’m about to describe… I showed up to a high-end resort for preparation photos and because there was a festival going on there was no parking to be had anywhere! The hotel was not going to let me valet my vehicle even for an hour. I had to call the bride and get her involved… trust me a call to the front desk from a bride who was paying a ton of cash to stay at the facility got me a parking space pronto! Magically, they were able to find space for my vehicle, but again not without a lot of stress and having to bring the bride into the situation. This was one of those almost not foreseen circumstances that I hadn’t ever encountered in 17 years of covering weddings. However, with a little foresight it is something that could of been addressed before the big day. Check with the place that you are staying at or having your event at to make sure that there will be parking available for all of your guests beforehand. If they only provide parking for registered guests make sure that you pay or arrange for parking for your vendors because you don’t want them to be running late due to having to find a place to park.
4.) Large vs. Small Venues, Reasons to Consider a Second Photographer – Weddings can even be held in stadiums now! For a baseball enthusiast getting married at Coors Field is amazing, but it to is not without it’s challenges. I found this out the hard way years ago when I covered my first event there. When the bride and groom are getting ready they put each person on opposite sides of the stadium! Do you know how large that venue is?! Also because of security concerns they will not allow you to walk anywhere in the stadium without an escort. I spent needless amount of time looking for my escort (who kept leaving) to walk me back and forth between the getting ready areas as well as the amount of time it took to walk back and forth between the areas (time that I could’ve used taking more photos). I now know… don’t book a wedding there unless a 2nd cameraman is hired so one can be with the bride and the other with the groom. When choosing a venue think about how close the separate getting ready areas are to each other. Perhaps you will be getting ready at a hotel and then traveling to the venue. Would it be more economical to go with a venue that provides both rooms on site near each other or would it be better to hire a company that provides two photographers so things don’t get missed?
5.) Consider How Well the Venue will Work for Inclement Weather – I’ve had previous posts on how to deal with bad weather, but this one has to do with choosing a venue that will facilitate Amazing Photos in any type of weather. Look for venues that also have great areas indoors for photography too. A nice fireplace or staircase to take your family photos in front of due to a storm is a great back-up plan. Does the venue have a place to hold a ceremony indoors should you need it? Crossing your fingers and hoping for a Sunny day is not really a good plan unless you are ok with having a drenched cake and guests.
6.) Pay special attention to the lighting. If a venue is too dark, it can make it tricky for your photographer to capture all of the details that you worked so hard to plan. While a great photographer still has ways to work around this, your photos will still look a lot darker if the walls and ceilings are all cherry wood as opposed to walls painted white. I’ve been in churches that won’t allow any flash photography during the ceremony and then their hall is super dark without additional lighting. Modern cameras can take better photos in low light situations, but you won’t be able to see much of your background in the absence of light and it’s something to consider. I also recently took photos at a wedding that was held outdoors after dark. The only thing the couple lit was the gazebo they were getting married under. While it was different and really dynamic, it was very difficult for photography. We had to add video lights on either side of the couple so we could see their faces to focus as well as use a handheld light to light them coming down the aisle. And no amount of light that we added would show off a completely dark background. I’m sure the couple thought it was an amazing idea, but didn’t consider that every single photo taken would have to be with flash photography or that we would have to add lights to even be able to see them!
7.) Ask if you’ll have exclusive use of the venue. It’s important to know how many functions they’ll have going on at once and how much interaction there will be between your guests and theirs (if any). The privacy factor differs for every space; some venues may offer separate restrooms and parking areas for guests from different events, while others have the rooms set close together, so you might hear the other party’s music pumping from down the hall. Will you have to compete with the other events for the most picturesque areas to do photographs? If you’re getting married outdoors in a public space, such as a park or beach, be aware that strangers may stop to give you their good wishes or find their way into the background of your wedding photos.
8.) Time Allowed for Your Wedding – Venue packages widely vary and so do overtime fees. Some venues will let you party to the wee early morning hours, while others are in neighborhoods with noise restrictions and have to be shut down promptly by 9pm. Nothing is worse than having a kicking party going on and then having the owner of the venue shut down your dance party because it’s too loud! (Sadly, I’ve seen this on more than one occasion) If you are looking to have an awesome dance party it’s good to know the venue’s policy before signing the contract. Also if overtime is allowed what their fees are. If your event starts to run behind because of some unforeseen circumstance, will the venue charge you a lot more fees and will the other vendors as well. Because every extra minute that a clean-up crew has to wait before they can start on their duties they are still getting paid by their employer.
9.) Does the venue Restrict Where You Can Take Photos At? – What if you choose a beautiful country club with many gorgeous views with plans to walk out on to the course to take some photos and then the day of the event find out that you and your guests are suppose to stay in the area you rented and are not allowed to go out on to the course what so ever. Most venues would be up-front with their restrictions before you sign the contract, but it never hurts to ask ahead of time. Maybe you saw a really neat barn and silo next to the club and assumed it could be used for photos as well, but come to find out it is not on the venue’s property. Find out if you can contact the other owner for special permission to take photos on their property. Don’t just assume that you can or plan on getting a trespassing ticket. Also churches may have restrictions on where a photographer can be during the ceremony, some just forbid a photographer from going on the alter area during the ceremony while a few will only let the photographer take photos from the back of the church without a flash! Asking questions about restrictions will help you quickly weed out venues that don’t work with your vision.
10.) If You Have a Photographer in Mind Before You Choose Your Venue Ask Them What Their Favorite Venues to Work At Are. If they’ve been working for a number of years then I’m sure they have a short list of venues that are awesome to work with. Maybe they have a lot of great spots to take formal photos at, or they know how easy the staff is to work with or can give you lots of tips and hints about their faves and maybe they can even steer you away from venues that won’t fit your vision or better yet can suggest ones that they know will come out under your budget!
11.) Finally, Be sure to go to the venue, especially for outdoor weddings, at the time and around the date you plan to get married. You will want to see how the sun shines during different times of the day to avoid you, your fiancé, and your guests having to stare directly at the sun. Squinting eyes don’t make for the best wedding photos! You may have picked a venue because of it’s beautiful views, but if you choose a time of year when the patio that you are holding your ceremony on has absolutely no sun and the background is very bright the photographer is going to have to choose whether or not to expose for their subjects (which is you) or the background. I’m guessing they will want you to be visible in the photos so they are going to choose exposing for the subjects and let the background go white thus eliminating the mountain backdrop in most of your photos that you worked so hard to find. If you don’t know a lot about photography then arrange for a walk thru at your venue with your photographer even if it costs a little extra so you can avoid potential pitfalls before the big day!