Planning wedding means making a lot of big decisions. The dress, the venue, the cake and so on. All of these choices obviously will play a role in making your big day a memorable and enjoyable success. However, choosing the right wedding photographer not only impacts your wedding day, but also your wedding memories. Therefore, it’s crucial to choose a quality photographer who will preserve this very special occasion for years to come.

To help you do just that, we spoke with photographer Judy Garrison, who, with her husband Len, documents weddings as part of their business, Seeing Southern Photography in Farmington, Ga. Garrison shared the tips and information she wants every couple to know when choosing a wedding photographer and planning out the photography for their big day.

Lori Allen: How far in advance should couples book their wedding photographer?

Judy Garrison: In almost every case, the venue and the photographer are the two certainties of each bride. They know they want to be married at a certain location, with a certain photographer capturing the day. As soon as you become engaged and begin planning, book the venue and the photographer. At best, a year out. Currently, brides are booking for 2018. If you want a spring or fall wedding in Georgia in 2018, you should have it booked by now. Next priority, the dress. Then everything else will fall into place.

LA: What qualities should couples look for in their wedding photographer?

JG: First priority is the style. If you want classic, posed shots only, find one that specializes in this. If you want images that are fine art, choose one who specializes in fine art photography. If you want to document the moments of the day, more photojournalistic, choose a photographer who is less on the posed side and dominant on the day itself.

Also, it’s so much more than the final product; it’s the experience. It is important that you feel comfortable with the photographer, for you will be spending an entire year in communication and planning. Actually like the person. Be comfortable with him or her. Laugh with him or her. Understand why they do what they do, and this will tell you what kind of images they will capture.

Plus, always hire a photographer that provides a second shooter. Also, hire a photographer that is organized and has everything planned before the wedding day. We never ask a bride a question during her day. We have completed all the planning and timeline (with her and the coordinator) two months prior to the wedding. We have been to the venue. We have scouted locations for all photography and know the best spots based on the time of day, background and lighting conditions. We have a back-up plan, too.

wedding couple kissingLA: How much time should couples allot for pre-ceremony and post-ceremony photos?

JG: Ideally, two hours prior to the ceremony with specific times allotted for each (bride, 15+ minutes alone; groom, 15+ minutes alone; bridal party with bride, 20+ minutes; groomsmen with groom, 20+ minutes). Want a first look? Add an additional 20 minutes. Of course, the time is dependent upon number in bridal party, moving from one location to the next, set-up, and the willingness of the bridal party to follow instructions.

We also believe it is imperative for alone time with the bride (especially) and groom. Getting each away from the fray, giving them a chance to calm and breathe makes images (and the process) enjoyable.

LA: When it comes to wedding photography, what are your top “do’s and don’ts” for couples?

JG: Work with the photographer to set up a timeline. If you have a coordinator, make sure to include the photographer in the planning. If you don’t have a coordinator, a good photographer should have examples of timelines ready to send to help you.

Request that your guests refrain from taking photos (iPhone, cameras, etc.) during the ceremony. It’s terrible when you have the perfect shot, and it’s full of iPhones. Afterward, click away!

little boy looking at trinketTrust your photographer about location and lighting. Listen to their instructions. And if you’re really tired of taking photos following the ceremony, hang in there. I promise, it will be worth it.

Relax and enjoy yourself. Let the love shine. The camera will find it.

LA: What do you wish every bride and groom knew regarding their wedding photographer and photos?

JG: The photography – these images and prints – is an heirloom, not just one day. It will be your history, your family’s history, and will be passed down through generations. It is important that these images NOT live on your computer but be printed and shared in your home with your children, your family and your friends. So that one day, when memory has faded, you simply look on the wall or reach for an album or look inside a photo box, and you’re back to your wedding day experiencing that first dance or watching your daddy cry. Everyone should exist in photos. This is our goal as photographers – to curate and document this one day so it will last several lifetimes.