Pre-Ceremony Wedding Photography

There’s a lot going on at a wedding before the ceremony even begins and you have plenty of photo opportunities to capture touching and wonderful moments. They could be photos of everyone getting ready, the arrival of the wedding guests, or the wedding dress itself. If you’re getting started with wedding photography, we’ll show you how to make sure you keep moving all morning long. 

When does the wedding really begin?

Sometimes the wedding preparations begin in the wee morning hours. It’s up to you if you agree to meet up as soon as the bride gets up or only during the last hour or so of the pre-ceremony preparations. The bride getting ready is often the longest and most involved part of the day. The bride is often up before dawn and together with her bridesmaids, the long beautification process begins. If you are going to be a part of the bride’s preparations, remember that in addition to being the photographer, you should also be a good observer and part of the group. The bride will be nervous and is often running behind. It’s great if you’re able to support her, crack a joke or two, hold the curling iron, pass the mascara, and let her know that everything will be alright.  

Pre-Ceremony Wedding Photography
Nikon D750, Nikkor 50mm 1.4, 1/100s, F1.8, ISO 400, 50mm. A perfect example of the happy bride, who may be losing it just a bit right before the ceremony begins.

Taking pictures of the bride getting ready is easy and rewarding. Some ideas for things to photograph are: 

  • The bride in front of the mirror – The bride is getting her makeup done and the reflection of the bride in the mirror is one of the many popular angles that borders on artistic.
Pre-Ceremony Wedding Photography
Nikon D750, Nikkor 105mm, 1/4000s, F2.8, ISO 200, 105mm. A broken mirror adds another dimension.
  • Putting on her jewelry – the earrings or the necklace. Often the mother of the bride or maid of honor put the necklace on for the bride. You and the bride will definitely want shots of putting the jewelry on. 
Pre-Ceremony Wedding Photography
Nikon D750, Nikkor 50mm 1.4, 1/160s, F2.5, ISO 400, 50mm. The maid of honor putting on the bride’s necklace.
  • Fastening the wedding dress and putting on the veil make for great pictures, but make sure the bride is not overly exposed. For one thing, she may not even let you near her with a camera, and for another, you don’t know if she wants pictures that are so revealing. Unless you agree otherwise, keep the photos in good taste.
Pre-Ceremony Wedding Photography
Nikon Z6II, Nikkor 50mm 1.4, 1/1600s, F2.8, ISO 100, 50mm. The final detail – the veil. It’s almost time.
  • Bridesmaids are everywhere. In addition to the bride, the bridesmaids are getting ready too, helping one another, and you’ll want a picture of them before the wedding too. 

If you feel that you have enough getting-ready photos, it’s time to grab the wedding dress.

The wedding dress

Photos of the wedding dress are popular, but as soon as you take the dress in your hands, you take on a big responsibility. Remember that the dress you’re holding probably cost as much as your camera. It’s one of the most important things in the entire wedding. If you happen to rip it, get it dirty, or ruin it in any way, you may have just ruined the entire wedding in the eyes of the bride. 

Pre-Ceremony Wedding Photography
Nikon D750, Nikkor 105 mm, 1/640s, F2.8, ISO 100, 105mm. Dress hanging from a tree.

Handle the dress with extreme care and feel free to “borrow” a bridesmaid to help you. 

Put the dress in a place where it can shine! Some popular places include hanging from a tree, barn house doors, on the window, on the door, mirror, on the bed, among other places. Be sure to take the dress with the hanger so you have the option to hang it. Then,  photograph other wedding accessories such as the shoes or garter.  

Pre-Ceremony Wedding Photography
Nikon D750, Nikkor 50mm 1.4, 1/3200s, F2.8, ISO 200, 50mm Very carefully laid out wedding dress which the bridesmaids kept everyone away from until I was able to finish getting the photos

What about the groom?

Sometimes it’s a challenge to get the timing right to fit in both the bride and groom. In general, we suggest starting with the bride. The groom needs less time to prep so it’s a good idea to have him wait for you if needed. You definitely don’t want to miss him putting on his tie or bow tie. Even putting on his jacket is a nice moment. While the bridesmaids are running around the bride, you’ll often find the groom with his groomsmen and best man. A nice moment is when the groomsmen and groom have a drink, often part of the preparations, or right before the ceremony for “liquid courage.” Even the groom can get extremely nervous before the ceremony and it’s a good idea to behave respectfully and not make jokes about him losing his freedom and how things are going to be bad from now on. They won’t. He clearly wants to marry his fiancé.  

Pre-Ceremony Wedding Photography
Nikon Z6II, Nikkor 50mm 1.4, 1/40s, F2.8, ISO 800, 50mm Putting on the jacket, which is nicely in motion thanks to the time it takes, making the entire shot more dynamic


You have a good chance of finding and photographing the wedding bands with the groom. You need to play around with them a bit, just be sure not to lose them. Shoot wide open, so both are sharp enough, but try more artistic shots where the foreground is sharp and you get a bokeh background. 

Pre-Ceremony Wedding Photography
Nikon Z6II, Sigma Art 35mm 1.4, 1/1000s, F2.8, ISO 100, 35mm. You can’t go wrong shooting the wedding bands from above.

The arrival of the wedding guests

The guests will be arriving throughout the pre-ceremony preparations, so there are plenty of photo opportunities. There will be a lot of greeting and hugging. The wedding guests are family and friends that have not seen each other for a long time and are happy to see each other, and that’s exactly what you want to capture. The getting-ready photos will take some time, but there is still plenty of time left over. Check out how the arrival of the guests is going and try to get some of the happy reunions, kissing, and hugging.  

Pre-Ceremony Wedding Photography
Nikon Z6II, Nikkor 50mm 1.4, 1/1250s, F2.8, ISO 200, 50mm.  The mother of the bride greeting her sister.

Wedding decorations

Before the ceremony, you have a special opportunity to get pictures of the pre-wedding atmosphere and decorations. Decorations often take a lot of work, time, and energy, not to mention, money. It’s a good idea to get photos of everything as a keepsake. Try getting pictures of the flowers, whether it’s the bride’s bouquet, floral centerpieces, maid of honor’s bouquet, or other floral arrangements. 

Pre-Ceremony Wedding Photography
Nikon Z6II, Sigma Art 35mm 1.4, 1/1600s, F2.8, ISO 100, 35mm.  The reception venue all ready to go.

Get pictures of all the little details that someone went through the trouble to make. For instance, find the wedding or reception signs that have arrows and help direct wedding guests to the right place. Get photos of the building where the wedding is taking place. 

In closing

The ceremony hasn’t even started and you already have the first of several thousand photos. You definitely won’t be bored. Just remember that the beginning of the wedding day is very hectic and be careful that you aren’t in anyone’s way, don’t distract anyone, and don’t move or damage anything. If they can’t find the wedding bands right before the ceremony because you moved them, you’re in trouble. Be quick on your feet, but be careful too.  

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AuthorZdenka Povolen

I haven’t been a photographer for long, but I certainly love taking photos. I like creating atmosphere in my photographs and adding emotion. I think it’s important that a photo has substance. I predominantly photograph people, often in costumes, sometimes nudes, and photographic storytelling series. I value effective communication and a pleasant atmosphere in my photoshoot. I like to use practical effects such as smoke, fire, sparks, light, or movement of cloth and fabric. I know that I still have a lot to learn, but that will come with 20 years of experience under my belt. I believe in lifelong self-improvement.

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