Wedding Planning

Wedding Photography Terms You Should Know

June 11, 2024

Wedding Photography Terms


Wedding photography terms can be confusing. From first looks to flat lay photos, there are a variety of industry terms couples (understandably!) do not know.

In today’s post, we’re reviewing some of the wedding photography terms couples should know. Knowing these terms and what they mean for your wedding helps create the right experience for you.

Wedding Photography Terms

Wedding Photography First Look
Wedding Photography: Molly Carr

What is a first look?

Traditionally in American weddings, the couple would see each other for the first time at the wedding ceremony. A first look is an alternative where the couple sees each other earlier in the day, privately. Both options are doable for a wedding day, and the choice mainly comes down to personal preference.

If you wait to see each other at the wedding ceremony, you have the emotion of experiencing that moment and a sense of tradition.

Wedding professionals often recommend a first look because it has several logistic benefits. Having a first look speeds up your wedding day photography timeline, giving you more time for couple’s portraits together before the wedding. This creates a more relaxed, unrushed environment for the couple.

It also allows other types of photos to happen earlier that would normally have to wait until after the ceremony: wedding party photos and family photos.

This schedule creates a more relaxed environment, and also allows the couple to attend and enjoy their cocktail hour. In the traditional timeline, the couple is typically taking couple’s portraits, wedding party photos, and family photos during the cocktail hour. As you can imagine, this is much more rushed in a short timeframe, and the couple and their nearest and dearest miss most (if not all) of the cocktail hour.

For these reasons, first looks are a popular choice for additional breathing room in your timeline. I also personally find that first looks have all the emotion of the traditional route– it’s just a private experience between the couple and not in front of guests.

If you have questions, work with your wedding planner and photographer to evaluate your wedding day timeline to work through the pros and cons for your specific situation.

Wedding Photography Flat Lay
Wedding Photography: Molly Carr

What is a flat lay?

A flat lay is a photo of the details of your wedding day laid flat for an editorial-style photo. Photographers use these photos capture the intricacies of your wedding day, like your invitation suite, bride and groom accessories, wedding rings, and more.

I love flat lay photos and the detail they can capture of elements of your wedding day you spent so much time and energy curating. For example, in the flat lay above the photographer, Molly Carr, beautifully captured the details of this couple’s invitation suite. The stunning torn edges of handmade paper, the classic gold ink calligraphy, the château-inspired toile envelope liner, and the detailed illustration of their wedding venue is captured in intricate detail for their wedding gallery.

Your photographer will have suggestions of items to include. I recommend ordering a few extra invitation suites for personal keepsakes as well as one or two sets for your photographer to photograph in detail on the wedding day.

Many couples forget to plan for the background of these photos. Ask your photographer what flat lay mats they have available, and compare to your wedding invitation suite to see how the colors will look together.

If you’ll have pretty table linens in a color or pattern on your wedding day, order an extra table linen for flat lay photos for a really cohesive look.

Wedding Photography Terms
Wedding Photography: Julie Paisley

What is a hybrid photographer?

Wedding photographers typically shoot in film, digital, or both. Many photographers shoot in both mediums depending on the situation and are known as hybrid photographers.

Film and digital photography are both beautiful, and your choice of style is ultimately to your personal taste.

What is a second shooter?

Many photographers include or offer a second shooter in their collections. A second shooter is a second photographer on your team to help shoot your wedding.

What is a photography assistant?

Unlike a second shooter, a photography assistant is not mainly tasked with shooting your wedding. The assistant is focused on supporting your photographer(s) with logistic tasks like managing film, bags, and helpful tasks to ensure a seamless experience and let your photographers focus on photography.

Wedding Photography Bouquet
Wedding Photography: Julie Paisley

What are detail photos?

Detail photos are photos focused on capturing the little details of the moment rather than portraits of people. For example, in the above image the photo is focused on the detail of the bride’s bouquet rather than a portrait of the bride.

Wedding Photography Place Setting
Wedding Photography: Lauren Fair

In the photo above, the image is focused on the details of the place setting: the scrolled place cards, the floral flourish on the plate tied with a silk ribbon, the letterpress menus.

Because so much care goes into all the little details of a wedding, the purpose of detail photos is to capture all the little choices that the couple so carefully chose for their wedding.

What is a photographer’s editing style?

Photographers are artists, and each photographer has a different perspective and editing style. When you look through a portfolio, you’ll start to notice trends in aesthetic style.

Editing can vary throughout the situation and lighting of the day, from golden hour photos to nighttime wedding receptions indoors. Before booking a photographer, ask to see a full wedding gallery of the entire day to ensure you love how the photographer captured the day.

When choosing your wedding photographer, you want to ensure you love their portfolio and editing style. Wait until you find a photographer whose portfolio you absolutely love before committing.

Wedding Photography Couple Portrait
Wedding Photography: Lauren Fair

What is a shot list?

A shot list is a list of photos you’d like captured on the wedding day. I would recommend booking an experienced wedding photographer you trust enough not to feel the need to give a shot list.

With the exception of family portrait combinations (bride with parents, etc.), I believe the best results come when an experienced photographer is allowed to practice their expertise.

While it is totally normal to ask for specific types of photos you’re excited about, I wouldn’t recommend giving your photographer an extensive shot list.

In my opinion, if you don’t trust your photographer to capture your day without an extensive list, you don’t trust them enough to hire them. Wait for the photographer whose portfolio you love so much that you trust them.

What is a photography timeline?

A photography timeline details the timing of the flow of photography throughout the day. Your photographer will create this for you and ask for logistic details of the day to create your timeline.

Photographers will take into account the lighting situation on your wedding day to advise on when specific photos should take place. For example, they will likely suggest that you take some couple’s portraits during the best lighting of the day, if possible.

Pro tip: You can find our list of what goes in our wedding day kit here.

What are family formals?

Family formals (or family portraits) are the formal photos you take with family members. Traditionally, these take place after the ceremony during cocktail hour.

Prepare a list for your photographer of the family portrait combinations you’d like, including the names of the family members. Your photographer will be able to advise on how much time is needed based on the number of family members and combinations.

What is a preview gallery?

Some photographers offer a preview gallery. A preview gallery is a small selection of the wedding photos the photographer edits soon after the wedding to give the couple a sneak peek. The timeline for receiving a preview gallery varies by photographer.

What is a full gallery?

The full gallery is all of your edited wedding photos from your photographer. The timeline for this gallery is longer, as it takes time to develop film (if applicable), cull, and edit images.

What is golden hour?

Golden hour is the best lighting of the day. Golden hour is right after sunrise and right before sunset. This lighting is the most flattering light of the day, soft and beautiful. Photographers will try to schedule your most important images of the day during this time on your wedding day.

What is a model release?

Some photographers’ contracts will include a copyright or model release. Photographers own the photos they create, and are able to use them on their websites, advertising, and social media. If you’re wanting to keep your wedding photos private, this typically includes a separate agreement and a fee.

What is a travel fee?

Photographers charge a travel fee to cover their expenses of traveling to your wedding. For example: mileage, flights, accommodations, meals, and the additional time spent traveling.

Travel fees are industry standard and vary depending on the distance from the photographer’s service area and the amount of time they’re servicing your wedding.

For example, the travel fee for shooting a wedding weekend of events would be higher than a single-day wedding. Shooting a wedding weekend over multiple days incurs more time and travel expenses like lodging and meals.

What is an engagement session?

An engagement session is a photography session to celebrate your engagement. The photos are used to document the occasion, and on save the dates and wedding websites.

I always recommend for couples to have their engagement session with their wedding photographer when possible. This helps you get to know your photographer before your wedding day and create aesthetic cohesion in your galleries.

Pro tip: Remember to get several landscape orientation photos for your wedding website!

What are artificial and natural light?

Light can be artificial or natural. Lighting is one of the most important elements of photography, and having the right kind of light is crucial.

Wedding Photography
Wedding Photography: Molly Carr

The photo above is an example of artificial light. This photo was taken at night before a fireworks show, and artificial light was needed to capture the subjects. The artificial light comes from flash and lighting equipment, and is common for nighttime wedding receptions and dancing.

Artificial light is also used in low light conditions, like indoors when there is little natural light coming through windows.

Wedding Photography Bride
Wedding Photography: Julie Paisley

Natural light is the preference of most wedding photographers. The photo above is an example of natural sunlight in outdoor conditions.

Natural light is easiest to achieve outdoors, but light-filled interiors with plenty of windows can also yield good results.

Wedding Photography Bride
Wedding Photography: Julia Basmann

What is a bridal session?

A bridal session is portraiture of the bride. Some brides schedule a bridal session before the wedding to have a relaxed experience to only shoot bridal portraits. This also saves photography time on the wedding day by having most of the bridal portraits done ahead of time. This allows brides more time to experience the wedding day.

Brides will often create the look they planned for the wedding day in their wedding gown, hair and makeup, accessories, and their wedding bouquet to create a cohesive look in their wedding gallery.

If you’d like a very relaxed environment for bridal portraits without the rush of a wedding day, a bridal session could be a great choice for you.

More Wedding Planning Advice Posts

Check out these other blog post for more wedding planning advice from a wedding planner:

And check out our Journal for more wedding planning advice.

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American wedding planner based in Paris, France curating unforgettable experiences with art de vivre in Europe and the United States.

As seen in leading publications such as Martha Stewart Weddings, Raela has serviced weddings and brands both stateside and abroad, from the sun-drenched hillsides of Southern California to the resplendent châteaux of France to the lemon trees of Positano. With unparalleled attention to detail, Raela’s specialty lies in creating unforgettable, exquisite, sensory experiences.

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