A photographer's guide to wedding day etiquette

What are the essential dos and don'ts of wedding photography – and what exactly does a photographer faux pas look like? We spoke to Alison Bounce, who has shot nearly 300 weddings, to find out what she's learned.
Photographer Alison Bounce stands in the stairway of a grand building, holding up a Canon EOS R5 camera while another hangs from a harness at her side.

Alison Bounce has learned a lot about wedding etiquette photographing a wide range of celebrations. She shoots with two mirrorless Canon EOS R5 cameras, and their full-frame images can be captured in complete silence with full autofocus tracking, meaning she can become invisible to her couple and get the candid, personal shots she's after.

What does French wedding photographer Alison Bounce wish she'd known when she started her 13-year career capturing couples' big days? "What happens during the wedding day!" she says. "The only memory I had about weddings was as a guest when I was a child." And that memory was largely of being bored.

Hundreds of weddings later, Alison is now a seasoned authority on matrimonial celebrations: she's shot intimate and big weddings, formal and informal weddings, religious and civil weddings, and everything in between. And it turns out there was no correct answer for what to expect, after all. "We never know what's going to happen during the wedding day," she says – and as a documentary wedding photographer, that's exactly what she loves about them. "I like adrenaline and just letting life do what it has to do."

However, what Alison can control is her approach to each part of the day, the kit she takes – and how she navigates the captivating carousel of emotions that fill the often long, and always varied, wedding days.

On paper, a wedding photographer's primary responsibility is to capture moments that a couple can cherish beyond those fleeting hours. But what are the details of a successful wedding photographer's workflow that often go unspoken, yet are essential for success? What happens before the wedding, on the day, and after? What rules are adhered to, and what does 'wedding photography etiquette' look like?

A man holding a Canon camera smiles and talks to another man.

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Photographer Alison Bounce crouches down to photograph a bride and groom playing badminton in a courtyard.

It is important for Alison to really get to know her couples, to find out their passions and the things they have in common, such as sports or hobbies. This allows them to create fun, playful moments on the day that are specific to the couple.

A bride and groom each hold a badminton racket as they smile playfully at each other in a photograph taken by Alison Bounce.

Alison makes sure the couple's personalities take centre stage and that her images tell a story on the day. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/400 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 400. © Alison Bounce

Do get to know your couple before the day

"My process is simple," explains Alison. "We have a drink many times, and we discuss. I need to know my couple, so we meet a lot before the wedding. We discuss everything: how they met, how they connected, what they like, what they don't like, and who is most important to them."

That information is critical to Alison's work, not only so she forms a connection with her clients, but because she uses the information to inform the story she's telling with her images. "It's the main point of my reportage," she explains. "If they're saying, 'We're getting married because it's so important for us and for our parents,' then my reportage will be about the family and about their connection, and the feelings."

But this is also a one-on-one opportunity to make sure her couple feel at ease with her. As someone present on an intimate and invite-only day of their lives, your relationship matters. "I always end with a hug!" says Alison.

A bride and groom look into each other's eyes, with trees in the background.

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Alison Bounce stands at the bottom of a grand staircase and photographs a couple embracing at the top.

Alison will often help advise the couple about different aspects of the day, as well as where photographs may look best. Having worked at hundreds of weddings, she is happy to share her knowledge to make the day, as well as the photos, a success.

Alison Bounce crouches down to photograph a couple as they look into each other's eyes.

Knowing the schedule for the day, as well as where each aspect of the celebrations will take place, means Alison can help the couple find time to connect and capture those intimate moments.

Do communicate how you work, and what to expect

"I tell them specific things about my work, so they can trust in me to do my job," explains Alison. "I share with my couple how I will photograph the wedding, that it's about candid moments: that I'm there, but I'm not there."

But Alison also helps them be prepared. "I always share my experience with the bride and groom. Often it's their first wedding. They don't know how to go about it, or what can or should be done. So I give them my best advice for the day, such as to plan little moments with their loved one throughout the day."

Do focus on the couple

"In my opinion, the most important thing is to photograph the couple – to stay as close as possible to their story and their personality," says Alison. "This requires a great deal of preparation, such as knowing the schedule for the day, and having all the addresses and times of the places to be photographed."

A man in a suit wipes a tear from his eye as a woman smiles and places a hand to his head, in a black and white wedding photograph by Alison Bounce.

Having her Canon EOS R5 on silent mode means Alison can get up close in her shots without disturbing the subjects. She tries to blend into the background and anticipate important moments, moving quickly and quietly to get that perfect shot. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens at 1/500 sec, f/4 and ISO 400. © Alison Bounce

Do dress appropriately

"A wedding is a festive event," reminds Alison. "It's important to be well dressed. However, as I'm there to work, I need to be comfortable in my clothes so that I can move around as I wish. I go from standing to sitting all the time, so I opt for soft trousers or a long flowing dress. If there's a dress code, I try to respect it. The bride and groom like that."

Do be helpful, and positive

Weddings are special, but they can also be stressful. "I always tell them that they can ask me to do anything to help: if they need help getting a guest to the ceremony, I can bring the guest with me in my car, or anything." A photographer who is polite and kind can significantly contribute to the seamless flow of a client's wedding day, and this can have a remarkable impact on their referral rate.

Do be invisible

Alison's 'fly-on-the-wall' way of working relies upon blending into the background with her Canon EOS R5 on silent mode – and from an etiquette perspective, this is important, as the focus should not be on the photographer. "I'm trying to be discreet, but it's not easy with two cameras and when you're running all the time because you don't want to miss anything," admits Alison. "So you have to anticipate, and imagine what could happen during a scene: when you move, try not to make eye contact, or your subjects will act differently. So when you move, look down, and be quick."

A couple are captured kissing in silhouette against a black background in a photograph taken by Alison Bounce.

Alison's work is varied, and her portfolio shows a range of different styles and skills. "On my social media, I try to mix what I show because everybody is different," says Alison. "I can do portrait, I can do details, I can do reportage, I can do studio photos with my Canon Speedlite EL-1." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/200 sec, f/4 and ISO 100. © Alison Bounce

Don't be militant about your shot list: observe, and be flexible

"If there are delays, it's normal; it's a wedding," says Alison. It's common for guests to be bustling for shots, or for things to stray from plans. Always be polite, and stay flexible. And at the end of the day, let the client be right. "Let them do what they want in their own image," she advises.

Don't lose focus

"The common mistake I see, and I did when I started, was to be too friendly with a couple and guests. You lose your focus on your mission: to photograph the wedding. On my second or third wedding, I was talking with a guest about the dress of the bride. The father was just by my side and became emotional, and they hugged. I was talking with a guest and I missed this moment. I was so frustrated that I decided to stop being too sociable. My goal is to get the best photo for them, and tell their story."

Photographer Alison Bounce holds a Canon EOS R5 camera up to her face, looking through the viewfinder.

Don't let the wedding day be a final goodbye

"After the wedding, I keep in contact with my couple," says Alison. "I like to send them messages, asking how they feel, how their honeymoon was, and maybe one year later to celebrate their one-year anniversary. I'm in contact with all of my couples – and I've done almost 300 weddings now." It's good etiquette, but it's also good business. "I get a lot more business from my couples: when they have children, or anniversaries."

Although there are no set rules of what to expect from a wedding, it's clear that there is one best way to approach them: with respect for the role you're playing, and with a smile! "I love photography and I love what I do because it's a privilege for me to be the most intimate witness of my couples' lives," says Alison. "It's amazing to know how people can trust you on this day. You are the closest person with them, you can see everything during the day. It's a big look at love and it makes me very happy."

For more inspiration and advice from photographers, check out the Canon Europe Learning Series playlist on YouTube and read all about Alison Bounce's wedding kitbag essentials.

Emma-Lily Pendleton

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