The secret ingredients…

By Mike Shailes, retired wedding photographer

As the professional who has seen wedding days take shape from early morning to late in the evening, allow me, if you will, to share some tips for a perfect day, gleaned over a lifetime of photographing weddings. 

If there’s one day in your life when it pays to use professionals, it’s your wedding day. 

The key to a great day is to plan ahead and start even earlier than you think you should. 

First stop, as early as possible, is the hairdresser.  It’s preferable to go to the salon, rather than having a home session, so you won’t be disturbed by family and guests, rushing around the house raising stress levels. 

Try out your chosen style (and those of your bridesmaids) a few weeks before the wedding day, perhaps check it with your gown, too.  Show your hairdresser examples of what you like and ask for advice as he or she knows what will work.  In fact, on the subject of advice, ask for it at every occasion with the professionals you use as they’re all happy to give it. 

For a little extra early stress relief, maybe travel by taxi and take a bottle of bubbly and chocolates or soft fruit to share with your bridesmaids at the hairdresser.  It will be a long day so don’t overdo the alcohol, though!

While you’re at the hairdresser, your groom and his party should prepare themselves for the ceremony.  If they’re easily distracted from tasks and timetables, it doesn’t hurt to make sure they know their timetable beforehand – a bossy sister installed at the groom’s home to gently oversee the men can be quite handy.  She’ll also make certain that buttonholes, ties and kilts look just right.  In the end, the men will thank you for getting them organised, as they may end up with an hour or two in which they can relax and enjoy themselves (without too much uisge beatha) before leaving for the church or other venue. 

If male members of your wedding party are unsure how long to wear the kilt, some suggest that in an upright kneeling position, the kilt should be about one inch (2.5cm) above the floor, or just touching the floor if the wearer prefers extra length.  (This exercise can provide a little fun for the photographer and other onlookers.)

Occasionally there’s an unforeseen blip in the preparations.  Perhaps the mens’ flowers are delivered to the bride’s home or some other item goes astray.  Be prepared and appoint a couple of suitable people who are not vital to the ceremony ready to act as runners, fetching or transporting wayward items. 

Take any opportunity to eat something – you’ll be on the go for a long time until the reception and there’s nothing worse than feeling hungry (except a tummy rumble that’s louder than your vows). 

Professional make-up artists will make sure that what your bridesmaids wear will complement your own make-up style.  They’ll probably know that a little extra make-up will improve the look of your photos, but it doesn’t hurt to remind them.  Ask for any tips you might need for maintaining the look during the day. 

Have some time to yourself before dressing – if you keep one room free of clutter and guests, you’ll find it’s good to get a little peace and quiet.  The same room – perhaps a decent sized bedroom or sitting room – may also be used for photography after you’ve dressed. 

If you’re organised, you can enjoy the luxury of relaxation in the days prior to the wedding.  Get plenty of sleep - at least eight hours a night - for a week before.  Maybe have a relaxing therapy session on the eve of the wedding.  When you feel good, you’ll also feel much less stressed, be able to work to your timetable and you’ll look great in your photos.

If the plan includes the timings for other members of your wedding party and the professionals who work with you, you may be certain that activities for them will be completed, too.  As an example, your bridesmaids need to leave for the Church at least ten minutes before you, so they can have photos taken and compose themselves ready for your arrival, which means you have to have completed portraits and gown shots with the photographer a few minutes before the bridesmaids leave, so he or she can be at the Church in time for their arrival. 

Once at the Church, or other venue, take your time to enjoy yourself.  Walk the aisle slowly, let your guests take photos and exchange smiles with them – this is a one-off occasion and you’ll want to savour every moment. 

Allow time after the ceremony so your guests can socialise at the venue and enjoy picture opportunities.  Have umbrellas available and, if the sun’s shining, never miss the chance to let your photographer get some shots ‘in the bag’ – just in case the heavens open later. 

These days, many couples like to have photos taken in an attractive location away from the wedding crowd – perhaps with the bridesmaids, best man and ushers and sometimes taking part in a brief fun activity such as an impromptu football game or kite-flying on the beach. 

Meanwhile, your guests can travel to the hotel, where it’s good for them to have a few sandwiches or other light food to keep them going until the wedding banquet – it’ll also help soak up some of the alcohol that’s likely to be consumed before the meal. 

Once you rejoin your guests, relax some more and have a great party – if you’ve planned well, you’ll enjoy it all the more. 

Mike Shailes provided this article for the Stornoway-based EVENTS newspaper.  He has recently retired after shooting weddings for over 30 years (most recently in the Outer Hebrides, from the Butt to Barra).