The Wedding Guidebook



you deserve incredible wedding photos.

That’s exactly why I’ve put together this wedding guide. We’ll cover everything from getting ready locations to family portraits to reception lighting so you can feel confident that you’re setting up your wedding for success.


Allie + Colton | Kristen Giles Photography - 006.jpg

Getting ready photos are easily some of my favorite moments of elopement and wedding days. There’s so much sweet anticipation in the air and I’ve captured some of the most beautiful moments in those morning hours long before guests arrive!

However, these moments can be easily be overshadowed by an overly cluttered bridal suite and not-so-ideal lighting conditions. Here’s a few things to consider when choosing a location and prepping for my arrival on your wedding day!

Kaitlyn + Blaine| Kristen Giles Photography - 004.jpg
2018-10-27-Jennifer + Phillip-287.jpg

Cleanliness: Those beautiful, emotion-filled moments on the morning of a wedding day can be a little less beautiful with fast food leftovers, gym bags and a pile of shoes in the background. When it comes to making the most of your getting ready photos, it’s important that your getting ready location is as clean as possible when I arrive! Please make sure bags, shoes, garbage and general clutter is put away in order to provide a clean space for your photos.

Lighting: The first thing I’ll do when I arrive in the morning (besides all the hugs, of course), is turn off all the lights in the space you’re getting ready. This may seem counterintuitive, especially if you’re getting ready in a dark room. However, working with the cleanest lighting possible will make your photos turn out best! This means no orangey hues from lamps and room lighting. Choosing a location with lots of windows and natural light will be best.

HMUA: While I’ll likely arrive when your hair and makeup artists are putting the finishing touches on your gorgeous self, it’s important you provide a space with lots of natural light for them to work! If not, they’ll need to use an additional lighting source that can take away from the lovely even lighting of your getting ready space. If it’s absolutely necessary for them to work with an additional lighting source, I’ll request they turn it off for just a few minutes for prep photos. I’d recommend setting them up by a window so we’ll all get the lighting we need!

Room aesthetic: When it comes to a getting ready space, lots of windows and natural light is most important! Clean decor and white or light walls are also ideal, but as long as I have natural light to work with, almost any space will do! If you’re not able to find a space that’s clean with natural light, you may consider bringing your dress to the ceremony location, renting out a space such as an airbnb, or you could always get ready outdoors! It sounds crazy, but once you have your dress on, you could do finishing touches outdoors with gorgeous natural lighting. Room aesthetic is equally important both for the bride as well as the groom, so don’t forget about the guys when choosing a getting ready space!

Consider getting ready together: Some of the sweetest moments I’ve captured on wedding and elopement days are when a bride and groom chose to get ready together the morning of their wedding. Her tying his bowtie, him zipping up her dress. Sharing all the laughs and excited anticipation of the day. Just the two of you in a beautiful space preparing to commit your lives together.

Details: While most of my work emphasizes the relationships and moments on your wedding day, we don’t want to leave out all the pretty details that help tell the story of your day. When I arrive where you gals are getting ready, it would be great to have some of those special touches ready for me! You definitely don’t need to have a slew of details, but having some loose florals, the rings, an invitation or anything else you’d like documented ready will make it easy for me to capture the details along with all the excitement of the morning.

TIMELINE: 90 minutes


Michelle + Aron | Kristen Giles Photography - 013.jpg

A first look gives you and your love a chance to see each other in a private, intimate setting before the ceremony.

Many photographers will push first looks. While I prefer my couples do a first look for the reasons below, I will NEVER persuade you otherwise if you feel strongly about seeing your fiance for the first time during the ceremony. However, I highly recommend considering a first look for the following reasons:

2018-12-22-Michelle + Aron-0174.jpg
Kaitlyn + Blaine| Kristen Giles Photography - 004.jpg
2018-11-16-Allie + Colton-1866.jpg

It takes the pressure off. There’s often a LOT of nerves going into your ceremony. I believe much of that is the anticipation of seeing your soon-to-be spouse for the first time! But if you have a chance to see them for the first time in a quiet, intimate setting before the ceremony, chances are you’ll be MUCH more relaxed when ceremony time comes!

You’ll have better photos. While I do love the groom reaction shots while a bride walks down the aisle, it’s far less intimate than a first look and we aren’t able to capture the emotion as well as if you took some time aside for the two of you! It’s also a lot harder to take in the moment for yourselves when there’s dozens of people watching you!

It frees up your timeline. Yep! Usually after a first look, we’ll do family photos prior to the ceremony. This means you won’t have to spend time doing family photos after all the excitement of the ceremony and you’ll be able to spend even more time with family and friends during cocktail hour and the reception! We’ll still grab you for sunset portraits at some point depending on when your ceremony is, but more time at the reception is a win for everyone!

My Experience

I was in many of your shoes while planning out my wedding day timeline. I was SO against a first look. I was not having it. Until I chatted a little more with my photographer and listened to all the reasons why it would not only be beneficial to us, but also to our timeline. We decided to do a first look after all, and I am SO glad we did! It took all the pressure off, we have amazing photos from the first moment we saw each other, and we had so much more time at the reception! I understand it’s a tough decision, but consider the photos you’ll have of that moment years from now!

TIMELINE: 15-20 minutes

Privacy please: I HIGHLY recommend keeping first looks completely private. Meaning you, your fiance, myself and my second shooter. That means mom and dad aren’t coming along and the bridesmaids aren’t hiding behind a bush somewhere taking photos on their phones. The moment you see your future spouse for the first time can be such a beautiful moment and I recommend keeping it as private as possible!


2018-12-22-Michelle + Aron-0441.jpg

While the majority of the day is focused on capturing emotion and unplanned moments, I realize that family photos are just as important and I take them very seriously.

We’ll chat to come up with a list closer to your date, but I recommend limiting to 10 family formal groupings. I know it can sometimes be difficult to get your list down to 10 groups, however, I’d encourage you to think about which arrangements are most important to you and stick with no more than 10 groupings. Family photos are often the most exhausting portion of the day, and instead of tiring yourselves out with dozens of family groupings, I recommend allowing for more time with family during cocktail hour and reception while I capture all the candid moments along the way.

2018-10-20-Clare + Tyler-0984.jpg
2018-11-16-Allie + Colton-2543.jpg
2018-11-03-Brooke + Jordan-1750.jpg

Both bridal party and family photos work best prior to the ceremony.

Corralling everyone during cocktail hour is often difficult. Grandma is likely to get lost in the crowd and it’s easy for the best man to find himself at the bar instead of lining up for bridal party photos. This corralling can really eat into the time we have for portraits and for you to enjoy your reception! Prior to the ceremony, the family and bridal party are already together to prepare/decorate/get ready, which makes it so much quicker to get everyone in the same place.

TIMELINE: 30 minutes family, 30 minutes bridal party

Less is more: When it comes to group photos, having a clean, simple background is best. If you’re getting married in a gorgeous location with a stunning backdrop, please keep in mind family photos might be done in front of a grove of trees or against a clean, simple background instead. While I realize you chose your venue for the backdrop and location (and trust me.. we’ll get plenty of photos there!), having soft, even light with a clean background is most important for beautiful family photos!


2018-04-28-Angie + Carlton - Kristen Giles Photography - Houston, Texas Wedding and Elopement Photographer - 201.jpg

You’ve spent hours planning the PERFECT outdoor ceremony overlooking the mountains, desertscape or in a lush forest. However, you soon realize your planning efforts were in vain when your wedding photos from your ceremony come back with harsh shadows streaming across your faces and blinding light coming in your eyes causing you to squint constantly.

When planning your outdoor ceremony location, it’s easy to get caught up in the location and views and disregard the lighting, but the lighting will play the biggest role in how your photos will turn out!

2018-12-22-Michelle + Aron-0334.jpg
Jennifer + Phillip | Kristen Giles Photography - 001.jpg
2018-09-22-Kaitlyn + Jake-1186.jpg

Backlight: This is especially important if you must have a midday ceremony. This means setting up your ceremony so the sun is behind you, your fiance, and your officiant, and your guests are facing the sun. If your ceremony is in the afternoon or close to sunset, your guests should be facing West (towards the sunset). For morning ceremonies, your guests should be facing East (towards the sunrise).

Sunset is best: With few exceptions, I plan portrait sessions and bride and groom photos right before sunset because the lighting is most beautiful that time of day! It’s softer, golden and straight up gorgeous. That same light is just as important for your outdoor ceremony. I recommend doing outdoor ceremonies about 2 hours prior to sunset allowing time for bride + groom photos as well as potential delays + timeline emergencies.

TIMELINE: 2 hours prior to sunset


Austin Wedding Photographer Sekrit Theater | Kristen Giles Photography - 003.jpg

It’s no secret that bride and groom photos are my favorite part of the day. Not just because the moments you share on the day you become husband and wife are nothing short of magical, but because these are the photos you will share for the rest of your life. They’ll be on your walls, in your heirloom album, and the ones you’ll show to your kids and their kids someday. You likely won’t reminisce over photos of you cutting the cake or entering the reception, but the look of pure joy on your face as your love holds you close are the memories and photos you’ll treasure for a lifetime!

Having been a bride myself, the photos of my husband and I are what is most important to me. I still consider myself a newlywed, but while it’s been about 4 years, those photos of Eric and I on our wedding day are becoming more and more important to me. I honestly wish we had carved out more time on our wedding day for photos, so I’m hoping for your sake you’ll dedicate time on your wedding or elopement day to get the photos you’ve always dreamed of!

Michelle + Aron | Kristen Giles Photography - 008.jpg
Allie + Colton | Kristen Giles Photography - 004.jpg
Mari + John| Kristen Giles Photography - 004.jpg

Sunset: You’ll hear me talk about “soft, beautiful light” a LOT on the days leading up to your I dos, but you might not understand quite what I mean by that! We won’t get too scientific (because let’s be real.. I can’t), but the closer the sun gets to the horizon, the more diffused the light gets. Essentially, all the sunlight gets filtered through little particles in the air making it “softer,” which is why many photos are most beautiful at sunset! There’s less harsh shadows and the light is much more flattering on both your skin and the landscape around you. However, I’m more than okay with working with any kind of light! Having a morning wedding? No worries! I recommend arranging your timeline first and foremost around beautiful light for your bride and groom photos. I like to plan for 60 minutes for photos. But the more time you give me for bride and groom photos, the better your photos will be and the more you’ll receive!

Post-ceremony: While most couples do a first look prior to the ceremony, we don’t do couple’s photos until after the ceremony. Not only because of the light, but because you are SO much more relaxed! There’s a lot of nerves building up to the ceremony, and once it’s over, not only are you MARRIED, but you’re in a giddy, I-can’t-believe-I-just married-you, love bubble of joy and it makes for some amazing moments!

Just the two of you, please! While mom, dad, the best man and every other guest is so excited to spend time with you after the ceremony, I ask that the time during your portraits is just between us. Not only can guests watching be a distraction, but it often takes away from those sweet moments you’ll share after you say I do!

TIMELINE: 60+ minutes


Kaitlyn + Blaine| Kristen Giles Photography - 001.jpg

I shoot using natural light as much as possible (with exception to dancing/party photos)! This means instead of setting up artificial lighting during your reception, I’d prefer using the available light already in the space. I do this not only so the photos look more natural, but also because I strive to capture every part of your day not only by the way it looks, but also how it feels.

If you’re having an outdoor reception with beautifully strung lights through the trees and candles everywhere, you want to remember how your reception felt and the mood of the evening. I believe using flash detracts from that so I recommend providing enough light so I can capture your reception naturally!

2018-10-20-Clare + Tyler-2634.jpg
2018-05-25-Theresa + Caoliang-817.jpg
2018-05-19-Shelby + Houston-729 - Kristen Giles Photography - Houston, Texas Wedding and Elopement Photographer - 731.jpg

Adequate lighting: Having a few candles around may feel moody and cozy, but will likely not be enough light for me to capture your reception without using flash! I recommend using Edison bulbs or similar string lights. I can work with any space or lighting condition, but for outdoor, open air receptions, the more lights the better!

Save money on the tent: I know, I know. Suggesting no tent at an outdoor wedding almost gave you a heart attack, right? “But what if it rains?” is the question I know you’re asking yourself right now. The reason I suggest going tentless for your reception is because tents often detract from the beauty of your reception! Instead of watching the sun set, giving way to a star filled sky in a beautiful location, you’re often subjected to metal poles and dirty white plastic walls with a tent. This is, of course, 100% up to you, but your photos will be unhindered if you choose to forgo the tent and let your reception space breathe under an open sky! If you’re still concerned about the weather, having a backup tent set up in a cocktail area is another option.

As a quick note, I AM 100% comfortable using flash if the need arises! While I prefer to shoot without it to preserve the feel and vibe of your evening, I always have my lighting setup with me just in case! If you have any questions on your reception lighting setup, don’t hesitate to reach out!

One last word on receptions: please feed your photographer! Most wedding days are at least 7 hours. Besides getting straight up hangry during that time, a malnourished photographer is not a creative one. I usually plan to eat while you guys are both eating, that way I’m still not waiting for my salad to arrive when it’s time for toasts!

TIMELINE: dinner 45-60 minutes, toasts 15 minutes (you can start these while dinner is still being served!), dances 15 minutes, party 15+ minutes



After shooting weddings for 2 years, I have a pretty good idea of how much time I’ll need to cover different aspects of your day! This sometimes varies, but while putting together your timeline, here’s how much time I’ll typically need for photos:

Getting ready: 90 minutes

First look: 20 minutes

Family: 30 minutes

Bridal party: 30 minutes

Bride + groom photos: 60+ minutes

To give you a better idea of what that looks like, I’ve put together a sample timeline based on beautiful light for photos! I’ve also noted the sunset time so you’re able to see how the sunset plays a leading role in the timeline and the rest falls into place around it.


2:00 Getting ready

3:30 First look

3:50 Family photos

4:20 Bridal party

5:00 Ceremony

6:00 Bride + groom photos

7:00  Sunset/band begins

If you have any questions while putting together your timeline, please don’t hesitate to reach out!! I’d love to help you plan out your day to allow for beautiful photos!