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Ask The Photographers: Do You Need To Visit My Wedding Venue Beforehand?

We know that when it comes to booking your wedding photographer you’ll often have lots of questions, and one of the most frequent ones that we hear is “Do you need to visit my wedding venue beforehand?”. Well, we asked that exact question to our members, and what follows is 35 different photographers’ viewpoints and opinions on whether it’s necessary or not, from all over the world – a really interesting and informative read:

Ronan Palliser
Ronan Palliser (Ireland) – Website / This is Reportage Profile

“I can understand that a couple might get some comfort from their photographer either having shot at their venue before, or (if they haven’t shot there before) from their photographer visiting it before the wedding. Like many photographers, though, while I once also liked that comfort of knowing what was ahead of me, now I actually love getting to new venues for the first time, and almost never do a pre-wedding scout. The reasons are twofold.

Firstly the practical reason. I can quite easily now do a “virtual scout” – venue websites are usually good for showcasing their best bits, google “<venue> wedding photo” will spit out more photos of weddings from a venue than I’ll want to look at, and even Google Maps on satellite view allows me to get the lay of the land if there are grounds that I might hope to use. That’s all useful where I may have a logistical concern about the venue – will there be a good location for family photos; what is the light like in the ceremony room; is it practical for the couple to get from the ceremony space to the gardens without needing to go via the drinks reception (and if not, how will that impact the timings). Much of that is also addressed by a quick phone call to the wedding coordinator at the venue too, of course. So for the practical stuff (which usually drives the concerns the couple may have if a venue is new to their photographer) you can figure out most things without a visit.

All of that, though, is secondary to the far more important reason – the creative one. I relish photographing a new venue because it’s a new creative experience for me. The novelty of a new venue ALWAYS trumps the familiarity of one I’ve shot at many times. It helps me see the wedding day differently to how I’ve seen other days, but also to how other photographers have seen weddings at that venue before me. I have a thought I express to couples when I might get asked to take a photo like one they’ve seen at their venue, for instance. “We can get that photo, but rather than get you other people’s wedding photos, wouldn’t it be better to get you your own wedding photos?”. And no better way for me to do that than to be seeing a new venue with fresh eyes and finding light and compositions that fit my style.

Finally of course – in the context of documentary photography in particular – the venue is what it is. Similar to the ceremony space, the bride’s family home, or any other location that might be in play on the day. A good photographer will get you good photographs in any location. And if you truly want documentary photographs of your day you really don’t want your photographer arriving with a preconceived set of shots in his or her head based on a previous wedding or a scouting visit where the light was different and the space wasn’t filled with you and your guests.” – Ronan

David Scholes
David Scholes (UK) – Website / TiR

“I think I had a conversation about this with someone recently ? From a photography point I say no as generally led by moments and light. But from a point of view about feeling organised and especially if there’s more than one venue it’s good to know where you are and what your timings will be like – I’ve had a couple of near nightmares from underestimating these things. I might add, if ever I do visit first, I normally do this earlier on the day rather than a separate day.” – David

Katrin Küllenberg
Katrin Küllenberg (Germany) – Website / TiR

“When the venue is not too far, I will usually get a look at it beforehand. It often makes things easier for me on a rather hectic wedding day. I always try to do the couple shoot at the venue or rather close to it, so checking it out in advance gives me the opportunity to find interesting spots for different light or weather conditions. This gives me a certain piece of mind and the couple appreciates when I know exactly where I want to shoot and not wander around aimlessly, trying to find the perfect spot. It is just something I do to take some pressure off myself.” – Katrin

Matt Badenoch
Matt Badenoch (UK) – Website / TiR

“A venue visit by your photographer prior to your wedding is not needed because it offers no value, for 2 reasons:

1) A key factor for how we photograph is light. Light is greatly effected by both the weather and the level of the sun in the sky which changes throughout the year. The chances of the light being the same during both a venue visit and your wedding day is extremely remote.

2) A key skill of a wedding photographer is to think on our feet and see photo opportunities quickly. When we arrive at a new locations it only takes a few moments for us to spot the best photo opportunities and locations for amazing photos, so an advance visit wouldn’t give us any advantage on the day.

Requesting a photographer to do a venue visit is asking them to take time out of their working day (potentially hours depending on where they’re based) for an activity that won’t help them to get better photos on your wedding day.” – Matt

Nick Brightman
Nick Brightman (UK) – Website / TiR

“No I don’t, but I probably will anyway!! Over the years there have been venues that I’ve never seen until the day itself and that’s absolutely fine. I’m photographing what happens on your day so knowing the layout of the venue really isn’t essential. Buuuuuuuuut…….I normally take it as an opportunity to catch up with the couple, (which is lovely!) and if there are multiple venues involved during the day then it can be REALLY handy to have got a handle on logistics!! It’s so easy for satnavs to take you to the wrong place or find that parking is a nightmare and on the wedding day I really don’t want to be worrying about shit like that!!” – Nick

Anete Lusina
Anete Lusina (UK) – Website / TiR

“I think it heavily relies on the style of the photographer and what the couple is looking for. If the photographer focuses on stylised imagery and needs to know whether they’ll be able to produce their style signature shots in the venue, they may need to visit it beforehand to assess the background, lighting situation and more.

If the photographer is off-the-wall documentary photographer, they should be able to go to any location and still produce what they do best, namely emotive shots. The place is somewhat irrelevant because whatever the couple has chosen, that’s what a documentary photographer will work with. They’re not there to call the shots, they’ll just blend in the background and document the wedding as seen through their eyes.” – Anete

Jacques Lloyd
Jacques Lloyd (UK) – Website / TiR

“This is the most common question I get from new couples and my short answer is “nope not necessary”. If a venue is close to where I live I always offer a planning session at the venue. I always stress that what could work weather wise on the day we meet is not necessarily the same for the actual wedding day. My simple workaround is a visit to the venue on your wedding day before I actually start shooting. I also use the example of “away weddings”, where either long travel by car or plain is needed and I’m still as prepared for those weddings as any other.” – Jacques

Rob Dodsworth
Rob Dodsworth (UK) – Website / TiR

“I had this very question at the weekend. It comes up every once in a while. I suspect it’s not always a question that brides and grooms have at the forefront of their mind but something they might have read was a good idea to ask in one of those, “100 Questions to ask Your Photographer” type pieces in wedding blogs and wedding magazines.

When I started out, I thought that visiting venues before a wedding day was a good idea – good customer service even. But I very quickly realised that visiting a venue before the day, for me at least, doesn’t have any particular bearing on how I end up photographing a wedding on the day. I might visit a venue on a bright sunny day but come the day of the wedding, weather conditions and more importantly, what the light is doing, could be very different. What is going on during the wedding day itself, weather, light, the people, the atmosphere etc etc is what drives how I’ll shoot that wedding. An empty venue on a day that doesn’t have that buzz, really doesn’t help me all that much.

If I was pushed on the question, I’d admit that maybe visiting a venue before hand could allow me to find little places to take portraits but this isn’t a huge part of how I photograph a wedding. It also, for me at least, kills your creativity a little if you’ve planned it all out like that. What I do, is make sure that I turn up in plenty of time to an unfamiliar venue to have a good look around before I start photographing the day ahead. That is when I’ll find places for group shots and portraits. At least that way, I know what the light is like, or, is likely to be like that day.

I understand that for some couples, it might put their mind at rest. But I’ve been photographing weddings professionally for 10 years this year and visiting a venue before a wedding day really won’t make much difference to the photos I deliver but my experience of working at different venues and in different conditions is far more important. If there’s one question I would be asking my photographer, it would be about their experience, not in years necessarily, there’s some incredible photographers with just a few years experience but knowing that your photographer has the experience of different venues and locations that they can manage different situations and cope in varying different conditions is invaluable.” – Rob

Lewis Fackrell
Lewis Fackrell (UK) – Website / TiR

“NO! Unless there are specific requirements or alternative arrangements to the normal setting at the venue. That being said, It can be a great experience to visit as a photographer with a couple to understand their vision a little more which will almost certainly appease their trust in you. I’ve found in the past that couples are much more settled if you have visited the venue previously but in all honestly, It really doesn’t affect the way I work. In fact I much rather work at a brand new venue as it allows me to work with fresh eyes and build on new challenges including new ways of lighting and being able to have refreshing ideas. Sometimes complacency can set in if I’ve photographed at a venue far too often and find I’ll set a couple up regularly in a similar spot that’s previously worked many times before which can look all to similar when blogging highlights and adding to social media.” – Lewis

Ash Davenport
Ash Davenport (UK) – Website / TiR

“As most of my venues aren’t local, it isn’t possible to visit the venue before the wedding. Having said that, I am more than prepared to visit the venue. Before agreeing to visit, I really try and understand the couples desire for me to visit. Do they have many different events and the logistics are difficult? Do they want me to ‘be prepared’? Are they worried I will get lost? Are they concerned I will not pick the best place for family or couple portraits? All of these are real questions and concerns and my job is to make them feel as easy throughout the whole process. I have a good set of standard responses for each concern but if they are still uncomfortable, I will happily visit the venue if time permits and they cover my expenses and pay my full day rate.

My main goal is to ensure the couple feel as relaxed as possible on the day and not to worry about me or the photos.” – Ash

John Steel
John Steel (UK) – Website / TiR

“My answer in short is no, but here’s why.

A long time ago I always used to visit a couple’s venue. I remember once having to make a 4 hour round trip to get there, I’d rang up and arranged it but when I arrived, they wouldn’t allow me in as there was a meeting taking place. This happened on more than one occasion.

I also realised that light is everything, light changes all the time and sometimes on my venue visits I’d work out shots for the light I saw on the day of the visit but on the wedding day it had completely changed.

As a documentary photographer nothing is set up, I work around the venue on the day. If I see some nice light, I find something happening there or occasionally use it for some portraits. I’m at my best and most creative when I’ve never been to a venue and everything is exciting! There’re always times during a wedding day (morning prep after you’ve shot 300 pictures) or during the meal where you can have a wander and see what the venue has to offer.” – John

Lauren Brimhall
Lauren Brimhall (USA) – Website / TiR

“Hell no. I tell clients that the locations I will use for portraits are based entirely on available light, which will be different the day I visit the venue vs the actual wedding day with different weather at a different time of year. And especially considering most of my weddings are a minimum of 1.5 hours away, it would be a huge waste of my time and resources. Google image can also tell me just about everything else I need to know.” – Lauren

Helen Howard
Helen Howard (UK) – Website / TiR

“I think this depends on the photographer. I like to visit venues I’ve not worked at before but that’s because I like to make sure my sat nav gets me there and also I just like to have a look around and find my bearings. Personal to me though I can understand why some people wouldn’t feel the need to!

I had another photographer turn up at a church one time and when I asked him if he was a videographer he said he was the photographer, but then after about 30 secs he said the name of the couple and his wedding was actually at another church about 4 miles away. So whilst I don’t think I need to check out a venue from a photography perspective, I like to know where I’m going :)” – Helen

Lee Maxwell
Lee Maxwell (UK) – Website / TiR

“Do photographers need to visit a venue before documenting a wedding there? For me, absolutely not. I’m off the mindset that if you’re a professional photographer you should be able to adapt to whatever environment you’re working in. It’s no different if you have varying weather, why plan for one approach when it can all change?

Everyone will approach and plan photographing weddings differently, and if someone feels they’ll get better shots by being familiar with the layout, then that’s great. For me, I don’t know what I would gain compared to arriving early (like I always try and do) and taking a little tour, just to get some ideas flowing. From a logistical stand point, some venues can be tricky to locate, and a good bit of research beforehand always helps there. Everyone has their own style, they know how they’d ideally capture a scene, no matter what the room looks like on the day.” – Lee

Martin Makowski
Martin Makowski (UK) – Website / TiR

“Absolutely not. I find myself a lot more inspired and creative if the place is very new to me. I like to wander and explore. Helps shooting without any preconceptions which I find a lot more interesting. Talking planning formals and portraits. I only do a handful of formals and look for a spot for those then and there. They are also light and space driven. For portraits, I look for a location while people are eating.

I used to visit the venues when first started shooting weddings. The benefit from it was, that it made me feel a little bit more relaxed in already stressful situations (I’m talking very first weddings here). The problem with venue visit is that it usually happens when the place is empty and lighting conditions often differ to the real thing on the day. Yet, it is time-consuming and not worth overall in my opinion. I don’t see any benefits from doing so. For the logistic purpose, I always prepare myself by studying the maps, routes and check some information/photos online.” – Martin

Amy Sampson
Amy Sampson (UK) – Website / TiR

“I don’t feel I “need” to, but I sometimes do. How this takes place is variable. A large chunk of my bookings are made via Skype calls and venues are further afield, so if I’m staying near the venue the night before the wedding then I will quite often do a drive by just to familiarise myself with the route / entrance / any potential sat nav issues if there’s any uncertainty. For venues closer to home, often I meet my clients for a chat prior to booking – if it’s very local to me, and / or convenient when I’m passing somewhere I’m happy to meet them at their venue, again this doubles up as a recce for me if it’s somewhere I’ve never been before so that I have the route map in my head.

But if it’s logistically or geographically difficult or time consuming then I don’t do so as I don’t believe it’s necessary in terms of having any influence of my ability to photograph at a venue. I often have a little scope out on arrival and during times of the day in terms of where to shoot couple shots, and as a few other photographers have mentioned, it’s very much dictated by light / weather etc on the day so too much pre-planning doesn’t work with my style.

But if it’s convenient and easy to do, if it’s a new venue / string of venues I always like to try and get the route ironed out in my head – just so I can sleep better the night before!” – Amy

Alexa Poppe
Alexa Poppe (UK) – Website / TiR

“It depends.. I don’t feel I need to most of times as weather, light etc can be different on the day anyway and I don’t believe it is necessary for my ability to shoot a wedding. However if it’s a venue I haven’t been before, I try and arrive early to have a look around and make a plan for good couple shot locations etc, I also like to have a look at the light situation in the ceremony room before hand so that I’m prepared. It helps when things are running fast.

As I mentioned though, it makes more sense on the actual day than before the wedding day as light situations change weather depending etc.. If a couple absolutely insist me visiting the venue before I usually meet them there if it’s not too far and time consuming. I can then get an idea what they like about the venue and incorporate this into my work. Although most details can be discussed via Skype etc too. To conclude, if I can get there with lots of time and make a plan beforehand it definitely helps starting the day prepared and relaxed which is always a good thing!” – Alexa

Martin Hecht
Martin Hecht (Germany) – Website / TiR

“No I don’t do it. Sometimes I have a look with Google Maps only around the location. But I don´t visit it before. Often I was at the most locations around my area and when I have a wedding at a new area – Google is my friend and I usually let it come to me. Mostly there are beautiful spots around the location which you can see during a walk with the bride and groom and photographed directly there.” – Martin

Andy Li
Andy Li (UK) – Website / TiR

“If I am asked by a client or potential client “Do you need to visit my wedding venue beforehand?”, my answer is “No”.

There are many reasons why visiting a wedding venue before the big day is not necessary. One reason is down to light. The light on the day itself will probably be different to the light on the day of a venue visit, whether it is 6 months, or even a few days before the wedding. The quality, position, intensity of the light varies greatly depending on the time of year. Even with two consecutive days, the light could be very different. Although the majority of the photos that I take at a wedding are of a reportage style, I will still take some formal group photos and portraits, and the aforementioned variables will play a major part when I decide where to capture these photos.

Another reason is that I love to work at new venues. When I say new, I mean venues where I have not been to before. I love to see a venue with a fresh pair of eyes…this allows me to be more creative.

However, not visiting a venue does not mean that I am not prepared for the wedding day itself. Far from it. I will do a lot of ‘homework’ via the internet. I will plan the route if there is more than one location (eg. bridal prep location, church, and reception venue) using Google Maps. I can also look at the venue(s) using Google Street View. Good old Google! It’s also possible to have a recce of the venue by looking online at other weddings that have taken place there or even the venue’s own website.

Finally, many of the weddings that I capture are in different parts of the country, a long way from home, and some are even overseas, so it is sometimes not feasible to visit the venue beforehand.” – Andy

Mark Hillyer
Mark Hillyer (UK) – Website / TiR

“I generally tend to do a recce on Google Maps satellite view, just so I can work out my routes and nearest parking etc. With regard to the actual venue, I’ve never felt the need to visit it before hand – like someone else mentioned, it makes me more creative. I have done it in the past though because I’ve sensed that the couple felt like it was a big deal so it’s been more for them than for me. On the plus side, it enables me to work out how good the venue’s coffee is and whether I should bring my own :-)” – Mark

Rob Gillespie
Rob Gillespie (UK) – Website / TiR

“You have to approach it in a way that makes you comfortable. So for us, that means we pretty much always do a recce, if it’s logistically possible and we’ll do them no more than two weeks ahead of the wedding if we can.

It’s not about light or creativity, it’s about being mentally prepared for the job and removing as many variables as I can – knowing the layout of the place and where people will move from/to, saying hello to the relevant staff, getting a feel for the place and it’s potential. None of this stuff dents creativity but it’s information you don’t have to waste time finding out on the day. We do quite a lot of couple photos given the chance and knowing which spots to use or avoid is invaluable. If the wedding involves walking along a public route it’s even more useful.

I also do it because of the driving route. I’ll typically drive the route I’m doing on the day – so dropping Sarah off for boys’ prep, then to bride prep, then to the church and so on (yes I’ll check out the church too, even if just the exterior). There’s been so many occasions where this preparation has saved our bacon I’ve lost count. Satnavs cannot be relied upon in terms of route and trusting them to take you the best way in a rural location is a risk I don’t want to take unnecessarily. They all seem to think a dirt track is a preferable route to a main road if it’ll save you 2ft, no matter the settings!

We’re not ‘destination’ photographers so it’s rarely an issue for us. If it’s really not possible to visit prior I’ll rock up an hour or so before we’re due to start at the very, very least, but I’m more comfortable doing it in advance.” – Rob

Kirsteen Hogg
Kirsteen Hogg (UK) – Website / TiR

“If the venue is local and diaries allow, I often suggest meeting up at the venue in the run up to the wedding to chat through the final logistics and have a wander around together. It’s really valuable to hear why they chose that particular venue and why it’s important to them and often little stories come out. One bride’s parents and grandparents had got married in the same church and both had a photograph by the same tree.

Obviously it isn’t always possible to meet in person and we’ll chat via Skype/FaceTime etc. Its interesting to ask both them what they love about the venue…often my correspondence is with one of the couple and its always nice to hear what the other one is really looking forward to on the day.

If I’ve not visited it before I’ll arrive a little earlier on the day for a quick wander and scope out locations for couples shots and groups, see what’s in bloom. So much of course depends on light, time of day etc. One thing I also ask the bride and groom is approximately how many people are going to be in the family shots…if you’re expecting 9 people and then 35 come trotting over, it keeps it smoother to have scoped out a suitable spot (with a few stairs perhaps!)” – Kirsteen

Elke Teurlings
Elke Teurlings (Netherlands) – Website / TiR

“When we first started photographing weddings, we visited some wedding venues a few weeks before the wedding. Sometimes, we even took the wedding couple, which we learnt was not such a good idea. Yes, it came in handy that we had a last meeting and could talk about the details of the wedding, but in the end it didn’t contribute to better shoot photos.

To start with, and I think many others will say this, the light is different on the day of the wedding, because of the time of day and the weather. But what appeared to be slightly harder to overcome: the wedding couple had gotten ideas of where their pictures should be taken. Don’t take me wrong, I love initiative, but we need to be free and open for inspiration, which won’t happen if the couple have some preconceived idea of how thinks should go. So, we hardly ever do this anymore.

On the other hand, our last wedding of this season, we did visit the venue beforehand, because people said it was very dark. We needed to know if we should set up our flashes for the ceremony, and we found out we needed some extra time on the wedding day to fix this. If we hadn’t visited the wedding venue, we wouldn’t have known for sure and, knowing us, we would have felt very uncomfortable. So, it depends… in general no, but in some cases it might be helpful.” – Elke

Michael Freas
Michael Freas (United States) – Website / TiR

“Yes and No. Visiting a venue can be somewhat helpful when there are multiple logistical challenges, and sometimes those warrant visiting the venue. This doesn’t have to be something that is done in advance, rather a quick walk through on the morning of the ceremony. Getting from point A-B is the wedding coordinator for the venue’s responsibility.

I myself don’t ever visit the venues ahead of time, because my photography is not about the venue. It’s not about the flowers or décor. Wedding Photojournalism or Reportage Wedding photography is about real moments and how they happen. It’s about the couple, their love, and their day. I am there to document the bride and groom’s day, and how it transpires.

For me creative couples’ portraits are somewhat a spur of the moment thing. I like to shower my couples with instant excitement when I see something that would help create a unique memory. My excitement influences the couple, creating a real moment, which leads to a natural image. If I go to the venue and see something cool, I then will think about it too much. The photo then becomes more posed, rather than natural and real.” – Michael

Greg Coltman
Greg Coltman (UK) – Website / TiR

“I used to visit the venue if I could, but I found out in the early days that it wasn’t necessary after spending several hours with couple walking round the venue to discover on the wedding day that they had closed half of it and put scaffolding up. I now like to view venues with fresh eyes and let things happen naturally. On the day I will scope locations. I’m have a wedding in Antigua this year and in this case I will arrive a day or 2 early to get the lay of the land but for UK weddings I like to see the venue with fresh eyes on the day.” – Greg

Robin Goodlad
Robin Goodlad (UK) – Website / TiR

“It used to be the case that photographers priced themselves on shooting 30 or more weddings a year at the same venue made them the best choice, when in fact this just means taking your couples to the same locations for the same photos, without anything unique. The best modern photographers can work anywhere, and find something from nothing, and new venues are exciting, not having worked there before is no longer a hindrance.

To be able to give couples the best coverage I can I always try to visit the venue before the wedding, with the couple if they wish, but ideally at the same time of year as their wedding, to get a feel for what it will be like, and what opportunities there might be – wild meadows, autumn leaves, whatever is in season. The Photographers Ephemeris is an amazing app I always use before every wedding to see exactly where the sun will set, or the moon will rise, and when. I also meticulously look at the venue on Google Earth and plan my travel. Preparation is key, if I am unable to visit beforehand then I will explore every detail online beforehand, so when I get there, it feels like I’ve been there already!” – Robin

Rafe Abrook
Rafe Abrook (UK) – Website / TiR

“Absolutely not! I did this for clients if the venue was new to me in my first year because I felt they would want me to. In reality nothing I semi-planned to shoot every happened once the reality of the day kicked in as it’s impossible to create without knowing the lighting conditions at that moment. Everything I do is driven by light and hence I have trained myself to adapt very quickly to seeing potential portrait opportunities so I do a quick reccy now when I can grab 5 mins on the day. Always working with a Second Shooter frees me up to do this while he or she grabs candids!” – Rafe

Patrick Mateer
Patrick Mateer (UK) – Website / TiR

“We are sometimes asked by our couples if a ‘venue walk’ before the wedding is a good idea. Our answer is always that we don’t feel it’s necessary. This is as we adopt a documentary approach to our work, capturing spontaneous moments – the glance, the gesture, raw emotions, laughing faces, the grouping of figures to cause shadow, or the fall of light on a face – that will go towards making a unique record of each wedding we are privileged enough to photograph.

At first, a venue walk may seem helpful, but when a wedding day comes there are so many variables at work – the weather, the lighting or even unexpected changes to a running order. But most of all a pre-wedding visit would be to an empty venue – without the people. What may seem a shadowy corner may spring to life as the bridesmaids gather there; what may appear a perfect background might on the day feel a little stilted or even cliched when everything is in full swing. As photographers we are responding to the feel of the event and how it unfolds, not to the venue itself. It is the people and how they respond to events and each other that is our concern. Of course, the venue is important and we use what it has to offer visually, but our primary focus is the people themselves.

We take care to talk to all our couples before their wedding and reassure them that when their wedding day finally arrives, they can forget we are there, then simply enjoy their day. This relaxed chat can be over a cup of coffee or remotely, via Skype. But that is all the pre-planning we undertake. To pre-determine shots and locations within the venue would, in practice, become stultifying for the couple, their guests and the photographer. This would be to set up scenarios where we would be continually asking people to move to achieve pre-arranged shots in particular locations, “Would you mind…?” “Can we close that curtain?” “we need to get that shot in the ballroom before the speeches!” just gets in the way. Keeping to a detailed shot list puts pressure on the participants and hinders their enjoyment of the day. Our skill is observation of people and we use our cameras to record what we see: a person moves to reveal a child at play; a firework ascends into the sky to illuminate a group of friends; sometimes it’s composing a shot and patiently waiting for a head to turn into – or more often away from – the light.

A quick walk around the venue on the wedding date itself – in the lighting conditions we are actually shooting in – is all we need. We then follow the course of the day without interrupting its flow, capturing the images that will form a story filled with atmosphere, feelings, special moments and those little anecdotes – comic or poignant – that will make it a lasting memory for each couple.” – Patrick

John Armstrong Millar
John Armstrong-Millar (France) – Website / TiR

“Well apart form the “have you shot a wedding there before?” question, the answer is well sort of.. I certainly don’t need to have shot at a venue before (in fact I prefer it when it’s all new) but I shoot a lot of weddings in places I have never been to before.

That said I always travel the day before so I can have a scout around, maybe shoot a bit of drone footage. Sometimes it’s not possible as in peak season I’m just too busy so I’ll certainly have a look on Google just to make sure I’m going to the right place. All my weddings are big affairs with the couple staying at the venue a few days either side of the actual marriage, so I’ll often rock up just to say hi the evening before, so I’m probably not the typical wedding photographer (although I’m not even sure if there is such a person)” – John

Bianca van Schaik (Netherlands) – Website / TiR

“I think it is not absolutely necessary… But if you do, it has some big advantages.

If they want me to.. I will go with the couple to the venue. So they can show me around and I can see what they want, if they tell me things like “I would like a nice picture with this and that on the background.” I’m ok with coming along when they go to the wedding venue the second (or third-) time. When I have a special venue with a lot of professionals working there, in order to make the wedding day as special as can be. It is nice to have seen the space I have to work in, when it is quiet and I can really take my time to know the place, to get some creative ideas buzzing. Also it is really nice to meet the people. If I know the people that owns the venue, and they know me, that works really nice! The atmosphere gets way more relaxing and that’s good for me but also for the wedding couple. Because they do not want stressed out professionals running around at their wedding.

If I can not visit beforehand or my client doesn’t think its necessary I’m going very early on the day it self. For example I’m booked at 13:00, I’ll be there at 12:15. So I can do my round and introduce myself to the owners before my clients get there. As an experienced wedding photographer I adjust well to all sorts of moments and places. Even if I visit before, the lighting can be totally different, or the furniture is placed differently so my ideas wouldn’t work as well, that can not stress me out. I have to change my ideas in an instant. And come up with some new ideas.

Often I search the internet for the venue, sometimes I call the venue to ask some things like “Is it ok if I use flash.” and “Can I use the pictures I made in my portfolio” “Are there people I’m not permitted to photograph” etc..
Often that’s more than enough. If I do visit the venue beforehand it’s often a religious venue like a church. Because of their special customs. I do a lot of church weddings and every church has their own customs and restrictions that are good to know. And last but no least, it is still unusual for churches to let photographers in. Some still don’t permit it to take pictures during a ceremony, others are still uncomfortable with it. In that case it is nice to have talked to each other beforehand so they are more relaxed me being there. It’s comfortable for them to meet me before the wedding to ask me all kinds of questions and tell me what they do and do not want me to do. They feel more respected because I listen to their wishes and in a church that is very important. (Although I also make sure they do not restrict me too much,.. I do want to deliver some beautiful shots to my clients).” – Bianca

Nuno Lopes
Nuno Lopes (Portugal) – Website / TiR

“Usually I prefer not to visit, that could break my creativity, also because the light conditions and all venue lights will be little different at wedding day. For other hand if you visit, you can always guide couples to some specific places to capture better couple photos. That is a very nice question, with different approaches to different places and couples, but 99% I prefer without visit the venue. Love to be surprised and put my brain to work, to release all creativity” – Nuno

Nathan Eames
Nathan Eames (UK) – Website / TiR

“I will usually give the venue a quick scope the morning of the wedding by arriving an hour or so early, which also gives me a chance to get some images of suppliers setting up which always helps with a bit of marketing. If the venue is a new one or destination wedding I’ll always make a special visit, flying by the seat of my pants on the day is fine, I know I’ll spot lovely areas to shoot when I am in the flow of a wedding but, when I have time I can start to think outside of the box and bring something else to the table.

Occasionally I’ll attend a rehearsal if the bride and groom seem like they need it, I like them to be as relaxed as possible and sometimes they just need the reassurance. This saved my bacon once so I never say never.

In the depths of Dorset there is a village called Tarrant Rawston, low population and spread out. I had a wedding ceremony at St Mary’s Church. My usual google of the church gave me the address which I added to the job notes. The bride really wanted me to attend the rehearsal the day before and I had nothing else on so I agreed. Both I and the Videographer turned up at the church and there was no one to be seen. Rural Dorset isn’t known for its mobile coverage so we couldn’t get in contact with the couple. After some shots of the church both the video guy and myself went home. I called the Bride later and she let me know there are TWO St Mary’s in Tarrant Rawston! One on private land. Now after posting an update on google maps I will not make that mistake again. A village with a population of 40 people in 2013 with Two churches with the same names! What are the odds!” – Nathan

Paul Tansley
Paul Tansley (UK) – Website / TiR

“If possible, yes, it’s always nice to visit the couples wedding venue before the wedding. However, it’s not always practical to do so. Does it affect the final images? Not at all, in my honest opinion. When you shoot weddings in a reportage style, you’re not asking people to move position during the day to make pictures, your job is to photograph them beautifully, wherever they happen to be standing, regardless of the light that’s there or what the background is. As a good photographer you work with what’s in front of you. Knowing beforehand where the ‘good parts’ of the venue are is irrelevant if the couple and guests never spend any time in that area. Part of being an experienced and talented professional is being able to produce stunning images, regardless of the venue, light, situation etc.

That all being said, even as a reportage photographer, visiting a venue with the couple beforehand gives you a good chance to reconnect with them and the opportunity to ask about family relationships etc. It’s also helpful to talk through their day with them regarding timings. Quite often couples will not allow enough time between the ceremony and sitting down for the meal, to give them time to actually enjoy their own wedding, let alone allow for group shots and portraits of the two of them. Additionally, If visiting a venue with the couple you can sometimes make suggestions as to which way to position the aisle for instance – if the venue has a choice. So that the couple will be in better light on the day. At many venues, this simply isn’t an option, but it does give you heads up on the potential light and scenes you might encounter on the actual day.” – Paul

Adam Lowndes
Adam Lowndes (UK) – Website / TiR

“Should I visit your venue beforehand? In short, NO, there’s seriously no point and it would be a waste of yours and my time.

Here’s the more thought out long rambling.

Whenever the general public talk about the English weather, they describe the gloominess and grand boredom they suffer through repeated days rained out from their beloved beer gardens. As a photographer you see things a little differently. You see every slight beautiful change in light which has a multitude of knock on effects to brightness, colour and shadow.

Natural light is by far the most useful tool we as photographers will ever use. It’s magical… like Harry Potter magical. It can make or break a photograph with ease.

The worst of it is, natural light cannot be controlled. When we walk into a space as a photographer we can’t dictate to light how we want to play this game. It’s a one in a million phenomenon. You could visit a venue a million times and it would look differently every time.

Light happens on a single day, at a single time, at a single wedding and not six months before with no decor and at a completely opposite time and season to the one you’ll say “I DO!” in.

So how do I prepare for photographing in a venue I’ve never stepped foot in before? This is where the beauty which is the internet comes into play. I can see every finest detail about your venue through their website, other photographers blogs and Google Maps (other search engines are available). If I can’t even find a single crumb of your venue online then I can resort to other methods:

Numero 1: you can send me videos/photographs when you visit.
Numero 2: I’ll turn up early on the day and have a wander.

Problem solved.

I put so much time into my couples and will metaphorically go to the end of the earth for their happiness but this pre-internet problem which people plant into a couple’s mind is just not a problem at all.

Time is precious and by stipulating you’d like the photographer to visit your venue you’re in theory taking time away from editing and all the other way more important aspects to their job.” – Adam

Josh Tomalin
Josh Tomalin (UK) – Website / TiR

“No – I really don’t. It’s not only unnecessary to see the venue beforehand, it’s a hindrance rather than a help. To explain: the whole concept here is that I’m trying to photograph my reaction to what’s happening in front of me, with feeling and without filter. If I’ve scouted the venue beforehand, no matter how much I try, there will be the unconscious desire to fit moments into frames that have already started to form in my mind. I lose that sense of surprise and discovery and I’ll miss all of those tiny intimate and funny moments, which really is all that I’m interested in.

I need to react freshly and with an open mind in order to do my thing. I never go to a wedding with a shopping list of shots that I need, that way lies mediocrity. If Granny’s phone is going off during the first kiss, I want to be pointing a camera at that rather than worrying about getting the perfect framing with the stain glass window in the background (this actually happened!)” – Josh


Many thanks to our This is Reportage members who contributed to this discussion. If you found it interesting, you may also like to look through our other ‘Ask The Photographers’ pieces, including discussions on whether two photographers are better than one, what wedding photographers do in the quiet season, and just what they themselves would look for when choosing a photographer.

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Aga Tomaszek

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