Although it’s fun to spend time with family and friends on New Year’s Eve, it’s also a blast to be out photographing a wedding when the clock strikes midnight. After all, this is the kind of wedding that can only happen once a year. I’ve compiled a few tips to make sure the couple gets hitched without any hitches. Many of these will also apply to snowy or chilly winter weddings.
Please add any of your own tips in the comments below.
1. Consecutive Hours of Coverage
I typical negotiate my wedding contracts so that I’m providing consecutive hours of coverage. This means that once my couples decide on a start time, there are no breaks for travel or venue set-up. I do this to avoid downtime at far-away venues when there is almost nothing productive I could do.
New Year’s Eve (NYE) weddings are a bit of a different beast. Over the years, I’ve found that nobody needs hundreds of party photos, especially as the evening grows old and the party goers, well, party more. Considering the prospect of photographing 3-plus hours of dancing and partying, for NYE weddings only, I’ve decided to offer my couples a break in coverage between 9ish and 11:40pm.
With this in mind, I’ve taken to bringing a book along to NYE weddings. Something that doesn’t usually make its way into my wedding day gear bag.
Somewhat related, even if you’ve scheduled a break, dancing and party photos will likely take up a larger portion of the wedding day’s coverage than normal weddings. Make sure to pack extra flash batteries if that’s how you strobe.
2. Scheduling for Daylight (Northern Hemisphere)
More often than not, wedding day schedules see portraits and photographs of the couple slotted in after the ceremony. Because NYE is only a week or so past the Winter Solstice when you’re above the Tropic of Cancer, it’s important to have a conversation with your couple about either having an early ceremony or, potentially, taking photographs before the ceremony to ensure that there is daylight.
When planning portrait time, don’t forget that many couples will want a few portraits at night-time (which could be as early as 4pm in some cases) to capture the feeling of NYE.
3. What is Going to Happen at Midnight?
There are dozens of different ways that revelers can ring in the New Year. In order to get the best photos possible, I always try to avoid surprises. As with all things, it’s best to talk with your couple and then the venue about what exactly will happen at midnight and to be prepared. Will there be a balloon drop, sparklers, confetti, fireworks, a water fight, a sing-a-long to “Auld Lang Syne”? Each potential celebration offers both opportunities and challenges for photographers. Be prepared and be ready.
An Aside: Gear Safety
NYE celebrations have the tendency to get out of hand, fast. Be prepared. Even if you’re not outside, think about how to protect your gear. Be ready for a food fight, the spray of sparkling wine, boisterous dancing, and even mini bits of confetti that could gum up your camera.
4. Keep Track of Your Couple and Be Ready for the Kiss
As midnight approaches, it’s best to set yourself up as close to your couple as possible without being conspicuous. This will make it easier to get close at the right moment to grab a picture of the NYE kiss.
5. Extra Sparklers or Other NYE Props
I mentioned earlier that many couples will want photos that capture the mood and spirit of NYE. Working sparklers into your photos will certainly capture that mood. I’ve found that it’s best to keep an extra bag of sparklers in my gear bag for these weddings. If you’re shooting these portraits before midnight, the venue may not have handed out sparklers yet. If you’re shooting these after midnight, there may be no sparklers left. Having them at hand can make you a hero.
6. Use the NYE Details
If you’re shooting a NYE wedding, your couple has clearly picked NYE on purpose. Incorporate as many NYE props and details as possible.
When it come to shooting the jewelry, do your best to use these NYE themed props to really capture the mood.
7. Warm Clothing For You (Northern Hemisphere)
December 31st can be really cold. Don’t forget to pack a warm but flexible pair of gloves and a jacket. Maybe a toque? Who knows, maybe you'll be looking for an angle that will only work if you're flat on your back in a snow drift?
8. Warm Clothing for Your Couple (Northern Hemisphere)
In the same vein, I’ve seen strapless wedding dresses and thin wool suits that would be at home at an island cocktail party in the middle of winter. Being cold or, worse, wet, can put a damper on photography fun. Even if a bride’s dress is sleeved, bridesmaids often end up with much less dress. It’s best to take the time to remind your couple that if you’re going to be shooting outside in the cold that they bring gloves and jackets for between shots.
If you’re going to cross any snowy fields, it’s best to make sure that everyone has a pair of boots to supplement their heels or Oxfords. You could always suggest embracing the weather — scarves and boots certainly help capture the mood. Big boots are easier than you'd think to hide under a wedding dress.
An Aside: Extra Batteries / Warm Clothing for Your Camera
If you’re shooting outside and it’s cold, don’t forget that your batteries won’t last as long as a warm summer’s eve wedding.
If you’ve found a really brave couple who are getting married outside on NYE, don’t forget that it might snow. Bring something to cover your camera and protect it from the elements.
8. Indoor Location
Sometimes couples like the idea of a winter wedding, more than its snowy, chilly reality. If this may be the case, consider suggesting an indoor photo location (e.g., a greenhouse) as an alternative or supplementary photo location once they get too cold.
I’ve found that NYE weddings tend to take place in resort-like venues, usually a longer than normal drive from home. Given the rush of drivers on the road and the later than typical hour, to make sure the evening ends safely, consider requiring accommodation as part of your fee. If that’s not something you want to ask for from your couple, approach the venue and ask for a vendor rate. Perhaps think about offering them photos of the party in exchange for a room.
10. Snow Tires (Northern Hemisphere)
I learned this one at a pretty embarrassing cost: put snow tires on your car if you’re going to be facing the possibility of snow. Being stuck on a snow-covered hill just below the chapel, while the couples family passed me in 4x4s, has taught me to never make this mistake again.
If you have any other tips, or, if you think I’m way off the mark, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.