It’s easy to fall in love with Valorie Daring’s romantic images. Just one look at the California photographer’s Instagram feed and you’re quickly swept up into her world, where flowers are blooming, the light is just right, and couples are always smiling from ear to ear. As one of the most in-demand photographers in the country, Darling knows a thing or two about wedding photos. So who better to ask for their expert advice? Below, her tips and tricks on what every newly engaged couple should consider before hiring someone to work with on their wedding day.
What is the number one piece of advice you would offer couples before they hire a wedding photographer?
Hire someone that you connect with, whose work you love. Ask for an entire wedding gallery so you’re not just seeing the perfectly curated Instagram reel. You want to see details, energy, emotion and consistency in lighting and edit. If you like how they capture an entire day and story, schedule a time to meet with them, as if it were a date. You should feel at ease around them. They should reflect your nature and bring out the best in you—that’s what will show in the photos. The only person you’ll spend more time with on your wedding day is your partner, so you want them to contribute to your experience of the day. They should be a best friend, artist, Swiss Army knife, therapist, timekeeper, hair and makeup master, seamstress, and dance machine.
What should brides try to avoid during their wedding day photo set up?
A Rushed Timeline: Always, always build in extra time for getting ready. People run late, things are forgotten, and you want to have plenty of breathing room so you’re not feeling rushed in the lead up to the ceremony.
A Messy Suite: I always recommend keeping one area of the room cleared of clutter, a dedicated space with a clean background with the best natural light that will produce the most beautiful portraits and candids. If there’s a beautiful open backdrop it’s the perfect location to let the candids roll.
Are you pro or against first looks? And what are some of the best ways to set it up?
I’m all about doing whatever my couple feels is most right for them. My preference is to do a “first look” because you get more time with your significant other (which is something you’ll want) and if you stack your other family shots right after, you’ll be able to go right from your “I dos” to celebrating with your guests. I’ve had a few couples who did not do a first look and had really magical aisle moments, which I love, but there are so many emotions that I don’t think a first look will take away from the aisle walk.
For first-looks, I typically find an intimate space free of distractions and people so you can just be—and allow something natural to unfold—and I’m there to capture that moment together.
Cocktail hour is usually when couples escape to do some solo shots together. Do you prefer to do this then or some other time during the event? How long should couples estimate this should take?
If you do a first look, this is mostly out of the way so you can hang with your guests more and I usually just keep them for the first 15-20 minutes of the cocktail hour to grab anything we missed with extended family. If you opt out of a first look, you usually miss the cocktail hour completely because we’ll be capturing all the family set-ups, full bridal party (if you have one), and then go into those romantics.
What is one wedding photo request you keep getting asked that wished would go away?
I love that people use Pinterest and Instagram to develop creative direction and inspiration, but I also caution them from getting too attached to these images and set-ups because this attempt to stage and recreate ideas can take away from what will emerge from something organic and uniquely you. I’m interested in understanding the reason you are drawn to a certain image, maybe it’s the spontaneity of the moment or the feeling of how free the bride looks in the wind so that we can work to achieve that feeling with what is unique to the moment we’re in. I find that the best images come from shoots with couples who trust me as an artist and as a result are more open, present and playful.
What is one thing couples hate doing on their wedding day with their photographer but that always pays off in the end?
Leaving the party at magic hour for shots is not what most people want to do when they’re finally diving into conversation with their guests, but if you’ve got a great photographer, trust him or her. They have visualized a sunset shot that you will keep forever and will make it efficient to get you back to celebrating as soon as they’ve got it.
It’s nice when the time of year has sunset lining up with dinner service, so they can discreetly slip away for a quiet moment as guests are busy enjoying dinner.
What have been some of your favorite unusual photo setups at weddings?
I’ve been inspired by a few in particular who created some sort of sacred space in nature: An altar made of the land, the sounds of wildlife, a piano in the woods and the sun through the trees. These can be special because they are so singular.
What should everyone remember to do before starting to take their wedding photos?
To relax, to enjoy a shoot as a window to take it all in, to spend time together and have fun! It’s easy to feel stress being in front of the camera but using it as an intentional time to slow down time and be together in the swirl of it all will produce images you’ll return to for inspiration for the rest of your life.