Yes, It’s Worth Attending Your Clients’ Rehearsal Dinners

November 22, 2019

By Kenny Kim

© Kenny Kim

Rehearsal dinners are usually reserved for the wedding party and their close friends and family members. I always take the opportunity to attend them and spend time getting to know people. By the end of the night, I become part of the family. At that point, I can suggest taking fun group photos like this one, taken at the rehearsal dinner in Rome, that I know they will cherish.

UPDATED 1/8/23

When I’m trying to be a better wedding photographer, I often look to my friends in other professions to study their routines and habits in order to understand what makes them excel at what they do. From world-renowned musicians, actors and athletes to TV and radio broadcasters, they all have one thing in common: the preparation. No true professional, regardless of how long they have been at their job, shows up without proper planning and expects to perform at 100 percent. That’s why it’s important for wedding photographers to think about attending their clients’ rehearsal dinners. (But more on that in a minute.)

My friend Jake Shimabukuro, an internationally acclaimed ukulele artist from Hawaii, has a routine before every concert: He goes over the songs, checks the sound quality of the venue, and notes all the names of the staff members working that event, along with some of the audience members that he met earlier that day, and writes them on his playlist sheet so that he can properly thank them during the show.

Jake Shimabukuro going over his playlist and making notes before the show.

While his amazing musical talent alone will wow the audience, all the extra effort he puts into each concert behind the scenes guarantees that he will have a successful show and provide an unforgettable experience for every venue.

Adding Very Personal Touches to Your Wedding Client Experience

Most of you reading this will agree that preparation and planning is important. Yet when I ask many of my wedding photographer peers if they attend the rehearsal dinner of the wedding that they will photograph, the majority of them say no. Some even argued that they do not want to give up their “free” night before the wedding to go spend it with their clients and a bunch of strangers they do not know.

While I agree that our time is valuable and precious, imagine this: If you’re given a chance to study the guide that covers all the materials for a big exam you are about to take, would you say no? 

The same principle applies to wedding photography. If you want to be a great wedding photographer, you have to study and know the subjects that you will be photographing. We are not just talking about the bride and groom; it takes a village to make this wedding happen, and all the important people surrounding the couple’s wedding will be at the rehearsal dinner too.

5 Wedding Photographers Dish on Managing and Exceeding Client Expectations

We all know what happens at these rehearsal dinners: couples gather their entire wedding party the evening before the wedding (usually) to go over the wedding ceremony together. This ensures everyone who plays a part in the wedding is comfortable with his or her responsibilities.

Details are important and knowing what is going on during the ceremony will help you capture the important moments while being unobtrusive. Talking to the planner will also ensure that you are on the same page.

I have never had one client decline my invitation to come to their rehearsal. I am not inviting myself to come and take photos—I simply offer to come to meet and greet the family members as well as the wedding party. I also let them know that I want to come and observe the ceremony so that I know where I can best position myself during the actual ceremony. They appreciate the extra effort you are making to get to know them. And chances are, the majority of the people at the rehearsal are the ones you will want to focus on capturing on the wedding day.

5 Key Things to Do at the Rehearsal Dinner

1. Introduce yourself to everyone.

Greet the bride and the groom to let them know you’ve arrived. Then if possible, move on to the parents next, then siblings, followed by the wedding party. If you are shy about approaching people, ask the bride and the groom to introduce you to them.

informal shots at rehearsal dinner.
You can even suggest taking an informal group shot during the rehearsal dinner that will help you remember names on the following day.

This is where you should start to memorize people’s names. This is very critical for the wedding day.

2. Familiarize yourself with the ceremony location.

Shooting at a beautiful church like this usually comes with rules and regulations. Talk to the coordinator or the officiant to find out what those rules are. 

Introduce yourself to the church coordinator or the officiant who will be conducting the ceremony. Get to know the rules of the church or the ceremony location by asking them. I know the term “asking for forgiveness” is popular, but if you respect their rules, they will appreciate you for it and often times tend to be more lenient with you.

3. Rehearsal Dinner Tip: Find out any family dynamics to avoid any unnecessary tension or photo combinations.

Are there any family members that must be photographed? Is there anyone that should not be photographed together? Are there must-have moments that you would like captured?

You should probably go over this with the bride and the groom before the rehearsal, but it is good to run it by them again just to make sure they didn’t miss anything.

4. Get to know and build rapport with the wedding party.

Find out what relationship they have with the bride and the groom. This is a great way to break the ice so that you are not a stranger showing up, shooting photos while they’re getting ready on the wedding day; you’re a friend that they already feel comfortable with because they met you the night before.

Often times, I meet future clients at rehearsals just by getting to know them, too.

5. Bring your camera anyway.

Even though you are not getting paid to be capturing photos (unless they hired you to shoot the rehearsal dinner), having it in on you mentally trains everyone there to recognize that you are their photographer. You are already allowing them to relax in front of the camera so that you can capture them in their relaxed natural moments. Unfamiliarity often makes people nervous and tense up when a camera is pointing at them.

Immediately following the wedding rehearsal, one of the parents of the bride or groom usually hosts a dinner for everyone who took part in the rehearsal. Because of my gesture to attend the rehearsal, I often get invited to come to the dinner as well. This a great opportunity for me spend additional time with them to know them better. While I usually do not stay for the entire dinner (because I need to get ready for the next day), this allows me to connect with people on a deeper level and helps me to know what combination of photos might be important for the clients.

As you do this more and more, you will realize that the most important part of wedding photography is the relationship you build with your clients. This relationship is deepened with more time you spend with them and their loved ones.

If you do not currently attend rehearsal dinners for your clients, make it a goal to do it for your next upcoming weddings. You will drastically see the difference in the quality of your images and the way people interact with you,

Let me leave you with one final tip about rehearsal dinners: Thank everyone you met at the rehearsal dinner at the end of wedding night, like my friend Jake does at his concerts. It leaves a lasting impression about you. People may not get to see all the photos you take that day, but they will remember the service you provided, how you made them feel and soon enough, you will be on your way to gaining more “word-of-mouth” clients in the future.

Kenny Kim has grown his internationally recognized studio since 2006. He is a regular face at WPPI and also the author of two books (published by Wiley Press), comprehensive must-reads for beginning wedding photographers. He last wrote about making the leap to full-time wedding photography.