Should my wedding photographer recce my venue?

Should my wedding photographer do a recce of my venue?

If you’ve ever thought something along the lines of … “My photographer hasn’t shot at my venue before. I love their work (and they’ve reassured me it doesn’t matter that they haven’t worked there before) but it’d really put my mind at ease if they were familiar with it.” … then read on to find out whether your wedding photographer should do a recce of your venue before the day.

What the Helvetica is a venue recce?

When a wedding photographer talks about a ‘venue recce’, it means a trip to see your venue and familiarise themselves with it before the day. 

When I first started as a wedding photographer, I thought this was a great idea. How could visiting a venue before the wedding not help me capture beautiful photos on the day itself? 

My plan was simple: A day trip to a gorgeous venue where I could hunt down the best backgrounds, check out locations for the formal photos, and decide what photos I’d take where. 

Sounds like a pretty good strategy, right? 

Well, I was new to the whole wedding photography thing back then, so I was probably in a similar place as you are now.

So I get it. You want to:

  • Feel confident in your photographer’s ability to take the lead – so you can relax and enjoy your day
  • Be certain your photographer knows how to bring out the best in your venue
  • Rest reassured your photographer knows their way around, so they spend more time taking photos and less time scoping things out

Yep? I’m with you! Those are all essential boxes to tick.

But a venue visit might not be as helpful towards ticking those boxes as you first think. In fact, it can even be a hindrance.

Here’s why…

A documentary wedding photographer will look for two things on your wedding day:

1. Light

The quality, position, and intensity of light determine what’s possible for your wedding photos. And because light changes hugely according to the time of year, the time of day, and the weather, it’s extremely unlikely that the light will be the same for both a venue recce and your wedding day.

2. Moments

Whilst the visual aspects of your venue will be a big source of inspiration, a documentary wedding photographer’s main focus will be on what’s happening within it. It’s people that make a wedding a wedding. So unscripted real moments between your guests will guide and inspire your photographer more than the location.

Like in these two photos. A reflection of the bride’s sister gave a framed family photo extra meaning. And a cluttered child’s bedroom became the backdrop to storytime.

Light and moments are unique to your day. And neither can be pre-planned. 

And get this…

A venue recce can even work against you.


Well, let me ask you this: How often do you change things in your home? How often do you move a piece of furniture, get some new wall art, throw something out, plant some flowers, prune a tree, buy a blanket, change the bedding, or get a few new cushions?

If you’re anything like me, your home constantly changes.  

Wedding venues are the same. Paintings get moved, walls get painted a different colour, antiques suddenly get roped off, trees get felled, trees get planted … 

And that cute white bench under the apple tree I set my heart on during my first-ever venue recce? It wasn’t there on the wedding day.

So rather than fall in love with an idea and pre-plan something that might not be possible, it’s best to be open-minded and go with the flow (and best light) on the day. 

Rainbow over a barn wedding venue

Moral of the story?

Don’t plan your photos in detail or make firm decisions around what will get shot where. Treat your wish list as just that, but allow room for spontaneity, serendipity, and magic. Because I promise, that’ll make your wedding photos more special than anything you can pre-plan. 

Bride's veil blowing as the couple walk out of church

But wait – that doesn’t mean venue familiarity is irrelevant!

I know, I know, just when you thought you were getting a clear-cut answer.

You see, knowing your way around a venue is definitely handy.

If the venue is mapped out in your head, it saves time asking for directions, sussing out good spots for portraits and group shots, and getting your couple back to the party.

For me, it certainly brings peace of mind and extra headspace when I know a venue’s best features and have pre-planned solutions for portraits and group photos. 

A recce would absolutely help with this … but there are other (more efficient) ways to achieve the same result…

Five ways your photographer can get to know your venue – without a recce

Okay, so before they fuel up their car, pack some snacks, and hit the road, your photographer might research your wedding venue with a… 

  • Search on Google
  • Stalk of social media
  • Nose at the venue’s website
  • Chat with the venue planner
  • Look around before starting on your wedding day

Yep – your photographer can easily become best buds with your venue with a combination of online research and an early arrival on your wedding day. 

Bride and groom in the courtyard at Deene Park

Do venue recces have a place in your wedding photography process, Sarah?

For me, a recce is a great adventure (especially if Daisy and Poppy can tag along!) but because I know doing it before the day won’t make any difference to the photos, I prefer to spend my time more productively. 

I rate delivering finished photos when promised, giving my full attention to album designs, and replying promptly to queries as more important than a recce. (Even if there’s cake involved.)

Having said that, I do occasionally visit a venue ahead of a wedding day. But that tends to be because it’s the location my couple has chosen for their pre-wedding shoot.

Instead, I like to arrive early on the wedding day and do a recce then. It doesn’t take long, and I take shots of the venue itself anyway, so I can double up and do both at the same time. There’s always an opportunity to squeeze it in. I quite often go for a quick wander mid-way through the morning preparations to give everyone a little space without the camera around or while I’m waiting for the wedding car to arrive from church (slow vintage cars have more than one role to play!).

Even then, I still need to keep an eye on the light as the day progresses, particularly ahead of group photos and portraits, and around golden hour or sunset. Because the height of the sun in the sky and the amount of cloud cover can change the light, and a scene, quickly and dramatically. 

Couple with their arms held high after getting married at The Tythe Barn, Bicester

So if your documentary photographer says no to a venue recce … 

Don’t sweat it. Believe me, it’s not because they can’t be bothered, don’t care, or don’t want to help.  Instead, it’s most likely they know a recce will have no impact on your photos. 

A venue recce is a personal decision for each and every photographer. There’s no right or wrong. 

What’s more important is to ask them: “How will you prepare for my wedding given that it’s a new venue for you?”

The ‘what’ is that they need to wrap their head around your venue. Trust them with the ‘how’. 

Wedding reception on the lawn in front of a castle

Feel like our wedding photography philosophies are aligned? 

Let’s see if our styles are a match too. Check out my portfolio.

Still in venue mode? What fun! I’ve got more wedding venue photography guides to go!

Woof! We love tail-wagging along when Mum goes on a recce road trip. But as she always tells us, the real adventure is the one she shares with you. (But we know it’s really the cheese sandwiches for lunch.)

We think you’re amazing. 

Daisy and Poppy

Sarah's dogs, Daisy and Poppy