There are few things more important for the quality of images for a wedding than scouting. Many, if not most, photographers either do not scout or do so scantily. I will explain (1) the importance and purpose of scouting and (2) give an example of a scout that I recently did before Jason and Jenn's wedding at Texas Christian University (TCU).
What is a Scout?
Notice, at no point have I said location scout. That is because the location is the third thing you are looking for. What this really should be called it a light or composition scout.
Light is the most important element your photo. If you have good light, the location has very little to do with the quality of your photo.
When I am scouting for interesting compositions, I am looking for clean and simple. Always be thinking about where the couple will be placed in the composition and whether there is sufficient hierarchy so that other elements are not competing, but complementing the main subject. It is very important for photographers to study design because the same principles of print design apply to photography.
Because you are scouting for the wedding, it is best to scout at the same time of day that you will be shooting there.
Jenn and Jason's wedding was on the campus of TCU. I knew we were going to take portraits across campus so the day before the wedding, I scouted.
Image #1 - Bridal Party
You should always look for clean lines. Here, I would place the bride and groom standing up on the far left of the frame, faces up toward the sun. Because I would expose for the face and this is extremely hard light, the shadow would bend toward black. I would position all of the bridal party so that only their heads would be in the light. For example, the lowest person would either be sitting down, kneeling, or laying down with just their head peak up. The tallest in the bridal party would be on the far right side. They may even have to jump.
I would take two shots. One would be with all of them looking at the bride and groom. Their faces would be largely in shadow and thus it would just be the backs of their heads that would be lit. That would both de-emphasize their faces in the visual hierarchy and enhance the leading line of the light. For the second shot I would have the bridal party looking up toward the sun with eyes closed. You could also have the couple face one another and have bridal party members facing one another.
One other idea would be to slightly overexpose the couple and then bring up the shadows slightly in post. Then put all the bridal party in the shadows while the bride and groom stay in the light. The bridal party would be visually second in hierarchy and and a nice subtle complementary element.
Image #2 - Portrait
When scouting, the aphorism holds true: ask for forgiveness, not permission. As I was walking around the campus of TCU, the was construction on and around the football stadium. On first glance, it looked off limits...then I walked right in. As I was walking around, I found this gem of a place. I would pose the couple cuddled together with noses towards the sun, lying in that sliver of light. After adding contrast in post, it would look like this:
Check back for Part 2 of "How to Scout for a Wedding." I have many more images and compositional inspiration.