I think the most common questions I get from couples relate to the wedding day timeline. Sometimes it’s difficult to visualize how all the different pieces of the wedding day will line up, especially when you aren’t sure how long each specific part might take. A wedding planner or coordinator is your best friend here. They’ve been to enough events to know the ropes and can help manage guests to keep things rolling. Your second best friend, however, is likely your photographer.
The photography schedule is complicated. We’ve got to fit in pictures of the bride alone, the groom alone, the groom with his attendants, the bride with her attendants, the full wedding party, the couple alone, the bride and groom each with their separate families, and then the bride and groom together with their families. And then we also need time to photograph the details and decor, the mingling of the cocktail hour, the food before it’s eaten, and the ceremony and reception sites before they’re in use. AND if you choose a documentary-style wedding photographer (like me) this is all supposed to occur while we’re simultaneously capturing the emotions and activities of the day in an unobtrusive but thorough manner.
Sound impossible? It’s really not, as long as your wedding day has a well-thought-out timeline and everyone is familiar with it in advance. Here are my tips for making sure your wedding day schedule works for all parties involved and gives you time to get the photos you’re dreaming of:
1. Start hair and makeup early. EARLY. If you don’t provide extra time for your stylists, then every loose hair or eyelash issue becomes a potential scheduling obstacle. Now, don’t get me wrong: I love hair and makeup. Your stylist on your wedding day is very, VERY important. They want you to look your best, and it’s important to give them enough time to work freely and have time for touch-ups. Don’t expect them to do hair and makeup for you and your entire wedding party in just one hour. Ideally, your hair and makeup should be done at least an hour before you want to start your photos. That gives you time to get dressed, have a snack, and do any touchups before we head out, and it gives the stylists a little wiggle room.
2. Figure 30 minutes for each side’s wedding party photos and at least 15 minutes combined. I try to work very quickly with my wedding parties, but getting flowers in order, boutonnieres attached, and a heavy dress moved around takes time. And while everyone expects the post-ceremony family group shots to take a while, somehow the wedding party’s photos always take longer… especially if you’re wanting multiple “creative” poses. Most of my couples like to keep the wedding party photos simple, which I love, but it’s still important to schedule a little extra time for them. Better safe than sorry.
3. Figure 3-5 minutes per shot for family photos, and keep the list simple. I normally photograph the bride and groom separately with their parents, siblings, and immediate family before the ceremony, and then the couple together with their extended and immediate families after the ceremony. The best thing you can do is make a printed shot list and share it with the people involved. Be sure they know where to go and when to be there. Mention that you’ll be able to give them copies of the photos after the wedding, too… often, having a lot of people trying to take doubles (triples, etc) of your family groups with their own cameras slows us down.
4. Don’t rush your portrait time. Your couple’s portrait time is not only a chance to get great shots of the two of you all decked out, but it’s also an opportunity to unwind from the stress of the preparations and ceremony and get your head together a bit before heading to the reception. It tends to be a highlight of the day for many couples because it’s quiet and somewhat private. Savor it! When possible, try to plan for at least 30 minutes for these pictures. I can do them much faster in a pinch, but the best photos come with a lot of exploratory time.
5. Eat first. A lot of couples choose to do their first dances immediately upon entering the reception, but I think it’s nice to give yourself a chance to relax and talk to guests before you hit the dance floor. You can also request a plate be brought to you (yes, during your portrait session) from the cocktail hour spread. This gives you a chance to reenergize a bit and also taste some of those yummy hors d’oeuvres.
6. Don’t exit too late. This is an iffy one, because it really varies depending upon you and your guests. I almost don’t want to include it, but I’ve seen it be an issue enough times to warrant at least a mention. So here goes: some people like to party all night. Grandparents and guests with small children typically do not. If you’d like your guests to stay until the very end of your reception, consider ending your reception slightly earlier and head to an after party somewhere else for the crazy late night dancing. I have no opinion either way, but I know that I often miss shooting a lot of exits because they occur very late in the day, much past the packaged hours. I also sometimes hear couples lamenting that some of their most cherished guests had to leave before the cake cutting or sparklers took place. Just something to consider.
7. Schedule some free time. The best wedding schedule I ever received had a 40-minute free period before the ceremony. This was kind of a shock, and it was nice for everyone. The vendors (including me) got a chance to sit down and get a snack, and I even got to work on shooting details that I often have to relegate to my second shooter. The kids got a chance to play. The bride and groom got a chance to relax with their friends. And best of all, if things had run late, we’d still have run on schedule.
8. Consider a first look. If you’ve been over your schedule multiple times and you just don’t see how you can fit everything in, you might want to consider seeing each other before the ceremony. A first look is quick and easy to do, and it allows you to potentially get almost ALL your photos done before the wedding even begins… meaning you’ll get to your reception a whole lot faster. With first look weddings, we usually photograph the girls’ and boys’ sides separately, get the bride and groom together alone for a few minutes, and then do the full wedding party. If there’s enough time allotted, we do the immediate family shots as well. I understand when people don’t want to do a first look, and I would never push one on anybody, but I have seen them work very, very well.
So, if you’ve read all this and are still totally confused as to where to being your planning, consider this suggested wedding day timeline… I am making this for an imaginary wedding in the summer with a 5:30 ceremony (keeping the golden hour in mind for portraits) but you can add/subtract hours as necessary to fit your start time. Keep in mind I’ve schedule a lot of extra time here, but that’s because it’s often needed. Your wedding planner will have more for you to consider when they’ve talked with the venue, the caterer, the DJ, and other vendors, but perhaps this can help you get started:
Hair/makeup (full bridal party of 4-5): 12:00-2:30
Dressing/touchups/extra time allowance: 2:30-3:30
Separate sides’ bridal party/family pictures: 3:30-4:00
First look: 4:00
Combined bridal party pictures: 4:15-4:45
Extra time: 4:45-5:15
(Line up for ceremony: 5:15)
(Cocktail hour: 6:00-7:00)
Family group pictures: 6:00-6:30
Couple’s portraits: 6:30-7:00
Reception: 7:00-whenever you’re ready to leave