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The Idea Timeline For Wedding Photographers

I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with about 80 awesome couples on their big day. I think it’s important to share what I’ve learned with other photographers, and also other couples who I will be working with in the near future. A lot of people think wedding photographers just take nice photos, and somehow great moments just happen out of serendipity (I just wanted to use the word ‘serendipity’ in a blog post). A lot of these spontaneous moments are ‘created’ by having enough time to allow those moments to happen. A well planned timeline makes everybody relaxed and at ease. And it is my job as a wedding photographer to make sure my clients have the best experience possible on their wedding day.

Before we get into it, just a small disclaimer. It is by no way a tutorial on how you should run your business. This is my experience on what has worked for me so far. And it is meant to be an open discussion, I’d love to hear about your experiences as well!

A wedding photographer plays many different roles on the day of the wedding. Personally my team and I have been chauffeurs, boutineer pinners, day-of coordinators, Starbucks boy, and many other less glamorous job titles. But perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is to manage the timeline correctly. I’ll share how I manage the timeline with my couples from the planning stage until the end of my wedding photography coverage. I usually contact my couples about two weeks before the wedding to finalize the timeline. A lot of last minute changes happen during the last few weeks leading up to the wedding, so it’s always a good policy to verify everything one more time.

Here’s are four questions that I ask my bride and groom;

1. First look or not?

There are two school of thoughts on this,  and there really is no right or wrong way to do it.  However, my experience has shown me that if a couple elects to do a first look, we can usually fit in an extra 45 minutes just for bride & groom portraits. I don’t ‘hard sell’ my couples on the idea of first look. It is their wedding, and they will choose how they will remember the day. But my job is to let them know the pros and cons of their choices. Obviously this will have a big impact on the timeline.

2. How big is the bridal party and family formal list?

For family formals I like to keep it under 15 minutes. That is usually doable if everybody cooperates and sticks around right after the ceremony.  I communicate to my couples that the officiant (or the DJ), should make an announcement at the end of the ceremony for the bridal party and immediate family to stay for photos.  This is usually when a less experienced photographer will loose a significant amount of time.  In my contract, I ask the family to designate a person who’s familiar with everybody’s names and relationships. This really helps to move the groupings along and cut the time down to a minimum. I’ll cover  in Part 2 of the series of how I approach family formals in excruciating detail so make sure you come back next week!

3.  When will all the decorations be done? 

The venue is perhaps the most expensive item on the couple’s budget for weddings. The couple will spend a good portion of their budget on making the reception/ceremony area to be impeccable.  I always tell my clients that my team will do our very best to get images for everything they either pay for, or put effort in. Not to mention if you want to get published, a clean reception hall with lots of undisturbed detail is a must.  As much as we love all the guests, we all know as soon as the guests are allowed into the reception area, EVERYTHING is moved and is not… well, perfect anymore.  As part of my service to my clients, I make sure my team has a 15 minute window built into the schedule for all the detail shots. This usually happens during the cocktail hour. I will usually also make a call to the venue and speak with the onsite catering manager, or the wedding coordinator if my couple has acquired one. I will ask that ALL decorations be done at least 2 hours before the cocktail hour starts.

4. What kind of images do you have in mind?

The truth is, our clients depend on us to capture their vision.  I have a specific style that speaks to a specific clientele base. And I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some amazing couples who trust me 100% with my abilities. However, when it comes down to it, wedding photography is a service based industry. My goal is, and always will be, to satisfy my clients’ needs before my own photography vision.

I have a wedding coming up in October, where the bride & groom had communicated to me they want sunny airy portraits just like their engagement photos. The problem is, by the time the ceremony ends it will be after sunset time. And this particular couple originally didn’t want to do a first look.  Now as a photographer, it is my job to inform my clients that their vision is not possible due to the natural light constraints. Can I shoot their portraits at night with my Comer CM LBPS1800 video light? Of course I can. But it is not my clients’ vision. And it’s definitely not the type of photos they wanted when they hired me. So through proper communications and demonstrating to my clients my concerns in getting the images they want, they have chosen to go with a first look!

So here is a typical timeline WITH first look.  Red is what I designate for my associate photographers. 

2:00PM – 2:30PM photography team arrives,scope out location.
2:30PM – 3:30PM getting ready/detail shots (dress, shoes, jewelry, ANYTHING to remember the day)
2:30PM – 3:30PM  groom and the guys getting ready shots.
3:45PM – 4:00PM first look
4:00PM – 4:45PM bride & groom portraits
4:30PM – 5:00PM ceremony area detail shots. 
4:45PM – 5:00PM bride & groom freshen up for ceremony
5:00PM                    Reception hall ready to be photographed.
5:00PM – 5:30PM Wedding Ceremony
5:30PM – 5:40PM Family Formals
5:30PM – 5:50PM shoot room details/open reception hall shots
5:4oPM – 6:00PM bridal party potraits
6:00PM – 6:30PM additional bride & groom portraits.
5:30PM – 6:30PM coverage of cocktail hour.
6:40PM                    bridal party grand entrance, and party time!

so if you are keeping track, we have almost 1.5 hours of portrait time just for bride & groom. This usually will allow us to explore different location, etc..

here is a typical timeline WITHOUT first look.

2:00PM – 2:30PM photography team arrives,scope out location.
2:30PM – 3:30PM getting ready/detail shots (dress, shoes, jewelry, ANYTHING to remember the day)
2:30PM – 3:30PM  groom and the guys getting ready shots.
3:30PM – 4:30PM bride and bridesmaids portraits
3:30PM – 4:30PM  groom and groomsmen portraits.
4:30PM – 5:00PM ceremony area detail shots. 
4;30PM – 5:00PM guest candids
4:45PM – 5:00PM bride & groom freshen up for ceremony
5:00PM                    Reception hall ready to be photographed.
5:00PM – 5:30PM Wedding Ceremony
5:30PM – 5:40PM Family Formals
5:30PM – 5:50PM shoot room details/open reception hall shots
5:50PM – 6:30PM coverage of cocktail hour.
5:40PM – 6:00PM bridal party portraits
6:00PM – 6:30PM Bride & groom portraits
6:40PM                     bridal party grand entrance, and party time!

In this scenario, we will only have 30 minutes dedicated to bride & groom portraits. We are typically looking at one single area for photos.

This timeline is assuming single location for getting ready, reception and ceremony. But nonetheless, it gives a break down of sequence of events that take place on a typical wedding day. This is also the reason why I always work with a fantastic associate photographer. In order to make the day go by as smoothly as possible, we both have different objectives through out the day. I put a lot of trust into my associate photographers and so far they’ve all been fantastic!

 

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