Making your wedding timeline work for you!
Are you still trying to figure out the secret sauce for your timeline to make sure you have plenty of time budgeted for everything? To make sure everything flows smooth? To make sure you enjoy your wedding day? In this blog we cover the most popular timeline concerns we receive as wedding photographers in order to help you best plan your day! We will also be giving you our insight on specific parts of your day to help plan a smooth and efficient timeline. ‘Wait, I thought you guys were wedding photographers, not planners?’ Correct! As photographers on a wedding day, short of your planner or day of coordinator, there is no other vendor as heavily invested in every little part of your day. From getting ready to exit, we’re involved in documenting your story, but we often times are helping to make sure everything goes smooth and stays on time as well. If we’re not on point with what we have to do, it can affect the rest of the day as well as many of the other vendors and their involvement in the timeline. When it comes to the most common timeline concerns we hear from couples year after year, it usually sounds something like this: “We don’t want to feel rushed,” “We want to be able to actually take it all in,” “I saw my sister on her wedding day and she was miserable, she had no time to sit down and relax because she was constantly being pulled in 3 different directions,” “We were at our friends wedding and the photographer kept them after the ceremony for 2 hours, we don’t want to be away from our guests that long,” “We want to be able to attend our cocktail hour,” “We want to make sure we have enough time for photos.” We will be addressing all of these concerns by covering specific parts of your wedding day where things can get off track. We will give our insight into the common things we see that make things run late, create inefficiencies, create stress, and the strategies you can implement to make sure you make your wedding timeline work for you!
Chapters of the day
Each wedding day is made up of different chapters of the day as we like to refer to them. We like this terminology as we believe in a storytelling approach to your day and much like any good story it's made up of chapters. They all connect with one another in one way or another and while each story might be a little different, they all share certain elements that help them come together in the end. Some chapters take more time to get through than others, and some are more impactful than others. When creating your timeline or working with your planner/coordinator/photographer to help create your timeline, think about it in terms of the ‘story’ of your day and how you want that story to unfold. We’ve seen people get caught up in the minute to minute and this usually leads to stress in one way or another because rarely is anything 100% exact on a wedding day. Thinking about your timeline in terms of you story will help create a base for your wedding day timeline and ensure that you accounting for all of the main parts.
Hire a great planner or day of coordinator
At the end of this year we will have been a part of nearly 300 weddings in the past 4 years since going full time. One thing we can absolutely attest to is that wedding days with day of coordinators and/or planners run smoother 99.9% of the time. If you’re finding yourself struggling with your day of timeline and you haven’t hired a planner, evaluate your budget and see if this is a realistic option for you. If not, reach out to your photographer to see if they can help as well. An experienced professional can usually give you a lot of insight into helping put together a timeline for your big day, in fact we know some pros who design a timeline for you based on their shooting style, work flow, and personal preferences. Also consider reaching out to some of your friends who may have recently gotten married and see if they can give you any insights.
Communication with your photographer ahead of time
We find this one helps tremendously when it comes to putting together your timeline. Specifically, talk to them about how long you would like each chapter of your day to last, and if you’re not sure, ask them what’s a realistic timespan based on your needs and expectations. Soliciting this kind of feedback can be very helpful and we will give a common example of how below. One particular thing that can vary greatly from wedding to wedding is bridal parties. Sometimes bridal parties are small and made up of 1-3 friends or family members and sometimes bridal parties can include a mix of family, childhood friends, and best friends and total upwards of 12 people per side. In addition to that difference, couples vary greatly on what kind of/how many bridal party photos they want. Generally there are 3 preferences. The minimalist, the middle of the road, and the give me all you got mindsets that couples have when it comes to bridal party photos. The minimalists just want the basics. They want a few traditional bridal party shots, and maybe an individual with the bride and each bridesmaids, and the groom and each groomsmen. The person in the middle of the road doesn’t want to spend an hour doing bridal party photos all over their venue, but they do desire more than the minimum. Mixing in a few fun shots and different sets ups and maybe hitting a few different spots. The give me all you got preference is the the person that wants to re-create their entire pinterest board all over their venue and maybe even hit a few locations in addition too. We find most of our couples desire the middle of the road approach, but you can easily see how depending on your preference, your photographer can help you determine approximately how long this chapter of your day will take. Assuming you are leaning towards the middle of the road on this, we recommend budgeting at least 15-30 minutes for groom and groomsmen photos and 20-30 minutes for bride and bridesmaids photos. This can be affected by your venue(s) as well so we can’t stress enough how important this communication piece is ahead of time when it comes to creating your timeline and helping you stick to it. If this conversation hasn’t taken place, it will usually yield not enough time and in some cases too much, which can definitely affect your stress and the flow of your day.
Budget plenty of time for hair and make up
Just speaking from experience, there is no other chapter of the day that we’ve seen run late more frequently than hair and make up. Let me follow this up by saying there are so many variables that can make this happen and it’s usually not the hair and make up pro’s fault. This isn’t a dig at hair and make up pros, it’s simply an observation. Their process is intricate and takes time. For instance. If a hair and make up professional has told you it’s going to take “x” amount of time for you and all of your ladies, and you show up 30 minutes late because your brunch ran over or your morning of mani/pedi took longer than expected because they were shorthanded, then you’re likely going to be running a little late on the back end of hair and make up and it will affect your timeline. Another thing we’ve seen is a bride adding on a lady or two last minute (as in the day of) for the hair/make up artist as they wanted it to be a surprise for their mother in law. Keep these little things in mind when it comes to hair and make up as they can really add up quick. It’s easy enough to speed up photos a little bit if needed, and it’s quick enough to accommodate an extra shot request, but these little add ons for hair and make up can have a greater impact. Be sure to communicate with your HAMU pro beforehand and make sure they have a clear space to work when they arrive. This one is particularly big because it’s usually the first big chapter of each wedding day. Make sure to start things off smooth and keep it going with being on time for hair and make up. If you’re late with the cake cutting mid way through the night by 20 minutes, it’s not that big of a deal as there usually aren’t too many happenings after that are affected, but if you start things off 20 minutes behind, it tends to have a ripple effect and impact the rest of the day, forcing you to either run late, or adjust on the fly which means something usually gets scrapped.
Build in ‘in between time
One of the best things we’ve learned in the past few years from working with many amazing planners and observing their workflow closely is the concept of building in, in between time into your timelines. It literally may mean notating “transition time” on the timeline, or it may mean budgeting more time than needed for certain parts of the day such as allowing 45 minutes for family photos after communicating with the photographer and receiving the feedback that it will likely only take 30 minutes. Doing this can build in 15 minutes of in between time that they can withdraw from when needed throughout the day so if you run 10 minutes late from hair and make up, and 5 minutes late going from one venue to another, no stress, a great planner/day of coordinator with usually already have this accounted for and built into the timeline. An example of where in between time may be functionally built in to the timeline as opposed to just having if things run late is after the ceremony. Most timelines will go from ceremony to family photos, but that process of transitioning usually takes 5-10 minutes, so this is an example of building in, in between time as well.
Skip the receiving line
One simple way to avoid feeling rushed, or eating up too much time during your day is to avoid doing a receiving line. Instead, opt to visit with people during your reception shortly after you eat. The bride and groom are always served first and this allows them the opportunity to finish first, affording you time to roam around and visit with your guests during this time. It would seem we have only ever seen receiving lines for large weddings with 150+ guests and they tend to take 15-20 minutes. Generally speaking, you’re probably not going to want pictures of 150 handshakes and hugs your about to receive (lol). For the record, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a receiving line nor do we have anything against them, again, if you’re looking to save a few minutes on your timeline it may be an option. Based on the photos we’ve captured and observations we’ve made during receiving lines and the photos captured when we’ve seen brides and grooms visiting with folks during the reception, you’re more likely to have meaningful conversations and feel a bit more relaxed opting for the latter (P.S. - - if you haven’t you should totally check out comedian Jim Gaffigan’s bit on weddings, specifically the receiving line, you won’t regret it lol)
2 vs 1
One thing to help save you some time, especially on the beginning of your wedding day is hiring a wedding photography team, or discussing with your solo wedding photographer the process of them bringing a second shooter. Hiring a dynamic team vs just one person can also help save a decent amount of time and headache when it comes to coordinating a single photographer and where they will go, when, and with whom. Example, let’s look at a common scenario. Let’s say the bride and her bridesmaids are getting ready at an Air BnB just outside of town, and the groom and his groomsmen are getting ready at a hotel in downtown approximately a half hour away. With these scenarios, Jenny and I are able to divide and conquer when it comes to completing photos. She can go with the bride and bridesmaids, get their getting ready and detail shots, as well as bride and bridesmaids shots after they get dressed, and the bride with her side of the family. All the while this is going on, at the exact same time, I’m doing the same thing for the groom and his groomsmen. We are able to cover double the ground and provide twice the amount of coverage within the same amount of time (conservatively). Now let’s take that same scenario for a a single wedding photographer. He/She arrives at the bride’s Air BnB and starts the exact some process and let’s say detail shots, getting ready, bride and bridesmaids, and bride’s side of the family takes 90 minutes. Then he/she has to drive a half hour to the next location to then get all the same stuff for the groom and groomsmen. Assuming there are no traffic mishaps, you’re at an extra 2 hours that needs to be budgeted for essentially the same thing. Generally the cost of a second shooter (for even just those 2 hours) is going to be much less than paying your lead photographer for another 2 hours. There are other times throughout the day where two is helpful vs one as well like family photos, detail shots. Often times one photographer will work on one thing, while one works on another. Now, this is just an example for time efficiency purposes. If you have a venue with a tight timeline, or you’re working with restricted daylight, or have a long way to travel between venues, etc. These little extra efficiencies can really help to make sure your day goes smooth and you’re not having to pay for a lot of extra hours.
Often times we’ve seen couples have a handful of sites for their wedding day. They may be getting ready at two separate locations with the bridal parties/families, they may be doing their first look at a different location than their venue depending on contracted access hours or personal preferences, they may have a downtown wedding ceremony at a church, followed by a reception outside of town. When it comes to scenarios like these, it’s important to just take the time to sit down and map out how long each trip will take from one location to the next, who will be driving and whether you’ll be using a personal vehicle vs a shuttle, and even what day of the week/time everything is happening. Anybody whose done a weekday wedding in downtown Asheville around 4 or 5pm will know exactly what I mean by that last statement as a 5 minutes trip from one venue to the next could take upwards of 30 due to 5pm traffic. It’s a rarity but it is something to consider. Planning appropriate travel time into your wedding day will help you not feel so rushed as you will have already accounted for this in your timeline. One more thing semi-related to this when in you’re in a scenario where you have multiple venues. Often times the first venue is a chapel or a church and we’ve seen times where the churches will be very strict. Meaning from the moment the ceremony ends, you only have use of the facilities for another half hour. If you’ve already game planned with your coordinator and your photographer, and it wouldn’t be realistic to get bridal party photos and family photos done after the ceremony on site (very common wedding day flow) then you’ll need to make sure you account for this in your timeline. This is one of those easily overlooked things we’ve seen couples get hit with on the day of and it can throw things off a bit, always double check with the venue’s/church/facility’s staff beforehand so you can plan accordingly and not be blindsided. One more tip on logistics and it’s closely related to the last one, if you only have you ceremony venue for a certain amount of scheduled time be sure to be on time. An example of this would be sites that specifically only do ceremonies like Pretty Place. They have time slots for each couple who gets married there and often times they have multiple weddings lined up back to back in one day. If you arrive late, and it eats into post ceremony photo time, there’s no option to extend your time and pay extra because the next couple who booked it is coming in.
Confirm an appropriate time for your florals to be ready
What we mean by this is line up florals being delivered, set up, and ready for a time that makes sense with your timeline. For instance, if you have you’re having photos with your bridesmaids built into your timeline at 3pm, but your florist isn’t arriving until 3:30pm with your bouquets, this could be an issue. Most brides want their flowers for these shots and though it’s not impossible to do these photos at this time without bouquets, it definitely looks much better with vs without. Same goes for the groom and the groomsmen if the boutonnières have not arrived. This can also affect the earlier in the day couples photos if you’re doing a first look and they have not arrived yet. Also, if you’ve built time into your timeline or you planner has (as they often do!) for detail shots of the venue, ceremony, or reception space, but your florist doesn’t arrive in time to get them all set up, then you likely won’t get these detail shots in their entirety. Make sure to discuss these expectations with your florist. Also, one of the classic scenarios we’ve seen in recent times especially, make sure your florist meets you at the right spot with your bouquets/boutonnieres. I.E. if they arrive at your venue, but you’re getting ready at a hotel, and you want to do your first look and bridal party photos downtown, you may want to have them drop off the bouquets and boutonnieres on their way to the venue. If logistically they cannot make this work, ask your day of coordinator how you can make this work. In most cases they will usually meet your florist and get them for you, but sometimes a family member can pick them up or a groomsmen, etc. If florals are not where they need to be, or ready when they are supposed to be, then this can greatly affect the timeline.
Keep an eye on the weather
This one almost goes without saying. The weather can affect so many different aspects of your big day, not just the timeline, but with the right adjustments, you can still mostly stick to your game plan and not have to worry about missing out on much or re-arranging your whole timeline. One scenario that we have been through a few times when the forecast calls for weather is taking advantage of that in between time or when people arrive/finish early. Example, if the groom and groomsmen are scheduled to arrive ready at the venue at 2:30pm and the timeline calls for groom/groomsmen photos at 3:00pm and Bride/bridesmaid photos at 3:20pm, and the later you get in the day the rain chance goes up, we’ve often started those photos early in order to make sure we get them before the rain hits and having to move them inside which can take more time for lighting set up, or having to move them later in the day to adjust everything on the backend to make up for it. The ultimate message here is be flexible, especially if your weather forecast is like 10% chance of rain from morning until 4pm and from 5pm on it jumps up to 90% chance of rain, adjust on the fly and consider moving what you can to earlier in the day.
Family photos are a particular chapter of the day that doesn’t have to be stressful. In truth, many of the conversations we’ve had with couples leading up to their wedding day, some dread this part of the day and it’s not because they don’t love their families, it’s more so because past experiences that have seen this process take upwards of 45minutes to an hour with other weddings and they just assume “well, guess this is how it is.” Well we’re here to tell you, there’s hope! With the stress and anxiety that can surround the family formals, one of our goals has always been to make this process as fast, efficient, and painless as possible on a wedding day (and for a few reasons). 1) Most couples don’t want to spend an hour on these 2) Most families don’t want to spend an hour on these 3) Most photographers don’t want to spend on hour on these 4) The couple and their families just want to enjoy some of their cocktail hour! Below are some of the tips we recommend for making sure family photos don’t take up all of your time!
Provide your photographer with a family combo shot list. If you’re feeling super organized, put the list in an order that flows. By having a list to go from, especially if you have a large family, it helps to keep things organized and a lot more expedient. Also, if you’re planning on having a few “extended family” combos where it’s an entire side of the family (example The Smith Family, The Williams Family) these tend to include the bride, groom, moms, dads, brothers, sisters, their spouses, their kids, aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins, their spouses and kids as well. These can be upwards of 20+ people easy and require a bit more coordination. The easiest thing to do is start with that coordination on the front end. If you know you’re going to have a few of these large extended family photos on your list, it’s super important to let each and everyone of them personally know that they need to stick around after the ceremony for the family photos. If not, we’ve seen time and time again, usually the spouses or kids, or aunts don’t know to stick around so they are missing and you’ve called for that photo and it ends up holding up the process. Then someone goes and looks for them, and the person they went to look for returns but then they are missing and you can move on but then you have to mobilize 25 people again, so you decide not to move on and just wait lol. We’ve honestly seen one extended family combo take upwards of 20+ minutes in these scenarios. So again, make sure to let every individual know if they will be included. This will save you a ton of time and stress and make sure you’re able to have a little fun at cocktail hour. Also, bonus tip! If you're like most of the couples we've had the pleasure of working with, you value these family photos, but you probably want a few. If you're goal is to get the most important family combos to you and complete the family photos quickly, do not put your mom in charge of making the list. You will soon end up with every conceivable combination of family members you forgot you had (sorry moms we love you!).
Golden Hour Photos
Last but not least, everyone’s favorite, golden hour portraits with the couple! For these, it’s easy enough, find out what time the sunset is at your venue or the town your venue is in, and plan to block out at least 15-30 minutes for these and put it on the timeline. The process of scheduling golden hour photos is never really complicated or stressful, but where it does get a little more difficult is when your timeline is already running behind by a few minutes or even quite a bit. Or maybe you’re having a 4:30pm ceremony but sunset is 5:05pm. We’ve seen both of scenarios play out for better or for worse (pun intended). In the scenario where you’re having a late ceremony and an early sunset, we always suggest opting for a first look so you can get at least some day light photos. If you really don’t want a first look, you always have the option to have a short ceremony to rush into golden hour portraits after, but again, we’re trying to avoid scenarios where you have to rush and feel stressed. Another scenario we’ve seen happen a couple times whether because of things getting off track with the timeline, or the weather throwing things off, etc. is when a few major timeline things get pushed back. When this happens, we’ve seen that often times, the powers at be will try to talk you into scrapping the golden hour photos in favor of dinner being served on time, or the toasts happening before vs after. Assuming you’re like most of our clients and you have an order of photos/moments that are most important to you on your big day, golden hour portraits are almost always number 1 on that list. It will be up to you to communicate with your planner/caterer/DJ your wishes for this. So if it comes down to hot meal and no sunset photos, or sunset photos and a look warm meal, which would you choose? If that’s not communicated clearly, sometimes you will lose that opportunity and we’ve seen it happen. There’s no right or wrong answer on this one, just what you’re feeling. Remember, it's your day!
In conclusion, we hope that you have found a lot, if not all of this information helpful for planning your big day! To be honest, I would say most wedding days get an average of 15 minutes off when it comes to timelines so it’s nothing to stress about too bad! Taking care of the little things in advance by utilizing these tips will help to ensure that your wedding day goes smoothly, your timeline is on point, and you are able to enjoy your wedding day!
Joe and Jenny