GIRLFRIENDS GUIDE TO WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY | Planning your perfect timeline

Hello Lovelies! Here's the next installment of the girlfriends guide to wedding photography!

PLANNING YOUR PERFECT TIMELINE

One of the first questions I'm always asked is how much time should a client allot for this or that activity. The conversation goes something like this:

Bride: If you start at a 12PM will that be enough to time photograph my details, me getting ready with my girls, the first look, the 20-member bridal party and my immediate family members (there are only 30) before the 1PM ceremony start time?

Me: In silence... bewildered and wondering if I can invent a laser that will freeze time while attempt this. 

Alright, so I don't actually sit in silence. I do voice my concerns and I educate my couples about the amount of reasonable time that I can get certain portions of their day done in. I'm only human after all (even if my kids think otherwise). 

THE WEDDING EVENT FORMULA

I start with a general outline of times I need to create my magic (and the photos we take during that time... but please note that due to time constraints or delays with other other activities some of these photos may not be taken)...

  • Bridal Details: 30-45 mins
    • The Dress
    • The Shoes
    • The shoes with the dress
    • The Veil
    • The Veil with the dress
    • Sentimental details of dress (lace, memory insets, waistband and sashes)
    • The Flowers
    • The Flowers with other details
    • The Rings
    • The Rings with the Flowers & Wedding Stationery Suite
    • The Stationery Suite with details from wedding (flowers from bouquet, ribbon, etc)
    • Perfume
    • Other Bridal Jewelry
    • Detail Groupings
    • Any other details
  • Groom Details: 15 mins
    • Grooms never have as many details as the bride so the time needed is very short
    • Groom's Tie, Jacket Vest (hanging and arranged in a grouping)
    • Groom's Shoes with and without boutonnieres
    • Boutonnieres (Groom's alone and with Groomsmens)
    • Groomsmen Gifts
    • Gifts from Bride
    • Any other special detail
  • Groom Getting Ready: 15-20 mins
    • The Groom and Groomsmen will be mostly dressed when we arrive so time it takes to photograph is minimal. I think this is a good thing because the formals are usually the part of the wedding that the Groom dreads the most. We like to keep the Groom's getting ready, less posed and more casual. Focusing more on a photojournalistic approach rather than the heavily styled images from the Bride's getting ready and details. Keeping the before shots minimal means that he isn't burnt out when it's time for Formals. 
    • Hanging out with the Groomsmen
    • Opening presents
    • Lots of Candid shots
    • Pre-wedding revelry
  • Bride Getting Ready: 30 mins
    • Bride with Bridesmaids in Robes or matching T-Shirts
    • Bride getting into gown
    • Gown prep
    • Details waiting to be put on
    • Moments with mom and maid of honor
    • Putting on shoes
    • Gifts from Groom
    • Gifts for Bridesmaids
    • Putting on Jewelry
    • Lots of Candid shots
  • First Look: 10-15 mins
  • Parent First Look: 5 mins
  • Family Portraits: 20 mins * Larger or extended families I suggest 30 mins.
    • Bride and Groom with both sets of parents
    • Bride with parents
    • Bride with father
    • Bride with mother
    • Groom with parents
    • Groom with father
    • Groom with parents
    • Bride and Groom with both sets of parents
    • Bride and Groom with siblings
    • Bride with parents and siblings
    • Bride with siblings
    • Groom with parents and siblings
    • Groom with siblings
    • Bride and Groom with extended family 
    • Bride with her extended family
    • Groom with his extended family
    • Bride and Groom with Grandparents
    • Groom with his grandparents
    • Bride with her grandparents
  • Bridal Party: 20-30 mins * The more time you have the less traditional posing we can do
    • Bride with Bridesmaids
    • Bridesmaids (Group)
    • Bridesmaids (Individual)
    • Groom with Bridesmaids
    • Groom with Groomsmen
    • Groomsmen (Group)
    • Groomsmen (Individual)
    • Bride with Groomsmen
    • Bride and Groom with Entire Bridal Party
    • Bridal Party without Bride and Groom
    • Best Man and Maid of Honor together
    • Any special poses or groupings the couple requests
  • Bride and Groom Formals: 30 mins
    • Bride and Groom together
    • Bride Alone
    • Groom Alone
    • Bride and Groom Hands
    • Bride and Groom at empty ceremony location
    • First Kiss Recreation
    • Any special poses or groupings the couple requests
  • Ceremony: *I always suggest rounding up to the nearest 30 min point (ie your ceremony starts at 4pm for a Christian Traditional ceremony, allot 30 mins in the timeline even if it only takes 15 minutes. Any extra time can always be used for receiving lines or added to the time for the formal photos)
    • Mass: Allot 45 mins for a condensed Mass
    • Mass: Allot up to 1.5 hours for full Mass
    • Christian Non-traditional: 15-20 mins
    • Christian Traditional: 20 mins
  • Photos at the Altar: 20 mins *When altar photos are requested, I have my couples exit the church and hide until the guests have left. If they do not, the guests will want to stop and congratulate them which can take up valuable time for other photos. 
  • Receiving Line: Depends on number of guests and how long you chat with each one
    • Receiving lines are tough. If you have 100 guests and you are shaking hands and chatting with each guest, it can take up to an hour to get through everyone. If time is a concern, I always suggest to forego the receiving line. 
  • Reception: 1-3 hour
    • We typically follow whatever timeline the DJ has set for the reception. He is the emcee and a pro at timing of reception events. He knows best. The biggest issue we face is conflicting timelines between vendors. We are more than happy to take a backseat to the DJ but communication is key. Last minute changes that push the timeline past our departure time are tough when the couple doesn't want to book more time on the day of the event. 
    • Events should never be scheduled during our unpaid 30-minute dinner break. Ensuring that you are adamant with the venue or caterer that we are fed at the same time as you is imperative to ensuring that we can cover all events. Also, letting the DJ know during pre-wedding planning that we take this break while you are eating helps him to plan the reception events accordingly. Remember if we do not get the break, we leave at the end of the coverage you booked and not the extra 30 minutes that we planned on your timeline. 
    • If table shots and visiting your guests at their tables is a priority, block out a good 30-45 minutes to circle the room.
    • The amount of time during the reception that is needed is more about what is most important to the couple. If you are more event focused (ie first dances, etc and minimal open floor dancing) then one hour of dance time is fine. If a couple is more about documenting their guests dancing and enjoying themselves then I suggest 2 hours of open dancing be planned. 
  • Reception Details: 30-45 mins 
    • We wait to do these shots once the reception area is setup and the cake has arrived. It's really important to confirm what time this will be done if photographing the reception details is priority.
  • Grand Entrances: 10 mins (but depends on number in bridal party. This estimate is for an 8 member bridal party and bride/groom).
    • Grand Entrances are quick and easy moments to photograph. I recommend about 1 min per couple entering as a good rule of thumb.
    • If you are planning a special Bridal Party dance or entrance skit, makes sure you add the length of the song to the time above.
  • First Dance: 15 mins
    • People often forget that the first dance song is typically much shorter than they think (2-3 minutes long). The same goes for the two parent dances. I still have my couples plan 5 minutes per song just to account for announcements and to pad the timeline. 
  • Bouquet & Garter Toss: 10 mins
  • Toasts: 10-30 mins
    • The length time needed for speeches really depends on who you have giving them. I've had one person talk for 10 minutes at wedding while four talked in that time at another. If time is a concern, just ask the people giving toasts to limit themselves to 2-3 minutes (or less than 5).
  • Dinner Prayer: 2 mins
    • I've never seen the dinner prayer last any significant length of time so in the scheme of things, this isn't an activity that you really need to separate from your toasts. 
  • Cake Cutting: 10 mins
    • Cake Cuttings are super easy and super quick. The longest part of the entire activity is getting everyone in place. 
  • Anniversary Dance: 15 mins
    • This really depends on how many married guests you have and the longevity of the marriages. 
  • Dollar Dance: Way too long
    • Okay, I'm going to be honest here. I'm not a fan of the dollar dance. This can last as long as people are willing to bring out dollars... which can sometimes feel like an eternity and most oftentimes eats up time that could be used for other activities before our departure. When time is an issue, this is the first activity that I recommend saving for after the photographers depart. 
  • Departure: 10 mins
    • The largest part of the departure time is just getting the guests in place but it is minimal.
    • If you aren't departing until after 10pm, I always suggest staging your departure earlier so that older guests and guests with children can take part in any special activity you plan. Most of the time these guests will depart between 9-9:30pm. 

So there is the general time formula I use to help plan wedding day photography. Now if you add it up it exceeds 8 hours of coverage. First, a wedding timeline is really fluid. Many of the events overlap or the second shooter can be doing things like taking the bridesmaids and groomsmen individual shots while I'm off shooting the Couple. Or I can be doing the Family formals while the second shooter is doing the Venue Details. Second, live events don't happen according to schedule. We may lose 10 minutes here but pick up 15 minutes there. I always pad the time to account for these changes.

WHAT IF MY TIMELINE DOESN'T GO AS PLANNED?!

More than likely, your wedding day probably won't go exactly as scheduled. But don't worry! We know this happens and it happens EVERY wedding. We aren't tied to everything happening exactly as we outlined before the wedding (that's too stressful for the couple!). It's more of a double check pre-wedding to ensure that your expectations are reasonable and that we've included all the events that are important to you to be documented. If you have four hours of coverage and you want all the events as listed in my original made-up conversation... it's my job to make sure you know that we can try to do it but it's probably unrealistic. It's that point that I have my couple's prioritize which events are most important to them.

When it comes to sticking to the timeline... it's the planner's (and our) job to give you a little nudge to keep you somewhat on track. If you are really behind... don't worry! I always tell my brides... this is "BRIDE'S TIME"... you are NEVER late for your own wedding!

THE PERFECT FIRST LOOK TIMELINE EXAMPLE

12PM - Photographer Arrives & Begins Shooting Bridal Details

12:15 Hard Stop - Hair & Make-up Complete

12:15-1245PM - Bride Begins Getting Ready & Candids of Bridesmaids

12:45 - Bridal Formals

1PM - Second Shooter Arrives with Groom & Begins Photographing Grooms Details, Getting Ready & Candids

1:15PM - Bride and Bridesmaids Formal Photos

1:30PM - Second Shooter: Groom & Groomsmen Formal Photos

2PM - First Look

**2:10-2:20 - A Breather. I always send my couples off for a few minutes alone. I recognize that while wedding photography is important, it's also all about them joining their lives together. I think a few minutes without the hustle and bustle of cameras in their faces or family/friends bombarding them is so important for them to connect... you know... so they can revel in their love a little bit.

2:20 - Bride and Groom Formals

2:30 - Second Photographer: Ceremony Details

2:40 - Main Photographer: Bridal Party Formals

3PM - Family Pre-Ceremony Formals

3:30PM - Ceremony Starts

4PM - Cocktail Start, Main Photographer - Additional Family Formals or Any Formals not completed, Second Photographer - Reception Details

4:20PM (or 4:30PM) - Couple enters Cocktail Hour

4:45PM - Couple Departs to Line up for Grand Entrance

4:50PM - Guests invited to enter Reception Area

5PM - Reception Start Time

5:05PM - Grand Entrance

5:10PM - Parent Dances

5:20PM Toasts Begin

6PM - Dinner is Served

6PM-6:30PM - Photographer Break

6:30PM - Cut the cake (so it may be served for dessert)

6:45-7PM - Dinner Plates Cleared, Open Dancing & Dessert Served

7:15PM - Garter & Bouquet Toss followed by open dancing

7:30-8:15PM - Open Dancing or other events

8:15PM - Staged Departure

8:30PM - Photographers Depart

THE PERFECT WEDDING TIMELINE (NO FIRST LOOK)

1PM - Photographer Arrives & Begins Shooting Bridal Details

1:30PM Hard Stop - Hair & Make-up Complete

1:45PM - Bride Begins Getting Ready & Candids of Bridesmaids

2:15PM - Bridal Formals

2:30PM - Second Shooter Arrives with Groom & Begins Photographing Grooms Details, Getting Ready & Candids

2:45PM - Bride and Bridesmaids Formal Photos

3PM - Second Shooter: Groom & Groomsmen Formal Photos

3:30PM - Ceremony Starts

4PM - Cocktail Start, Main Photographer - Bridal Party Formals

4:20PM - Main Photographer - Family Formals, Second Photographer - Reception Details

4:30PM - Couple Formals

**4:50-4:55 - A Breather. I always send my couples off for a few minutes alone. I recognize that while wedding photography is important, it's also all about them joining their lives together. I think a few minutes without the hustle and bustle of cameras in their faces or family/friends bombarding them is so important for them to connect... you know... so they can revel in their love a little bit.

4:50PM - Guests invited to enter Reception Area

4:55PM - Couple Departs to Line up for Grand Entrance

5PM - Reception Start Time

5:05PM - Grand Entrance

5:10PM - Parent Dances

5:20PM Toasts Begin

6PM - Dinner is Served

6PM-6:30PM - Photographer Break

6:45PM - Cut the cake (so it may be served for dessert)

7-7:30PM - Dinner Plates Cleared, Open Dancing & Dessert Served

7:30PM - Garter & Bouquet Toss followed by open dancing

7:45-9:15PM - Open Dancing or other events

9:15PM - Staged Departure

9:30PM - Photographers Depart

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Please remember these are just tips and suggestions for helping you plan your perfect day. Ultimately, it's your day! All the suggestions in the world make no difference when you are trying to make your dream wedding a reality (and we're completely okay with this!). 

Just be assured that no matter how well you plan or what may go awry... it will still be the magical day you dreamed of. So plan ahead, make your timeline but remember... it's your day to enjoy! And our job to document it.

www.ymphotography.com | YM Photography | Bolton Landing on Lake George, NY Engagement and Wedding Photographer