How much time do we need for pictures? Every wedding photography timeline question answered here!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

This week I'm sending out helpful photography timeline planning documents for all of my 2014 couples (yup - 2014 is fully booked!) and I thought it'd be a good time (no pun intended!) to write a blog post about timing on your wedding day in general. It's a long one - but I promise it's worth it - go grab a coffee and settle in. On today's agenda:
>General thoughts on planning your wedding timeline
>Ideal times for specific photography - family formals and couples pictures
>Pros and Cons of doing a first look - which can dramatically change your timeline/overall enjoyment of the day
> Sample timelines
>The 10 most common mistakes made on your wedding day that completely mess up your timeline
As blog posts are always more fun with pictures I'll revisit some of my favorite moments from 2013 weddings along the way!

Disclaimer: you may be working with a fabulous wedding planner (many of my clients do - shout outs to WedBoston, Tangorra Wedding Planning, Wendy Joblon Events, Pink Orchid Events, ELM events, Gracie Lou, plus all sorts of great venue coordinators and more) and they'll put together your timeline for you. Some of the comments and discussion here should still prove useful - especially as they relate to time for photography.

Also - if you're in a big rush and can't face reading pages of stuff here's the CliffsNotes:
It's your wedding day, not a photoshoot! However if you want lots of family/wedding party/couples pictures we need to allow appropriate time usually 30-60 minutes for family pictures, 30 minutes for wedding party pictures, 30 minutes for pictures of the two of you. If we try to cram that all into cocktail hour you probably won't get all of the pictures you want so you can either do a first look, extend cocktail hour or have a break in between your ceremony and reception. Doing a first look means we can do all of the formal pictures early so you can thoroughly relax and enjoy your wedding day! Finally, everything takes longer than expected, things will run late but it's going to be OK!
PS - Pinterest is awesome but you should delete all of your wedding related boards two weeks before your wedding! Continue reading if you want more detail!

General thoughts on planning your wedding timeline

Do you know that song? Time.....is on your side? Yes it is! Well on your wedding day it isn't. It's hard to explain but it's like the hands of the clock speed up and everyone else slows down. Actions that would normally take you 30 seconds now take 10 minutes. A short car ride that would usually take 10 minutes on the highway now takes over half an hour as you have to load a large wedding party onto a trolley, find the missing groomsman who went to to find a restroom and then drive on back roads. Bride and groom holding hands in wedding trolley


You'll help us plan our day right? 
Yes and no! On your wedding day I'm your wedding photographer and NOT your wedding planner! To best document your day I can't be chasing up bridesmaids to get dressed and reminding the groomsmen to be in the lobby for pictures - your wedding planner, a day of coordinator or super helpful Maid of Honor can help you with that. However, PRIOR to your wedding I'm always happy to help with your timeline in terms of photography. With the 2013 wedding season fresh in my mind and heading towards my 7th full wedding season I feel fairly qualified to share with you all sorts of timeline planning tips and mistakes to avoid.

If I'm jumping around in long grass and risking tick bites to get the perfect shot I can't be in the lobby helping the family members to be on time for pictures!



We just don't know where to start with figuring out times? Our florist wants to know what time I need the flowers! I need to tell my hairstylist what time to arrive! Help! 
Well, if I'm your wedding photographer you'll fill in a comprehensive wedding homework document and from there we'll put together a personalized photography timeline for you that your other vendors can then back into. In general, you want to start with the events that are fixed in time. Usually:
- Your ceremony
- The start of cocktail hour
- Sunset (here's a helpful site to help you figure out the time of sunset on your wedding day)
- Then you need to think about whether you'll see each other and do pictures before your cermony or if you want to do pictures afterwards
Considering the time of sunset is important as usually the hour or two before sunset has the most beautiful golden flattering light for pictures. A professional wedding photographer can work with all kinds of light but there's something special about the light just before sunset.
It's also good to know the time of sunset when you're considering the time of cocktail hour/your reception. An outdoor cocktail hour as the sun sets over the ocean can be stunning plus it will be dark and romantic for your reception and first dance:








Ideal times for specific photography

Well, how much time do you need for pictures? 
Me? I need no time for pictures ;) The question is really how much time do you need for pictures?! Do you have small families with parents still together? 30 minutes should do us. Larger extended families with divorced parents, new steparents and siblings? We'll need more time! What I mean to say is it's really up to you how much time we spend taking formal family/wedding party and couples pictures. It's your wedding day and they're your wedding pictures that will fill your album or hang on your wall. The majority of couples that hire me as their wedding photographer really value beautiful pictures and they want to make sure they have enough time to get the images they want. We can bust out an awesome picture of the wedding party in 5 minutes but if you want to do on-location, take pictures individually with each attendant and get more creative we'll need more time!

We only have small families, parents still together and a couple of brothers/sisters, so we can do family pictures in 10 minutes right? 
You'd think so but sadly no. 10 minutes just isn't realistic - heck it'll take us 10 minutes to even get started while we wait for your Dad who's always late or for your Grandmother to get out of the car. Each family picture only takes seconds to capture but for each group of family members we need to allow 3-5 minutes to gather and arrange them and then take multiple exposure to make sure we have great expressions and no blinking. Let's have a hypothetical couple - Alex and Sam - in ~30 minutes we'd be able to take the following pictures:
1. Alex & Sam with Alex's parents
2. Alex & Sam with Alex's parents, siblings & significant others, grandparents
3. Alex with Alex's parents and siblings
4. Alex with Alex's parents
5. Alex with siblings
6. Alex & Sam with both sets of parents
7. Alex & Sam with Sam's parents
8. Alex & Sam with Sam's parents, siblings & significant others, grandparents
9. Sam with Sam's parents and siblings
10. Sam with Sam's parents
11. Sam with siblings
If Alex and Sam wanted more family groupings - maybe individual pictures with Mom or Dad, additional pictures with grandparents, maybe adding in Godparents that's cool but we need to allow enough time to do so! For the overall wedding day I won't shoot from a list (I've been doing this long enough to know to take pictures of the vows, the kiss etc and shooting from a list means you miss unscripted real moments) but for family pictures it's essential to have a list of the groups you want (part of the homework document for my couples). I've gotten lists of over 60 different family groups for pictures in the past. In response I always say that I'm happy to take as many family pictures as you like but we have to find the time! 60 pictures at 3 minutes per group = around 3 hours of time.

Here are some happy relaxed family pictures from Christine & Alex's wedding:

Hmm, we have divorced parents who've remarried and they're not friendly, we also have new siblings and there's a little family drama. How will we handle this? 
It can be really easy to let your list of family pictures spiral out of control listing out every single combination. Seriously - I've had lists that have included "Couple with Aunt Jane and Uncle Joe, Couple with Aunt Jane, Couple with Uncle Joe, Bride with Aunt Jane, Bride with Uncle Joe". If this starts to happen look at each group on the list and ask:
- Will we include this picture in our wedding album?
- Will somebody print, frame and hang this on their wall?
If the answer to one of these questions is yes then we should definitely take the picture! If it's no and no one will want the picture and it won't be used in your album well, then, that's 3 minutes more to spend at cocktail hour. It's also worth considering if you're only taking a picture to avoid offending/upsetting people.

In the homework document I send out to my couples I ask them to share any family politics/drama with me - no not because I'm nosy - just because I want to be sensitive and avoid causing any offense by asking Great Aunt Jane to stand next to Great Uncle Joe when they can't stand each other.

With divorced parents it's worth thinking about which pictures you'd want in your wedding album - sometimes parents get along great and they're happy to be in a picture together, other times they haven't spoken in years and it would be completely unnatural to have a picture of them together. Also check in with your parents separately and find out which pictures will be important to them. Sometimes to avoid spending hours duplicating every possible picture combination it can make sense to get a large group picture with Mom's side of the family, a large group picture of Dad's side of the family and then individual pictures with Mom, Dad and siblings.

Rest assured I've photographed all sorts of different family dynamics and I'll work with you to figure out the best groups and how to handle any awkwardness as sensitively as possible!

Our families are super disorganized and late for everything
Simple. If family pictures are scheduled for 4pm tell them it'll be 3:30pm or even 3:00pm if they're really really late. Make an announcement at the rehearsal dinner about the start time/location and let the families know how important it is to you as a couple that they're there on time as this will be the only opportunity to get beautiful pictures together. Make sure everyone knows the location and has a plan for transportation. Assign a responsible family member to bringing boutonnieres and other family flowers.

While we're talking about family pictures, can we just mention that we're getting married on the coast so we'd like to take our family pictures on the beach?
Beach pictures are awesome! Super fun of the two of you and even of your wedding party but here's why I don't recommend the beach for family pictures:
- It's inevitably really windy on the beach. If Mom's hair is blowing all over the place she's not going to like any of the pictures
- It's usually very sunny and often humid on the beach. Make up can start to slip and if everyone is squinting due to the sun it means no one is comfortable/looking good
- There might be lots of people in the background and it can be hard to maneuver the sand in heels
- Family pictures are about your families. Looking relaxed and their very best. Not about the epic view over the ocean.

Oceans or lakes - awesome for wedding party pictures or of the two of you, not for family pictures:




A quiet shaded area, preferably with some trees or a plain background makes for the very best family pictures where the focus is on your family members. But let's totally go down to the beach with the two of you and your wedding party! These trees made a perfect backdrop for Jenn & Erik's family pictures:



OK, we're feeling a bit more relaxed about family pictures now, we have about 15 pictures we'd like to take so we'll allow 45 minutes. We'll tell our families to be there 30 minutes ahead of time and we'll let you know about our family drama! What about wedding party pictures? 
Again - totally up to you. The minimalist approach would be to take a picture of the couple with the entire wedding party and then maybe one each of both sides. Some couples want to go to multiple locations with their wedding party and they want individual pictures with each attendant, posed formal pictures, relaxed "fun" pictures, additional pictures with ringbearers and flower girls - the more pictures the more time we'll need! A good starting point is 30 minutes with more time added for additional locations (and don't forget travel time!)



What about pictures of the two of us? How much time should we allow?
Seeing as your wedding day is really about celebrating the two of you ideally you want to allow enough time to get some really great pictures without your wedding day feeling like a photoshoot. I've had some weddings where the couple were extremely laid back and just wanted 10 minutes of time to get a small handful of pictures. Other weddings have been in stunning locations where the couple really wanted to reflect the settings in their pictures and so we've had almost 2 hours for pictures.

Before we figure out how much time for couples pictures you have to make a big decision - first look or no first look!

How a first look can dramatically change your timeline/overall enjoyment of your wedding

What? We keep hearing about this first look concept. Isn't it bad luck to see each other before the ceremony? I think we want to be more traditional...
Here's the deal, the whole "don't see each other before the ceremony" comes from the olden days of yore when most weddings were arranged marriages. The wedding day was usually the first time the couple would actually meet! Keeping the bride hidden from the groom prior to the ceremony meant he couldn't back out if her looks weren't to his taste. Nowadays this approach to marriage is luckily fairly outdated with couples dating for years before their wedding, often living together, getting married in non-traditional locations etc etc. Yet for some reason the whole "it's bad luck to see each other" myth remains.

I know because when I got married I was all "Nooo, you can't see me!!!" to Paul. I also had this idea that there would be this "moment", you know, the one where the doors to the chapel open, you glide down the aisle and your beloved is waiting for you gasping for air at the gorgeousness of you in your gown and you have "the moment". So I refused to see Paul and take any pictures before. The reality? The chapel doors opened and I froze. My dad and I looked at each other trying to remember if we were supposed to pause or walk immediately. All I could think was "Everyone's looking at me! I don't want to fall over! Gosh, it's really warm in here!". Walking down the aisle was a complete blur I can't remember. The photos show me looking like a deer in headlights. I approached the altar thinking "Here, we go! It's "the moment!" to realize that Paul and I are standing inches away from the reverend and we're about to get married so we can't talk or even hold hands. I think Paul said "Hi, you look nice!" and I forced out "Thanks! So do you" and then it was time for our ceremony to begin.  To make things worse, immediately after our ceremony when we were in that "Yay! We did it!" euphoria we didn't get to drink champagne and eat hors d'oeuvres with everyone else. No, we spent out first hour as newlyweds standing in a line taking family formals.

Why would you want to miss out on hors d'oeuvres like this?!
Boston wedding venue for foodies, Colonnade Hotel Cocktail Hour



As we approach our seventh anniversary and as I head into my seventh year of photographing weddings there's one big thing I've realized. That "moment" and any emotion you feel during the ceremony doesn't come because it's the first time you see each other in your wedding outfits. It happens because you're saying your vows - pretty huge vows to each other - surrounded by your closest friends and family. And if you've seen each other before the ceremony and gotten all of the formal pictures out of the way first then not only are you likely to feel more relaxed having had the opportunity to talk to one another but you'll also have way more fun actually enjoying your wedding reception!

OK - this first look idea is sounding like a better idea. Pros and cons please! Does anyone ever regret doing a first look?
Happy to oblige! Not only can I give you the pros and cons but I even did a little survey a few years ago asking couples if they had any regrets or wished they'd waited for the ceremony to see one another.

Pros of doing a first look:
1. You get to spend more time together on your wedding day. You don't have to wait until late in the night if you're having an evening ceremony to see each other.


2. It can be really special to see each other for the first time not surrounded by hundreds of people. It's just the two of you (and me hiding out as far away from you as possible with a long lens to give you some privacy). You'll get to hug, kiss, talk about what's about to happen which you can't do when the person marrying you is just inches away


3. If you're at all nervous or stressed about the ceremony it can be very relaxing to see your intended away from everyone. The initial nerves will be gone and you'll be more "in the moment" for your ceremony.

3. We take all of the formal pictures - family, wedding party, pictures of the two of you - in an unhurried, relaxed way before the ceremony. Hair and make up is freshly done so everyone looks flawless (not always the case if you have a hot humid outdoor ceremony and we take pictures after)

4. Once your married you get to enjoy cocktail hour with your friends and family not standing in a line posing for pictures. Who doesn't love a glass of champagne and a bacon wrapped scallop? Mingling with your guests means you'll be able to greet those who've come to celebrate with you vs. a mad dash around the tables during dinner. AND as all of the formal pictures are out of the way I'll be at cocktail hour to photograph your friends and family and all of your reception detail shots!
Cocktail hour at the Colonnade Hotel Boston

Cons of doing a first look:
Umm, none? You don't get the element of surprise as you walk down the aisle I guess?

But don't just take my word from it. Here are comments from actual couples that I surveyed about their first look experience:

DO IT! It is so worth it. Having time to spend with your family and friends during cocktail hour is the best. Plus, your hair and makeup are so fresh! It is such an intimate experience.
D.V

Do it!! It's worth it and isn't bad luck (so far...ha!). But really, I think it creates a whole other meaningful moment for you on your wedding day, and one that is just yours. My bridal party and family members were so happy to have the photos done before the ceremony, our hair and makeup still looked great (and that was extra important since it was 100 degrees outside), overall it just took a lot of stress out of the need to fit photos into a really short time frame. Three of my engaged friends have told me that my wedding convinced them to do first looks.
C.B

Just think about how a first look fits in with your idea of what a wedding should be and how it fits in with your personalities. We had a good mix of traditional and non traditional. Doing the first look helped us to accomplish two things: we were able to take a moment away from the 120 guests for just the two of us and spend that moment together and we were able to make more time to enjoy with our family and friends which was the most important thing for us. I was the groom and the first look was incredibly exciting. it was nice to be in a private location and share the first time seeing my soon to be wife alone together. It was very intimate and emotional and I really appreciated having the that moment to look at her and hug her and see how gorgeous she was and to admire her for a few minutes. And also to tell her those things. It was also a perfect time to give her a wedding gift! I am very happy we did the first look.
P.B

If the bride's reason is wanting to see his reaction as they walk down the aisle, I can assure you he'll be just as enamored after a first look. We are so happy we got to enjoy our pictures beforehand, and then spend the whole cocktail hour with our friends and family. It made me feel so much calmer seeing him before the ceremony. I can't imagine not being together for so much of the wedding day. I still felt so excited during the ceremony, but I was thinking about being in the moment rather than wanting to talk to him or say how handsome he looked (because we already got to do that!).
L.Y.

As the Groom, the first look experience was truly exciting. I knew my wife had spent all day getting ready, and even though I had an idea of what she would look like in the dress, I was still floored when I saw her and I knew that it was all really (finally) happening. It's a great moment to have on film, to say the least.
J.O

I would highly recommend it. I think having time before the ceremony to take pictures eliminates some of the stress of worrying about getting back to the reception, keeping your guests waiting, trying to rush family into their positions etc... Seeing your partner for the first time on your wedding day will feel special no matter where you are. To take some time for just the two of us, before the craziness really ramped up, was very memorable. Our wedding ceremony still felt amazing. To see my (future) husband standing at the altar was still a unique and beautiful sight. Our 'first look' didn't take anything away from the drama of the ceremony.
E.O

The first look is JUST the bride and groom. It is a time for them to spend a few minutes alone to bask in each others' love. And I remember EVERY second of our first look session. When I turned around my heart started to beat so fast. I felt like I had been gone on a trip for months and was dying to get back. I turned around to see my wife, and I could not believe how beautiful she looked. She was more beautiful than I had ever imagined, and the best part was that I would be marrying her in just an hour. I think the pictures captured that moment of revelation so clearly... there's one shot where I am hugging her with my eyes closed, and I am just about in tears... crying for happiness. I am the luckiest man alive!
R.K

I would absolutely recommend that they do it! Seriously, the rest of the wedding day was so busy and crazy, the first look was my favorite moment. And it is so cute to see the look on his face when he first saw me in the first look photos. It makes me smile whenever I see it. Truthfully, it was one of the only calm moments that we got together during the day. It gave us a private moment to enjoy together before all the wedding craziness began. We really enjoyed it and it is one of the happiest memories I have of the day. The rest of the day was extremely fast and busy, and it went by in a blur. I'm so glad we had that private moment just the two of us. I don't think it really affected my feelings during the ceremony. If anything, I think it made me a little calmer walking down the aisle.
N.B

OK, well, first look or no first look, how much time should we allow for pictures of the two of us? 
If there's no first look then we're usually cramming ALL of the formal pictures into cocktail hour. Cocktail "hour" is an optimistic term because the venue will usually want you lined up for entrances with 10 minutes to go. So we now have just 50 minutes to do the very basic family groups (30 minutes), wedding party pictures (10 minutes) and couples pictures (10 minutes). It's doable but we're not going to have time to take off in that golf cart or go for a walk somewhere. Two things to consider if you don't want to do a first look:
1. Extend cocktail hour to 90 minutes - you'll be less rushed and may even get to join for 5 minutes
2. Have a little extra time/break between your ceremony and the start of cocktail hour. Guests are usually more than happy to take a break, freshen up, get a drink before joining the party

If we're doing a first look then a minimum of 30 minutes is great for pictures, 60 minutes is ideal and you're welcome to schedule more time if you like! Many of my couples book AMAZING wedding film teams (Long Haul Films, Boston Wedding FilmsMeg Simone and Brighter Lights Media to name just a few). Unlike the old school wedding videographers who just stood at the back of everything with a tripod, these talented filmmakers product some of the most amazing wedding trailers ever. And they need time with you to get that footage. I'd like to think I work really well with these film team and "share" the time we have with the couple (at least I hope I do!!!) but it's worth checking with your film team to see if they need specific time with you.

Righty-oh! We've talked about how much longer everything will take on your wedding day, how much time to allow for pictures and whether or not you might want to do a first look. Let's post some sample timelines!

Sample timelines 

Remember you'll want to think about what time sunset is, if you're doing a first look or not, how extensive your family pictures will be, allow for travel, allow extra time for padding...let's have a hypothetical couple - Jamie & Taylor - getting married in the fall in the city next year...

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TIMELINE OPTIONS FOR JAMIE & TAYLOR– SEPTEMBER 2015
WITH A FIRST LOOK
(Sunset at 6:47pm)

With sunset at 6:47pm it would be awesome to have cocktail hour 6-7pm so the sun is just setting over the city for the most amazing views. I always suggest padding your timeline with extra time throughout and also doubling estimated travel times

11:45am Leah and second photographer arrive to take detail and getting ready pictures.

12:45pm Anyone helping Jamie/Taylor get dressed should be ready and dressed.

1:00pm All hair and make up complete. Get dressed (allow more time for tiny buttons/corset style dresses). Flowers available for pictures and first look. 

1:45pm First look in grounds of hotel– Jamie & Taylor alone

2:15pm Travel to gardens for wedding party and family pictures

2:30pm Wedding party pictures
Jamie & Taylor with wedding party
Taylor with attendants
Taylor with attendants

3:00pm Family pictures
Each picture takes just seconds but allow 3-5 minutes per group to gather people, arrange and take multiple exposures for great expressions without blinking! Allow more time for divorced parents or if you want to add additional groupings. Advise families to arrive early if they are likely to be late
1.     Jamie & Taylor with Jamie’s Parents
2.     Jamie & Taylor with Jamie’s Parents, Grandparents, Siblings & Significant Others
3.     Jamie with Parents
4.      Jamie with Mom
5.     Jamie with Dad
6.     Jamie with Siblings
7.     Jamie & Taylor with Taylor’s Parents
8.     Jamie & Taylor with Taylor’s Parents, Grandparents, Siblings & Significant Others
9.     Taylor with Parents
10.  Taylor with Mom
11.  Taylor with Dad
12.  Taylor with Siblings

3:45pm All pictures complete, travel to wedding ceremony location

4:00pm Arrive at wedding ceremony location to set up

4:30pm Wedding Ceremony

5:30pm Travel to venue on trolley

6:00pm Cocktail hour starts. Enjoy champagne and hors d’oeuvres with your guests. Optional – sneak off for 5 minutes to take some sunset pictures.  

7:00pm Reception (all times to be discussed/confirmed with venue coordinator)

Entrances
First Dance
Toasts
Parent Dances
Cake Cutting

~8:45pm Dancefloor opens

~9:45pm Photography coverage ends (if things run late I stay late!). Optional – sneak outside for 5-10 minutes of nighttime pictures
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TIMELINE OPTIONS FOR JAMIE & TAYLOR– SEPTEMBER 2015
WITHOUT A FIRST LOOK
(Sunset at 6:47pm)

With sunset at 6:47pm if we're taking all of the formal pictures AFTER the ceremony we'll need to have daylight so the ceremony should be moved forward. There is a one hour gap from the end of the ceremony to the start of cocktail hour. The cocktail hour could also be extended for 90 minutes. 

1:00pm Leah and second photographer arrive to take detail and getting ready pictures.

2:00pm Anyone helping Jamie/Taylor get dressed should be ready and dressed.

2:30pm Get dressed. Allow more time for tiny buttons/corset style dresses

3:00pm Travel to wedding ceremony location

3:30pm Arrive at wedding ceremony location to set up

4:00pm Wedding Ceremony

5:00pm Travel to picture location on trolley

5:15pm Family pictures
Each picture takes just seconds but allow 3-5 minutes per group to gather people, arrange and take multiple exposures for great expressions without blinking! Allow more time for divorced parents or if you want to add additional groupings. Advise families to arrive early if they are likely to be late
1.     Jamie & Taylor with Jamie’s Parents
2.     Jamie & Taylor with Jamie’s Parents, Grandparents, Siblings & Significant Others
3.     Jamie with Parents
4.  Jamie with Siblings
5.     Jamie & Taylor with Taylor’s Parents
6.     Jamie & Taylor with Taylor’s Parents, Grandparents, Siblings & Significant Others
7.     Taylor with Parents
8.  Taylor with Siblings

5:45pm Wedding party pictures
Jamie & Taylor with wedding party
Jamie with attendants
Taylor with attendants

6:00pm Cocktail hour starts for guests

6:00pm Pictures of Taylor and Jamie 

6:30pm Travel to wedding reception venue

6:45pm Join the last few minutes of cocktail hour/get ready for entrances


7:00pm Reception (all times to be discussed/confirmed with venue coordinator)

Entrances
First Dance
Toasts
Parent Dances
Cake Cutting

~8:45pm Dancefloor opens


~9:45pm Photography coverage ends (if things run late I stay late!). Optional – sneak outside for 5-10 minutes of nighttime pictures
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And there you go - some sample timelines - were they helpful? Yes you can absolutely squish more things in/move times up but if one little thing goes late (hair and make up, trolleys are 10 minutes late arriving, a family member is late to photos then your timeline gets all messed up and it causes stress. Better to have a little spare time in case you need it!) And our final topic in the most lengthy blog post EVER...

Common mistakes made when planning your wedding timeline

Mistake #1 Being too optimistic with your getting ready timeline
Admission - this is kind of aimed at the ladies. I'm generalizing but for the majority of guys the whole getting ready process is fairly easy and fast. Drink some Bud light, watch some TV, put on shirts and vests, google "how to tie bow-tie", get in car. Not so much with the girls.

As you plan your wedding day (with your planner or your day of coordinator or your venue or your photographer) you'll need to have a rough timeline. This is so your vendors such as hair/make up/florist etc know where to be and when. A bride recently sent me this as her proposed timeline for getting ready:

3:00pm Photography starts
3:30pm Hair and make up for bride
4:00pm Bride gets dressed.
4:15pm Limo picks up bride/bridesmaids/parents and photographer
4:30pm Ceremony

My initial thoughts? We're missing about 90 minutes of time!
#1 You can't do hair and make up simultaneously.
Talk to your hair and make up experts but it's not unusual to allow an hour for hair and then an hour for make up. It's nice to build in a little extra time so you have that option. It's also a good idea not to go last. Hair and make up runs late in 70% of weddings (a bridesmaid is late arriving, another doesn't love her eye make up and it has to be redone etc etc) and it can be quite stressful as your ceremony gets closer and closer). There's just not enough time allocated in the above plan.
#2 If you have a simple zipper then getting dressed in 15 minutes is technically possible. If you have multiple tiny buttons or a corset/lace up style dress then you need to allow at least 45 minutes. The alterations lady might be able to get you into your dress in 15 minutes but your Mom/Maid of Honor will take a LOT longer, I've seen some brides take over 45 minutes to get into their dresses.



My recommendations when thinking about getting ready:
a) Ask each of your vendors how much time they would recommend for their areas of expertise
b) Don't go last for hair and make up, have someone else take the spot after you (but not someone who you want to help you get dressed)
c) Make sure the people you want to help you get dressed (Maid of Honor? Sister? Mom?) will be completely done with hair and make up AND dressed at least 30 minutes before you want to get into your gown. There have been SO many times when I'm watching the bride getting more and more freaked out as Mom is looking for her pantyhose and Sister is wrestling with her Spanx and the bride has to rush getting dressed. More time allocated = Less stress
d) Build in 15 minutes of "extra" time to most activities - eating lunch, hair, make up, getting dressed, getting in the limo. When things run late on your wedding day - and they WILL run late - you'll be so glad to know you have that time. If by some miracle things are running to schedule you can relax with a glass of champagne!
e) Allow 15-30 minutes of extra "getting dressed" time. It takes quite some time to go to the restroom/brush your teeth/put your wedding underwear on/be helped into your dress and you really don't want to feel rushed. In an ideal world I would love to have 15-30 minutes with you once you're dressed to get some beautiful portraits of you.
e) Tell everyone you need them ready a little earlier than you actually do. I'll often see/hear a bride getting all stressed because everyone is supposed to be on the trolley/in the limo and the following is happening:
- Bridesmaid #1 needs to use the restroom
- Bridesmaid #2 is trying to safety pin her bra to her dress
- Bridesmaid #3 wants to put some band-aids on her feet as her shoes are rubbing
- Mom forgot her camera and went back to her hotel room
You get the picture :)
f) Consider hiring a day-of coordinator to keep everyone on track.

It might seem like I'm painting a fairly extreme picture here but I can honestly say out of 150 weddings there have been 2 that ran to time. Yes - 2 out of 150 weddings ran perfectly to time. Both brides were event planners....
You want to relax, enjoy the day, minimize stress and planning enough time helps with this!

Mistake #2 Having a friend do hair and make up/hiring hair and make up professional unused to weddings
Of course there are exceptions to this. Maybe your sister is a pro make up artist - sweet! I mentioned it above but it happens SO often that I'm giving it it's own topic. I'd estimate than non-professional or non-wedding-expert hair and make up people are responsible for at least 40% of timelines running late.

If hair and make up run late your whole day runs late. In addition, if you don't love the way your hair and make up looks, you won't love your pictures and video!

You have to make the time up somewhere and sadly it's often photography time that's cut into. Couples who hire me to photograph their wedding generally place a high importance on wedding photography and we'll usually try to schedule at least 30 minutes of time for pictures just of the two of you. If everything is running late and I end up with 3 minutes to take pictures of you both before introductions need to be made this makes me sad. More importantly it means you have just a handful of pictures of the two of you on your wedding day.

Your regular hair stylist might be awesome but if she isn't used to the fast paced time of the wedding day she's likely going to be primping an tweaking for time that we just don't have! She might also be great at doing a messy bun that'll last for a few hours but not so great at doing a messy bun that can still look amazing 10 hours into your wedding...

I have a very limited number of hair and make up professionals I recommend to my couples and it's based on how they make everyone look and feel beautiful but just as importantly how they always run to time. Ask me for recommendations!

Mistake #3 Not thinking of logistics/traffic when planning travel time between venues
Maybe the drive from your church to your venue in your car on a Wednesday evening only takes 16 minutes. Now try the same journey in rush hour traffic on a Friday evening on the Cape or Saturday afternoon in a popular vacation spot in Maine. And then factor in getting 30+ wedding party and family members onto the party bus. There will ALWAYS be someone go missing for 5 minutes.  That 16 minute journey now takes 56 minutes. I'd recommend driving the route at the same time/day of your wedding at rush hour/in peak season and then double it. Also remember that trolleys aren't usually allowed on the highway so we may have to take backroads. AND factor in the 15 minutes that it will take for your trolley/party bus driver to open some champagne for everyone (or tell them that you want to skip this!).


Mistake #4 Not allocating enough time for family/formal/wedding party pictures
See the above section on family pictures. It's important to have your parents on the same page. Otherwise our list of 15 meaningful family groups can be lost as Mom shouts out combination after combination of other family members she'd like in pictures. Remember - I'll take family pictures ALL DAY if that's what you want me to do but you need to allocate them time. 3-5 minutes per family grouping.

Mistake #5 Thinking your wedding is a portrait session for guests/extended family
Although I'm primarily a wedding photographer I occasionally do family portrait sessions. I'll usually schedule a couple of hours, take time to get the family relaxed, especially the kids, spend some time thoughtfully arranging the group and then take multiple pictures to get the very best expressions and smiles.

On your wedding day I'm more than happy to grab a quick image of a family standing together at cocktail hour but it's simply going to be a well-lit snapshot. You've hired me as your wedding photographer and if you request 16 different portraits of your family members I'm going to miss real moments happening at your wedding.

At one of the first weddings I photographed, the mother of the bride requested that I set up a backdrop and lights in a side room and work through a list of maybe 26 family groups (the couple weren't in these pictures. It was kind of like she wanted me to be like one of those terrible studios you see in Walmart). I explained that I'd be missing dancing pictures, little moments between the couple, the fun of the party. When I came to deliver the pictures there were hardly any pictures of the reception as I'd spent most of the evening wandering through the guests looking for "Family Jones? or Family Smith?" Crazy!

A photobooth is a great option to consider if having extra pictures of friends and family is important. Each family can go into the booth, skip the props, hit the button and get a nice family snapshot.

Mistake #6 Wanting to take large group pictures during the reception
As your photographer I will photograph whatever you want me to :) and sometimes couples will email me saying:
- During the reception, can we get a picture of us with our 17 high school friends, our 26 university friends, one with 30 of our closest cousins and one with my 9 kindergarten friends.
I'm more than happy to take these pictures but the following things must happen:
a) You have to designate someone responsible to gather up the people. I can't do this as I don't know who the people are and I'm busy photographing real moments vs. trying to herd drunk people
b) If the groups are over 15-20 people, it's best to have the band/DJ announce it, just be aware this stops the dancing/ flow of a great party
c) You need to be happy that each large group picture will take you away from the party for at least 10 minutes. The actual taking of the photograph is about 60 seconds (I'm going to take multiple frames with a group this large to make sure I get one with everyone's eyes open) but it's going to take time to arrange everyone, make sure everyone's head is in the picture, wait for that one cousin/friend/uncle who went to the bar/restroom. These pictures usually happen late at night and people have usually had a few cocktails so they're less receptive to instructions! I've been at so many weddings where the couple request multiple large group pictures during the reception but then get really frustrated that it's taking forever to gather their friends.
d) It's not going to be the most splendiferous picture ever taken. I recently photographed a corporate session for 12 doctors and I spent close to 45 minutes arranging/posing/lighting the group. At your wedding there will be random guests in the background, that one drunk groomsman, that one friend who keeps pulling silly faces...
In summary, I'll happily take as many large group pictures as you like but it's important to realize that each picture will take up to 10 minutes... you'll be gone from the party for some time.

Mistake #7 Not making time for the two of you.
It's your wedding day. All about the two of you. It's not a photoshoot but it's ideal to have 30 minutes (or more!) of time to get beautiful relaxed pictures of the two of you. If you like, we can also sneak outside for a few minutes at sunset or once it's dark for some nightttime pictures. It can be nice to get a breathe of fresh air after all that dancing and I work really quickly to get you back to the party.



Mistake #8 Having an accidental receiving line
If you want to have a receiving line and greet guests as they leave your ceremony, then you need to plan that time into the day and you'll likely want to move cocktail hour later. The average guest will hug you, exclaim how handsome/beautiful you look, you'll thank them for coming and they'll say congratulations. The more exuberant guests might even insist on a picture. At an average of 15-20 seconds for that exchange to happen with 150 guests that's 45 minutes for your receiving line. Receiving lines are great as long as you allow enough time!

If you don't want to have a receiving line then it's critical that you don't hover at the end of the ceremony. Get straight into your form of transportation and instruct your wedding party and family to do the same! If we're taking pictures in a church afterwards, head straight around the side of the church and hide out to avoid an accidental receiving line. If we're leaving the ceremony to do formal family pictures during cocktail hour it's critical to let parents know they can't linger, they'll want to greet all of their friends but then we won't have them for the family pictures (another good reason to get all of the family pictures done prior to the ceremony so you can greet your guests!)

Mistake #9 Wanting to recreate other people's wedding pictures a.k.a Pinterest-obsession
I love Pinterest as much as you do! I have all kinds of inspiration boards for things for our home and stuff I want to cook. If Pinterest had been around when I was getting married I'm sure I would have had all sorts of wedding pictures pinned. Pinterest is an AMAZING resource for inspiration when you're wedding planning - helping you figure out the overall look and theme, helping up come up with awesome color pallets, giving you ideas for favors and more.

The only issue with Pinterest is that people are pinning the absolute best of the best photos and they may have been taken hours to set up in some cases! Many images are from styled shoots when you have all day to create one beautiful picture and no reception to get to! If you ask your wedding photographer to recreate someone else's wedding picture not only might it take a ton of time (to find a similar location, to try to recreate similar lighting conditions) but it's just not going to be the same. Ideally you should have hired your photographer because you LOVE the kind of pictures they take and you want them to create beautiful and unique images of your wedding day. If we have 30 minutes for couples pictures and you give me a list of 10 Pinterest pictures you'd like to recreate, you're not going to have any real moments or unique images from your own unscripted wedding.

And some popular Pinterest wedding images simply aren't possible! For example there's a frequently pinned image of "the kiss" in a grand Catholic church where you can see all of the wedding guests behind the couple. To get that specific angle I'd have to push the priest out of the way or be literally standing over his shoulder. There's not a single Catholic church in New England (to my knowledge) that even allows me on the altar never mind standing over the priest! I had one couple send me a favorite picture on Pinterest of a couple making out in the back of their limo - I pointed out this would be difficult to do as they were riding on a trolley with the rest of their wedding party :)

As a photographer it's possible to search to see which images I've taken have been pinned to Pinterest, my winter engagement images are always popular as is the image on the bottom with the American Flag flying over the couple. I frequently see it pinned with comments like "Add this to list for photographer!" and "Awesome Patriotic picture - must have for our wedding!" but here's the reality - unless you're getting married at that specific Boston wedding venue on the right kind of day AND the flag is flying AND your photographer has access to the roof AND your second photographer is talking with your main photographer to have you twirl under the flag AND the wind blows the flag the right way then you probably can't get that picture...

So here's what I recommend - two weeks before your wedding, delete all of your wedding related Pinterest boards. Everything wedding related will be booked and finalized and you don't want to have post-wedding remorse when you revisit your Pinterest boards and realize your florist didn't quite mimic the centerpieces you loved. Work with your photographer to get amazing pictures that other people will want to pin!

Mistake #10 Not remembering the big picture
You're here on your wedding day because you're marrying the person you love surrounded by your closest friends and family. Things will run late - that's OK. Things will go wrong - that's OK too. As long as you're having a good time your friends and family will too! Once the day gets here try not to worry about the things you can't control.

One of my very favorite weddings last year had a hiccup when the coach carrying half of their guests went to the wrong venue. They could have freaked out but instead they asked their venue coordinator to make an announcement and serve drinks to their guests for the 45 minute delay so guests could relax and enjoy the ocean view.

Another wedding I photographed took place in the middle of the blizzard of 2013, the rehearsal dinner had to be moved, the make up artist didn't show, the guest count was changing by the minute, the ceremony had to be pushed back 3 hours due to the travel ban - there was nothing that could be done and the couple just went with the flow. They shrugged it off, were flexible and decided to do a first look to make sure we could get the snow in the daylight in their pictures and there was such a sense of camaraderie and joy at the wedding when it happened.

Your guests will look to the two of you all night, if you want people to dance - dance! If you want people to tuck into the late night sliders and fries - eat a slider and dunk your french fries in ketchup! No one will care if your monogram cocktail napkins are the wrong shade of rose pink!

The whole day will fly by, usually the result of months and often years of planning. Putting careful thought and consideration into your wedding day timeline will ensure you get the most possible enjoyment out of your day, have the most time with your future intended and closest friends and family...and of course, get the wedding pictures you want ;)

4 - view comments for this post:

Michele Stapleton said...

This blog post is brilliant. Every wedding photographer should share this with his or her clients. Thanks Leah!

Katie Barnes said...

Leah, you are a true genius. Best blog post I've read in a long time... can't wait to catch up this summer. Kisses! -Katie

Anonymous said...

Great! Shared on MWC! -Beth

Blake Libby Randolph said...

Thanks for featuring the photos from our wedding! So cool! Libby + Blake

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