Wedding Photography Planning
Updated: Nov 5, 2020
Hi Friend! I so excited to help make your wedding days smooth, organized and more streamlined than ever before. In my experience photographing weddings, I learned a few important lessons: First, no two weddings are the same, but there are a lot of similarities. Second, on a wedding day, shooting the right things at the right time with enough time can make or break the client’s experience and the quality and consistency of the images as a whole. Third, the first vendor to recommend a wedding day timeline to the client, in writing, usually gets what they want and need to do their best work. So, as the the photographer, it’s important to be fast and confident —whether it’s your hundredth wedding, or your first, to give everyone involved the best experience. That’s why I send all our timelines at the time of booking. No matter what gets thrown our way when we meet with a couple, whether they’re doing a first look or not, traveling to one, two, three or even four locations, having a non-religious wedding, a Catholic Mass or an Orthodox Jewish sunset ceremony or whether they have a budget/need for eight, nine or ten hours, we’ve developed Ten-tried and tested timelines that help us create and send custom timelines to our clients within minutes of booking, giving a smoother wedding day experience to everyone, and allowing us to shoot under the most ideal possible circumstances so we can perform at our highest level. Every single time. We know it’ll do the same thing for you. To help make things even easier when you're creating timelines for your clients and give you the confidence to explain your choices to them (or a wedding planner) if they have questions, we’ve included an explanation of why we do things when we do them, and why it takes as long as it does. For the sections that are the same at most or all of our weddings, we’ve explained our process and reasoning down below, so you’ll have everything you need to advocate confidently. For the sections of our timelines that are unique, we gave you an explanation in red of what makes it different. These red sections are meant to be deleted before you send your timeline to a us . Lastly, please always keep in mind that the timelines in the accompanying word documents will need to be slightly customized for each of your weddings based on your geographic location, venue limitations, client desires,planner preferences, etc. You know your bride and city best! So, for example, if sunset for us in Arizona is right at the actual scheduled sunset, but sunset for you is thirty minutes earlier when the sun drops below the tree line, just make the adjustment accordingly! Then save a copy for you to reference for the future. Friend, we hope our timelines save you as much time as they save us, bring you less stress, more peace and fresh confidence on the wedding day, and help you love and serve your clients better than ever. And never forget that we’re cheering for you every step of the way!
BRIDE'S DETAILS + HAIR & MAKEUP (45 min) In my experience , it takes about 45 minutes to an hour to photograph the bride’s details (dress, shoes, rings, jewelry,perfume, invitations, bouquet etc.) thoroughly and with plenty of variety. We always start by hanging the bride’s dress together
BRIDE & GROOM GETTING DRESSED
We allow 45 minutes for the bride to get on her dress and the groom and groomsmen to get on their ties and coats for a few reasons. First, sometimes we show up and the bride has more details and photo requests than originally included in her wedding day questionnaire, like photos of he rand her bridesmaids popping champagne on the bed, for example, or a gift from the groom that she’d like special pictures of, or even a first look with her Dad that she didn’t know or decide she wanted until the morning of her wedding. If that happens, we’ve built 15 extra minutes of pad time into this section, so that extra requests won’t put us behind. Second, sometimes there’s a snag with the dress, or the bridesmaids all want to have their hair and makeup touched up one more time, or something else that sets back the timeline at the last minute. Third, the bride and groom are usually getting ready on different parts of the property, so the extra time gives NIKO a chance to walk to the groom's getting ready room, clean it up (if the guys haven’t yet) and still get great shots. * We don’t go to multiple getting ready locations, so if the bride and groom are getting ready on completely separate properties, we just do some quick mock getting ready photos of the groom when he arrives to the venue for the first look — right before he sees her for the first time WALK TO FIRST LOOK (15 min) If we get the bride and groom dressed and out the door on time, we’ve found that it takes about fifteen minutes to stage the first look. Even if the first look spot is close to the getting ready room, we never want to underestimate how long it takes for a bride to walk in her heavy gown, long veil and high heel. Allotting fifteen minutes gives us five minutes for the couple to each get to the location, five minutes for the bride to get hidden and the groom to get in position and five minutes to explain to both of them what’s going to happen, what to do and kindly ask any family members who are creep in’ for a sneak peek in’ to respect the couple’s request for privacy.
The FIRST LOOK (15 minutes) Even though the actual first look moment only takes a few minutes, we like to give our couples 15 minutes for this so the bride and groom have a chance to see each other, embrace, talk for a bit, soak it all in, retouch makeup (if needed) and finish early — which gives us more portrait time! We can’t emphasize this enough: if the bride and groom get to the first look on time, 99.% of the time the rest of the timeline stays on schedule. If they don’t, that’s where things get off track. The beginning of the day is where we, as the photographers, have the least control — because of all the surrounding people who can stop a bride or groom from getting out the door. So, it’s critical to make sure the hair and makeup artist, the bridesmaids, any friends or family members in the room and the bride are all aware and kindly reminded on the day of the wedding that getting her out the door is more important than steaming the dress (again), retouching makeup or any of the last minute request that pops up. We want to serve our clients the best way possible. That means kindly, warmly, professionally advocating for everyone to stick to the timeline, especially for the first look.F I R S T the LOOK BRIDE & GROOM PORTRAITS + INDIVIDUALS ( 30 MIN )
Our goal here is three-fold: 10 minutes of bride and groom portraits in one location, 10 minutes of individual portraits (bride alone and groom alone) in another location (5 minutes each) and 10 minutes of bride and groom portraits again. That way, if for some reason something goes awry later in the day (like inclement weather) and you’re not able to do husband and wife sunset portraits, you’ve still gotten bride and groom portraits in two distinct locations and their individuals as well. So, even in the worst case scenario, you’ve got what you need for an album and blog post to feel complete, and they have great photos, even if the weather takes a turn for the worst specially in Chicago!
BRIDE WITH BRIDESMAIDS (15 minutes) We always start with the girls because ( A ) they’re the most excited, (B) we want them with fresh hair and makeup and (C) if we go a little longer with them, it’s easy to make up time with the guys later. We begin with individual photos of the bride and each of her bridesmaids. That takes about five minutes,depending on the size of the bridal party and if the bride has any special requests, like a photo of her and her sisters, as an example. From there, we still have ten minutes to get several distinct poses with the whole group, as well as supplementary detail shots of their bouquets. Most of the time, this section runs closer to 20 minutes long because getting variety with these pictures is often more important to the bride for her memories and wedding album (and our social media and blog!) than the guys, and the girls typically enjoy their time in front of the camera more, so we spend more time with them.
Full Bridal Party (15 minutes)
We do this in the middle so that the girls don’t have to wait around for the guys. Also, so the guys can bring chairs from the ceremony site if it’s a large bridal party. By the time we get the chairs setup and everyone organized, it’s been five minutes (at least). From there, we have five to ten minutes to get three different looks. We typically don’t move them from their positions
in the group once we have it set when it’s a large group (we mix the guys and girl up at the beginning boy-girl-boy-girl) but we'll ask them to do different things where they’re standing to give us more variety for the client’s final gallery. If they’re a smaller group, we’re able to mix it up more in a shorter amount of time
GROOM WITH GROOMSMEN (15 minutes) This runs just like the girls’ section. We do individuals first and then the whole group. Since the girls are less mobile than the guys (because high heels and soft grass are enemies), this gives sisters a 15-minute head start if the immediate family portraits are somewhere else on property (or there’s no first look and it’s time to leave for the ceremony.) We do our best to find a place for the immediate family photos that’s a) out of sight from arriving guest sand b) in or near the same place as the bridal party photos. That way, the chairs are still there (if we need them), we’re easier to find for the arriving family members and the bridal party members who are part of the immediate family don’t have to go anywhere/can help call, rally, and wrangle family members for us. Don’t be afraid to recruit helpers on the wedding day. It’s a beautiful thing! IMMEDIATE FAMILY PHOTOS (30 minutes)
We allocate 30 minutes for immediate family photos as close to the ceremony start time as possible, but with enough time so that the guests haven’t arrived yet. We have a printed list from the bride and groom that we get from them in their questionnaire which helps us run through family combinations quickly. Thirty minutes gives us enough time to get the bride and groom with each side of their immediate family and small breakouts, too, like the bride with herded, the bride with her mom, the bride with her mom and dad,the parents together, etc. Any family shots beyond the immediate extended family photos (like aunts, uncles, etc.) typically takes additional time, so we’ll add 15 minutes to this section when those photos are requested, but we’ll always make sure to end 30 minutes before the ceremony start time to avoid guests seeing the bride and/or family members getting antsy, as well as giving us time to shoot the ceremony setup.
BRIDE & GROOM HIDE, REST & RETOUCH + CEREMONY DECOR (30 minutes)
This window is crucial. It gives our couple time to hide away from their guests, relax and retouch before the ceremony, and it also gives us a shooting cushion if for some reason the timeline gets behind. If we’re at a detail-heavy wedding, NIKO will actually shoot most of family photos by himself . Tip: If you’re worried about not having enough time after the ceremony to sign the marriage license, get husband and wife sunset portraits, get reception detail photos and shots of guests at cocktail hour, you can always use this time as guests are arriving to stop them for a quick pic looking at the camera. Then you can add those photos into the cocktail hour gallery, even if you run out of time to cover it. Or, if your couple, planner and officiant are all up for it, you could always have the license signed in this time right before the ceremony to free up more golden hour time.
WEDDING CEREMONY (30 minutes) On average, we find that most ceremonies start five to ten minutes late and last about twenty minutes. If it starts on time and gets done early, that’s just a bonus for us because of all the photos we have to get during cocktail hour.For traditional, religious hour-long ceremonies, we've included separate timelines where this is reflected.
HUSBAND & WIFE SUNSET PORTRAITS (30 minutes) As soon as the bride and groom come down the aisle, whisks them off for husband and wife portraits while NIKO shoots the rest of the recessional. Then, he joins Amy and our bride and groom. We’ve found that doing these right away is helpful for a few reasons. First, that glow golden light is our favorite and helps us produce the dreamiest portraits for our couple. Second, when we do those photos right away, we don’t have to pull the bride and groom away from their friends and family at cocktail hour. We get to bring them to cocktail hour when we’re done. Third, if it’s a cloudy day or on a property with tons of buildings that are blocking the light, waiting until the end of cocktail hour is risky because it might be too dark by then. Fourth, we need the 30 minutes right before the guests are brought into the ballroom to shoot the reception details and get a big room shot, since it's usually not set until then. So, that’s why we do husband and wife photos first! The only exception to this would be during a summer months when the sunset is scheduled for well past a normal dinner hour. In that case, we'd talk with the bride and groom in advance, and build in a time during the reception to sneak out for golden hour.
RECEPTION DETAILS & COCKTAIL HOUR (30 minutes )
We find that we usually have to wait until the very last few minutes before the doors open for entrances to take the full-room reception shots because the waitstaff are setting up until the very last minute. In that case, start with tight shots of the small details, like centerpieces, place settings, cake, etc. and then get the big, pulled-back, full-room shots at the last minute. if NIKO can get more cocktail hour shots during this time or the couple signing the marriage license, even better! Side note: In our experience, at modest budget wedding reception venues that are family-owned and/or rent the space but don’t provide anything else, where the bride and groom are responsible to provide almost everything, we didn’t have a problem getting the family or planner setting up the reception to have all the decor set (including plates, glasses and silverware) before the ceremony. However, at established, corporate-owned luxury properties, like hotels and resorts, oftentimes the room can’t be set until 15-30 minutes before guests arrive. Why? Because the catering manager would have to pay the entire staff for an extra hour to two hours to come early to polish the silverware, clean the glasses and set everything — and that’s just not practical for them. So we've learned to work quickly with whatever we’re given! RECEPTION DETAILS & COCKTAIL HOUR
RECEPTION (120 minutes)
We tell our clients that if they can do grand entrances and first dances when they walk in,toasts in-between salad and dinner service, and cake-cutting right after dinner, they can have all the major milestone moments complete din 90 minutes. That leaves 30 minutes for open dancing photographs. In our opinion, that's plenty of time before it all starts to look the same. It usually keeps the dance floor hotter for longer, too, because no one’s being pulled off the dance floor for milestone moments. Some couples opt to add more hours here, if loads of open dancing shots are really important to tremor if they have a grand exit planned.RECEPTION(120 minutes)
Working with Wedding Planer
Before we started shooting luxury weddings with wedding planners, earlier on we were the de-facto wedding day planners. We gave our brides recommended timeline as soon as they signed their contract and paid their retainer, and that’s the exact timeline we used — because no one else had as much of a stake in the timing of events or was impacted by it as much as us. But when we started working with wedding planners, we learned a simple but important lesson: they create almost minute-by-minute, work of art, book-sized wedding timelines that are much more than what you’ll find below.They include everything from when the florist arrives, to when Bridesmaid#4 starts and ends makeup, to the Father-of-the-Bride toast at 7:27 p.m. It's specific — and for a reason. There are a lot of moving parts on a wedding day and the wedding planner, at the end of the day, is responsible for overseeing it all. We’re just responsible for the photography. So does that mean we can’t get exactly the timeline we want and need?Definitely not! But it’s important to remember that our approach matters,which is why we don’t send our timelines directly to our brides anymore when they’ve already booked with a wedding planner for a few reasons. First, it’s a sign of respect to the planner. Second, sometimes the planner knows things we don’t know that will impact the timeline, and we need to work together to make some small changes. Third, when we’re proactive and approach the planner first with a nice email and our recommended photography timeline, they’re usually grateful because it’s one less thing for them to think about when drafting their own wedding day timeline.They can just insert our times into theirs. And when they see how much time we’re in total control of the bride and groom — which is pretty much everything from hair and makeup to the ceremony — they’re thankful because it gives them more time to focus on everything else they’ve got going on! We’re all on the same team! So, really, it’s a win-win!
Now that you have an overview of our timeline essentials. We're so excited for you to be able to take control of your wedding day timelines, and confidently create an experience for your clients that will be more organized, smooth and streamlined than ever before!