I’ve had a couple of newer photographers ask me for input on wedding day timelines, recently, so I thought I would go ahead and blog the way that I go about scheduling, and spacing out a wedding day timeline.
About two years ago I implemented a great practice that I learned of from Zach & Jody – sending a Pre-Wedding Questionnaire. This questionnaire can be made up of any/all information that you may want or need to know about the wedding day, as well as vendor info so that you have all of the appropriate credits for blogging the wedding (and submitting it for publication) afterwards. You can find a few free questionnaires here, that you can then tweak to make your own (I based mine off of Zach & Jody’s). It’s made SUCH a world of difference to have one place to go back and reference any information about the wedding day, and has made day-of timelines much easier to figure out. So, here are the steps that I use in communicating with my clients:
1) A little over a month before the wedding day, I email the questionnaire.
In this email, I also send the invoice for the final payment, since it’s due 30 days before the wedding. This gives them around a week to get the final payment sent, and the questionnaire filled out. Some clients will return the questionnaire overnight, some will take almost 2 weeks. But that’s why I do it several weeks out from the wedding so that we still have time to talk through it or tweak things as needed before the wedding day is upon us.
2) After they return the filled-out questionnaire, I submit a Suggested Timeline based on their answers, and the available hours in their chosen package.
It made a huge difference once I started submitting my suggested timeline. It takes a LOT of pressure off the bride to not have to figure it all out, and has kept me from having to back-track with an already set time frame to ask for more time for photos – or worse, just ending up with barely any time at all. Since I submit it several weeks out from the wedding, it gives a chance for the bride and/or event coordinator to see what I would need for the best possible photo results. If they absolutely have to take some of the time away from any of the portrait photo sessions, they’re at least educated in understanding that the results they see in my portfolio are based around the time frames I set, and with less time the results may vary a bit (by number of photos, varieties of poses, etc). Sometimes that has to happen, but this process for setting the timeline has more often resulted in NOT taking away any photo time. Because I’m proactively setting expectations and giving suggestions, the bride and coordinators are usually happy to work with what I suggest, since it’s already been carefully planned out based on the details I already know of their specific day.
3) I list out to the minute photo times, so that wedding party and family members can know exactly when they’ll be needed for photos.
Let’s say the couple has an 8-hour wedding package, are doing a First Look, has no receiving line, and prefers to do ALL family photos following the ceremony. This is an example of what my suggested timeline might look like:
2:00 – I arrive & do Detail Shots (dress, shoes, invitation, jewelry, etc)
2:45 – Getting Ready photos
3:15 – Bride gets into dress
3:30 – First Look & Bride/Groom Portraits
4:00 – Bride/Bridesmaid Portraits
4:15 – Groom/Groomsmen Portraits
4:30 – Full Wedding Party
4:45 – I shoot reception/ceremony details
5:15 – Shoot guests arriving
5:30 – Ceremony begins
6:00 – Ceremony ends
6:10 – Family Photos
6:35 – More Bride/Groom Portraits
6:45 – Enter Reception
7:00 – Dinner Served
7:45 – Dances Begin
8:00 – Sunset shot?
10:00 – Final Exit, Coverage Ends
Now, this is a generic and pretty cushy timeline. But the point is, I don’t do “3:30 – 4:30: Bridal Party Portraits” because I want everyone to know for exactly what timeframes they will be needed. I’ve found this tends to help people stay on top of things, and be ready more accurately on time. I also list out that I’m building in time for the reception details, because I want them to not even think about that being an option (sometimes logistics make it hard or impossible, but whenever possible, I make it happen). Everyone’s time frame preferences are different, I’m sure, but I’ve found that 30 minutes for bride/groom portraits is the minimum that I want (and if I can get more, I do!) to get the best results, and at least 15 minutes with each grouping for wedding party. I also prefer to build in plenty of time for details when I’m first arriving because sometimes it can take me a little bit to warm up and get in the groove, and for whatever reason, I hate being rushed on those type of shots. I throw in the “Sunset shot?” with a question mark, because it’s often not something the couple has mentioned wanting to do, but are usually really open to once they see it suggested. Obviously, as we know, wedding days can sometimes run late, so I buffer time and juggle things as needed and if my portrait sessions get cut short a little bit, I make the most of what I can get. So, nothing is ever fail-proof. But this general concept has been really successful for me and my clients, and has greatly reduced the stress and miscommunication that I used to have with timelines when I wasn’t playing a proactive role.
This is by no means “THE” way to do it, but it’s worked for me, so I hope this has been helpful for someone. Happy Monday!