Tips To Successfully Manage A Wedding Day | A Photographer’s Perspective

Shooting Tips July 29th 2014 12:23 PM 9 Comments

If you are new to wedding photography, it might come as a surprise to you that many times being a wedding photographer means you’re also tasked with keeping the day moving.  I know there are those out there that will disagree with me, but I have found that a lot of times I’m the one looking at the timeline making sure we stay on schedule (or at least try to). While I’m hired to make beautiful wedding images, keeping the day moving is something I take very seriously. If you’re walking into your first wedding or feel like you need to help manage the day better, here are my tips for managing the day the best you can from a photographer’s perspective.

[REWIND: 12 WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY EFFICIENCY TIPS]

Meet With Your Client A Few Weeks Ahead of Time

Bets are you will meet with your wedding clients at least twice before the wedding. Once for the initial meeting to see if you are a good match for each other and in some cases, you shoot their engagement session. (Engagement sessions will really help you get to know your client’s personalities and what they should expect from you come the wedding day in terms of photography). I’ve begun to add a third meeting to my workflow. A week or two before the wedding, I ask my clients to meet up for coffee or set up a time for a phone call. In that third meeting, we discuss the timeline for the day. In a perfect world, I suggest no changes, but more often than not, I’m suggesting we make changes to help keep the wedding on time or if nothing else, moving towards the next part of the wedding.

I highly suggest doing a meeting close to the wedding day, not just an email. People might miss emails, ignore them, or just not write back and let you know what you need to know. Meeting in person or on the phone can really help you convey the importance of making sure everyone is on the same page and help you manage client expectations.

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Make Your Own Timeline and Bring A Copy With You

A lot of times I get a very nice timeline from my clients that are extremely detailed, but most of the time it includes information that does not pertain to me and is harder to read. I like simple, easy to read documents on the wedding day and the last thing I want to be doing is looking at a piece of paper trying to figure out where we’re suppose to be in ten minutes.

I make my own timeline, print two copies, give my assistant one and I keep one in my bag. Below is an example of what I create for myself off the timeline a client has given me.

Coverage Time: 1-9pm (8hrs)

Family Point Person: Name of Family Member couple assigns to me to ask questions if needed to avoid distracting the couple.

Locations

  • Getting Ready Location (Getting Ready and Reception)
  • Address and Phone Number
  • Ceremony Location (Ceremony and Formals)
  • Address and Phone Number

Timeline

  • 1-3:30pm-Getting ready images
  • 3:30pm-Transfer to ceremony location
  • 4-4:30pm-Ceremony
  • 4:30-5:30pm-Formal photography
  • 5:30-5:45pm-Transfer to reception location
  • 6-6:45pm-Dinner
  • 6:45-7pm-First Dance
  • 7:30pm-Cut Cake
  • 7:30-9pm-Reception Dancing

Shot List

  • Normal Items (Rings, Dress, Shoes, Cake, Bouquets, Cufflinks, Hair and Make Up)
  • (Anything else the couple would like me to make sure I capture written here).

Understand You Will Lose Time

Weddings are very rarely on time. A lot of time, everything is 30 minutes behind schedule. What does that mean for photographers? Well, what was an hour of time to shoot formals is now 30 minutes, or you might arrive at the ceremony at the last second and need to grab your gear fast and get ready to shoot the ceremony.

Running late is normal during a wedding day, and it’s usually not because of you (if it is you, you really need to assess why that’s happening). Being able to accept that you will lose time and being prepared to work fast is the name of the game. This is where an assistant can really help. While you’re running in to get ready for the ceremony, an assistant can be getting the rest of the gear you need for formals set up, or something else you need done.

My rule of thumb is this: as long as I’m with the bride I will not miss any of the important events of the day I need to capture. I try to relax and just remind myself it’s out of my control – hair/makeup went long (and it usually does), the limo is late, or something else has happened to cause things to run behind schedule.

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Don’t Be Afraid To Say No

While you might have nailed down the best plan possible for the wedding day, come the day itself, the couple might suggest going to another location they just found for photos or ask you to do something else that you know will cause an issue in keeping the day moving. Don’t be afraid to say that you feel that the idea is great, but you don’t feel like it’s going to work given the current schedule.

At the end of the day though, it’s their wedding day and I’m going to try to do everything in my power to make what they want possible. But, sometimes you just have to know that what they suggest last minute is not going to work and have the confidence to tell them that.

Go With The Flow

There is a fine line between helping guide the couple along to keep things moving, and being a pain. Things will come up that you have no control over – roll with them the best you can. You might have walked into family formals with the understanding that you are only shooting a few groups, and end up shooting tons of family and friends with the couple that they add last minute.

Roll with it, don’t tell them no, unless the situation is completely out of hand. It’s their day and a lot of times the formals photos are very important to the couple and the family as a whole. That’s just one example of many that can occur. Do your best to roll with the punches with a smile on your face no matter how irritated you might be about the change of plans.

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Know When To Suggest a Change

Do not be afraid to offer up your suggestions if something regarding photography comes up. A lot of clients will accept your suggestion with open arms; they paid you for great photography. If you notice something needs to be changed, approach the couple with your suggestion and why you are suggesting it.

A recent example: I was shooting a wedding on the beach. Formals were supposed to happen at the beach following the ceremony. The beach was flooded with people and I knew shooting formals there was going to be a disaster. I approached the couple and family suggesting we go to another location the couple had mentioned the day before. The couple and family agreed that was the right decision and the back up location worked even better than the beach.

Have the confidence to speak up when it’s called for. Most couples will appreciate that you are trying to make things work as well as possible.

The Other Vendors Are Your Friends

You are not the only vendor at the wedding; there are caterers, venue directors, DJ’s and a slew of other people involved in making the day perfect. Do your best to introduce yourself and see if there are any changes you have not been made aware of.

For me, the most important vendor I make sure to reach out to is the DJ. When I arrive at the reception location, I make a bee line right to the DJ, introduce myself, ask them how they are doing, ask where we can set up lights, and most importantly, to please make me aware when things are coming up such as, the first dance, cutting the cake, or a special moment during the wedding. Most DJ’s know the plan and good ones will make sure you know what’s coming up. I’ve even gone as far to ask a DJ to play some music that will get people dancing so I have images of the guest killing it on the dance floor for my couple.

Be friendly, personable, and appreciative of the hard work the other vendors are putting into the day. If you do that, it’s hard for them to not repay the favor and help you out.

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Don’t Make The Day About You

The most important tip to managing a wedding day in my opinion is this: The day is not about you; it’s about the couple. Do not be the photographer that wastes time trying to nail some crazy cool shot if it’s going to make the bride and groom run late. You need to know when a pose or shot is not working and move on, and at all costs, do not lose your cool around the couple or guest if something gets under your skin. If you need to vent, do it after the wedding in private to your assistant or photographer friends.

[RELATED: VIDEOGRAPHER DELIVERS WEDDING VIDEO WITH ANTI-SEMITIC RANT TO BRIDE]

Conclusion

Yes, you are there to capture the day and in a perfect world, everything would run as smooth as silk, but that’s usually not the case. Changes will happen, things will run late, and drama might ensue. Keep your cool, be the rock, be the one person who is not fazed by anything and can keep the day moving with a smile and occasional joke. If you do that, most couples will thank you at the end of the day and tell their friends how great you are and the guests will even take note.

Being a good wedding photographer is about great images, but it’s also about how you made people feel. How you made people feel during the day is what’s going to help with referrals. If you’re the wedding photographer that really helped out and made everyone feel comfortable, chances are that couple will refer you to all their friends in the future.

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Chris Nachtwey

About

Chris Nachtwey is a full-time wedding and portrait photographer based in Connecticut. He is the founder and creator of 35to220 a website dedicated to showcasing the best film photography in the world. Chris loves to hear from readers, feel free to drop him a line via the contact page on his website! You can see his work here: Chris Nachtwey Photography

9 Comments

  1. John McCosh

    As a wedding photographer with 100+ weddings under my belt. I agree with every comment in this article well done Chris, great article. I always tell my couples at the initial meeting that when planning the timing of their day to allow to be ready to leave for the ceremony at least 1 hour before they need to and to also allow an extra 30mins for formal photos than what is required. Once the couple feel stressed about time it is very hard to shake off. Having extra time for the couple to take a breath and relax will make their day much more enjoyable for them.

  2. Ben Perrin

    I agree with everything in this article as well. Very well written. The speaking up parts and making sure the timeline flows are very important. I can’t tell you how many friends I’ve talked to that say that their photographer didn’t take charge and they just ended up feeling uncomfortable due to his lack of assertiveness (and the photos turned out bad as well). I’m finding that using positive reinforcement also works wonders. I’ll tell whomever I’m photographing what I want from them and then I make sure to say they are doing a great job. Making a friendly and safe environment for people to be in usually makes for better photos in my humble opinion.

    • Chris Nachtwey

      Thanks Ben, I believe 80% of being a wedding photographer is how you made people feel and taking charge in a polite way to get the job done quickly and efficiently.

  3. Andrew Hind

    Great article, and every point really rings true. I think that there is an inevitability that things will run late, plans will be changed, the light won’t be good, there isn’t enough room to photograph etc etc. All photographers have to deal with these issues and it takes real skill and experience to be able to still get great images.

  4. Matthew Saville

    I think this whole article could be summed up in just one tip: BE READY FOR ANYTHING! lol, seriously, there is just such a delicate balance between knowing when to deftly talk a bride OUT of something, and when to politely go with the flow. When to hurry things along, and when to just relax and let things happen in their own time.

    It simply takes a lot of experience and the right personality, basically. However having read this article, I hope other beginners can understand a little better how to approach wedding days! Thanks for posting!

    =Matt=

  5. Cy Sawyer

    Great article, I already explain some of this to my clients. Thought it was just me lol Glad its not.

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