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Tips & Tricks

How To Help Your Brides Set Up a Realistic Timeline For The Wedding Day

By Hanssie on June 11th 2015

In the 7+ years I’ve been shooting weddings, there may have been only a handful that ran perfectly on time. The best-laid plans of mice and men, they say, applies to even the most organized, most efficiently planned wedding day. Typically, the snafu happens with hair and makeup; let’s face it, it takes a while for girls to get ready. It just does. Then the remainder of the day are pockets of finding ways to catch up and stay relatively close to schedule as possible. Since a wedding is many moving parts and ceremonies are typically in the late afternoon, early evening, you also will be working with Golden Hour in mind for those yummy, dreamy romantic portraits as the sun slips past the horizon line.


You know all this, and I know all this; if they have a wedding coordinator, that person knows it, too. But the brides aren’t usually in the know. Usually, this is their first wedding and they really have no idea what a wedding day is like on the other side. Thus, it is your job to help them while insuring that you get ample time to get some killer shots of the couple before they are whisked away to the reception. Often I will get emails asking for my pricing and estimating that they will need “only x hours of coverage.” I had a potential client tell me that they needed only 3-4 hours of coverage, but they wanted me to be there from the getting ready to the sparkler exit. I get it. Most brides are trying to adhere to a budget and so they feel like they can cut some corners by skimping on the time they need a to be there, but sometimes the hours they tell you they need you is unrealistic.

In these instances, what can you do to educate a bride on a realistic wedding day timeline? Here are some tips to helping your potential client or bride set up a timeline that makes sense.

1. Ask the Right Questions

One of my first questions I ask a potential client or a bride is what time their ceremony is scheduled to begin, end and what time the reception will begin and end. Then I ask if they are doing a first look and if they are hoping to get all the photos done before the ceremony. Once armed with that info, I work backward.

**I should note here, that regardless of a wedding coordinator, I make my own photography timeline. More on that later.**


Typically, I don’t get there right at the start of hair and makeup. I would not want many, if any, photos of me completely makeup-less, but your bride might. So be sure to ask. Usually, I arrive toward the end of the makeup and hair session, so I can still get shots of the final makeup touches. This is typically around 3 -4 hours before the start of the ceremony, depending on if they have a first look or if they want most of the photos done beforehand.

The key here is to use your expertise and educate the brides. Most brides have no idea how much time should be allotted for everything. Take what they are envisioning and help them understand if it is realistic or not. Then work with them to come up with a suitable compromise. It goes without saying that if a bride wants you there from the second she wakes up to the moment they leave, even after you’ve chatted with them, then be prepared to quote her your price for all those hours.

2. Seek First to Understand, Then To be Understood

If you’ve read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, then you’ll recognize this as one of the habits. Most people are better talkers than they are listeners. We tend to want to get our point across and in doing so, we ignore what the other person is trying to say. Be intentional in your listening. Don’t formulate your reply while the bride is trying to tell you what she wants or expects. Just listen and seek to understand.

Is she asking for only a 3-hour coverage because of budget concerns? Is she asking for unlimited coverage because that’s what Brides magazine told her to do? Try to understand where your client (or potential client) is coming from and then, you can address her needs and provide the best possible solution.

P.S. This works in all types of situations, not just between you and a bride. Try it on your significant other some time. You might be surprised.


3. Show Them a Few Sample Timelines

As I mentioned above, I create photography timelines for my clients. About four weeks before the wedding day, I make a timeline based off of the information they’ve provided me in their contract and bride questionnaire and make a fairly detailed timeline of who needs to be where and when. I list the names of the family, wedding party and anyone else that is expected for photos. This document is sent to the bride in a Word doc so that they can edit as needed. If they have a wedding coordinator, I send this document to them as well and allow them to make suggestions and changes as they see fit. Then about a week before the actual wedding day, I send the final pdf copy to the coordinator and bride and ask the bride to forward it to all of the people it pertains to.

When the bride is telling me about what they think they need in terms of coverage, I send a sample 6, 8 and 10 hour timeline from a previous wedding – with the sensitive info blacked out, of course. This gives the bride an idea of how a wedding day looks.

Here is part of a sample timeline.

Here is part of a sample timeline.

4. Create a Photography Timeline for Them

Sometimes a bride needs to see their day planned out on paper to truly grasp how long each part of the day may take. I talked about creating the timeline above, but I know some wedding photographers that just walk into a wedding day and “go with the flow.” I am a bit too Type-A for that. I work much better with a plan; it helps things run more smoothly, and it keeps the day (semi) on track. Mind you, I am not a drill sergeant by any means, but you can eliminate a lot of confusion on what is “supposed to happen next” when you have a detailed timeline on the day of the wedding.

On a side note, I always put a disclaimer at the end of the timeline stating something to the effect of, “any photography that is missed because of lateness is not guaranteed to be made up later in the day.” Of course, I always try my best to make up any photos missed, but you always want to CYA, if you know what I mean.


5. Be Flexible

Stuff happens and it’s a very rare wedding that runs perfectly on time. You need to not only be flexible, but you’ve gotta be flexible with a smile on your face. Adhere to the wedding timeline like it’s a guide and not a set of rules. It’s a wedding day, not boot camp. If the makeup and hair run long (which it will), if they can’t find second cousin Johnny even after he was told to stay for photos four times or if Grandma gets lit before the ceremony, your job is the smile, move things around and find pockets where you can make up the photo later or catch up to the schedule at a later point in the day.

Isn’t being a wedding photographer fun? I hope this article helped you even a little bit. If you enjoyed this article, then check out some other articles with wedding photography related tips. If you hated it, then go have an ice cream and forget you read this.




If you have any other tips that might help brides withsetting up a realistic wedding day timeline, comment below.

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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Ralph Hightower

    Perhaps Microsoft Project should be used to lay out a timeline of when things happen and when photography will occur.

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  2. Paul Empson

    there are only 2 times that are crucial imho… the ceremony may be scheduled to start at xx:xx however it will start when the bride arrives…. and the second key time: everything stops.. even my photos if need be.. when the wedding breakfast is ready to be served… you don’t keep the food waiting..

    I ask that they give me 1 hour to get group & couple photos… usually I start these 15 mins after the ceremony ends, they’ve been confettied & congratulated… had their drinks & canapés.. group photos first starting with the biggest… then end with the couple photos… we can get more photos later and in the evening..

    Wedding tomorrow should be interesting… large marque in the countryside.. nowhere else… and we’re scheduled thunder storms and rain: all day… hopefully it will clear by the evening and allow us to have a little drive to the harbour pier and take some photos of the early evening light…

    so long as I know the schedule of events and estimated times… I’m happy… and can be flexible..

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  3. Paddy McDougall

    Whole heartily agree with seek to understand before being understood. It avoids most misunderstandings. Time line is a great idea it is very visual I will be using it from now on.

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  4. Kevin Nguyen

    Your words are music to my ears. Thank you for sharing! Love the cool “CYA” acronym. :)

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  5. Justin Haugen

    I give my input on the schedule as soon as we meet for a consultation. I ask them to consider going straight to dinner instead of a first dance at their reception, so I don’t have to kill myself making sure my lighting setup is dialed in (but I always setup reception lighting in advance). I encourage that they do dinner, toasts, cake cutting, first dance and parent dances, and then open the dance floor to guests. I hate when we have to interrupt a packed dance floor with a cake cutting, big buzz kill.

    I find that most bride’s enter the week of their wedding without a schedule, even when they have an event planner. I draft one up and make sure I detail ever nuance of what time and who should be in what state of readiness. Bride’s also appreciate this approach to detail and timeliness.

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  6. Jesper Ek

    Never understood the hype for American women and their wedding days… :)

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    • Barry Chapman

      Not sure where you are but it’s not just American women.

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    • Thomas Horton

      Some of them have been indoctrinated since childhood about this being their princess day.

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    • Ralph Hightower

      Yea, we had a laid back wedding; just her parents, my parents, and the preacher. Her surviving grandmother invited herself to the wedding. The wedding was held at the house we would live in. Her dad and my dad were impressed when the preacher drove up in a pickup truck.

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