As a wedding photographer, part of your job is to help your couples plan their timeline, insuring that you get ample time to get all of the photos that they want and expect from you.   A good timeline, along with realistic expectations and proper planning, can reduce the stress of the wedding day for everyone involved, from the couple to the vendor team.  So to help you inform your couples and guide them in the right direction, we’ve prepared 10 ways to ensure an ideal wedding photography timeline.

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.

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.

6. Warn Them That Most Weddings Run Late

In general, most weddings do not run on time. What’s the reason? Typically, weddings are late for two reasons, preparation, i.e. makeup, and transportation.

Brides often underestimate the amount of time it takes to get makeup. In general, what ends up happening is that they start the makeup process. They want corrections and fixes and so forth. Before you get out of preparation, you’re already thirty minutes or forty-five minutes.

Transportation is difficult to estimate because of weekend traffic, so this is also a big culprit for causing timeline delays.  Advise them to make sure that they pad the time and account for delays.

7. The Three Hour Rule of Thumb

Advise the couple of the three hour rule of thumb. This means that we want one hour for the couple, one hour for the wedding party, one hour for the family. This can be in different times during the day. 

8. First Look vs. Traditional Timeline

In general, having a first look ends up yielding better photography and a more relaxing day.  With a first look, we’re pushing forward all the photographs prior to the ceremony.  It’s more relaxing for them and generally, it’s going to yield better photographs.

The traditional timeline is going to be more rushed.  Right after they say “I do,” we need to fit in all of the couples photos, wedding party photos and the family photos before the reception (and often before the sunsets). 

9. Listing and Guiding Family Formals

This is a must have for us. We want them to list out the family formals that they would like captured, and set one person, whether it’s a friend or family that knows the people to be able to follow the list and call people out, making sure that they’re ready for the next photograph. I’ll pose them, but having that person there is going to mean the world when it comes to getting people organized and me being able to get people in and out of each photograph quickly and in an efficient manner. Also, having a list prevents you from forgetting anybody, or not getting certain shots, protecting feelings, making people feel awkward, and so forth, if you’re just sitting there trying to figure out who to get photographs of on the day of. Okay.

10. Mid-Day vs. Golden Hour Imagery

Number nine, midday versus golden hour imagery. One thing that I like to do is … Again, the mood board helps to tailor expectations here. Because, if on the wedding day, they have just a ton of sunset images, a ton of golden hour images, in their wedding mood board … Yet, during golden hour they’re in the ceremony … Then, that’s probably one of their expectations that we need to address before continuing.

I’d like to discuss the differences between midday photographs versus golden hour photographs. Make sure if they want golden hour, we have the time to do it. Also, to let them know if a venue is outside, it’s probably not best to plan noon portraits outside in midday, harsh sunlight. Unless we can find shade, and we can find trees and other types of things to help us out.