Setting up your photos for success on your wedding day
Streamlining your wedding timeline is perfect if you want to get the most from your wedding day schedule. The last thing you want is to spend too much time on posed photos and miss the fun of it all. Yes, photography is the most important aspect of a wedding…the right type of photography that is. Time and time again my couples always comment on how they cherish the candid moments the most. Those moments made their wedding albums complete. Posed photos are just a fraction of what a wedding gallery is comprised of. Every moment is precious during that day. Let’s be honest, most venues alot 5-6 hours of usage of the amenities. The clock is ticking.
Not to worry, here are some helpful tips and strong suggestions when planning your wedding. I do not advise large photo lists as they tend to distract your photographer since they will always be double checking a list that they already plan to get anyway. It’s okay to list must have shots and a handful of family formal portraits. Trust your photographer to document the events as they unfold. Tip: Having an engagement session really helps to establish how comfortable you are in front of the camera.
Having a bridal party larger than four increases your chances of running late due to hair/ makeup/ and photo ops. Plan to have multiple makeup artists if you have a large bridal party. I’ve seen ceremonies starts over 45 mins late since it took so long to get to the brides makeup.
Warning: if you plan on having bridemaids/groomsmen with children, having a sitter for them will help them enjoy the festivities. I mean, who doesn’t want to kick back and enjoy a few drinks with their friends like the good ‘ol days. I rarely see parents enjoy themselves at weddings when they have to babysit and perform their bridal party duties.. I also recommend that your bridal party and mother(s) be ready before you get ready. That way they’ll be photo ready for when you slip into your wedding gown.
If you are getting ready in a place separate from the venue such as hotel or airbnb, it’s important to budget the time it takes to get to the venue. Sometimes it’s best to have us arrive at the venue instead to avoid any traffic setbacks. Most venues will have an area for us to get those beautiful getting ready shots. We do not need to be there for the whole getting ready portion. Typically we arrive right when you’ve had your makeup fully done and ready to get into the dress. We just need a few strong images for your final gallery or film. Guys typically take less time to get ready but something always happens… someone will forget their shoes, belt, or even stain their white shirt with red wine. Having us arrive at least 2 hours prior to your ceremony is plenty of time to capture some great images and prep for the ceremony.
Ceremony Start Time
Your ceremony time should correlate with the seasons. If you plan it too early, you’ll be making a squinty face from the bright sun. Plan too late, and you’ll miss the sunset. Most Southern California weddings from Mar-Oct should have a ceremony time of 5 or 6pm. Winter weddings from Nov-Feb should have a ceremony time of no later than 3 or 3:30. The sun is completely gone by 4:30 and leaves little to no time after the ceremony for family, bridal party, and romantic portraits. Most venues and coordinators will advise you on this. It’s best to follow their timelines so you get the most from your day. Most venues will suggest to keep the ceremony around 20-30 minutes. Again, follow their direction and you will maximize every second of your wedding day.
There are a couple of options for family photos. First and foremost, I only recommend your immediate family for formal family portraits. That would be parents, siblings (with their spouses), and grandparents. In my experience, it is best to get larger groups and extended family photos during the reception when everyone is mingling. All my couples are just as happy with photos of their guests without them. We are always circling and getting photos of all your guests throughout the night.
Most weddings have a cocktail hour after the ceremony while we do family formals, bridal party, and romantics. Family formals is probably the most stressful part of the day. Everyone scatters after the ceremony, appetizers are being passed, wine is flowing, and you will be a little frazzled. Gathering large groups of people and posing them takes time. Most family formals last about 20-40 minutes. Even if you make a list, it will still take the same amount of time. Bridal party portraits take anywhere from 10-15. Bride and Groom romantics last about 15-25 minutes. If you have a small family on both sides (6 or less), getting through all the photos will be very simple. Having a second photographer will help alleviate the bottleneck of photos needed to be taken during that time.
A first look is when the bride and groom see each other prior to the ceremony in a private and intimate setting. You can exchange gifts, vows, or just hold each other passionately as you embark on a new life together. Yadda yadda yadda. It always settles pre-ceremony jitters and my couples never regret doing it!
Plan your first look at least an hour and a half prior to your ceremony. That way you can photograph your bridal party portraits or family formasl immediately after. This will allow for your family or bridal party to enjoy cocktail hour… preferably your family. For winter weddings, planning a first look is ideal since the sun sets so early. You don’t want to be rushed after the ceremony to get through all your photos.
However you plan your grand entrance, I always recommend that you go right into your first dance and parent dances. Everyone will be present to witness and cheer you on, it’s amazing. Once you’re seated and the meals are being served, your photo/video team will also take a short break to eat. A rule of thumb is we eat when you eat. We usually have 10-15 minutes to take you back out for a few sunset photos during golden hour (weather and season permitting). Everyone will be busy eating their meals while we’re gone anyway. As for reception formalities, I’ve been seeing a trend in skipping the traditional formalities of bouquet/garder toss, moneydance, lengthy speeches and going straight to the party. If you choose to do these formalities, it’s best to have them one after another to make sure the MC doesn’t interrupt the music and already has everyone’s focus. Your photo and film team will also have a more controlled environment when formalities are one after another.
This one time, speeches took over 45 minutes and everyone was ready for cake and dancing… true story. From my experience in editing reception films, 3-4 speech givers is the perfect amount. A thank you toast prior to dinner is always classy move too. Speeches from the heart are usually more naturally given. Reading from a phone tends to come off as monotone. Give your speech givers a time limit. It might sound insensitive, but your time is too precious on your wedding day.
A sparkler or lit exit can be totally epic. But sometimes guests start to leave early and only a handful are left for the grand finale. Know your crowd and know your budget. Keeping a photo and film team until 11pm can add up, especially if they arrived at 2pm. Most weddings have an end time of 10pm. Planning an exit should take place 10 minutes prior to end time. The MC will announce your exit and direct the crowd to the area where they will send you off. You can do sparklers, bubbles, poppers, rice, beans… whatever. Point is, focus on being in the moment and ending with a bang, even if it’s everyone dancing in a circle to the last song.
Again, these are merely suggestions and strong recommendations from my experience of six years in photographing and filming weddings. If you think about it, I’m a professional people watcher. My job is to document the day and tell your story. My wish for you is to be fully present and enjoy every moment of that day. You’ll blink and bam!…one day you’ll have two kids, a minivan and wondering where the years went. All you’ll have to remember are the photos and videos we captured that day. Keep it simple and have fun. Bring your love story to life and let your personality shine through.