SHOW NOTES: 005 Stress-Free Wedding Day Timelines
Welcome to Keeping it Candid – Wedding Photography Unfiltered for photographers who want to keep it real. I’m your host, Sandra Henderson, international wedding and family photographer and educator with a Marie Kondo style approach to running a business – you know, keeping things simple and getting rid of anything that doesn’t bring you joy!. More importantly, I’m a strong enneagram 3w2 who is obsessed with tacos, and my love for travelling is one of many things that drives my passion for all things systems, workflows, and beating burnout as a business owner. Join me twice a month for a candid, behind-the-scenes look at what it’s really like working as a wedding photographer – where I’ll give you actionable steps to take your business to the next level. Absolutely no fluff here, friends! So grab your favourite notebook and pen, and let’s dive into this week’s episode.
Nothing can make-or-break a wedding day quite like a timeline. When it’s done well, you can get through a day stress-free and get all the photos you need without being run off your feet. When it’s done poorly… Well… It’s exactly the opposite of that.
We’ve all been there.
High-stress days, navigating rain in the forecast, having to cut portrait times down to 10 minutes just to get it done before rushing off to the next location… It really takes all the fun out of a wedding day.
That’s why I’m very hands-on when it comes to planning the photography side of a wedding day timeline. We have to remember that the majority of our couples have never planned a wedding before. They may have been a part of a wedding party, but they’ve never had to figure out what time to have dinner, how long it’s going to take for family photos, what time hair and makeup should start that morning. Our couples are relying on the vendors they’ve hired to be the experts and guide them through planning the wedding day they’ve been dreaming of.
In order to make sure you’re able to do the job you’ve been hired to do, you need to educate your couples and guide them along the way to make sure you have the time you need. If your couple is working with a wedding planner, you’ll more than likely be able to rely on the timeline their planner put together. Planners are experts at navigating the needs of the whole vendor team as well as what the couple is looking for! But if your couples don’t have a planner, which mine often don’t, it’s so important to help out with the photography timeline – for your sake, and for the sake of your couples.
To get started, send out a questionnaire. Get every single piece of information you could possibly need to envision the day. You’ll want to find out what types of photos you’ll be taking – like a first look, wedding party photos, sunset photos… Anything and everything to get a clear idea of expectations from your couples!
I also like to ask questions about accessibility – does anyone require a flat surface for photos at any point during the day? This will be important when deciding where to do photos, in case anyone with a wheelchair or mobility limitations isn’t able to get to a certain area.
I send the questionnaire out three months before the wedding date. This timeframe is super beneficial because it’s far enough into their planning that they have the important details set, but early enough that the questions I’m asking them can start guiding them into thinking about what moments of the day they value the most, and how exactly it’s all going to come together.
Once I get their responses back, I put together a timeline and shot list myself instead of waiting for one from my clients. It takes one more thing off their plate – they already have so much on the go leading up to their wedding. And it’s like I said before. It’s your responsibility as the wedding photographer to make sure you have enough time to do the job you’ve been hired to do. So by putting together the timeline yourself, you’re delivering a great experience and taking the steps you need to ensure a stress-free wedding day from the photo side of things.
When I meet with my clients to go over everything – the final step leading up to the day – I love hearing them tell me how good it feels to see everything planned out. This meeting typically happens about a month before their wedding date. That way, it gives us a chance to make any adjustments as needed, and gives me a chance to make plans with my team.
Now, as you’re putting the timeline together, there are a few things you can do to make it that super-fun, stress-free day you want for all of your clients.
First, and definitely the most important, leave lots of buffer room in every single portion of the day! If travel between two locations is expected to take 10 minutes, put 15 to 20 minutes into the timeline. If the ceremony is expected to take 20 minutes, put 30 minutes into the timeline. Things always take longer than you think they will when you factor in the needs of 20 people in a wedding party, bathroom breaks, an Uncle that’s gone to cocktail hour instead of sticking around for family photos… You can prepare for the unexpected by adding buffer room, and if you don’t need it, perfect! I’m always telling my clients that it’s way better to be ahead of schedule than behind, and I’m sure all of you listening will agree with me!
From there, remember it’s so important to be flexible, and reasonable. Each vendor has their own time requirements, but everyone has the same end goal – to give the couple the best wedding day possible. It’s important to remember that the day isn’t about us or our priorities, it’s about our clients and documenting their story. While we’re sharing our expertise and guiding them through the planning process, ultimately the decision is up to them and we need to be understanding of that.
So let’s say you’re designating three hours for portraits with the newlyweds on their own, and are wanting to keep them an hour passed the time dinner service is scheduled to begin. This will not only be exhausting for your clients, but it’s extending cocktail hour – meaning more food, alcohol, and staff are required. It’s delaying dinner service, meaning a longer period of time where kitchen staff have to be on-site with nothing to do, or food is sitting under warmers, which absolutely NO ONE wants. And in all honesty? It’s disrespectful to the guests, who will have to occupy themselves on-or-off site for almost five hours when you start factoring in things like family photos and wedding party photos, too. Photography doesn’t happen in a bubble on a wedding day – nothing does. It becomes a domino effect, so it’s important to consider every piece when setting your expectations for the day with your clients.
So with all of that said – what does a typical wedding day timeline look like for me?!
I’m SO glad you asked!
My team calls me the queen of timelines and it’s a title I am honoured to have!
Let’s start at the beginning – I’m going to walk you through my exact process of building one.
First, I start with the time the ceremony is starting at, and I work backwards from there to the beginning of the day, when we start getting ready photos. Once I know the time we’ll be starting, I’m able to figure out the time we’ll be ending photography at the end of the night, based on the amount of time included in my clients’ package. From there, I jump back up to the end of the ceremony, and start figuring out how to fit everything into the time that’s left.
Here’s a scenario of what this could all look like on an actual wedding day:
At 1:15pm in the afternoon, I arrive at the first getting ready location. Most often this is with the bride, so that’s what I’ll use for this example.
At 1:30pm we start the Bride’s Getting Ready photos – doing photos of her details like her dress, jewelry, and flowers. Candids of her putting her dress on, and portraits of her and her side of the wedding party.
At 2:00pm my assistant arrives at the second getting ready location, most often this is with the groom. She does photos of his details as well, like his suit jacket, tie, and cufflinks. She gets candid photos of him putting his suit jacket on, and will wrap up with some portraits of him and his side of the wedding party.
At 3:00pm we will all travel to the venue. This is a 7-minute drive, but I’ve allowed 15 minutes in the timeline.
At 3:15pm we’ll start the First Look, and then head right into newlywed portraits at 3:30pm.
At 4:00pm the Wedding Party will meet up with us and we’ll start wedding party photos. And during this time my assistant is going to head over to the reception area to get photos of the details without guests in attendance.
At 4:30pm we’re going to start Ceremony Prep – this is when we’ll be taking photos of the ceremony details, getting candids of the guests as they arrive, and making sure our batteries, memory cards, and camera settings are all ready to go for when the ceremony starts at 5:00pm.
The ceremony is 20 minutes, but we have 30 minutes set in the timeline.
So, we’ll start Family Photos right after, at 5:30pm.
And then at 6:00pm we’ll do Reception Prep – getting final photos of the reception space, including a reveal for the couple if the space wasn’t finished earlier in the day. And, also getting our camera ready and flashes prepped for the indoor reception.
At 6:30pm this is when the newlyweds and wedding party will make their grand entrance, and we’ll get some Candids of the welcome speech
At 7:00pm Dinner Service is going to start with speeches throughout.
And then at 8:45pm we’re going to head outside and do some Sunset Photos.
We’ll come back inside at 9:00pm for the First Dance.
Parent Dances around 9:05pm.
At 9:15pm the dance floor is going to open and we’ll get some candids until we’re finished at 9:30pm.
And that’s it! That’s the whole day!
After the last two years of constant changes and hurdles to jump over to make a wedding day come together, you deserve to remove as much stress as you can and bring the joy back into this job you love so much.
It does require a little more work upfront, but I promise you won’t regret it when you start having clients rave about how easy, stress-free, and enjoyable their experience has been with you! You’ll be so proud of the work you’re doing and filling your portfolio with because you won’t be rushed and forced into doing the most basic ideas, eliminating all creativity in the process.
And as a THANK YOU for listening to this week’s episode, I have a little something to help you out this wedding season – head to simplysandrayvonne.ca/timelines for a FREE spreadsheet booklet – this is the exact booklet that I use to plan for my clients. It’s so easy to use – there’s a section for important information – I love using this space for my client’s contact info and to write any notes for the day. The next tab is where you’ll build your timeline. There’s a dropdown menu that includes times in 5-minute increments so you can be as specific as you need to be in your planning. The family photos tab includes spaces for names, and a dropdown menu so you can easily reference the relation of the guests to the couple. And finally, the last tab is where you can put information for the vendor team. I like to include their Instagram handles so I can easily find their info and tag them in my posts!
Anyway, friends! That wraps up this week’s episode. Thanks so much for listening, as always. Happy planning, and happy wedding season!
Thanks so much for listening to Keeping It Candid: Wedding Photography Unfiltered with Sandra Henderson! You can find full show notes from today’s episode at simplysandrayvonne.ca/keepingitcandid. In the meantime – let’s connect! You can find me on Instagram @simplysandrayvonne, and on Facebook in the Wedding Photography Unfiltered community! If you’re loving this podcast, I’d be so honoured if you’d go ahead and hit that subscribe button and leave me a review!
Until next time!