Your FREE, No-Stress, Wedding Photography Timeline Planner

Don’t let chaos run the show! Take charge and build a reputation as a wedding photographer who works quickly and efficiently, with humor and optimism, no matter what challenges the day brings.

In Part 1, we talked about how preparing for chaos is every wedding photographer’s secret weapon. 

Here, in Part 2, we delve deeper, helping you plan every aspect of the day!

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Photo by SOMETHING BLUE BY SUSAN ELIZABETH

PLAN THE PHOTOGRAPHY TIMELINE

The photography timeline is the most important part of your preparation process.

Timeline planning should be done alongside your clients – either in person or through written questionnaires, correspondence, and phone calls.

Your photography timeline should include the following:

  • Photography start time, location, and what will be happening when you begin
  • Portrait time(s) and location(s), and which portraits will be taken during these periods
  • Ceremony start time, location, parking considerations and venue photography restrictions
  • Cocktail hour start time and location, and parking considerations for this location
  • Reception start time and location, parking considerations for this location, and whether you can access this location early to store/setup equipment (if applicable)

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Photo by SOMETHING BLUE BY SUSAN ELIZABETH

  • Reception decor photography plans. If detail photographs aren’t pre-planned, you may arrive to find the reception room already overrun with guests!
  • Reception timeline – such as cake-cutting, first dances, toasts, etc.
  • Photographer’s mealtime – when will you eat? Even if your contract doesn’t require your clients to feed you, you need a 15-minute break to rehydrate and refuel. Have some energy-boosting snacks on-hand, and set aside a few minutes to eat and drink.
  • Reception end time, and the couple’s exit plans (confetti, rose petals, sparklers, special transportation?)
  • Official photography end time 

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Photo by SOMETHING BLUE BY SUSAN ELIZABETH

Remember that most couples have never planned a wedding before, and have no idea what to expect. Even if they’ve attended 20 weddings, they’ll be shocked by how quickly their day passes!

Hopefully your clients are working with other professionals who will help them prepare, but you may be their best (or only!) advocate.


Pro Tip: Account for every minute of the day – but allow 15-30 minutes of wiggle room at any given time. All it takes is a misplaced shoe or late limo driver, and the entire schedule is thrown off.


TAKE CONTROL OF THE PORTRAIT LIST

If you ask your clients to list every portrait they’d like taken at their wedding, they’ll likely request approximately 83 unique photographs. At least.

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Photo by SOMETHING BLUE BY SUSAN ELIZABETH

Set realistic expectations by:

  • Notifying your clients that each portrait grouping will take 2-3 minutes to pose and photograph – assuming everyone is present and accounted for.
  • Providing your clients with a “Suggested Portraits” list.

SUGGESTED PORTRAITS

Because no one wants to spend hours making posed family photographs, help your clients hone in on the most-requested, most-printed, most-desireable portrait groupings.

They are:

  • Each Partner with His/Her Attendants
  • Couple with Full Wedding Party
  • Couple with 1st (then 2nd) Partner’s Immediate Family (Parents & Siblings) 
  • Couple with 1st (then 2nd) Partner’s Extended Family (Parents, Siblings, & Grandparents)
  • Couple with 1st (then 2nd) Partner’s Super-Extended Family (Parents, Siblings, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, & Cousins)*

*If super-extended family groupings are very large, they can be divided into Maternal and Paternal sides, or 1st Parent’s side and 2nd Parent’s side.

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Photo by SOMETHING BLUE BY SUSAN ELIZABETH


Pro Tip: Use inclusive language on all contracts and questionnaires, to accommodate the wide range of family styles and lifestyles! (E.g. “parent” instead of “mother,” “partner” instead of “groom,” “ceremony venue” instead of “church.”)


AVOID AWKWARD MOMENTS

Wherever there’s family, there’s potential for discomfort, discontent, and a whole lot of awkwardness. Avoid faux pas and maintain your clients’ comfort by addressing sticky situations up front.

Take a deep breath, and ask these questions:

  • Are there any deaths or divorces in your family of which I should be aware?
  • Are there any family members who should not be posed together?

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Photo by SOMETHING BLUE BY SUSAN ELIZABETH

Go ahead and ask all the questions. Do your clients have children? Stepparents? Should their siblings’ or parents’ boyfriends/girlfriends be in photographs? Are there any other VIPs who should be on the portrait list, such as Godparents or dear friends?

If you commit an unintentional faux pas, apologize sincerely but briefly, and move on.

If others are acting uncomfortable or rude, maintain a pleasant, nonchalant attitude, and stay focused on the task at hand. Their family drama isn’t your business; and if you’re properly prepared, it won’t be your problem, either.


Pro Tip: Never assume you know how someone is related to the couple! (There is nothing more embarrassing than mistaking the bride’s sister for her mother!) Instead, say, “I’m Name, Couple’s wedding photographer! It’s so nice to meet you! And how are you connected to Client and Client?”


BE THE BOSS

A prepared photographer is an in-control photographer. When you’re in control, there is no time for anyone to feel uncertain or uncomfortable.

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Photo by SOMETHING BLUE BY SUSAN ELIZABETH

Move portrait participants in and out of their positions unapologetically and with confidence, reminding them, “The sooner we get these done, the sooner you can go eat, drink, and dance!” 

Move people and things when necessary (and appropriate). Don’t get stuck photographing the cake-cutting from the back of the crowd. Say, “Excuse me!” and move to the front. It’s your job.

Move yourself to the prime location for the right shot. Great photos don’t drop themselves straight from heaven onto your flash card. They’re worked for and made. Be a maker.

Move emotions by remaining connected to the truth of why you’re there in the first place: to photograph a story of love and celebration.


Pro Tip: Coordinators and DJs/Band leaders are your best friends at a wedding reception! They’ll keep you on track if the scheduled gets changed, and confirm you’re in place before any of the main events (like toasts) begin – so make friends with them!


DON’T BE AFRAID OF A RE-DO

Especially when you’re starting out, you may occasionally miss a shot or two. Maybe the first kiss was more of a “first peck.” Maybe your memory card filled just as the couple sliced into the cake. Maybe your flash misfired when the newlyweds raced outside for their grand exit.

Whatever the scenario, don’t be afraid to ask for a re-do.

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Photo by SOMETHING BLUE BY SUSAN ELIZABETH

Missed the first kiss? Take the couple back to the altar and have them smooch again – lightly and slowly.

Missed a few seconds of the cake-cutting? That’s an easy re-creation!

And all you have to do is yell happily, “The sparklers are still burning! Run through again!” and 9 times out of 10, the couple will – with big, fat grins on their faces. Because: sparklers.


Pro Tip: Even if you’re a pure photojournalist, it’s okay to encourage your clients to slow down and savor the experience. Not everything has to be done at top speed!


GET ZEN

No matter how prepared you are, something will go wrong – it happens at every wedding. From traffic jams that delay caterers, to double-booked officiants, to missing DJs, to disappearing wedding party members, no wedding day is without challenges.

The more you embrace that truth, the better equipped you’ll be to just shoot.

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Photo by SOMETHING BLUE BY SUSAN ELIZABETH | Floral Designer: Desiree Dean Designs | Hair Stylist: Elan Hair Studio | Jewelry: Jared The Galleria of Jewelry | Hair Stylist: renarde salon | Event Venue: The Channel Club | Submitted via Two Bright Lights

The best thing you can do for your clients is to become calmer as they encounter stress.

You may spend more time with the couple than anyone else on their wedding day, so your energy will set the tone for their experience. If you’re anxious and overwhelmed, they’ll sense it. If you’re relaxed and organized, they’ll settle back and enjoy their day. And the happier your clients are, the better your photographs will be!  



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