Module 5: Wedding Prep - Timeline

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As a wedding photographer, the #1 thing I see that stresses my clients out the most is nailing a perfect timeline. There is a lot to juggle, so much to get *just* right so the day doesn't devolve into chaos, and tracking it all can be a little....chaotic...to say the least. Often times there just aren't enough hours in the day to give everything it's proper attention, especially if you run into hiccups along the way. Eventually, stuff starts to get cut or reduced so that there is time for it all. And guys? You know the first thing that usually gets the ax? Time for photography. And you know what axed photography time means? A cut in photo quality and/or quantity. Good photography takes time...time to set up, time to pose, time to execute. If that time starts to get cut, your photographer won't have the space she needs to get all of the perfect shots you want. No bueno. But! Never fear! If you create your wedding timeline knowing everything you need to schedule and how to schedule it, including ample time for great photography, you'll be able to get everything set easily. 

To make it as smooth of a process as possible, I have created a little system to help you map out all of the important milestones so you make sure nothing is missed! If you follow this process, you will go into the day knowing you have exactly enough time to get all of the photos you want for your wedding AND get everything else scheduled without ever having to rush a single moment or sacrifice a single photo. 

Step 1: 4 Columns

Take a piece of paper and divide it into 4 columns. Title these columns Wedding Party (two columns for this heading for each side of the wedding party), Family, Vendors. Then, on the side list out the hours of the day in hour sections. We created the structure for this in the planner for you. You just need to fill in the times on the side. Like this:

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Step 2: Block out the big milestones

Mark out the ceremony, the cocktail hour (if you have one) and the time of the reception, blocking out all four columns in the process (since you’re pretty sure everyone will need to be present for all of these) so you can see all of the "off-limits" time for the day. These are the things that probably that won’t change over the course of your planning process. It gives you a visual bone structure for the beast that is your wedding schedule and will be the foundation for the rest of the day. It might also be helpful to add in the times you are allowed in the venue and sunset, as these may also affect when photos are taken and aren't adjustable. 

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Step 3: Vendor Schedules

This step is mostly helpful if you will be personally handling any of the vendor relations on the day of the wedding, but can also serve as a good visual reference for you in general. As you schedule drop-offs and arrival times of all your vendors, you can mark them here so you know what is going on and if you need to be anywhere at a specific time. If nothing else, make sure you mark down when the photographer is scheduled to arrive and scheduled to leave. 

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Step 4: Important Photography Times!

Take a post-it note and cut it into little strips, making enough of them to list out all of the major areas of photography that you want for the day. These typically are couple photos (with or without a first look), wedding party portraits, and family formals. Take these little strips and use them to block out the times that you think you’ll want or need these taken. I suggest using post-it notes so you can move them around trying out different timing combinations.

A few rules of thumb when setting these times:

  1. Good photos take time! If you want amazing photos, you need to give these areas of photography enough time so that they aren’t rushed and can be executed correctly. To be on the safe side, I like to suggest giving each section an hour. This may be more than enough, but having that extra time allows for some padding in case any problems arise (late family members, wardrobe malfunctions, scheduling errors etc.).
  2. It’s always good to schedule family photos for either right before or right after the ceremony. This way you know you’ll have an easier time wrangling all of them in one place since they’ll be in or near the location at the time anyway. Family groups can take about 3-5 minutes per photo, so make sure an hour is enough time to get all of the family shots you want for the day. Add more time if it’s not!
  3. Give yourself at least a half an hour before the ceremony starts to finish up photos and recover, especially if you are planning on doing a first look. This will give you time to cool off, touch up any makeup and re-build the anticipation of seeing your fiancé again as you or they walk down the aisle.
  4. If you are planning on doing photos away from the venue location, give each photography section more than an hour to account for travel time.
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Step 5: Add all of the other stuff!

Make a few more post-it note tabs to represent getting ready times.

  1. Ladies will need a much bigger time chunk than gentlemen, so make a bigger post-it tab to cover their hair and makeup time. This process ALWAYS takes longer than anyone plans for, so pad this chunk of time *really* well so things don’t start running late from the start. Gentlemen don't need nearly as much time, so you can schedule their "getting ready time" for later if need be. 
  2. Once you have all of these solidly set, make tabs or scribble in all of the other big moments, like first dances and bouquet tosses or anything else you need to have planned. I suggest tabs if you have space so you can keep moving things around if anything changes over time.
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That’s it! It can be a little crazy getting this setup, but in the end, you will have a flexible, visual schedule that lets you account for everything, especially the photos, on the day of your wedding. Not only will this keep you organized, it will also help you make final decisions about how long your photographers need to be at your wedding. This is especially important if they charge overtime fees when you have them longer than planned. You’ll know way beforehand and may be able to save some dough if you buy exactly the amount of time you need upfront.