When I meet with clients, I always want to hear lots of details. How'd they meet? Where did they get engaged? What are the colors of their wedding? Oh no, that's not all. Not even near close. I literally ask my couples hundreds of questions throughout our meetings to make sure I know everything that's going on during their big day so I can plan accordingly.
One of the biggest changes I've seen in wedding photography is cutting out the "formal" family portraits. Why? Honestly, the only ones that really matter to the couple are of the bridal party and the immediate family (like mom, dad, siblings, and grandparents.) Truthfully, the happy couple doesn't need a picture of every aunt, uncle, second cousin (whom they may not even know but Grandma is insisting on it.) When they look back at their photos, most "ooh" and "ah" over their own pictures, the ceremony, maybe a few of their crazy bridal party teammates, some reception laughs, and a sweet one of dear Grandma.
I've come to learn that many couples dread the formal portraits just as much as most photographers grin and bear it themselves. It's a "must-do" on the list for many parents (footing the bill), but when I start to break down timelines needed for 45 formal family pictures, they quickly tell me "no thanks." They want to spend their money on photos of themselves, and they don't want to waste their time with photo after photo after photo of canned smiles.
So what timeline CAN you expect when hiring a photographer for your wedding day? Here's a list of where I allocate my time, and remember, all photographers have their own style and speed, but this is how you can estimate how much time it takes for those Instagram- and wedding album-worthy photos!
Details (45-60 min)
This includes exterior shots of "getting ready" location(s), the ceremony venue, and all of the details such as rings, shoes, flowers, and invitations. Usually we leave plenty of time to photograph the ceremony location before guests arrive, the pews/chairs and adornments, altar pieces, then take a quick run to the reception hall if it's ready. We try to get in there to have picture-perfect photos without people roaming about and photograph everything from the place settings, centerpieces, tables, head/sweetheart table, and the entire reception area since it's untouched.
Getting Ready (30-90 min)
I typically only use about a half hour with the groom and his groomsmen (and sometimes even that is a bit too much time.) Guys are easy to photograph – you tell them what you need, they really help get this knocked out, not to mention, most are not too thrilled about having to do it, so we try our best to get some laughs which helps to calm their nerves.
For the ladies, I spend an hour or so, depending on when they want to start the session. Some brides want start-to-finish (hair, makeup, dressing, formal portraits), while others don't ask for me to start until they are just about to zip up their dress. In many instances, I let them know that they don't need to have me standing around from the time they have a fresh face until the last lash is glued on. We can stage the makeup artist to pretend to add a little blush, or eye shadow, the bride putting on lipstick, etc, and it saves the time they've scheduled with me to use it elsewhere.
You also have to include time for pictures with bride and mom, possibly a first look with dad, then the groom and his mom and his dad. Don't forget the photos of the bride and her entourage and the groom and his guys in groups before the walk down the aisle!
First Look (10-15 min)
Many couples are passing on tradition and want to spend a few moments together before they walk down the aisle. Many couples are tossed on this idea, as they want us to capture that initial moment that the groom sees his bride, and feel that it should only happen during the ceremony, but we also have had couples that want a "no-look" look. We'll put couples on opposite sides of a door if they want to hold hands one last time, but no peeking! That energy is still alive, but it's just a final quiet moment to take things in before the big moment happens.
Ceremony (15-45 min)
The ceremony time is completely determined by your plans (size of the party, walking time, vows, music and more.) We start photographing as guests arrive, until the happy couple walks back up the aisle together. On average, ceremonies only last about a half hour, but can go up to an hour or more!
"Formal" Pictures (30-60 min)
See our comments above, but you can count for at least 2-3 minutes per group that you want organized. We try to begin with the largest group (any extended family) and narrow down to just the bridal party then the couple alone. This helps with crowd control, and starts pushing family and guests towards cocktail hour. To save time, we can always move a lot of the formal bridal party photos (bride with groomsmen, groom with bridesmaids, flower girls, ring bearer) all before the ceremony, so you don't need as much time between the ceremony and the reception.
Bride and Groom Photos (20-30 min)
I prefer to spend most of my time with the couple utilizing intimate moments during golden hour if possible (right around sunset). This is also where most of my couples want to get as many photos as possible, so if you cut any time from anywhere, we recommend removing some formal family photo groups above. We've always recommended that couples talk to their family ahead of time and let them know there won't be a lot of formal photos but that they (the couple) will be happy to take them during the reception (and oftentimes, people are just as happy seeing those photos on their phones right away and posting them to Instagram/Facebook with a custom hashtag.
Reception (1-3 hours)
So much to cover here, but we start photographing as soon as we depart the formal couples' photos, to mingle with guests during cocktail hour. As the night progresses, we take a break during dinner, but we are right back at it for toasts, dances, and of course all the shenanigans that are sure to ensue!
Send Off (15-30 minutes)
Not many couples are doing send offs anymore, but some just want a staged sparkler exit. The best time to do this is when it's getting dark. We need to wrangle guests to let them know this is NOT the end of the night, we're doing it just for photos. We spend time getting them all lined up, sparklers lit, and you'll do "the walk" probably 2 or 3 times just to make sure we've got the shot you're looking for. We can then get the guests back to doing the chicken dance, or if it's the end of the event, we'll say our goodbyes, pack our gear, and we're on our way!
Remember, all ceremonies and receptions are different, so be sure to share your day's details with us, so we can put together a timeline that works for you and your family and guests. We're here to help make the most of your day!
Happy Easter, Passover, or whatever you have planned for the weekend INSIDE!