How to Plan Your Wedding Schedule (to get Great Wedding Photos)


The worst photo we can ever take is one of a bride who’s stressed out on her wedding day.

There can be many reasons for a bride to be stressed.  But one thing’s more than likely: stress means unhappy bride.  And unhappy bride means unflattering photos.


See what I mean?  And that’s just a little emoticon.

So, the number one thing we can advise so that you can have a stress-free wedding is to really plan it.  And I don’t necessarily mean you must plan it to the most minute detail — no, not at all — but do talk it over with professionals who have a lot of experience with weddings (or read this site for more tips).  Learn what is realistic in terms of time (probably the number 1 cause of stress on a wedding day).

So how does one plan a wedding? Preparation.

Your fiance can tell you that the best football teams in the NFL are usually the ones that are the most prepared (through detailed practice, film study, players with the best work ethic and attitude, etc.)

The same goes for your wedding.

These are the basic three steps to planning your wedding schedule:

  1. Prepare for your Planning – deciding what your wedding will be like
  2. Plan your Wedding – iron out all the details, so that on your wedding day, you get to…
  3. Enjoy your Wedding – things execute the way they were planned and you just ride the wave that you’ve created!

Prepare for your Wedding Planning

  • Do some research – Weddings, like people, come in all sizes and flavors.  You may have had wedding ideas since you were a little girl, but there are an infinite amount of things that people have done.  Some will follow tried and true traditions, which are really just habitual rituals that get passed from generation to generation.  But have you heard of people getting married underwater or skydiving?  Find out what’s out there and decide what is most important to you.  It may be the dress, the venue, or the photography, the music.  You may also already have some ideas from attending other people’s weddings, perhaps even ideas of what NOT to do.  So, now it’s your turn.
  • See the big picture – A wedding should be a celebration of the two of you!  You may elicit or receive input from…influential individuals, but if you fail to find the happy medium of balance between what you want and what someone else may want, that can surely affect your wedding day mood.  So, decide if you want a small intimate wedding, a grand affair with a cast of thousands, or something in between.
  • Intimate weddings have between 35-85 guests.
  • Large weddings can easily have 400-500 guests or more.
  • Most typical weddings that we’ve shot have between 120-250 guests.

Knowing how many people you’re inviting will play into your choice of venue, budget, and even photographer (for instance, we would suggest more than one shooter for weddings with over 200 guests, or if your wedding party is more than 8 or more people). But the most important thing to realize is that the number of guests has a direct proportion to the amount of time needed for certain photographic events you may want to consider.  For instance:

  • A receiving line with 400 guests can easily eat up 2 hours or more, but if yours is an intimate wedding, receiving 40 guests will take about 15-20 minutes.
  • An entire group picture of 150 people will take 10-15 minutes.  Think back to your high school class picture, and how long it took to get everyone in place and smiling, etc.
  • Family group photos take 3-5 minutes each, since people need to be wrangled and we need to account for the stray uncle who’s gone to look for the restroom, or wait for a tiny tot to stop crying, etc.
  • Know What You Want (in terms of photography) – do you want 100% “PJ”-style (PJ stands for photojournalistic, but in my opinion most photographers do not shoot 100% photojournalism, and nor would most clients want them to — more on this in another post), a fair number (or even a lot) of posed portraits? Or do you want a mix? (what we do)

The various aspects of a typical wedding we cover offers the opportunity for photos of:

  • Bride Getting Ready – “Prep” shots (20 – 60 minutes)
  • A First Viewing – Bride and Groom meet for the first time in their wedding attire (20-30 minutes)
  • Candids of Wedding Ceremony – probably what you were thinking when you think “wedding photography” (varies)
  • Family/Friend Group Photos (3-5 minutes per grouping x number of groupings)
  • Group Photos of the entire Wedding Party – combination of posed, directed, and relaxed portraits (20-45 minutes)
  • Photos of Bride and Groom – again, a combination of posed, directed and relaxed portraits (20-45 minutes)
  • Candids of the Wedding Reception – usually includes coverage of entry, toasts & speeches, first dances, bouquet/garter toss, cake-cutting, general dancing, any games, etc. (varies)
  • After/Bridal Session – a photo session of just the two of you on a day (immediately) after the wedding (Sunday or Monday)

How to Plan Your Wedding

The key thing to remember is your Ceremony start time.  Let’s call this “C time”.

From there we work everything else into your schedule, adding and subtracting time to your C-time to determine your wedding day timeline. You can see the estimated time in the above photo list for certain events. Simply add up what you would like before the ceremony and you get C minus pre-ceremony photo time.

For instance, say you want Getting Ready shots before the candid coverage at the Ceremony.

Okay, Getting Ready photos takes, say 30 minutes.  But first, we would suggest you are all “good to go” at half-hour before the Ceremony start time, meaning that all photography, travel, touch-up, bathroom breaks, etc., be done 30 minutes prior to the start of the ceremony.

That way, you can be sequestered from your arriving guests, and most importantly, you can take a breather & relax before the big moment.  Okay, so already, we have C-minus 30 minutes without considering any photo-taking times.

Now we actually get to the Getting Ready shots — 30 minutes — so we subtract another 30 minutes, for a total of C minus 60 minutes.

Okay, but say you’re getting ready at a hotel instead of at the church.  Then you need to figure out the realistic travel time (getting a bunch of stuff and a bunch of people from your hotel room to the car, negotiate the parking lot, getting to the freeway, etc.).  Let’s say you’re super-efficient and everything is already neatly packed, and there’s only 3 of you, so 15 minutes to actually get everything and body to the car and another 20 minutes of driving.  So, now we at C minus 95.

But wait!  Don’t forget to put in extra cushion time for each “event” — Murphy’s Law and all that.  Okay for Getting Ready, let’s add 15 minutes of minimum cushion time.  For Travel Time, let’s consider if you’re going to be on a route that will be traveled by say…tens of thousands of fans going to The BIG GAME (go, Bears!), or perhaps there’s Fleet Week happening that weekend, or there’s freeway construction (Bay Bridge closure, anyone?), or the weather is just so freakin’ great that everyone’s gotta get outta the house!  Okay, so maybe add another 30 minutes of minimum cushion time there.

What are we at now? C minus Good-to-Go minus Travel Time minus Travel cushion minus Getting Ready minus Getting Ready cushion equals C – 140 minutes.

Do you see where we’re at now for the initial start time for photography?  And this is just having coverage for one pre-ceremony event.  You would also include your hair and make-up time (and cushion) into this equation.

So, the steps to planning your wedding would be:

  • Plan Your Hair and Make-Up time – this is CRUCIAL. Why? Hair and make-up make up (pun intended) the first domino of your wedding day.  Be late on this and everything else is affected, unless you do the following: Talk over with your hair and make-up person about the realistic time it would take to do your hair and make-up and that of your bridal party. Be realistic in knowing a good 2 hours for just the bride alone is not unheard of. Add another 30-60 minutes to this time to give yourself more padding.  Having a cushion of time here sets the tone for the rest of your wedding day.  (Guess what gets cut when things run late? Photography.)
  • Plan Your Pre-Ceremony Photo Time – Talk over with your photographer what events you want captured (before the ceremony) and figure out the time required.  (The photographer needs to be aware of locations and exactly what you really want in order to give you an accurate estimate — for instance, wanting to take photos at a location where parking is hard to find, etc.) Then add 30-60 minutes to that time to give yourself some padding.
  • Plan Your Post-Ceremony Photo Time – Talk over with your photographer about what you want photographed immediately after the ceremony.  Often times this is when we do family portraits (during the so-called cocktail hour) if the wedding and reception are at the same location.  Other weddings may have a church ceremony earlier in the day, followed by an evening reception at a separate location.  That gives you the opportunity to do more photography between the ceremony and reception, but even then you need to consider travel time, anyone in your party who is helping setting up or breaking down (which means he or she is pulled away) or has a child that needs tending to, maybe break for a meal, and time for touch up to your hair and/or make-up (getting this done by a seasoned professional will mean less time throughout the day for touch up).

Add up all these times AND include cushion times to get your preliminary wedding day time line.  Then have your photographer and event coordinator look it over for further input.

And again, and I cannot stress the importance of this enough: the crucial thing is to plan enough time for your hair and make-up.  These more often than not run over, and having a padding of time helps greatly to reduce any stress.

How to Enjoy Your Wedding

Okay, you’ve got your wedding schedule down, and things are swimming along leading up to the big day.

Here’s how to ensure you’ll be enjoying your wedding day instead of stressing:

  • Delegate – Have a day-of coordinator at the least.  This person will be the one responsible for making sure things are going according to your schedule, and should have the authority to make certain executive decisions.  Depending on the size and complexity of your wedding, have teams of people for certain chores, and have a dependable person lead each team.
  • Rehearse – Your ceremony venue and/or officiant will most likely have you and your wedding party members and day-of coordinator come in the day before for a rehearsal.  Certain venues/officiants may have certain restrictions against photographers.  It’s best to know what they are — however, we strive for unobtrusiveness and respect as our modus operandi anyway.
  • Relax – You’ve spent a lot of time, energy and money to plan your wedding.  Now, entrust the day to the professionals and trusted friends you’ve enlisted. Things rarely go 100% according to plan — it may rain, a mic stand may get knocked over, or a child may make a pre-reception smiley face in the frosting of your wedding cake, whatever.  It’s still your day, and in the end, you’re there to get married to the love of your life.  Everything else is secondary.  Ride the wave you’ve created.  You deserve it!

Well, there you have it, a photographer’s take on how to plan your wedding so you’ll get the best wedding photos.  Let me know if you have any questions of comments.  Happy planning!