Mistakes Make Magic

How to Put Together a Wedding Photography Timeline

How to Put Together a Wedding Photography Timeline

February 1, 2023

I’m Catherine.
A New Orleans based wedding photographer and educator. We are excited you are here and cannot wait to connect with you!.
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How to Put Together a Wedding Photography Timeline

I’ve been photographing weddings for a while – almost 15 years – so it’s safe to say I’ve created a timeline or two. 

I know creating a timeline can be nerve-wracking. But I’m here to tell you that every bit of planning and preparation is worth it! If you’re early on in your career and you’ve never put a timeline together, this post is what you need. 

Bonus: at the end of it, if you still feel like you want extra help, we also sell a sample questionnaire and timeline template you can fill out for your own clients!

1. Schedule a Pre-Wedding Meeting

Before you photograph the wedding, you should schedule a pre-wedding meeting about 2 weeks out. This is when things will be nice and fresh for everyone, but it’s not too close (so your client won’t be too stressed out!). During this meeting is when you’ll put together the timeline.
You’ll use a questionnaire to help create the timeline. You can either send it out in advance of the meeting, or ask the client the questions during the phone call. You’ll want to include questions about transportation, venues, prep spots, wedding party contact information, and more. Make sure you get all of this info so you’re not stepping into the wedding day blind!

2. Consider Logistics

When it comes to timing, you’ll need to factor in logistics of travel and location. 

Here are the biggest things you need to remember in terms of the logistics of your timeline:

  • Factor in any travel time that will exist between the getting ready location and the ceremony, AND between the ceremony and the reception.
  • If the getting ready location is the SAME as the ceremony (or very close), you’ll need 3 hours for photography if the couple is NOT doing a first look. If they ARE doing a first look, you’ll need 4 hours.
  • If you’re photographing pre-ceremony portraits at a location where guests will arrive, you’ll want to make sure to wrap up well before guests arrive. 
  • If you’re photographing pre-ceremony portraits at a DIFFERENT location from where guests will arrive, plan to wrap up photos 30 minutes before the ceremony begins.

3. Pre-Ceremony Photographs

When you arrive, the first thing you’ll photograph is details. I like to carve out 30-45 minutes for this, depending on what details they have. 🌹

Then, during the preparation, we’ll photograph getting-ready photos, pajama photos – any photos the client might want during that time. Sometimes there are requests for reveals: reveals with the father of the bride, bridesmaids, the mother of the groom… we have seen SO many variations with reveals. 

You’ll also need to factor in if your client wants a first look. Sometimes the couples want to read their vows, speak together, or pray together. You’ll want to get all of this information during your pre-wedding call so you can get an idea of how long everything might take.

If you feel like you have NO idea how long it will take, ALWAYS err on the side of giving yourself more time. I promise, if you communicate to your client the value of that time, they’ll understand!

Example: “We’ll be photographing reading your vows after your first look. We don’t want to rush through that. Let’s give ourselves 15 minutes, so you have time to re-do your makeup if you need to.”).

The LAST thing you want is to rush through a wedding because you feel like you’re behind! Having a pre-wedding meeting to find out these details will create a calm environment for you and your client.

4. Hair and Makeup

I like to ask my clients to have hair and makeup complete prior to our arrival. This becomes a little bit challenging if it’s a day wedding, but it’s 💯% worth it to push for this request. 

If you arrive before hair and makeup is complete, it will feel very rushed for the client… no one will want to take photos. By making this very simple request, you’re setting yourself up for a calm environment where everyone is excited for portraits. 

Usually, the bride and mother of the bride are the last ones to get their hair and makeup done. During our pre-wedding meeting, I might say, “If things are running behind and you know I’m getting there at 1 PM, make sure you jump in that chair by 11:30 or 12!”💄

5. Update Price if Needed

If your originally agreed upon coverage time doesn’t cover the time you need for the timeline, then you’ll want to communicate that with your client during the pre-wedding meeting. 

Example: “Now that we’ve ironed out the timeline, we’re going to need 2 extra hours. Here is the cost for that.”

The reason there is an additional cost for extra hours is because that’s your time (and the time of your second photographer). Every image you take will need to be culled, edited, and included in all products. That additional fee will cover those additional images and all the work that goes into them. Don’t forget this step! 💸

6. First Looks

If it’s a nighttime wedding (and ESPECIALLY if it’s a winter nighttime wedding), I highly recommend talking to your clients about the pros and cons of doing a first look.

A first look is when the couple decides to see each other prior to the wedding ceremony. The reason this is so advantageous for them (and you!) is because it gives them the opportunity to get some really beautiful moments alone and experience the emotions they want to have… without everyone looking at them. It relieves their pre-wedding nerves. 

I find, as a photographer, that I’m able to do my best work when we do a first look. We get solid formal portraits, and after the wedding, they get to enjoy the reception more (as do their friends and family!). I really push for first looks for nighttime weddings, especially in the winter. It makes for a great experience for the couple, and makes a big difference in terms of the photography.

However, I always want to be respectful of the couple and their decision if they decide not to do a first look. In that situation, I prepare them for what the day is going to look like. They might have 30-45 minutes after the ceremony for portraits, and I would also show them portraits taken in artificial light in a church setting so they know what to expect.

I’ve actually had couples who did not do first looks book a post-wedding session to do instead, which is a cool idea you can share with your clients! 

7. Use First Names on the Timeline

When you are creating a shot list, don’t just write “bride” and “mother of bride.” Use their names!

You can write their roles in parentheses (i.e., “John (groom) and Karrie (mother of groom)”). That way, you can use people’s names when you are posing them. I promise, it’s REALLY helpful!

When creating the shot list, propose EVERY option you think they might want (check out our sample timeline with shot list inside if you’d like extra help). If they don’t want all of them, that’s okay! You just want them to know it’s there. 

What you DON’T want is them coming to you after the fact and saying “I wish I’d had this photo…” I’ve taken my 15 years of experience and included all the photos we actually use in our sample shot list!

8. Ask About Reception Requests

We all know we will take pre-wedding photos and post-ceremony photos, BUT at the reception, they’re going to be seeing big groups of friends they didn’t see at the ceremony! 💃🏼🕺🏼

During your pre-wedding call, ask if they have any reception requests. Do your best to organize those photos for them during the reception before the night is over.

9. Get Contact Info

Make sure you have all addresses and contact info you need prior to the wedding – and make sure to get the zip code! True story, years ago, there were two places very close to one another… same street name addresses, DIFFERENT zip code! Thankfully, we showed up early so it worked out! 😅
Additionally, have a few extra contact points. The bride, groom, and mother of the bride may be busy, so you want extra contacts that you can reach out to should you have any questions.

10. Get Vendor Contact Info

On that note, get the contact information of the wedding planner or coordinator. Do your best to reach out to those people in advance of the day to create a rapport and ensure success on the day of. 

If there’s a coordinator, make sure they didn’t already create a timeline! Oftentimes, if there’s a coordinator, they’re okay with you creating a timeline, sending it to them, and you both working through the details together.

Plus, after the wedding, you want to be able to tag the partners in your images and share those images with them. Get the vendor information during the pre-wedding call when it’s nice and fresh!

11. Ask What Questions Your Clients Have

At the end of the phone call, I always open up the floor. I ask the couples if they have any questions, if there’s anything they want me to know about, or any specific requests they have.

This is the best time to get this information. The day of the wedding is NOT the best time for this. Couples have been waiting for this day for a long time – you want to give them the chance to ask questions!

Your Next Steps

Now that you know how to create a timeline, you need a list of the best go-to poses for the wedding day!

Do you ever feel stuck or nervous trying to come up with poses on the spot? Or maybe you use the same poses over and over and need something new? 

I’ve been there… and now I’m sharing what I’ve learned to help you! My Posing Guide below will allow you to:

  • Build confidence so your clients know EXACTLY what to do
  • Have “go-to” poses to create consistent, strong images
  • Never feel stuck or on-the-spot – you’ll have a posing flow!

Check out the Posing Guide below. ⤵️

Posing Guide
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