Last month, I had the distinct pleasure of being featured in the June issue of Denim+Grace magazine. I was simply asked to write about how I help manage the wedding day timelines for my couples to ensure their needs are met and my time is used efficiently.
I'm excited to have been granted permission to share the article with you today. If you are a fellow photographer struggling, or a current client who wants to know how I work to ensure your day and its moments are taken care of, I hope you'll appreciate this article today. I also encourage you to take a closer look at Denim+Grace. They're doing great things there! Cheers, Lovebirds!!! Enjoy.
Wedding Timelines: How Best to Manage Your Time on Their Special Day
Part psychic. At least, that’s what I thought. In order for a wedding day to feel smooth from my point of view, I would have to become part psychic. And after my first few weddings as the lead photographer, I realized that couples began asking me about their own wedding day timeline. They also began asking me these questions leading up to their wedding about how to craft this timeline. And, much to my surprise, I knew the answers. Maybe I was becoming part psychic after all!
It turns out that ‘part psychic’ really just meant I was figuring things out a little bit more each time I photographed a wedding. And, it’s tough to admit that at the beginning I didn’t know everything. But, I’ll tell you another little secret. I still don’t. And, that’s alright, as long as I continue to take my own advice. It’s our job as the professional photographer to seek out knowledge in our craft, to continue learning, and to continue doing what we do as efficiently as possible for the sake of our sanity, and especially for the sake of our clients. At the end of each wedding season, I reassess what worked and what did not work as well as I had hoped. I began asking myself these questions.
How could I better inform my couples leading up to the wedding day to ensure that they felt comfortable and happy and still allowed me to do my job in the best way possible for them? And, how could I do this consistently for each couple?
The wedding day timeline begged for my photographer’s touch. And, so, it became a three part process.
Educating the Client. I aim to educate and nurture this relationship from the very beginning. During our initial consultation, I make sure they know I can be their resident expert in all things wedding photography. As their professional, I am glad to answer any about their wedding timeline especially. Sometimes, if the couple is already unsure, we’ll craft a mini timeline of their day right then. It only takes their answers to a few simple questions. Do you know when the ceremony will begin and end? What time would you like to arrive at your reception (or cocktail hour)? And, do you prefer to see each other during an intimate First Look prior to the ceremony, or would you like to wait to see each other as you walk down the aisle?
Your client is hiring a professional for a reason. Even the super detail-oriented bride will want some guidance when it comes to the schedule. After all, you photograph a wedding each weekend. You’re supposed to know more. In fact, the super detail-oriented bride will likely be impressed by your attention to detail.
The Questionnaire. Right around this initial time of reflection, I also watched a CreativeLIVE workshop (www.creativelive.com) with Zach and Jody Gray, where they offered their free newsletter and access to see their pre-wedding questionnaire. While I was already asking many of my couples these very same questions, it made sense to begin asking them in advance of our chat.
Within an hour of combing through their questionnaire, I had created my own with questions I preferred answers to prior to photographing a wedding. I had also begun using the Pixifi studio management software (www.pixifi.com) at this point, and their questionnaire template tools allowed me to create this it online, as well as add it to each couple’s client portal. At this point, couples could visit the questionnaire right away as they became clients, and could fill it out throughout their wedding journey. In the last year, I’ve also begun sending out automatic reminders through this system, asking the couple to fill out the questionnaire at least 24 hours prior to our final consultation.
The questionnaire is approximately 45 questions, so it’s a bit lengthy, but they’re all very easily answered questions. It asks my couples for the names and addresses of each location, driving times between each, the type and length of ceremony, as well as other special traditions. This is also where couples include a list of family members and additional family portraits they’d like taken, as well as a list of other vendors that have participated in creating their wedding day vision.
The Final Consultation to the Wedding Day. Written into every couple’s wedding agreement is the gentle reminder that we will have a final consultation via telephone or in person at least 4-6 weeks prior to their wedding. This is one extra way of educating the client from the beginning, as well. When we meet, the couple has already filled out their questionnaire online and I have printed it out, reviewed it, and already written down any additional clarifications I need.
Then, we craft their wedding timeline draft right there. By including them in the process, I am able to ensure their comfort level with the times allotted. In addition, this is my time to make recommendations for adjustments, since we are far out enough from the wedding. This happens if I believe things will feel tight or rushed. We want to ensure that the couple feels absolutely comfortable all day. So, in the contracted time frame, I make sure that the schedule is as detailed as possible.
We start with the ceremony time frame and work backwards from there, making sure to include as many family photos beforehand as possible, while also tucking away the bride from guests’ view in advance of the ceremony. Working backwards, we then schedule the details of the dress, jewelry, shoes, etc. and the final preparations of the bridal party. If the bride and groom choose to see each other prior to the ceremony, we’ll include the first look and couple portraits, as well as full bridal party. If not, they’re scheduled afterward.
After the ceremony, we’ll work toward getting the couple to their reception at their preferred time. Ensure that your schedule draft includes a buffer of time for the receiving line post-ceremony and any additional family portraits. Include time for additional couple and full bridal party portraits at the location they prefer.
The reception’s timeline on the draft will look a little vague compared to the rest of the day. I will always include the cocktail hour, the time the couple is announced, and the time dinner begins. Then, I simply list the events that the couple wants photographed: speeches, first dance, special dances, bouquet/garter toss, etc. and the time that the photographer is contracted to leave. (TIP: Make friends with the DJ when you arrive to compare notes. If he knows who you are, he’ll be more likely to ensure you’re in the room when these important events happen. )
After I send a draft schedule to the couple, they are asked to review it and confirm its details via email. At that point, I thank the couple for their time, ensure any final questions are answered, and explain that they are welcome to call or email me any time before the wedding. I also explain that I have everything I need and will leave them be until I arrive on the wedding day. I want to make sure I am the last thing they need to worry about leading up to their wedding day and ensure they have plenty of time for the little details, and especially family and friends in those final weeks.
On the wedding day, I arrive earlier than the schedule entails to account for incidentals and to tour the location if I am not as familiar with it. I have at least two copies of the schedule with me and another with my assistant. The schedule includes addresses, as well as the list of family photos all on a double-sided sheet of paper so that I have all details with me at all times.
One of my favorite quotes is one by Dwight D. Eisenhower where he explained, “I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is essential.” Of course, wedding days are notorious for shifting about, but since I have begun working with my couples from start to finish on their wedding day timeline, I’ve found that I am that much more confident. Most importantly, I am able to make informed decisions as wedding days shift and ensure that my couples look splendid in their wedding day moments.
Find the confidence to educate your clients, make informed recommendations, and assist in creating this schedule with them. It will help you manage yourself on a wedding day and enlist the confidence of your clients throughout this process. Even better, they will be so glad that they hired such an incredible professional… who just might be part-psychic!