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How to Plan a Wedding Photography Timeline Part Three

Over the last two days, we’ve showed you Step #1 and Step #2 of our three-step system for getting wedding day timelines to start on time and stay on time. 

Real quick, let’s review! 

Step #1: Preempt 
Send a custom wedding day timeline at booking.

Step #2:

Skype with the bride the week of the wedding to go over the timeline. Then, when you arrive on the big day, remind the makeup artist what time the bride needs to be out of the chair to get her dress on. 

Today, we’re going to tackle Step #3: Pivot.

No matter how much pad or buffer you include in a timeline, or how hard everyone works to get the bride out the door, sometimes life. just. happens. The bride’s dress rips. The zipper snags. A button breaks. The bus carrying the groomsmen gets lost or stuck in traffic. A family member calls and says they can’t arrive until after the ceremony –– even though they’re in half of the family formals.

As the photographer, here’s the hard part: no matter whose fault it is, you still want to give your bride the most full, complete and high-quality wedding gallery possible –– because that’s what she deserves.

The problems?

1. You’ve got WAY less time.

2. There are no re-dos or second chances.

So we’ve gotta have a plan to PIVOT and steal time back from fate, because wedding day timelines are like dominoes. Until the first one falls, none of them can fall; and if one of the dominoes down the line isn’t in the right place, it makes more sense to take a second, look at all the dominoes as a group, and rearrange them so that when you DO knock down the first one, they all fall together. 

In other words, if you KNOW the bride isn’t getting out the door for fifteen minutes and there’s something else you can do down the line that will take fifteen minutes (and, therefore, SAVE fifteen minutes) go do that first! Make that the first domino. In our experience, that’s the best way to reassure everyone and help them stay calm, and the most efficient way to still get (most, if not all) of everything you need.

Here are a few real-life examples (from our weddings) of ways you can pivot the wedding day timeline in real-time:

1. Hair and makeup is REALLY behind schedule.

Sometimes, we arrive to the bride’s getting ready room and hair and makeup is WAY behind schedule. For everyone. We have an hour until the bride is supposed to get in her dress, she hasn’t even started yet and there are still multiple bridesmaids to go. In that case, we recommend to our bride that she leapfrog over her remaining bridesmaids and get in the hair and makeup chair. It’s better for some of the bridesmaids not to have their hair or makeup done for the “robes” or “dress fluffing” photos than for the bride to be significantly late to her first look. The bridesmaids will have 30-60 minutes from the time the bride leaves for the first look to finish their hair and makeup anyways, so this is an easy solution.

2. The bride’s zipper or a button breaks.

Multiple times, we’ve had brides who (bless their hearts) had dress malfunctions outside of their control and had to have emergency seamstresses (or, in one case, a savior of a hotel maid) actually alter their dresses. We knew that could take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, so instead of just waiting around for them to finish, we left the bridal suite, and killed two birds with one stone: Amy took some of the bridesmaids’ outside and photographed some of the detail shots of their dresses and flowers, then moved on to the parts of the ceremony/reception that were partially set up; while Jordan grabbed the groomsmen and did all of their group photos, including the groom’s individual shots. In all, it probably saved us at least 30 minutes, so when the bride was ready, even though we started the first look (and everything else) 30 minutes later, since we didn’t have to do the groomsmen and some of the detail photos any more, we weren’t late, and we were still able to start the ceremony on time.

3. The groomsmen get stuck in traffic.

At a recent wedding, the groomsmen got stuck in traffic, and were about 30 minutes late for photos. So, to compensate for time, as soon as we were done with the bridesmaids, since the bride’s parents and a few other important family members were there early in anticipation of family formals, we took as many family formal combinations as possible until the guys arrived. Just challenge yourself to keep finding things to shoot, whether it’s people or details. In this case, our bride got individual shots with the groom’s mom and a group shot with her mom and the groom’s mom, which wouldn’t normally be part of our rotation. But since we had the time, we did it! Then, when the guys arrived, instead of spending as much time as we normally do with the guys, we just did a little less diversity of poses and pushed ourselves to finish each set quicker, getting ourselves back on time and giving a great experience to our bride and groom in spite of the circumstances.

4. We get PRESSED for time and still have a BIG family shot list to do.

We always reserve 30 minutes for family formals before the ceremony, but sometimes, when things are really behind, that turns into 5, 10 or 15 minutes. In that case, in an effort to a) start the ceremony on time and b) still be done with family formals before the ceremony, so it doesn’t bleed into cocktail hour (where we have to get marriage license, sunset portraits and reception details done) we’ll ask our bride to physically star (with a pen) the five combinations that are most important to her (or however many we think we realistically have time for) and cross out everything that’s not if we didn’t get them. A lot of times, our bride will even make a comment like, “Oh yeah. I just threw those on there if we had time. Don’t need those!” Once she’s starred what matters most and crossed out what doesn’t, we tell her that we’ll 100% for sure get the starred shots, and do our best to get anything else she wants at the reception.

5. A family member can’t show up before the ceremony.

Every once in a while, a family member is late for family formals. When that happens, we do every possible combination and breakout until they arrive. But… if it doesn’t look like they’re going to arrive at all and won’t be available for family family formals until after the ceremony, we’ll ask our bride which of the big group shots can be done without that person, and then see if either a) our bride is cool just having an individual shot with that person after the ceremony OR b) if there’s one specific group shot that she really wants that person in, but can cross off a handful of others we can take without them. Communication is key here.

SIDE NOTE: If you have to postpone family photos until after the ceremony, the best places to steal time from are the marriage license and cocktail hour. Since your bride and groom are already there, grab the officiant and the witnesses and sign somewhere pretty (and private) in natural light away from the guests. We oftentimes take a high boy from cocktail hour and move it somewhere else.

Also, you can steal from cocktail hour by photographing guests BEFORE the ceremony while they’re waiting for it to start, and then just grabbing a nice, wide, overhead shot of cocktail hour when it’s actually happening later. Then supplement images of guests with table shots or photos of couples at the reception later –– and you’re good to go!

REMEMBER: At the end of the day, when the timeline gets behind and you’re not sure if you can get EVERY shot you’d normally get, prioritize the shots that are most important to the bride and groom.

Phew! We’re out of breath! We really hope this series has been helpful to you, and using the Three Ps will get your wedding days to start on time and stay on time, and give you the confidence to pivot in case they still get off time.

If you need help building your first wedding timeline, or want access to the 10 wedding day timelines we use at every wedding we shoot and cover almost every situation, you can get them for just $29 by clicking here.

Click below to read the rest of the posts in this series:

Step 1: How to Preempt

Step 2: How to Prepare

Step 3: How to Pivot

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We help people take better photos and build successful photography businesses. We’re high school sweethearts, former elementary school teachers and professional photographers. We're experts at making the complex feel simple and believe education is serious business, but learning should be fun.


free shooting class

3 Proven Tricks to Shoot Better & Edit Faster

connect with us


The Amy & Jordan Store

Courses & Tools for Photographers   

hey, we're amy & jordan!


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