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Feature: The Photographer’s Guide to Planning a Wedding Day

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Hey fellow photographers (and brides). To a photographer, the wedding day is the culmination of all your meetings with a couple – all those phone calls and pre wedding shoots. It’s finally here and on the day itself you will be on the go from the moment you set off for the brides house in the morning until you collapse on your sofa back at home at the end of the day! All the while making sure you meet some huge expectations on you not to miss a single detail, person or moment of the day. Over the years we have got our wedding day schedule down to a fine art, and today I am going to share our master wedding day running schedule with you and I will explain each section as I go along. PS: Even if you are not a photographer and are a wedding planner, or even just a bride, you may find this useful when planning your own wedding, to see how a photographer thinks and works.

Now there are always going to be days when you just throw the timings out the window for whatever reason, but having a running order at least will make sure that you don’t miss anything (even if you are making the times up as you go along!).

Firstly when setting up your schedule for the day, the CEREMONY time is the single most important time of the day followed by your CALL TO DINNER. That’s why these are always in capitals on our list. These times are fixed and you will have to work the rest of your times around them. So once you have those times established, next you will then need to work out your travel times – i.e. the time it takes for you to get about!

The travel times you will need to know are

  • How long does it take to get from your house to the brides house?
  • How long does it take to get from the bride’s house to the groom’s house (if you are doing a drive by)?
  • How long does it take to get to the ceremony location?
  • How long does it take to get from the ceremony location to the location for photos (if you are stopping off somewhere enroute)?
  • How long does it take to get to the reception venue?

We are very specific with the couple about getting addresses and important contact info (such as “on the day” phone numbers) – we send out a questionnaire a few weeks before and we usually use Google Maps to tell us the distances and the time it will take to travel between each of the locations.  I will usually round the times up, so say it takes 40 mins to drive I’ll say it takes 45 minutes on schedule – better to arrive early than late!!

Time to fit in the rest of the day!

We will spend an hour or so with the bride in the morning when she is getting ready. You don’t want to arrive too early – just enough time to get all the details of the dresses, shoes, jewellery and flowers. When we arrive we usually arrive as the final stages of hair & makeup are taking place. Remember, no one needs a photo of their wedding day “Kim K style contouring” before its blended out! Also there is nothing worse than hanging around when you have nothing to photograph!

Sometimes we go to the groom’s house too. (Yes, I know… why you ask?!), Anyhow… if we do a “Groom Drive By” (sounds like something from a mafia movie, doesn’t it?!). We spend literally no more than about 30 mins with the boys as there really isn’t much to get there as boys go from playing FIFA on the Xbox and eating their fry, to suited and booted and out the door in 3.5 seconds flat!

if we aren’t doing a drive by we will meet the boys at the ceremony location instead.  We usually try and get the boys to meet us there an hour before the ceremony starts. This is so we can get the shots of the venue and of the guys before the guests really start to arrive. That way the guys are free to talk to their guests and aren’t being dragged off by us. Because we all know boys love to have their pictures taken!

The length of the ceremony will depend on what type of ceremony it is. Anything from 15 minutes at the registry office to an hour and a half for a full Mass with communion. Even longer church services can happen too… we’ve done some good long services with running times of nearly two hours!

The time between the end of the ceremony and the call to dinner is jam packed for us, as Graham says this is the bit of the day where we earn our money. The order of things that happen at this time in the day often is interchangeable depending of circumstances. Sometimes we will do the group shot and the formals at a the church and other times we will do them right before dinner. It just depends on the day and the couple.

So, we spend…

30 minutes for family formals – these are the photos you can’t avoid. You know, the ones where everyone is standing in a line with their family and friends. We politely ask the couple to limit this to 10-15 groups of people and to tell everyone who is needed that they are required for the pictures. Trust me any longer than this and everyone including us, the couple, the granny’s and the bar staff (literally everyone) is bored.

10 minutes with the bridal party doing posed photos – bish, bash, bosh. For us it is more about time with the couple – everyone is different, so if you are the type of photographer to spend longer with a bridal party then take this in to account here.

45 mins to 1 hour with the couple doing bridal portraits – this is the bit where you take the couple off on your own for the lovely pictures of them together. If you are working with a videographer who calls themself a “cinamatographer” then you may want to double this time as they will want to duplicate everything you do too!

10 minutes for the details in the room and the fake cake cutting shot – all the pictures of the room before the guests come in… and don’t forget to do a “fake cake” shot where the couple pretend to cut the cake… so much easier than having to compete with 100+ guests later on!

10 minutes for the group shot – the last big shot before dinner. The one everyone looks back on in years to come, just to see who is still alive! Invariable someone who is in this shot will be in the toilet or at the bar… So, the sooner everyone goes outside for this, the sooner it will be done 🙂

Remember you will need to factor in any travel time here too if there is any. Even if the travel time looks low, remember, it takes time to get people in to cars, across car parks, up hills and to another location. Wedding cars generally don’t drive as fast as photographers do and when a bride and groom get in to a car at a church, you will find that all the guests want to get a picture on their iPhone before the couple can set-off. It all takes a bit longer than you would think.

Once the call to dinner has been announced, for us, it’s time to get all the candid shots of guests. You know the ones – where Aunt Betty is laughing at one of Uncle Bob’s jokes and where the kids are drawing on the venues table linen with crayons they have been provided with. If you are talking around 100 guests, this usually takes between 15 to 30 minutes to get everyone in and seated before the venue bring in the bridal party and the couple. It all depends on how good a venue it is. Some of our favourite venues are like slick machines. Other venues that don’t do many weddings can take longer.

99.999% of weddings in Northern Ireland have speeches before dinner. The rest of the UK (from what I have been told) seem to do most of theirs after dinner. Maybe it has something to do with us Northern Irish people being a nervous bunch 😉 Anyhow, speeches are also a great time to get some candids and can be as short or as long as a piece of string. We have done 3 minute speeches and 2 hour speeches. It just depends on who is doing the talking, and who is (still) listening!

Once dinner is served, like a Transport for London Tube driver, we down tools during the meal. No one needs photos of themselves eating dinner and to be honest it gives you a bit time to get something to eat yourself. During the dinner time we also spend a bit of time writing up the day for the blog post, so when it comes to it we don’t forget any of the funny events from the day! Dinner is usually about an hour and a half, with the “real cutting of the cake” just before desert is served.  Most venues, if you ask them nicely, will let you know when they are about to do that so you don’t miss it. We tend to nip in and get shots of the real thing and of the guests taking photos of it.

Following dinner, we are up again getting some more candid shots and mingling with the guests while the band set up. Depending on the venue and Band/DJ this can take a hour or so for the room to be cleared and the band/DJ to be set up. Depending on the calibre of the band, some bands are very slick at setting up, while some will take several hours to “sound check”.

Once the room is refreshed, the guests are in, it is time for the dancing shots. We usually stay around for the 1st few songs after the 1st dance unless the couple have asked us to stay on later. If you, like us, are using special lighting set-ups for the first dance, allow yourself sometime to set the lights up too.

So by that time, it realistically takes us up to around about 9.30/10pm, which depending on the travelling involved can mean we are at the wedding from about 10 to 14 hours by the time you drive home. Some people also like to backup when they get home and some even like to start the cull. So whether you are starting out or seasoned pros like us, pace yourself and take your time. Think before you press the shutter, as 14 hours of “shot gunning” will take a very long time to process. Everyone has their own way of doing it, so hopefully the way we do it will help you to do it better too.
Find out more about weddings

About GRAHAM

Graham Crichton is an award winning professional wedding & portrait photographer based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. With 10 years of experience and having photographed hundreds of weddings he has photographed weddings all over Ireland, the UK and abroad.

About HANNAH

Hannah Crichton is the principal photographic assistant, blogger and studio manager (and other half of Graham Crichton Photography). Hannah and Graham recently married themselves in Ynysybwl, Wales, where Hannah is originally from. Hannah loves “everything wedding"!

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