March 22, 2012

Pancake Session: Educating Early On

Good morning & Happy Pancake Day!

I’m curious as to how many of us end up actually having pancakes for breakfast after a Pancake Session. No? That’s just me? Uh, nevermind. :)

So today I’m introducing a kind of new generation of the Pancake Session. I know, I know. That probably sounds way more dramatic than it needs to be. But here’s the deal. Or maybe more to the point, the truth. For the longest time, I felt like if a post on a topic had already been written anywhere- ever, in the history of blogging- then we shouldn’t also write a post about that topic. Because it felt like we were just copying. And that we should be finding ways to add to, not just repeat the conversation. I still wholeheartedly agree with that last sentence.

The problem is, in that quest to write about something, anything different (and please don’t take that to mean that I think we succeeded every time)…but in that quest, I feel like we ended up writing a lot of very specific, conceptual posts about theories of marketing or pricing or lighting paradigms. And we got away from the fundamentals, the practicalities of what it is to actually shoot weddings and a be a wedding photographer on a day to day basis. Y’know the stuff that we’re all dealing with every day. In other words, we put the cart before the horse. Or needed to hold our horses. Or pull up our britches. Or… something like that.

One of the biggest goals that we said out loud when Liz & Ryan were here, was that we just wanted to lift that restriction on ourselves. That just because a topic had been written about before, it didn’t have to mean that we couldn’t also write about it adding our own experience & perspective to the mix. As long as, we held ourselves to that standard of adding to the conversation, not just repeating it. So… that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to start marching through a list of topics here on the Pancake Sessions that we wrote out during our dreaming BIG weekend. Topics that will hopefully start to dig into the meat of what it is to be a wedding photographer. And hopefully topics where we can add to the conversation and move it forward. Together. So, let’s kick it off with our first new topic: Educating your clients early on.

In our first couple years of shooting, Justin & I kept finding ourselves with timelines that started off beautifully. But somewhere along the way, things would get off track, we would hit a major time crunch, and we kept ending up with about ten minutes to shoot and somehow make magic happen. :) We knew that if wanted this to stop, we were going to have to get a lot more proactive. We were going to have to identify the things that were throwing the timelines off track, and we were going to start educating our clients about them early on. Here are the top 4 we came up with.

1. Getting Ready Close to Each Other
Like we talked about in this Piece of Cake session HERE, we really prefer for our brides & grooms to get ready in hotel/bridal suites versus getting ready at home. But even more than that, we prefer that they get ready in either the same hotel or ones very close to one another. We used to have it happen all the time where the groom would be getting ready at his house, 45 minutes away from the bride. And what that means for the timeline is that Justin & I would have to divide up for the whole morning, rather than him just popping over to hang out with the guys for thirty minutes or so and then coming back to shoot the bride getting ready with me. So in effect, when our brides & grooms get ready in the same location or very close to one another, it actually makes for better coverage. Because it allows us to have Justin’s perspective as well mine, on all the details and the dress going on. Since this is something our couples usually wouldn’t really know to think about, we try to make sure we start that conversation right in the first meeting so they have plenty of time to look into hotels.

2. First Look or Cocktail Hour
For reasons that we will explain in a future post, Justin & I actually never push one way or another on the First Look, unless there is something about the timeline that will make it impossible for us to get pictures later on. But what we do like to educate our clients on right from the beginning, is what time the First Look would need to start if they do go that route (two hours before the ceremony) OR that if they don’t want to see each other beforehand, that’s totally fine but they are going to need to plan on missing most of cocktail hour. That allows us to set the expectation right from the beginning for how long pictures actually take (we prefer an hour and a half cushion to do portraits, families & bridal party), and depending on the timeline/size of the bridal party we might also at this time advise them to extend cocktails to an hour and a half. Since this is something that they would have to let their caterers/planner know about well in advance, it’s important that we’re starting to have those conversations right from the very first meeting.

3. Receiving Lines
I can’t tell you how many timelines I’ve seen thrown off by a receiving line gone awry. :) What starts out as this really nice cushion of time for pictures is suddenly whittled down to 15 minutes because no one ever realizes how long a receiving line takes until they’re actually in one. As a good rule of thumb, we tell our couples to allow about 30 seconds for each guest. So if you have around 100 guests, now you’re looking at 45-50 minutes of just standing in a line. Once our couples hear that, they’re usually more than happy to nix the receiving line. But they would never know that or make that decision, if we weren’t willing to say something early on.

4. Distance Between Ceremony & Reception
The final thing that usually never gets accounted for that used to really put a crunch in our timelines is the drive time between the ceremony & reception. For example, we once had a couple allot 45 minutes for pictures between the ceremony and when they wanted to be at cocktail hour (which like we mentioned was already less time than we prefer). But then on top of that, we realized that the drive time alone between the ceremony and reception was nearly 40 minutes. Which would leave us with a total of about 5 minutes of shooting time. :) But by simply asking those questions, starting those conversations early….we were able to adjust the timeline for when the cocktail hour started before the invitations got printed. And it was a really simple fix. But had we waited until closer to the wedding to start talking about it, it would’ve been too late to make any changes.

The Why: An awesome idea that Liz & Ryan gave us when we were talking about the Pancake Sessions was to also have a “Why” section to wrap up each one. To not just explain how we do something, but the Why that goes into it. For us, the Why behind educating our clients early is not just to make our job easier. Although, trust me it certainly helps being able to take pretty pictures when you actually have the time and the locations to work with. But if it were just for our benefit, I don’t know that we would be comfortable speaking up as much as we do. The real reason that we felt comfortable to start having these conversations in the first place and why we continue to have them, is that we had just seen one too many times how stressful a crunched timeline can be on our couples. And how much of their day can be lost to that stress. And we knew that if we could do something to help with that, starting those conversations was actually part of our job.

I hope that helps & that you guys will enjoy this new take on the Pancake Session!
Now go eat some pancakes, you know you want to!
Happy Thursday!

**ETA: For all of you who are new to the blog & asking, here is the back story as to why they’re called Pancake Sessions. And you can also select under categories and pull up all the past ones!

  1. Stephanie Stewart

    Great Pancake Session…and yes, now I would love to have some pancakes right now! I love that you added the Why at the end…perfect! I love educating couples on their options for their big day, and this will help even more…especially the perspective on the amount of time a receiving ling takes! I’ve had impromptu receiving lines happen which totally compromises the rest of the timeline…thankfully, it worked out! Thank you!

  2. Bethany Ann

    Ahh, receiving lines! My Southern Brides love it. Early on I had to speak up about that one more often than any other subject here. That kills a timeline like no other. Once, after a receiving line, two minutes into the bride & groom portraits, the planner said, "You have five minutes!" Oh goodness! I don’t ever want that to happen again. :) Great post! :)

  3. Abby Grace

    Oh Mary, I am SO GLAD you wrote this post. I’m often hesitant to advise too much on the timeline because I don’t want my couples to think I’m being self-centered, but if they’re hirintg me for ME, shouldn’t they want me input so that I can help them have the best wedding photography experience possible? I love this. I feel so much more confident now!

  4. Elizabeth & Ryan | Elizabeth Ryan Photography

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your new pancake sessions! We were actually having these same discussions this morning on timelines! Thanks so much for putting your thoughts out there! Love "The Why"! It is like the whip cream on top, or the chocolate chips in the pancakes! It gives them just that like extra bit of fun!

  5. sharon elizabeth

    Ohhhh gosh. I’ve had to learn the hard way on this… I always, always give the bride/groom a very detailed timeline (one I created for my own wedding actually… based around the photographer, of course) — and I ask my brides to meet me for lunch so we can create the perfect timeline for them!!! Thank goodness, I’m on the right track!!!! Thanks M!

  6. Kelly Ewell

    I do love the WHY part being added to the end. It’s very "you". :) I’d love to know though when you start giving your brides this information (when you first meet them? at some later point?) and when you start planning the day’s timeline with them.

  7. Amanda Truth

    Oh my goodness!! I swear sometimes you read my mind, Mary!! I was just thinking last night about creating something to educate my brides before their engagement sessions! Now I have a direction to go with wedding prep! You rock!!!

  8. Naomi Elle

    Can we have a Waffle Session on National Waffle Day? This Sunday… :)

  9. Lauren Wakefield

    VERY well said. As usual. :)


    :-) Thanks for this Mary… I never realized how receptive couples would be to this information until I started trying it. I have to learn to be braver still – especially about receiving lines!! Insightful as always!

  11. Lara

    All of this is great – the new format – the information – love it!

  12. Kari Jeanne

    Great post!! I love the detail that you put into each point and the why at the end – thanks for sharing :) :) I can’t wait for more pancake sessions (and I’m actually craving a chocolate chip waffle now – odd?)

  13. Emily

    I really like the new approach, and especially the why section. Thanks so much! :)

  14. ashley barnett

    Gosh I love this. Managing expectations has been one of the hardest and most important things for us to implement and continue to adjust as new things pop up. Great advice here! :) And please know that you will have all the time in the world when it’s our wedding day! (again!)

  15. Kathryn Denelle Stevens

    Thank you for this! I’ve had each of these things get in the way, but seriously, in a very cart before horse way, I couldn’t precisely say that it was EACH of these things that added up to the problem. Thanks (as usual) for sharing your expertise for people like me who kind of know these things…but haven’t yet put their finger on it!

  16. Emilia Jane

    I love this! And I am all for revisiting and adding to things! AND OH MY GOD HER GREEN DRESS at the top. I need it.

  17. Christa

    Soooo true about the receiving lines! Definitely will use the 30 sec per guest tip with my future couples.

  18. robyn vining

    I’m trying to find another link here that explains what a pancake session is, as I don’t have a reference point for the terminology, but I can’t- probably my own idiocy =)

    It’s a great article- I host a meeting about 2/3 of the way through the engagement to discuss these things, and find couples generally don’t think through these factors- and why should they? That’s my job! So, this is great- everyone should make sure to educate clients and it sounds like you guys do a great job! props!

  19. lori yohe

    thank you soooo much for this post! super helpful!!! you guys are all kinds of awesome.

  20. Lydia

    Love your new philosophy on pancake sessions! I love you guys, respect your why, and want to know your take on everything because I trust it will be well thought out, make sense, and help provide the best experiences for my couples!

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