June 23, 2016

Pancake Session: Ideal Wedding Timelines

Good morning & Happy Pancake day!

We are off to shoot a gorgeous wedding in Michigan today, so this post is extra appropriate!! One of the questions that came up last week at our June Walk Through a Wedding w/ J&M workshop was how to set up an ideal timeline for both when there is a First Look (like our wedding today has) & when there isn’t, making sure we build in plenty of time to get great couple portraits in either situation! We talked about some of the major huge benefits of doing a First Look (things go smoother and faster, are less stressful, you get more portraits, and there is plenty of time for us to shoot all those details you worked so hard on while you enjoy your party at cocktail hour, just to name a few!) in this post. But sometimes our couples do still want to wait until the ceremony to see each other, and so we want to have a go-to plan in either case!


So that’s why I actually put together two versions of the timeline, one for a First Look and one without! We understand that for some couples, it’s just super important to them that they not see each other before the ceremony. So for those couples, we just ask that they either build in a pretty big break between the ceremony & the cocktail hour…or be willing to miss ALL of cocktail hour. Realistically, it takes a minimum of an hour-and-a-half to two hours to shoot all of the couple portraits, bridal party & families, but we like to leave an even bigger cushion than that for when things run late.

Allowing 2.5 hours for pictures, leaves time for when things run late, gathering up people who are missing, finding the missing boutonniers, getting the bridal party & family pictures taken care of, and actually leaving time to play for the couple photos and to go to different locations. And we try to educate our brides on this right from the beginning, because it sounds like such a huge amount of time that nobody ever guesses that it will take that long. But like I always tell my brides, there’s real time and there’s wedding time. And the two shall never be the same.

Here are the two timelines we like to work with, depending on if there is a First Look or not. First up, Our Ideal First Look Timeline based on an 8 hr package.

A few quick things to note:

*We always get there an hour and a half before the bride has to leave. Whether it’s to a First Look or to leave for the ceremony we like to start the day an hour and a half before the bride has to go anywhere. This gives us the time to settle into the day slow, take our time shooting the details, and reach a good calm before everything starts picking up speed. In the past, when we only had a few minutes to shoot the details before our bride was getting dressed, we felt really rattled and we never quite lost that feeling the rest of the day. Getting there early helps us to start the day a step ahead of everything, and keep it that way moving forward.

*I like to leave 45 minutes for the dress to go on & Iconic bridal portrait Unless it’s just a slip dress with one zipper, the dress going on almost always takes longer than you’d think. So that this part isn’t rushed & stressful, and so that I have the time I want to do the “Iconic Bridal Portrait,” I always like to have the dress start going on about 45 minutes before we have to leave.

*We leave two and a half hours between the First Look & the Ceremony. Like I talked about above, we like to leave a big cushion of time here for pictures of the couple, the bridal party & immediate family….and also for things to run late as they almost inevitably will. Plus we’re only planning to shoot for about two of those hours, so that we can tuck the bride away once the guests start arriving.

*They can pick the number of hours, but we pick when they start. Justin & I offer hours of coverage starting with 8, and then the couple can choose to add on more hours if we look at the timeline together and think they’ll need them. The way that this works is we look at what time the ceremony is and whether or not there will be a First Look, and that will tell us what time we’ll start the day. Say the ceremony is at 4:30 and there will be a First Look. Two and a half hours before the ceremony is 2:00pm, so that means we’ll be start the day an hour and a half before that which is 12:30. 8 hours of coverage will get them through to 8:30, so if cake cutting isn’t happening until 10pm or there is a sparkler send off at 11pm….we’ll know they’ll want to add on more hours. But if neither of those is the case, then 8 hours should be fine.

And now, Our Ideal No First Look Timeline based on the couple leaving a big break between ceremony & cocktail hour. If no break is added, then everything will get crunched into 90 minutes for cocktail hour, including now shooting the details. This results in much FEWER photos of both the portraits and the details.

*Justin gets to the ceremony early. In the same way that we like to get to the getting ready early so that we know everything is set & can be calm, Justin likes to get to the ceremony early so he can get his one-light set up & dial in his settings. Staying a step ahead of the day is pretty key to being prepared to get the best shots.

*We only do immediate families during the First Look/After the Ceremony. This means parents, step-parents, siblings, their spouses & kids, grandparents. That’s it. Aunts, Uncles, cousins, the 78 people that make up the “Barker Family picture”…..all of those bigger groups will happen later during the reception when the DJ/Band can announce them and everyone is there. And we usually recommend limiting those big group requests to 5 or less.

*We shoot the escort cards first thing as soon as we can. I’m not sure why, but guests LOVE to grab those escort cards as soon as they see them, even before the ceremony if everything is happening at the same location. Maybe they’re afraid they don’t really have a seat or maybe they just don’t know what else to do to pass the time. But rest assured, if that card table is out, it will be destroyed within the first few minutes of guests arriving! :) So we always try to “cover the details that are most in danger first” and the escort cards are always at the top of that list!

*The best planners that we work with, always make sure that we get fed earlier rather than later during dinner. If we can get fed with the first wave of meals coming out, then that means we are done when the bride & groom are done. So we’re on hand for parent dances, toasts, etc. That means we never miss anything and the planner never has to hunt us down.

*We’ll stay long enough to make sure we have dancing covered. But after a while, all of the dancing starts to look the same. And let’s be honest, there comes a point in the night where the pictures just start to turn into blackmail material! :) So once we have the “feeling” of the party pretty well covered, and there are no other events happening, then we can get packed up and give our hugs & goodbyes to the bride & groom as well as the parents to thank them for having us there.

Well, that’s pretty much it! There’s a lot of info within the timelines themselves, so be sure to read those over for the full Pancake experience :)

And feel free to leave any questions in the comment box below & we’ll do our best to answer them!

***To see all of our past Pancake Sessions, click HERE.

***To find even more resources on how we Light, Pose or Market our business, be sure to check out the J&M Store!!

  1. Lindsay

    This is great and really helpful!! I’m curious though, what about Grand Exits?? I guess you only shoot them if they add on the extra hours for you to stay for the whole reception?

  2. MM

    @Lindsay: Yep, exactly! If there are events happening later in the night like grand exits, or we’ve had couples surprise their guests with things like Shake Shack mini hamburgers or fireworks or after parties….then those are the couples who tend to do 10 or 12 hours with us. And we do $500/hr to add on.

  3. Lindsay


  4. Vanessa Chupp

    Mary this is awesome! : ) I love getting things organized and having a good timeline set well in advance makes everybody feel better and the day run a lot smoother!

    We’ve had some couples opt for doing a Grand Exit during the reception but kind of doing a version earlier in the evening before all their guests start to leave. When we were just starting (and staying until 1am when the bride and groom left) they would wait to do that then, and only their parents and a few guest who had stayed to help tear down would be left to lift up their sparklers. It’s something we now mention to brides who want to do reception send offs so they are not disappointed when only 5 people remain to use the sparklers!

  5. Jessica Vidmar Photography

    Oh my gosh…this is amazing!! I’m happily surprised to see that my own ideal timelines are already quite similar. The less I have to rush or feel rush, the better! I have to say though, that limiting the family formals during the first part of the day to immediate and doing extended during reception with the help of the DJ is a splendid idea that I never really thought of before. They can easily eat up a lot of time and then I am rushing for bridal party pics. I think I am going to start incorporating this! Thanks so much!!

  6. sharon elizabeth

    Soooo important for wedding photogs to see this!!!! I think the timeline is one of the most crucial parts of the day — thanks for sharing Marrrrryyyyyy =)

  7. laura

    Thank you SO much for this! Helpful to have explanations next to times too, so everything is covered.

  8. Jennie

    Super helpful! Thanks for Sharing!

  9. Susanne Ashby

    Thanks for sharing this! I love the idea about doing extended family pics during the reception… totally gonna start doing that at this Saturday’s wedding! One question… How far in advance (before the wedding) do you have the couple nail down the timeline with you?

  10. Jessica

    Ahhhhh thank you, Mary!!! This is so incredibly insightful to the BIG DAY shoot out!!!

  11. Megan Brock

    This is fantastic! I love love LOVE working with photographers who help prepare the bride & groom when it comes to timing! If you ever need a blog post idea, I’d be eager to hear some of the other things planners can do to make your job easier. I know y’all work with the best!

  12. Meredith Bernard

    This is so very helpful! Thank you for being so free to offer what works for you. I also love the idea of extended family shots during the reception. Bingo! :)

  13. Taylor Cole Photography

    I agree with you about the vendor meals! I always feel funny eating first or with the first round of meals, but it is so much better to have us done eating as soon as possible so we can get back to capturing all special moments. Beautiful work!

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