May 12, 2016

Pancake Session: Shooting in a Crunched Timeline

Sometimes, things just happen at a wedding.

Despite the best intentions, the best planning, the most meticulous timeline, sometimes things just…get off track. And like I always tell my brides, there’s real time and then there’s wedding time. And the two shall never be the same.

I’ve seen it happen a hundred different ways. There was that makeup artist out of state who took TWO HOURS and fifteen minutes just to do the bride’s makeup. Then there was that time there was an unexpected parade (I mean, a PARADE!) on the way to the ceremony. Two hundred guests sitting in a cathedral, and the bridal party is stuck behind the Fighting Irish mid-state championship marching band. Doing their salute to swing music.

Yep, anything can happen on a wedding day.

And over and over in the past 10 years of shooting, we have seen beautiful two hour cushions of time that were slotted for portraits get cut down to about fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes. Where that’s all we had to do all of the couple portraits as well as the wedding party!! And it can happen to even the best timelines & best planning. Sometimes stuff just HAPPENS. And in those moments, we have two choices: We can either cry (tempting!) OR we can pull ourselves together and come up with a game plan. So let’s do that!


Ok, so what can you do? How can you even GO about shooting for fifteen minutes in a way that would give you good coverage, as well as a full range of shots for the bride & groom? I think the best way to break it down, is by putting it into 5 tips. Here we go!

1. Have a second shooter focusing on getting different angles of the same set ups, so you can get twice as many shots in the same amount of time.
I usually take the lead on all the posing with our couple, which means that most of my images are fairly straight on, focusing on full length and three-quarter shots. So to fill in the gaps, Justin knows to shoot off from the side getting “slices of life” images like the bouquet shots you see below. I cannot express enough how important it is to always have a second shooter, or at the very least an assistant, with you at all of your weddings. This is a prime example of why.

2. Now is not the time to ask them to get into some complicated pose.
When time is running short and nerves are running a little high, now is not the time to ask a lot of the couple with complicated posing. You’ll waste a lot of time trying to get them into the pose, and chances are those are the kinds of poses that won’t look great from other angles. Keep the posing simple, and above all just allow them to hold on to one another and soak each other in. That will make the whole experience a lot more fun for them, and remember that it doesn’t have to be complicated. There is beauty in simplicity.

3. Divide and conquer
Because you have that second shooter with you, it will also allow you to save time by dividing up for the individual portraits so those can be happening at the same time.

4. Have a few go-to poses that you have burned into your brain.
Now is also not the time to draw a complete blank on every pose you’ve ever learned, or to look like for even one second that you don’t have it together. What you need to be projecting right now is confidence. Or what I like to call “The Swan”…..calm and graceful on the surface even if you’re paddling like crazy under neath. So I have four or five go-to poses burned into my brain that we talk about in the Art of Authentic Posing Course that  a) I know I can always go to, b) flow very nicely from one into another so we can change poses quickly and c) incorporate movement so they don’t become static and d) are poses that can allow me to get very different results just by moving my feet, having Justin shoot from a different angle or with a different lens, and can either take on a quiet & romantic or fun & silly vibe depending on the couple.

5. Be specific.
Use their names. Let them know which one you’re talking to. Don’t say look at your shoulder, say “Sandra I’m going to have you look at your left shoulder.” “Sam I’m going to have you take one baby step right toward me.” The clearer you are in your direction, the less confusion there will be. And the less time they spend trying to figure out what you’re asking of them, the more time you’ll have to be able to shoot.

So in summary, we flowed through a few different poses, moved our feet and worked together to get different shots, were very specific in our direction, and above all else we kept it together and didn’t cry! :) And at the end of the day, we got some of our favorite couple portraits EVER. Ones that we’re really proud of.

Happy Pancake Day y’all!!

** If Posing (especially under stressful circumstances when you tend to go blank) is something you need more help with, definitely check out our Art of Authentic Posing Course, on special in the J&M Store today!!


  1. Dallas Curow

    Oh. my. goodness. My heart is having palpitations even reading this. HOW you guys pulled that off is just unbelievable! I’m truly blown away and beyond impressed. And yes, these photos are certainly incredibly beautiful. So happy and proud for you that you made it through such a crazy experience.

  2. Emily Hall

    Oooh thank you thank you thank you! This post could NOT come at a better time! These tips are WONDERFUL. With a day like that…I’d probably cry after it was all over, but that doesn’t count, right? :)

  3. Jae Studios

    Thanks so much for the post. I just recently started following your blog as my photography is evolving from a passionate hobby to a passionate (and hopefully successful) business. I wish I could have seen a post like this a few weeks ago as I had my first wedding and we had a very short time to do our portraits! I’m storing this away for future reference! Thanks again!

  4. Photostory Albums

    Great advice and so true! This happens more times than not no matter how much we try to avoid it. You rocked it!

  5. SarahV

    AMAZING! I would have been freaking out and you are so awesome for keeping it together and rocking it out like the superhero you are. Great job, guys!

  6. Abby Grace

    So flipping excited for next week!!! Crunched timelines literally make me sweat with anxiety.

  7. Steph Dee

    Oh, this is just fantastic timing! I was battling a crunched timeline and quickly fading light this past weekend during portraits and wish someone would have hit me over the head with this beforehand! I’m keeping this peptalk stored away for next time, though! Thanks!!

  8. Jennifer Bacchiocchi

    Next time I get stressed I’m going to channel the Mary Marantz swan.

  9. Yinks

    LOL @didn’t cry! You are the best and you speak the illest real stuff. It is so easy to want to throw up your arms and wail in these wedding day shooting situations. For me I freak out that I absolutely did not get the essential shots or I am msissing a crucial one that would be a ‘yikes’ moment long after the wedding is shot – this helps a lot in gaining a better perspective so thanks !

  10. Julie Villarreal

    Always LOVE your blog posts! Especially when you so graciously offer up your tips and advice! I sure wish your Walk Throughs weren’t so FAR!!! Maybe next year you can come to Southern California?? PAH LEEEZE??

  11. Rebekah Hoyt

    I can’t tell you how timely this is! I have a wedding coming up in two weeks and already the timeline is SUPER crunched, and that doesn’t even factor in the "unknown" – I’m already nervous, so these tips are SUPER helpful!

  12. Jil

    LOVED "the swan" comment … ill have to remember that one :o)

  13. ashley barnett

    Super helpful! We haven’t had any clients do first looks this year so it’s been a little more challenging because we haven’t had a lot of time with the couple and bridal party. Having a plan in place in case we only have 10 mins is definitely something I want to have in my back pocket just in case!

  14. Jessica Frey Photography

    Whew! Mary – high five! I love that you’re able to put into words what ‘really’ happens on a wedding day & how important it is to be a swan to your couple in the midst of chaos :) Great post and perfect tips!

  15. Bethany Ann

    I once had 11 minutes after the wedding for portraits. Ick!!! I did create some of my favorite portraits then, too! Funny how that works. ;)

  16. Jessica

    Very helpful! I’ve been part of weddings where we had very little time due to reasons beyond our control and the main photographer freaked out. Literally! I *might* have to send her a link to this. Fabulous as usual!

  17. Stephanie Stewart

    As soon as I read this blog post title, I knew I was in for something good! Definitely had to deal with some of these obstacles…in fact, last Saturday turned into a super-crunched timeline both right before and right after the ceremony, even though we had built in a few wedding day time cushions. Love your swan reference! SOOO wish I could come to next week’s WTAW!

  18. tina gregory photography

    Amen! How real, how true, this is real wedding time, and something only true professionals who are prepared can handle with grace and artistry. Could you imagine what uncle Bob or Aunt Sue would have done? Gasp! Well done, and thanks for sharing reality, a post all brides even those like this who planned and prepared and to no avail the timeline evaporated on. Thank goodness they had you. I will remember this the next time melts away…. 7 min is all you need! Relax, I’ve got this. beep beep beep, times up, got it!

  19. Lauren Wakefield

    My blood pressure went up just reading that! I’m so impressed with you guys! You rocked it.

  20. Nancy Mitchell

    Thanks for sharing! Love and Miss you guys!

  21. Christina Juleson

    Beautiful pictures! Lots of good info too!

  22. Laura Gordon

    Sooooooo helpful!!! Thank you for sharing your awesome tips!

  23. Julia

    You know, as I was looking at that last post I recognized Trinity Church right away (was once one of those Boston college graduates) and thought "How did they manage not to have people in the background?!" Well done you!

  24. ERic Bellamy

    Great photos, I really like your work. I would agree that having a second there is imperative. For us it goes beyond that. We consider our selves two primarys. We’ve been shooting together for so long that we know what the other shooter is going to do before he does it.

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