How to Keep a Wedding Day on Schedule

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Why keep a wedding day on schedule? To enjoy the day to the fullest, and to get the best photos. Staying on schedule doesn’t sound very exciting by itself. But avoiding the extra stress of running late does help you relax and enjoy each moment, and that will show in the photos.

While some wedding days go exactly as planned, most go at least a little off schedule. Here are some tips on how to keep your wedding on or close to schedule.

1. Get hair and makeup done as early as practical, and get dressed a little earlier than you need to. The details of hair and makeup can be great for photos, especially if the room is full of conversation and anticipation and laughter. But when hair and makeup take too long, there may be little time left to actually get dressed.

Brides and bridesmaids often discover that dressing takes longer than they expected. Some wedding dresses are complicated. Questions arise about how to tie sashes on the bridesmaids dresses. The groom and groomsmen may have similar problems. They misplace the studs for their tuxedos, or no one knows how to affix the boutonnieres. Allow for extra time to deal with these common issues.

2. Appoint a “timekeeper” to keep things on schedule. I hear almost every bride ask, “What time is it?” Even clients who have very scheduled lives at work can lose track of time on their wedding day. Sometimes, in all of the excitement, no one is keeping an eye on the time. A belated check on the time can lead to a sudden change in tempo, from very relaxed to very rushed to get to the ceremony on time, or at least not very, very late.

Have someone be in charge of knowing the schedule and prompting people to get moving when they need to. If there’s a wedding planner, he or she will likely be your constant timekeeper. But when there is no wedding planner, someone still needs to perform this function, or events can slide further and further behind schedule.

3. If you’re planning a receiving line, put it on your schedule. A receiving line can be a great way to greet all of the guests who attended the ceremony. Emotions may be highest just after the ceremony, and it often shows in the photos. But depending on the number of guests, a receiving line can easily add 20 or 30 minutes to your schedule. Occasionally the receiving line takes place exactly when the family portraits are scheduled. If you’re not having a receiving line, plan to disappear quickly before a receiving line form spontaneously.

4. Plan an appropriate time for travel, including traffic. If your wedding involves travel between two or more locations, traffic can easily put you off schedule. A limo driver’s wrong turn can lead to an unexpected delay. A ceremony at 3:00 p.m. on a Friday may be ending just as the Friday rush hour is starting. Build some extra time into your schedule based on the distances and traffic patterns likely to be encountered. And if your wedding transportation is a classic from early in the last century, its reliability may not match its beauty!

5. Send directions and parking info. Send your guests (and your photographer) maps and directions, or any special instructions about parking. For example, it may be good to know that the ceremony location has its own private parking lot accessible from a back street, or that Google Maps will give incorrect directions.

6. Check on that photo location. To avoid potential delays, I usually don’t recommend going to a separate location for portraits. However, if you are planning to make a stop for portraits, be sure that photography is permitted at the location and that your limousine can get there. Stretch limos can have a difficult time negotiating narrow city streets and tight turns. Note that some parks require a permit for photography. Also, make sure that no other events are taking place at your photo stop at the same time. A crowd of people or construction equipment at your chosen photo location can lead to a sudden scramble to find an alternate spot.

7. Leave time to bustle the dress. Some wedding dresses don’t need any bustling, while others take surprisingly long. It may take two or three people to find the little loops and snaps and figure out where they go. “It looked so easy at the fitting!” If your dress will take more than a minute to bustle, leave time for bustling on your schedule. (The dress is usually bustled after the ceremony and portraits but before the first dance.) Related to that, putting on the veil sometimes takes longer than expected.

8.  Appoint one or two people to gather others for posed photos.  I find that posed photos often go fastest when some efficient person has been assigned to gather people for posed photos.  Give that person your portrait list. Consider having two such people — one from the bride’s family and one from the groom’s family. While the bride and groom and  photographer are busy making one photo, these helpers can be gathering the next group on the portrait list.

9. Tell family members ahead of time when and where the portraits will take place. One of the common reasons for portrait sessions taking longer than expected is that key people are missing, and then other key people are sent to find them.

10. Plan an appropriate time for portraits.  How much time is needed for portraits depends on how many portraits are needed. This varies greatly from one wedding to another. Some couples and families expect a lot of portraits, some just a few. Some want big family photos, other don’t.

As a general rule of thumb, portraits take about 3 minutes per group. So, for example, five groups of people require about 15 minutes. Ten groups require about 30 minutes. These five groups are photographed at nearly all weddings: (1) couple with bride’s family, (2) couple with both sets of parents, (3) couple with groom’s family, (4) couple with wedding party, and (5) couple alone. The actual photography may take less than a minute per group, but gathering and arranging people easily adds a few minutes. Very large groups take longer.

Some groups are typically photographed in several arrangements. For example, the wedding party may be photographed as one group and then separately as several sub-groups, such as bride with bridesmaids, groom with groomsmen, etc. In that case, plan an extra 3 minutes for each such sub-group.

11.  Consider scheduling extra time for the couple photos, especially if your location offers a great landscape or interesting buildings.  I recommend planning some extra time for portraits of the bride and groom — perhaps 15 to 30 minutes — especially if the location offers an opportunity for a nice walk. Photos of the bride and groom walking together can be very beautiful, but may get skipped in the rush of events if a little time is not dedicated to it.

12.  Finally, pad your schedule with a little extra time in case things don’t go as planned.  Despite the best intentions, the real day often overtakes the written schedule.  A series of small delays can push events further back, and snowball into a 45- or 60-minute delay.  As a result, the carefully scheduled portrait time may get shortened.  It’s very common for things to take longer than expected, so it’s a good idea good to have a little extra time in your schedule.

One important benefit of being on schedule is that the food will taste better!  Venue managers are intent on staying on schedule, and may ask the photographer to finish the portraits “in five minutes” even before the portraits have begun.  They may be motivated to have the couple and their parents see the great food they’ve set up for the cocktail hour (before it gets eaten!), or they may simply need to get the dinner courses served at specific times.  Food that’s been prepared to perfection may appear overcooked and dull if it has to be served later than planned.

I hope you found these insights and suggestions helpful. Keeping on schedule can help you have a superb day, while reducing potential stresses and offering the benefits of more relaxed, natural photographs.

Article and photo © Zlatko Batistich