How to Keep a Wedding Day on Schedule

A bride carries her wedding dress at Lyndhurst Castle in Tarrytown, New York.

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.

Clients 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. On a wedding day, it’s very common to hear clients ask, “What time is it?” Even clients who are used to very scheduled work days 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, they 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 each family. While the couple and the 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.

The portraits can be divided into two parts:

  1. Couple portraits — 15 minutes to 30 minutes (or more)  — varies a lot depending on the couple, the location, and how much you want to walk around.
  2. Couple + family & wedding party portraits — 25 minutes to 60 minutes (varies a lot, depending on number of portraits, size of wedding party, size of families, etc.). For these, a good rule of thumb is 3 minutes per portrait. A typical list might look like this:
    1. couple + bride’s parents
    2. couple + bride’s family, including any grandparents & in-laws
    3. couple + all parents
    4. couple + groom’s parents
    5. couple + groom’s family, including any grandparents & in-laws
    6. bride + bridesmaids
    7. couple + wedding party (bridesmaids & groomsmen)
    8. groom + groomsmen

If you do the eight listed above, that would be (8 portraits @ 3 minutes each =) 24 minutes for the family & wedding party portion, plus the time for the couple portraits.

Each wedding is different, and each family is different.  Some have big families and big wedding parties, while some have small families and no wedding party. It’s a good idea to make a list like the above, and estimate 3 minutes per portrait on the list. If you plan to do more than the eight key portraits above, I recommend that you assign one or two people to help gather people for the portraits. Give them your portrait list so they know who to gather.

When deciding whether a portrait should be on your list, think about whether it will have a natural destination somewhere. Will it be framed and displayed by itself? Will it be in your wedding album? Would anyone miss it if it weren’t made? I don’t recommend making a list that includes many combinations of the same people. These get repetitive for everyone involved, especially the wedding couple!  If time is short, it’s best to go with fewer portraits, while including more people in each. For example, while it may be nice to have a portrait of the bride separately with each parent and the groom separately with each parent, the essential portrait (likely to get framed or be in the album) is the couple with each set of parents, or the couple with all parents.

Of course, be sure to ask for any portraits that are important for you. For example, a portrait of just your parents may be lovely to have, even if it’s not going to be in the album. They may even expect such a portrait. If so, be sure to put it on your list.

11.  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

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