Happy Tuesday friends! Hope you're staying toasted, I mean toasty warm after the crazy whirlwind of a weekend we Coloradans had. I certainly froze my arse off this past weekend (I'll detail that next Monday!) but with all the post processing I have left to do, I won't be leaving the warmth of my office anytime soon.
Today we will be breaking down the illustrious Wedding Day Timeline. Now to many of you, this might seem obvious and not really note worthy, but there is so much you have to take into account for your big day; much more than what order you want things to happen. So I'll be walking you through how to prepare your timeline in a way that not only puts your mind at ease, but helps your vendors prepare to serve you best! The nice part is, I have experienced from both sides of the coin as Coordinator and as Photographer; let me tell you that timelines for these two vendors to do their work are vastly different. Ideally your Venue Coordinator should help you put together a timeline, but sadly they rarely get the information and/or opinion of the other involved vendors before they do (and it gets real messy.) Let's begin with what scheduling looks for each vendor to help give you a better insight on how your day should look. Grab some hot cocoa or maybe a hot toddy and let's dive in:
It's no secret that your Coordinator should know your event inside out. From who your vendors are, what events throughout the day should happen, and whether you're keeping your top tier of your cake for your anniversary. This is even more true if your Coordinator was your Wedding Planner throughout the planning process. But this doesn't mean there is a hard fast timeline already put together specifically for your day. It also depends on the intensity of your Coordinator's duties the day-of; some things they will ask you to determine this:
Are there venue staff? Will they be setting up tables, chairs, linens, etc. If not, will your Caterer be responsible for any of these items? If the answer is still no, then the responsibility will fall to your Coordinator. Why is this important to clarify when hiring your Coordinator? Because this will greatly impact how much time they'll need to set up your venue, décor, etc. AND it will determine whether they'll need an assistant or not, which could impact your budget tremendously. Better to know up front than be surprised later with a huge invoice, OR find out your Coordinator can't handle it all by themselves and they end up falling way behind come the big day.
How much décor/item setup will there be? This is important to clarify as well. Even if your Coordinator is not responsible for the setup of big items like tables, chairs, etc. they still have to wait until that setup is finished to begin their own duties of decorating, helping other vendors find their spots, etc. A good rule of thumb is that your Coordinator should be the first vendor onsite when your rental time begins regardless of their duties, but if you have very minimal décor/setup, then two hours before your ceremony start time is the sweet spot. This will likely be at the discretion of your Coordinator; they'll tell you if they need more or less time to do what they need to do to make your day run smooth (or they should anyways.)
How early can the Coordinator be at the venue for setup/ when does the rental time start? Will tables, chairs, etc. be setup at the rental time or will setup begin at the rental start time? This is extremely important to clarify with your venue and your Coordinator. Some venues (we won't name names) will actually charge couples an extra hourly fee if any of their vendors show up before the rental start time. We definitely don't want that to happen by accident, so it's important to clarify those rules and make sure everyone sticks to the schedule. This is also important in determining how much time your Coordinator will have to do their requested duties; if the venue is already setup and ready for décor, it should be pretty smooth getting it ready. If it's not, this will delay your Coordinator in decorating and setting up the little details. Better safe than sorry all around. One thing to note: Many venues actually have a policy prohibiting your vendors from assisting with tables, chairs, or other venue-owned items. It's considered a liability should a vendor get hurt or break something, so this is also something you'll want to clarify with your venue and let your vendors know about. (I've certainly gotten yelled at by venue staff for trying to help before, and it's not fun!)
There is a lot to it isn't there? And that's just for the Coordinator to do their job! We still have to take into account the other 5 or so vendors coming too! But don't worry, it'll all fall into place.
What many of my couples (and their Coordinators) don't understand, is that a Photographer/Videographer's timeline is almost entirely different from the timeline the other vendors see. We have to plan a shot list timeline that coincides with both the normal Wedding Day timeline and what photos we need. A Shot List timeline is how we plan what photos we're going to take, when, and where without interfering with the day's events. This might seem pretty self explanatory, but depending on how long you hire your Photog/Videog, will affect if they have all day to get the shots you want, or only have a couple of hours to squeeze it all in. Regardless of who you hire, their number one goal should be to reduce the amount of time you're away from your guests by creating a timeline that flows well with the day's events; while of course you want to get the best photos and video for your money, we understand that you're not having a wedding to spend time with us. Here are some things we'll be asking you, not only to create a timeline later down the road but to determine how long you'll need our services for:
Do you want shots of the bridal party getting ready? This is huge when it comes to planning our contracted time together; if you only hire your Photog/Vidog for say four hours, this will likely get you through your ceremony and that's it if they have to begin three hours beforehand. My personal recommendation (and I know other photographers will scold me for this one) is to have your Photog/Videog start when you are 90% ready, putting dresses/tuxes on, final touches of jewelry or cuff links and call it good, because to be honest, those are really the only ones you'll look back on and want to share, not ones of you in your skivvies with bed head (and mostly because there are only so many photos I can take of ladies curling their hair for two hours.) That way we are utilizing our time together effectively and not wasting our time or your money.
Are you having a First Look with your Fiancé or family member before the ceremony? Again also very important for scheduling purposes, for several reasons:
This will determine when bridal party needs to be ready by, thus impacting everything we mentioned above.
We don't want early-bird guests seeing either of you before it's time. We'll want to schedule your First Look(s) well before your ceremony start time.
This is our prime opportunity to grab some genuine Bridal Portraits before the ceremony. All the nerves, excitement, tears show the most during and directly following a First Look, so why would we try to recreate that after your ceremony?
This gives us more time for Bridal Portraits in general, rather than trying to squeeze both family portraits and Bridal portraits into your cocktail hour (because we all know how hard it is to round up those families!) or having to drag you away later for more portraits.
This will also allow us to grab some portraits with your Bridal Party beforehand as well, freeing up even more time after your ceremony.
I recommend scheduling First Look(s) at least an hour and half before your scheduled ceremony start time. This gives us plenty of time to grab what we need without rushing or forcing anything while still keeping you out of sight of your eager guests. If we end up finishing early, then you'll get a few moments to yourselves before all the hustle and bustle (trust me, you'll thank me.)
Will you be having events such as toasts, bouquet/garter toss, cake cutting, first/special dances, or a grand exit? If yes to any of the above, this will also determine the amount of contracted time to hire your Photog/Videog to make sure they will be there when you want these events to happen. As a personal preference and having seen great success with real couples, I find it beneficial to have as many events happen at the beginning of the reception as possible not only for the sake of time but also because everyone is already seated. After that it's up to you whether you want your Grand Exit captured or not. Here's an example:
The couple enters the reception and immediately enters the dance floor for first dances. From there: dinner, toasts, then jump straight into cake cutting, bouquet/garter toss, etc. Once all those events are done, you'll have the rest of the day to dance, mingle and enjoy your time with your guests rather than having to worry when your next event is coming or if you have enough time. It also prevents you from having to round up your guests or make them sit multiple times throughout the night. A rough timeline to make this happen would be about two hours from the Grand Entrance ideally.
Again, a lot right? I always send my couples my shot list fill-in form, so they can select what photos they absolutely have to have and add anything not listed so I'm prepared well before the day. Once we both have an idea of the expectations, it's best to create a day-of timeline with your Coordinator so we are both on the same page. If you don't have a Coordinator, the next person to plan this out with will be your DJ/MC as they will also need to know how the day plans out. We'll talk about them next!
DJ or MC (Music Coordinator)
While we highly recommend hiring a Day-Of Coordinator to help with setup and keeping everyone on track, if you choose not to have a Coordinator, your DJ/MC will be responsible for keeping things on schedule throughout your day. Again, they will be very similar in the type of timeline they put together, only having the basic outline of major events but won't know anything about your photography schedule or any extra details. Be sure when hiring your DJ/MC that they are comfortable with being the show runner and keeping everyone on time if you don't plan to hire a Coordinator. It is also a great idea to put them in contact with your Photo/Videog team so that they both have a point of contact for during the day. Also make sure they know it's a team effort. Nothing bothers me more than a DJ who takes over and creates his own timeline without checking in with the Coordinator and/or the Photography team. I've missed out on shots before because they either didn't stick to the timeline or didn't make sure we were there ready to go before they counted down for the bouquet toss or what have you. It really all comes down to communication.
Caterers usually only need to know when the major parts of your event are happening: when do appetizers/drinks need to be out, when does the meal begin, when is the cake cutting. Your caterer should know precisely how long they need to setup based on the services requested (and those of the Coordinator) and really shouldn't need more than an hour ahead of your ceremony start time (don't want your food getting cold!) They will rely heavily on the venue and your Coordinator to get the basic timeline and from there will work with you on how long you'll need to hire staffing for.
Other Vendors such as Hair/MUA, Bakery, Florists, etc. will all conform to whatever final timeline you, your Coordinator/Venue/DJ come up with. Not that their jobs are any less important, it's just that they can much easily plan their responsibilities based on a solid timeline. Just be sure to clarify and over-state the important deadlines are so everyone is on schedule (particularly HMUA.)
Ok, Bex, so how should I plan my day then? I always start by working backwards/forwards from your chosen ceremony start time because theoretically this has already been put on your invitations and cannot change.
I begin with working backwards to figure out when vendors need to arrive based on the couples' chosen events (first look, etc.) This will help determine all vendor start/end times and deadlines for them to be setup/finished by. Once this is established, we can then look at the couples' contract rental times; for example if they hire a Photographer for 6 hours, their ceremony starts at 3pm and they want a first look, that vendor needs to be there no later than 1:30pm to coordinate the first look and finish all portraits before guests start arriving. The Photographer would then have an end time of 7:30pm, meaning all major events the couple wants captured would need to happen before the Photographer leaves.
Once I have a timeline leading up to the ceremony, I begin working forwards juggling how much time each vendor has left before they leave. This is really more geared towards Photogs/Videogs, DJs and/or Coordinators, as Caterers don't play a role in the bouquet/garter toss, etc. Using the example above, if this couple's reception starts at ~4:30pm, I know already that we only have three hours to eat, give toasts and go through first dances before the Photographer leaves. This might be plenty to spread it out, or it might not depending on the venue rental time.
Here is an example of my most popular timeline with a First Look for my most popular 6-hour Photography package and standard 5 hour event venue rental time:
1:00pm Getting Ready - Photographer arrives
1:30pm First Look
1:45pm Bridal Portraits
2:15pm Bridal Party Portraits
2:45pm Bridal Party hides
3:30pm Cocktail hour - Family Portraits
4:30pm Grand Entrance
4:35pm First Dances
6:15pm Cake Cutting
6:20pm Bouquet/Garter Toss
6:30pm Dance Floor Opens
7:00pm Dancing - Photographer Leaves
8:00pm Grand Exit/Tear Down
Of course this can be modified, not everyone participates in all of these events, and some do even more like a Money dance or shoe game. The trick is to schedule these events in a way that keeps the fun but also enhances time spent with your guests. While it might be nice to spread them out throughout the night, we've witnessed time and time again that your guests don't want to have to sit or gather over and over (and believe me it's like herding cats!) so it's recommended to do them in large chunks whenever possible.
In the end you Wedding Day Timeline should be the way YOU want it to be. Work with your vendors to create a day that puts your mind at ease and let's your vendors best serve you. Don't be afraid to ask questions; it's your day and we're all here to help you!
If you have questions about creating a timeline, or anything else for that matter, be sure to reach out! We'd love to help! We offer unique Planning, Day-Of Coordination and Photography packages to make sure your day is all you dreamed it would be.
If there is something you'd like to know more about on our next Tip-sy Tuesday blog, contact us! We want to answer real questions from real couples!
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or message us on Facebook or Instagram!
As always, thank you so much for reading! I hope this helps put your mind at ease for not only planning the big day but scheduling it as well! Stay safe and warm and I'll chat with you all next time!