A Bride’s Guide to Wedding Day Photo Planning

“Here are the pictures that I want.”

I glanced at the list Susan just handed me, obviously copied out of a bridal magazine and followed blindly. I can already see a huge group of angry wedding guests. The posed formals list is huge! There are at least forty different groupings. Does Susan really want to subject her guests to the agony of waiting around while she gets a photo taken individually with each of her seven bridesmaids and six groomsmen? Does each cousin rate their own photo?

“This is a pretty big list…” I begin.

“Well, we’ve got thirty minutes between the ceremony and reception, I’m sure that’s enough time to get them all.”

Okay, I’m going to stop the story right here. This may sound like a crazy exaggeration, but unfortunately this is an all too common scene I’ve seen play out almost word for word.

There are two opposing forces at work on the wedding day when it comes to posed formal photos: time and quantity. Simply, you can have a lot of different photos, but that takes a lot of time that most guests (and couples, if we’re honest) would rather spend partying and having fun. Conversely, you can spend far less time posing and concentrate on a few of the most important photos.

Let’s face it, posed formals are a drag, but they’re still important. Experience has taught me that most couples are much happier when they get them over with and move on. So I always encourage concentrating on the most important photos and get things done quickly. This way you have more time for the fun photos, such as running around the park or city.

But, what qualifies as important, and how much time do you need for them? Here’s the list I suggest, which I’ve found works very well. If everyone is well organized and cooperative, I find we can finish this list in about 30-45 minutes, and that’s pretty quick.

Bride alone (usually 3 to 5 different poses)
• Groom alone (usually 2 to 4 different poses)
• Bride and Groom together (and if possible I’d like to sneak off with you both for a few minutes)
• Bride and the bridesmaids (one to 2 poses)
• Groom and the groomsmen (one to 2 poses)
• The entire wedding party (one to 2 poses)
• Bride and Groom with both sets of parents (usually one pose, if applicable)
• Bride and Groom with both sets of grandparents (usually one pose, if applicable)

Notice, I didn’t suggest the photos alone with each member of the wedding party, or each side of the family individually. Trust me, you’ll never look at them.

A couple more tips for keeping the formals moving:

• Don’t think up new poses on the spot. It’s tempting to say, “Oh, can I get a photo with my cousin Janice? Can I get one with my Uncle Joe?” I’ve seen this turn a thirty minute formals session into a two hour formals session. No, I’m not exaggerating! Each and every different pose should be thought of as an additional five minutes.

• When you’re getting your picture taken, you really need to pause the conversation. Every photo of someone mid-word needs to be thrown away and redone. That time adds up quickly.

• Avoid the Snapshooter’s paradise. Huh? We all know guests bring their own cameras. No problem. When they see a nice posed group ready for a photo it’s natural that they want to take a photo themselves. Now, understand I don’t “ban” cameras like many wedding pros, but I do ask that everyone keep their camera lowered until I have the official shot (to make sure everyone isn’t looking all over the place). Then guests can step up and get their photo. I don’t have a problem with this, but understand it doubles the time formals take. If time is important, encourage your guests to resist the urge to take their own posed formal photos and send them a copy of the official photo when you get your CD.

So, all told, how much time should you plan for photography on the wedding day? Most of the photos are candid and don’t require special time. For posed formals, if you stick with a simple list and everyone is organized, plan on a full hour. If we finish faster, just think of it as bonus time for the fun stuff.

When it comes to leaving time for fun photos, such as at a park, plan on a half hour plus drive time at the bare minimum. If you want more, and most couples do, it’s better to have an hour plus drive time.

Finally, that leaves us with reception planning. You don’t need to leave specific time for photos, but you should certainly consider photography when planning the events list. I always suggest getting the most important events you want photographed done within the first couple hours. That’s easy to do without rushing. Some couples like to stretch things out, which is fine, but most photographers will be charging overtime before the end of the night.

My suggestion for a relaxed but well timed reception:

• Arrival – Takes about ten minutes from the time the first of the party enters until the bride and groom are seated.
• Toast – Go ahead and jump right in. It’s a great way to set the mood for the evening. Roughly another ten minutes.
• Dinner – Usually takes about 45 minutes from start to finish. No body wants to have their photo taken while they’re eating, so there usually aren’t any photos taken at this time.
Cake cutting – Another ten minutes.
• First dance/wedding party dance/parent dances – Anywhere from ten minutes for the couple only to half hour if you have individual parent and wedding party dances.

Okay, we’re at about an hour and a half to an hour and fifty minutes at this point. The only things left are the bouquet/garter toss and general party-going and dancing.

General dancing – If you have a good DJ he’ll get your guests on the dance floor. Let everyone dance for about a half hour to get the spirits up, then head right into the…
• Bouquet/garter toss – Maybe fifteen minutes is about all that this should take. If you have reluctant guests, it could take a little longer.

Now, just under three hours into the reception, you can just relax and really enjoy the party without ceremonial obligations hanging over your head.

So, let’s sum it all up.

• Most of the photos shot on the wedding day are candid and don’t require any time set aside.

• If you keep the posed formals list short and sweet, you can get through them faster and everyone has more fun. Plan on an hour to be safe.

• Fun photos, around the park for instance, plan on another hour to be safe.

• Don’t forget travel time! If you have the ceremony and reception in St. Charles and want photos in front of the Arch, you need to figure 45 minutes each way just driving.

• Try to plan the important reception events for the first couple hours rather than stretching it all out and getting hit with potential overtime for every vendor involved.

• Have fun! The work is in the planning. Once the big day comes, don’t stress out, just follow your schedule and relax.

• Don’t sweat it! I’ve photographed a lot of weddings, and I have yet to see one be completely on schedule. If you plan some “flex” time into the schedule you won’t be stressing out when that traffic jam throws a wrench in the works.


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