How To Arrange Your Wedding Day Schedule (according to an NYC Photographer): Part One

After selecting your date, venue, photographer and future spouse, arranging your schedule is often the most challenging part of the day. But where do you start? Below, you’ll find some suggestions based on our experience as an NYC wedding photographer.

A typical wedding schedule includes the following items:

  • Getting Ready
  • First Look and/or Portraits
  • Ceremony
  • Cocktail Hour
  • Reception

and it’s up to you (and your planner if you’re working with one) to determine how to subdivide the day. Based on what we’ve observed after shooting hundreds of weddings, here are some thoughts to keep in mind.

Getting Ready

This portion of your day will typically involve your hair stylist and makeup team at your hotel room, apartment, or venue depending on where you decide is the best fit. Before booking your hair and makeup artists (MUAs), make sure you’ve done a trial with them to see if they area a good fit for the kind of look you’re going for. Like photographers, hair and makeup artists often have their own style. If you’re happy with your trial, make sure to discuss the estimated amount of time to complete all members in your bridal party as well as any other family members (like moms). While a lot of MUAs are very professional and sensitive to the time constraints of the day, life sometimes gets in the way with delays. We’ve seen late family member arrivals, MUA’s getting lost on the way to the getting ready location and slow workflow result in delays which have almost resulted in a wedding being performed without an officiant. Just to be on the safe side, we recommend that whatever time estimate hair and makeup provide you, have them start around 45 minutes earlier than what they originally quote you. This extra buffer will help you manage any mishaps like late bridesmaids or uncooperative hair without having to worry about messing up the rest of your day. Make sure whomever you book brings a team with enough hair and makeup artists in order to complete the job on time. A good rule of thumb is about one MUA/stylist for every 5-6 people. Once you start approaching the 7-10 people per makeup artist/hair stylist ratio, you’re likely in for some major delays.

It’s during this time that your photographer and videographer will also likely be arriving. Have your maid/matron of honor or a family member help streamline this process by having them set aside all of the important details you would like captured, including your shoes, jewelry and dress. Once the photo/video team has been shown these items, they will be able to handle the rest. Make sure your photo/video team knows if you have a card from your future spouse that you’d like to read and have documented and/or a gift. Your photographer can suggest to you the best time to incorporate this into your getting ready routine. During this time, the second photographer/video team will be with your future spouse getting shots of their half of the bridal party and capturing a lot of the same kinds of photos with them.

After hair and makeup is complete, you’ll soon be getting into your dress. Decide if you’d like a few photos with you bridal party before you begin this process. At this point, your photographer may leave the room to give you some privacy and ask to be notified once you’re comfortable being photographed again. If you would instead like your photographer to be present for the entire portion of this process, just let him or her know. After you’re in your dress, your photographer will take pictures of the finishing touches, including any buttoning/zipping in the back as well as capture you putting on your shoes and any jewelry. From there, it’s on to the First Look and/or Portrait Session.

But how do you plan on getting there? Transportation is one of the most undervalued yet important parts of your wedding; after hair and makeup, it has the single largest impact on whether your timeline needs to be adjusted and something needs to be eliminated. Are you confident your driver knows where to go? On multiple occasions we’ve seen drivers get lost and/or go to the wrong hotel. Are you having the same driver shuttle you and the bridesmaids then return for the groom? We’ve seen traffic issues delay this process by over an hour. Make sure to discuss these issues with your transportation provider and run a few test routes via Google maps or a similar app to ensure you’ve created a buffer with enough time to factor in these delays. The last thing you want is to miss out on portraits of you and your future spouse just because your driver gets lost or stuck in traffic. This is especially relevant if where you’re going for First Look or Portraits is longer than 15 minutes away from where you’re getting ready. Once you’ve arrived at your next location, it’s time for the First Look.

First Look

Sometimes couples go back and forth on whether to do a first look or not. What we always advise is that, unless you have very strong feelings about not doing a First Look, you should definitely do one. There are three main reasons for this:

  1. It allows time for the anxiety of your wedding day to gradually dissipate. Seeing your partner for the first time a few hours before the ceremony and being able to digest the day in smaller pieces seems to have a calming effect on most couples.
  2. A first look maximizes the time you have to spend on pictures. By including one in your day, your photographer has more opportunities for portraits of the two of you and more opportunities to get a wide variety of photos with your bridal party and your family members, leaving fewer pictures for after the reception and dramatically increasing your chances of attending your cocktail hour.
  3. Brides in particular often have very idealized views of the kinds of reactions that will be elicited from their future husbands if they wait to see each other for the first time when walking down the aisle (and usually it involves lots of tears). More often than not, as an outside observer, we find that the reactions from grooms are typically less dramatic than what brides imagine. In this case, the increased anxiety and decreased time for pictures doesn’t always seem to be worth the trade off required.

While every couple is different, we whole-heartedly endorse a first look in nearly every case. Once ready, your photographer and videographer will help get everyone into position and let you know what to do next. Think about who you would like to be around for the big reveal. Some couples prefer privacy while others want all family and bridal party there to watch. Once you’ve committed to your audience, enjoy the moment of seeing your spouse for the first time. Soak it in — the rest of the day is going to be hectic and before you know it, it’s going to be all over.

Portraits

Once you’ve committed to whether or not you’d like to do a First Look, you’ll have to commit to when you’d like to do family portraits. We always recommend you do as many portraits as possible before the Ceremony. As photographers during this process, we will be evaluating the best options given the current lighting conditions and deciding if we need to use additional lighting as well as what the optimal background for your portraits might be. We are always looking for ways to maximize our limited time for portraits to provide you with the greatest value we can. The challenge is that a lot of factors outside of our control can impact this.

The portrait session can be a relatively quick and painless process or it can be long and drawn out. Sometimes it happens before the ceremony, sometimes after, but there are always groups of photos that you or important family members will want captured. We always request in the nicest (but strongest) possible terms a list of all groupings you would like during this portion of your day. And here’s why: since we don’t know your entire family history or any bad blood between family members, if we ask you in the moment who you’d like photographs of, you’re bound to forget at least one group causing disappointment once you receive your finished photos. We’d like to avoid that. Another problem with not providing this list ahead of time is that it takes as much as two to three times longer to gather all of the groups you’d like photographed if we can’t call out specific names from a piece of paper in front of us. Providing this list ahead of time makes this process as smooth as possible and allows us to spend the maximal amount of time on portraits of just the two of you. It also lets us recoup any lost time from earlier in the day. While it may take a little more time on the planning side, the payoff is significant from the time management side on the day of your wedding. Next, it’s off to preparing for your Ceremony.

Check out our next post to read more recommendations on how to plan your Ceremony, Cocktail Hour, and Reception schedule. And, as we mentioned before, if you haven’t yet selected a photographer, we’d love to be considered for your big day. Feel free to visit our portfolio at divzimedia.com to see if we would be a good fit to photography your wedding.