THOUGHTS ON THE WEDDING DAY TIMELINE + CLIENT EXPECTATIONS

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I’ll never forget the day a little over two years ago when I received an email from a bride stating that she felt like she wanted to see more images of the two of them together (bride and groom) and that although they enjoyed the ones we did take, still felt that some shots (mainly of her and her husband together) were few and far between. Every photographer at some point in their career has been in this situation at one point or another and trust me when I say it’s the worst gut wrenching feeling. Whats even more nauseating, is trying to navigate the seemingly impossible conversation back to your client as to the “why” and not come across sounding like your being defensive or trying to blame anyone.

So, here is a little spoiler.. in this case my client was right. The fact was, they received very little imagery of just the two of them together from the wedding day. Period.

Now aside from the fact that I am a professional, and run a very reputable business I felt even more sad having to admit this fact as I have also been in the position of being married (Oct, 16th 2010), and after we received our wedding photos was very disappointed with one specific part of the day that was not captured at all. (but this was for a very different reason).  So, I can say whole heartily “I have been there, and I know how she felt”. I truly do, without any doubt about it. Ironically, my own dissatisfaction (photographically speaking) from the one part of my wedding day has become a driving force for me to always ensure clients don’t experience the same thing which will always remain a positive thing for me, and to a point

I actually get to “re-live” my own wedding day through my clients and that is a beautiful thing.

The obvious question is now, why? Why did she feel this way, and why were her expectations let down? What happened? After all she hired “Travis Harris” who among many South Florida Wedding Photographers has a very impressive portfolio of imagery, and working experience. Well, after reviewing the wedding details, and meta data (time and date stamps on the images) it started to paint the logistical reality of what actually unfolded on the wedding day. The camera, while a very artistic tool in the creative hands is also documenting the day in a way that tells the story —exactly— as it happened without question, so reflecting back on the day and getting answers is really in fact very easy to do.

This wedding was a “traditional” wedding in the sense that the bride and groom did not see each other before the ceremony. Seeing each other before the ceremony is also known in the industry as a “First Look”. They wanted to have the moment that they first saw each other on the wedding day to unfold at the alter in the church, which admittedly is a beautiful, powerful and very traditional plan without a doubt. This means that logistically, after the ceremony has concluded will be the *only* time to capture all of the formal shots of family, bridal party together and then of course shots of the bride and groom together. During this same time all of the guests will be making their way back to the reception to enjoy the cocktail hour (which in this case also required some driving) so the time starts ticking very quickly for us as the photographers to work incredibly fast and efficient as you can appreciate.

Now to be clear I am not saying that having a “traditional” wedding format like this is a bad idea or in anyway am I trying to say that you can’t get great shots from myself or any other photographer for that matter in this naturally compressed amount of time. It’s simply the nature of the dynamics of shootings weddings and while I do think there are logistical advantages to having a “First Look” as it relates to photography, it’s not realistic to advocate that this is the only way to get the best shots because that is simply not true and some of my very best weddings have been a traditional format including my own. What I will say, and feel very strongly about is that

both clients and photographers need to truly work together very closely and educate each other on what the expectations are going to be

when thinking about the end results when everything is all said and done.

As an example, if your looking at a wedding blog post from a photographer where your seeing many different locations, and creative shots of the bride and groom together with some real verity, then there is a very good chance that all of this happened before the ceremony ever took place, or it may have even been done on a completely different day! Yes, that can happen…  In fact, my clients Danielle & Jareau are a perfect example of this, and you can see their blog post here.   As a result of knowing that time will be tight on the wedding day and wanting to keep things very traditional the next best option would be to do a separate stylized shoot on a different day after the wedding all dressed back in the wedding attire. This of course will offer the best of both worlds but comes at the cost of another session, which in all honesty maybe well worth doing if you want to get the most from a photography and creative stand point. It’s also a great way to diversify the images by having the ability to goto different locations for shots that would otherwise be impossible on the wedding day itself.

Okay, so back to my poor client who was left feeling like there should have been more.. once we had finished all the family shots that they wanted, and did the bridal party shots of everyone together, we had exactly four minutes to capture some shots of the bride and groom creatively. Four minutes. It’s not impossible, and obviously we took full advantage of each second that we had to get what we could.. but, this is never going to render the same results vs. allocating more time one way or another. Either having a “First Look”, or allocating a longer cocktail hour, or even delaying it to start if thats possible (As crazy as you may think this is, we had three hours at my own wedding from the end of the ceremony, until the reception started to take all the creative shots.), or perhaps an “after session” is a good idea, and that way you don’t have to worry or feel rushed on the wedding day at all. Sometimes we can try and “steal” the bride and groom away from the reception if time was tight and try and do some creative shots. This then becomes largely dependent on the venue, as well as the dynamic at the reception and is not always a viable option for many reasons. It just all comes down to expectations, and understanding that

when your “window shopping” photographers websites and blogs in many cases things can–and–will take a lot longer then you may think

, and I am not just talking about images of the bride and groom together. I am talking about the —entire day—.

So, after this experience I started to get even more involved then I already was with the planning side of the wedding day and I found a much better framework for my business that not only ensured my clients were well taken care of, but it also ensured I would not have to be in a position like that again.. and if I did find myself in a position like this again, I would not be left feeling like there was something more I could have done. I wanted a way to educate and communicate the photography logistics so that everyone was on the same page at every wedding. And not just my clients, but all the other vendors too.

Granted, some of the weddings I shoot are accompanied by a wedding planner or a “day of coordinator” and this is the best option by far. Having an experienced third party on your behalf networking with all of the vendors, and ensuring that each part of your day unfolds as smoothly as possible is a no brainer, and should be a strong consideration.

While I love, love, love working with planners as it makes my job a lot easier I still needed a way or “frame work” that ensured that every wedding I shot would have the same level of planning and discipline regardless if the client had a professional planner or not as it related to photography, and more specifically as it related to my style of photography. When everything is all said and done it is truly my name, my brand and my business that is effected and on the line second to my clients own satisfaction, which of course is the main goal.

About a month before any wedding as apart of my brand, and service to my clients I contact them and get all of the wedding details, and then I very simply formulate a “photography timeline” that walks through every part of the day. Each part of this is well outlined with the time, what to expect, how to prepare, and who needs to be ready. This is and has been a milestone in my business because it takes the basic expectation of a “wedding photographer” to the next level, and I become the trusted advisor to my clients and other vendors.

Before I started to manage the wedding day (in terms of photography) for both myself, and my clients I would be very much in the mindset that I would show up on the wedding day on time, and I would seek from the client or wedding planner (if they had one) what the day looked like, and would be then told what the timeline was going to be, and like it or not just had to run with it and do the best we can. After all I am a photographer not a wedding planner.. right?

With this mindset, it puts me on a path for failure before I even take out my camera.

In the past when I would communicate how much time I think they will need based on their day, isn’t it the clients responsibility to plan their day either themselves or by way of a wedding planner to ensure enough time, and that things happen as planned? Well, maybe. I will say that most photographers and/or videographers will look to the client for final plans for the big day. However regardless of what I thought on the matter, or what the “right” answer is all I know is that it does not matter. I was not about to draw a line in the sand and argue any of this. I just wanted to find a fix. It was an opportunity for me as a professional and as a trusted advisor who has shot over 200 weddings over the past six years to make a change and take action to ensure that each and every client is provided with the education, and timeline needed to get the most from my brand. Whats good for me, is good for them. If I knew that I could show up to each wedding with a consistent workflow and follow a realistic timeline based on our brand and how we operated I just knew that this, and this alone would make the most positive impact all around and I was right. It has. It was and continues to be a game changer for my business.

So now I am able to sit down and layout the whole wedding day in advance and make some very calculated plans based on the wedding flow, locations, and details as well as my style and how I approach the wedding day photographically. All of this then gets placed into a timeline that walks my client through “getting ready” straight through to the end of our coverage at the reception. Everything is carefully detailed, and becomes the foundation and tone of the day as it starts to unfold. It is realistic, it is educational, it makes sense, and most of all.. it works.

Once the photo timeline is finished (about a month before the wedding) it then can be forward to planners so that they will know what the photography portion will look like on paper and from there it makes their job easier as they can ensure other vendors and individuals are moving along and ready to go. The planner will be doing a lot of other planning when they create their “Master Timeline”. This will include the entire day, and all the ceremony details as well as reception formalities, among countless other tasks that are happening behind the scenes. It is important to note that

I am not acting as a wedding planner replacement, I am simply owning my responsibility as a trusted advisor that my clients have hired to capture the images on their wedding day

and exceed any expectations they may have. You as the client will still need to consider all the other aspects of the wedding day along with all the other moving parts that should be managed for the best results overall. But, when it comes to the photography portion of the day I have this covered and it’s a win / win for the client, me as the photographer, the wedding planner, the hair & makeup team as well as all the other vendors. I have received just as many compliments on going above and beyond in regards to owning the timeline as I have for any of the images I produce. This for me has been a major way to “exceed expectations” and break away from a more submissive “fly on the wall” photographer who will constantly be bounced around like a ball from one wedding to the next feeling like “I wish there was more time, and then I could have..” It puts me in control of the expectations above all else, and I would never imagine shooting now any other way.

So to the newly engaged couple shopping around for photographers, when your sitting in a consultation with your desired photographer be sure to ask them about your wedding day specifically, and have an open conversation about what your planning, and what you expect from them. So many times I hear my clients say something like “well, your the professional so whatever you think is good”, which can be very flattering in the moment, however it’s important to understand that this is really just a client stating that they maybe unsure and are looking for help. After all if this were truly the case, and they really felt that way deep down inside then there would never be any expectation at all and I could do no wrong. This is just not realistic, and it becomes the photographers responsibility (or should be) to gather more details, and dig a little deeper to uncover what they are truly looking for and what type of expectations they may have. This alone just might save both parties from an uncomfortable email and disappointment down the road 🙂

For more information on getting the most from your photographer on the wedding day, please see my article on “5 Getting Ready tips to ensure the best photos on the wedding day”.  as well as “10 Tips to plan & prepare for your engagement session

TH

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