The Wedding Day Timeline

As a bride planning her own wedding, I paid particular attention to the events of the day–the schedule.  I called it the itinerary.  My groom’s parents made fun of me for it; they’d never really had a traditional American wedding for any of their children so they didn’t know how important it was to get all the deets in order. It is, obviously, very important. As a wedding photographer, I spend a great deal of time working on the wedding day timeline for each of my brides.  A good timeline helps get you to everything on time and helps ensure you get the photographs and moments that you want to get on this all-important day.

Wedding Day Timeline

Creating a great wedding day timeline is truly an art form.  I’ve honed the process over the years; with each bride, I’ve improved the process a bit.  Or a lot.  Wedding photographers have a varying level of involvement in creating the wedding day timeline.  I pretty much told my wedding photographer what was happening and when.  It worked out just fine.  For my brides, I gather as much detail as possible from the bride and groom, run it through a magic information decipherer, and then put together an amazing spreadsheet rough draft for the bride to review and approve.

Questions to ask when creating your wedding day timeline

Do we want to see one another for the first time before the ceremony or during the ceremony?

This is the first big question that defines the schedule of your big day.  And this decision is really personal and depends on who the two of you are as individuals and as a couple.  Are you two distracted by or intimidated by being in front of others? Do you find it difficult to express moments during important moments?  If your answer to either of these questions is “yes,” then you might opt for a first look.

On the other hand: Is tradition important to you? Do you prefer to keep special moments in their traditional place? If so, you might opt for a ceremony first look.

How many pictures do you anticipate wanting?

If mass pictures your goal on your wedding day–plenty of family groupings, tons of wedding party hangout time, and lots of party pics–you might want to be sure to space out your events accordingly.  For instance, plan for your guests to have snacks to munch on while you gather your groups together for the appropriate time.  We’ve all been to weddings where we waited for what seemed like forever for the bride and groom to show up to the reception.  When we had food, the impatience was assuaged–music and food made the wait even easier!

I tell my brides to expect each family gathering to expect at least 3 minutes for each family gathering.  And more time with bridal parties equates to more images delivered of the bridal party.  When putting together the wedding  day timeline, keep this timing in mind so that you can set realistic expectations for your photographer, yourself, and your wedding party.

How far apart are your desired photography locations from your venue(s)?

Some brides have an all-in-one venues, complete with scenic backdrops for photography, a ceremony location, and a party room.  These brides don’t have to plan much more than a flight of stairs between events on the wedding day.

If you are traveling between the ceremony location and the reception venue, be sure to allow time for that in your timeline.  If you want to go to a specific location for your bridal party pictures or your bride and groom pictures, make sure you have ample time–with a little cushion in case there’s traffic.  I’ve even had a bride use Uber to commute from a getting ready location to the ceremony reception.

Do you want getting ready pictures taken? Which getting-ready images do you want?

If you’re looking for the iconic hairspray pictures, you’ll want to be sure you’ve contracted enough hours for your photographer to capture that moment.  When will it happen? Ask your hair stylist.  Will your make-up be done within the hours you’ve contracted your photographer? Double-check with both.

If you’re not interested in too many getting-ready pictures, you might consider having your photographer capture the final details of getting ready: your mother lacing up the dress, attaching your “something old” earrings, grandma putting on your “something borrowed” bracelet, your sister carefully placing your tiara.  This can usually take 15 to 30 minutes to complete.

This is one of the big things to bring up to your photographer during the initial contact or a month or two before your wedding day.

What reception events do you care about?

When planning your reception, keep in mind when your photographer’s coverage ends.  The best idea is to front-load your events: cake cutting, dinner prayer, first dances, etc.  Obviously, dinner is in there; but you’ll get far more events covered if they are front-loaded.  And, honestly, after a while, dance party pictures all look the same.  Keep this in mind when planning your wedding day timeline.

How long is your ceremony?

Most of my brides have Protestant ceremonies, which last about a half hour or so.  But if your wedding is a Catholic wedding, the ceremony may last significantly longer. Personally, I pause photography coverage about 45 minutes before the ceremony; this chunk of time is important for transitioning, last-minute detail shots, and for a little padding in case Mom is running late or you hit traffic.

How important is it that you have detail shots of your wedding day?

I love detail shots!  They really do convey your personalities and the atmosphere of the day.  If you love detail shots as much as I do, you should be sure to allow for that in your schedule.  For instance, if you want pictures of your dress, be sure to allow time for the photographer to snag your dress before you dress; the more detail shots you want, the more loosely you’ll want to set up your wedding day timeline.


The Debt-Free Wedding

Debt-Free Wedding

The average American wedding in America was around $32,000 in 2015.  Thirty-two thousand! To me, this sounds crazy.  Is it even possible to have a debt-free wedding?

If you have ever planned a wedding, you know that the cost adds up quickly.  A typical American wedding seems to require at least one venue–sometimes two– in addition to a photographer, food, entertainment, flowers, an officiant, fancy clothing, jewelry, gifts, favors, a rehearsal party, and lodging.  Then there are options that many soon-to-be-wed couples tack on: videography, a photobooth, websites, a wedding planner, and even special transportation.

I know that, when I was planning my wedding, I didn’t have, like, any money.  And, at least at the beginning, I was paying fo the whole shebang by myself.  But we got through planning and executing an amazing day with very little debt.

You can do it too.

Debt-Free Wedding: How To

I’m not going to lie.  Having a debt-free wedding will not be the easiest thing you’ve ever done in your life.  Think about it this way: You will likely be working the hours to make up for the money saved.  If you’re okay with that, then go for it. If you’re not, then you may want to reconsider your endeavor.  But, seriously, I encourage you to work for it.  You’ll be glad you did after the flowers die, the food is digested, and all that remains is your memories.  No debt–just memories.  Doesn’t that sound lovely?

Tip 1: Acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses

Admitting we have a weakness is not easy.  But if we’re honest with ourselves, we will save ourselves stress, heartache, and maybe even sleepless nights.  Honest self-reflection can allow you to save money without you, instead, losing your flippin’ mind during the entire wedding-planning process.

Personally, I don’t like admitting that I am no good at pulling triggers.  I am so glad my man is a trigger-puller.  I’d have all sorts of plans in process without anything actually happening if I didn’t have someone to make sure I completed the task.

But your weakness may not be the same as mind.  Maybe you’re seriously no good at calligraphy; don’t set yourself up for the kind of stress that is failing at something when you could have been honest with yourself about your shortcomings.  Just don’t.  Maybe you’re no good at planning an actual wedding ceremony.  Don’t let your wedding ceremony suffer; find someone to help you organize that day’s goings-on.  You won’t regret it.

On the other hand, if you’re really good at making slideshows, by all means: Do it!  Especially if you are engaged for a while; this is one of the things you can do early in your engagement and have it knocked out early.  Maybe you’re really good at creating centerpieces; many brides enjoy these sorts of crafts and do them in front of the television on weeknights so they can check them off the list.

Be honest with yourself.  It’s not worth saving money if you’ll lose it over cake flavors or the reception favors.

Tip 2: Find out who can pay for what

After the new bling on your finger has settled in and the planning begins, sit down with all parties involved–individually, if necessary–and find out what or if they are willing to contribute to the joyous occasion.  Maybe your future mother-in-law has only sons and would love to help pay for your flowers.  Perhaps your man’s parents can’t float the dough to pay for a rehearsal dinner.  Maybe your parents will totally float the bill for your reception.  Find out these deets as soon as possible so you can plan your financial obligations appropriately.

Tip 3: Adjust your expectations

Depending on how the money talk goes, you may have to adjust your expectations concerning your big day.  If no one feels they can contribute anything to your big day, you may be a little bummed.  But think of it this way: What’s important is that you are married to this awesome human being by the end of the day.  This may mean scaling down the big day–particularly parts of it that are more costly.

What’s important to you? Do you need a big party or would a medium one suffice?  Maybe even a destination wedding would save you in the long run.

You may even get amazing and unexpected news that someone will contribute in a way that allows you to really save some cash and then you can even splurge on something you never thought you’d be able to have.

Either way, take a step back from the excitement and focus on what’s important: Starting your life together.  Because, when you know, you want forever to start right now–or as soon as possible.

Tip 4: Delegate it and forget it

This one may be the toughest thing to do ever.  Maybe.  This also depends on the type of people who surround you.  Search for those in your trusted circle who are reliable and willing to offer.  If they offer to help with specific things, try to make that work.  If they offer in general, which many people may do, keep a list of those who offer and those who you trust.  It’s important to tune into the trustworthiness of a person.  The last thing you want it to think you’ve saved money only to find out that you have to shell out some clams at the last minute to buy flowers or favors or centerpieces.

It’s important to tune into the trustworthiness of a person.  The last thing you want it to think you’ve saved money only to find out that you have to shell out some clams at the last minute to buy flowers or favors or centerpieces.  Or, worse, you may trust the person but find out that they are not really good at what they’re offering. And your centerpieces look like junk or don’t even match your preferences.

Tip 5: Ask vendors about payment plans

You might be surprised that a lot of wedding vendors–photographers, caterers, etc.–are open to payment plans.  For some reason, we don’t always advertise this.  Hm.  But most of us are delighted to accept a payment plan.  For us, it’s a steady, reliable source of income.  And, essentially, we set up payment plans so that we are paid in full by the original final payment date, anyway, so it still works for us and helps you as you navigate the finances of wedding-planning.

Honestly, all of your vendors start spending money and time on your big day almost as soon as you book with them; that’s why we usually have some sort of retainer fee.  So, depending on the vendor, you may find a payment plan much easier to process than the typical larger chunks.

Debt-Free Wedding: Final thoughts and warnings

Sometimes, on our quest to manage wedding day finances, we skimp on things that aren’t cool to skimp on.  You might think I’m going to talk about photography, but I’m going to surprise you.

Don’t forget about all of the people who are spending money, traveling, and spending a ton of time on your wedding.  Be generous in your gifts for them: whether it is time, service, tangibles, or words.  People want to feel appreciated.  Hopefully they are not loving you so you’ll give them something but don’t let them begin to regret offering to throw you a shower, buying that dress that they could have done without, or driving hours to help you or even just to be in your wedding.  Be sure you budget for generous gift-giving to those who are sacrificing for your big day.

Remember: The goal is to only get married once.  Make it a wedding you won’t regret and be sure it’s a day you enjoy!

The Wedding Budget

The Wedding Budget: 2015 Edition

Congrats, you beautiful lady! You said yes to the man behind that beautiful bling and you’re settling in to plan the wedding of your lifetime!  What an exciting time!  As you secure a date on your calendar one thing’s for sure: You have to decide on the wedding budget.

Deciding on the wedding budget is a complex matter; you have to take into account the income of the person or persons paying for it and you might suddenly realize how your wedding date impacts the price and availability of the venues, photographers, churches, and other vendors’ services.

Somehow, when I got engaged, my new fiance knew how much he didn’t want to spend.  I was surprised that he knew anything about the money end of wedding planning.  He knew he didn’t want to spend what everyone else was spending–he wanted to spend less.

But what does that mean? How much is less than everyone else?

The Average Wedding Budget

According to, the average wedding in America during 2015 was almost $33,000.  Obviously, this means that some regions in our vast country spent way less, like Alaska (just over $17,000) or South Dakota (around $18,000), but other places averaged far above the national average, like Chicago ($61,000) or New York City (over $82,000).

In Columbus, Ohio, where I am based, the average wedding budget fell below the national average at a little over $27,000.  And if you’re not a Columbus-dweller, check out the infographic put together by The Knot to see what the wedding budget average in your area.

The big question I ask myself is this: How does wedding photography fall in this whole wedding budget thing?  According to the same source, the nation-wide average spent for wedding photographers was over $2600 in 2015.  Want to know how your wedding budget breakdown stacks up the national average? Looking for guidance in planning your budget? Check out the categories listed below:

2015 National Average Wedding Budget by category

Why is it beneficial to know this information? Raise your hand if you don’t like overspending on anything.  *raises hand* I want quality, so I’ll pay for quality, but I don’t want to pay more for something that is average.  Are you with me on this?  So, if you’re planning your wedding and the officiant quotes you a $500 bill for services that aren’t any more special, sentimental, or superior to anyone else’s offerings, keep shopping.  This can work the other way, though: If a photographer quotes you $500 for a wedding, they are likely unable to offer something that a photographer in range of the average can offer you.  It’s important to be informed, am I right?

As for my man and me: Well, let’s just say my mom is a rockstar who made it possible for us to have a beautiful and lovely wedding!

Go Unplugged: Wedding Tips

Maybe you’ve heard of them.  Unplugged weddings.  Have you?

Unplugged weddings: A wedding where guests are discouraged from using cameras or smart devices with cameras during any or all parts of the wedding day.

Unplugged Wedding

In this amazing and glorious age of smartphones, social media, and cameras attached to everyone’s person, many brides are pushing technology aside for the most important beginning of their lives.

If you quickly skim through Pinterest, you’ll find a few different unplugged wedding methods.

  • No pictures during the wedding ceremony only
  • No pictures until after the first dance
  • No pictures at all by any guests. At all.

I’m the first to admit that I love technology–taking pics everywhere I go and going social media crazy.  But there is also something to be said for going off the grid for a bit.  The Hunk and I have a media-free day about once a year.  Media-free days are nice, detoxing, relaxing days.  But brides across the country are requesting that their guests unplug for a bit and be in the moment.

How are brides letting their guests know about their unplugged expectations? Many are posting signs at their wedding, adding lines in the program, and even having their officiant announce the expectation at the beginning of the ceremony.

Time will tell if this is a trend or if unplugged weddings will stand the test of time.  The big question is this: Why are brides opting for unplugged weddings?

Unplugged Ceremonies

Unplugged ceremonies are just what they sound like: a ceremony with no pictures taken (except by a photographer, usually) and no images from the ceremony can be posted to social media.  Check out my Pinterest board dedicated to unplugged ceremonies.

A benefit to unplugged ceremonies is that all the guests are experiencing the moments with the bride, groom, and all the family and guests.  Instead of watching parts of your ceremony through the smartphone screens.  Guests are undistracted during the ceremony and can laugh when your groom forgets the line he’s supposed to repeat and cry when you gush through your self-written values.

Whether or not a bride and groom have a first look, the processional is a special time.  I’ve heard numerous stories about wedding guests jumping in the middle of the aisle to snap picturess of the groom or the bride during the processional, completly blocking the view of the professional photographer for whom the bride and groom paid a great deal of money.

Imagine the disappointment of not having that moment delivered to you by your photographer because a guest was in the way; or perhaps a picture was taken but it is not something you want to hang on your wall becacuse of the smartphones in the picture.  It has happened.

Unplugged through the First Dance

Some brides request that guests remain unplugged until after the bride and groom’s first dance.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that guests aren’t plugging in during cocktail hour or in the parking lot after the ceremony.

Extending the unplugged element of the wedding day through the first dance has many of the same benefits, including guests being in the moment and enjoying your first dance, watching your dad shed a tear on the down-low and, if your dad is like my dad, wonder why he’s dancing strangely (because he re-broke his foot that morning).  The same goes for your first dance with your new husband.  You only get one first dance with your husband.  If your uncle Bob is standing nearby with his camera, squinting at the back of it, slumped over with his shirt half untucked, it may be difficult for your fabulous photographer to capture an uninhibited picture of the two of you enjoying the moment that cannot be recreated.

As a photographer, I can tell you another benefit to extending this unplugged request through the first dance is to increase the likelihood of your first dance pictures being rock star awesome.  The first dance is a special moment that cannot be repeated–not authentically.

Personally, this type of unplugged wedding is my favorite!  It’s like the best of both worlds.  Guests get to take pictures during the party, use your wedding day hashtag, and still be present during the most sentimental moments.  If your photographer is awesome like me, she may even have a mid-day or early-evening image from the day posted to your Facebook page before you’re off to your honeymoon!  People who weren’t at the wedding can swoon over the mid-day picture and then guests can post their rocking party pics to social media during the reception!

Unplugged through the Final Moment

Taking the unplugged idea to the maximum, some brides have a completely off-the-grid wedding, camera- and social media-wise.  I’ve seen fewer of these weddings, but some brides do go for this.  If you’re thinking of having this type of unplugged wedding, be sure to add on a second or even third wedding photographer so that the memories and all the fun can be captured from even more perspectives.  Photobooths are a great way to let your guests capture memories from the fun night at the reception and still remain unplugged.

How to go Unplugged: My suggestions

If you’re considering going unplugged for your wedding, may I offer you some suggestions for making this happen?

  • Post a sign at the entry of the ceremony location.  Make it match the mood of your wedding day–fun, formal, rustic, or casual.
  • Add a line in the program; mention that you’ve hired an awesome photographer to capture the moments and that you’d just love it if they were present dudring the ceremony or other special moments.
  • Hire a shoot and share photographer–a photographer  who offers an online gallery so your friends can view the images from your special day.
  • Ask the officiant to begin the ceremony by asking everyone to turn off their phones and cameras, topping it off with a request for guests to be present during the special events that will occur.
  • Check with your photographer to see if they have any special for having unplugged weddings.  Some photographers will offer extras for brides who successfully have an unplugged wedding.
  • Have a photobooth at your reception and possibly even during coctail hour.  Guests have a ton of fun with these and I provide a link to the gallyer and upload my photobooth pictures the next day.

FAQ: Questions about going unplugged

Still, it can be tough bucking the ways of the world for your special day.  Maybe you have questions.  Here are a few you may have.

Will I offend some picture-lovers?

You might if you’re not careful.  This is where it is important to think about how you state your hopes for the wedding day.  I attended a wedding where the bride wrote in the program, “Get your camera ready!” on the same section as the processsional line.  And, indeed, many people brought out their cameras for mass picture-taking.  This is what she wanted.  She loved it!

So, if you want the opposite, make the line–whether you put the line on a sign, in a program, or both–sound friendly but clear.  You don’t have to be mean or harsh in order to be clear.  Consider a short poem on a chalkboard for a fun touch or a scripted and framed sign for a more formal touch.  At a formal wedding I shot, the minister was able to make the sentimate clear and formal and not a single guest bawked at the idea.  This was great because it sounded very much like the minister’s idea–whether or not it was, I don’t even know!  Ushers can also point guests to a posted sign as they hand out programs.

Do I have to confiscate cameras if people are using them at the wedding?

No.  You absolutely don’t have to confiscate cameras or phones if people are using them when you’ve asked them not to.  If someone is snapping unwelcome pictures, keep enjoying your day.

Put someone in charge of reinforcing you unplugged wedding with guests.

A day-of wedding planner is one of the best things you can do to make your day run smoothly.  If you make your day-of planner aware of your desire to have an unplugged wedding, you can ask him/her to direct people to stop the picture-snapping.  Day-of planners are great at being diplomatic while also encouraging guests to follow the bride’s expectations.  Maybe even fill in your day-of planner if there are people who are exempt from this rule–like the parents of the bride and groom.  Then, you can make your wishes known to these exceptional people directly, so they can still feel free to take a few limited quick pics but won’t set the tone for everyone jumping in line to interrupt your moments.  You might also let your photographer know that you’re having an unplugged wedding and possibly give him/her permission to say something like, “Hi! The bride has asked that all guests keep their cameras put away for now,” with a big smile to any guest getting in the way of photography.

Is this even possible?  Will people follow my wishes?

Unfortunately there’s no way to know for sure if everyone will follow your wishes.  If respect were universal, this world would for sure be a better place.  But I haven’t seen a wedding where this request was not honored.  I know it has happened.  People in my wedding photography network bemoan these disrespectful guests.  Truthfully, your photographer has probably had lots of practice dodging these types of guests.

If you spend your day enjoying every second and put your day-of planner and wedding party on this issue, it will be fine. Anyone who is disrespectul enough to ignore your wishes isn’t someone you need to worry yourself with on that day, anyway.  Focus on the important moments of the day; you’re married.  No matter what goes wrong, the only reason to sincerely be upset about your plan is if you don’t actually get married.  That would be a problem, amirite? :)

Unplugged: Recommended, but make it your own

In the end, your wedding day should be about you, your man, and the Creator who will be at the center of your marriage until death do you part.  I always recommend unplugged ceremonies–both because it makes it easier for me to capture your wedding day and because it is great for guests to enjoy the day in person and not via a three- to five-inch screen.  Consider how you want to interact with your friends and family at your wedding; focus on the memories and hire a kick-butt photographer to help you capture the memories so you and your family and friends can make the memories instead of worrying about capturing them.

I love you. Forever.