Take back your cocktail hour!
I see couples miss their cocktail hour all the time. It’s become an acceptable practice to have your bridal and family photographs during one of the more enjoyable portions of your wedding day.
It makes me sad.
Why? Because couples put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into planning their wedding and they end up missing out on the very fun that they planned in the first place!
What’s the point of having a cocktail hour if you are stuck taking photos during it? Isn’t the whole point of cocktail hour to mingle with your guests and celebrate your wedding with those near and dear to you?
I think so!
Bride: “I couldn’t agree more Jeff! But how do I plan my wedding day so we can actually be at our cocktail hour?”
So glad you asked! Here are a few ways to arrange your wedding day schedule to make sure that you attend your cocktail hour.
Early Afternoon Ceremony
The best way to ensure that you get to partake in your cocktail hour is to have an earlier afternoon ceremony, like 2:00pm or 3:00pm. Cocktail hours traditionally start around 5:00pm or 6:00pm so an earlier ceremony time would give you enough time for family photos, bridal party photos, and, of course, bride and groom photos.
I personally recommend about 90 minutes for family, bridal party, and bride and groom photos. That can vary depending on the size of your family and your bridal party, but that’s a pretty good rule of thumb.
Just make sure to budget in extra time for travel, if your ceremony and reception locations are different. You don’t want to be stuck in traffic while everyone is sipping on your signature cocktail!
First Look with family photos before the ceremony
If you want to sip mai-tai’s with your BFF’s and you have an evening ceremony, like 5:00pm or later, then you should definitely consider a First Look with bridal party and family photos before your ceremony.
This allows you to get all your photos out of the way before the ceremony which frees you up to enjoy those mai-tai’s!
If you are not familiar with what a First Look is, it’s pretty simple. You set a location (either your getting ready hotel or your reception venue), you place the groom in said location, and then you have the bride walk up behind him real ninja-quiet like and tap him on the shoulder. BOOM! First Look!
As a photographer, I love First Looks. They are great because of all the nervous energy and anticipation. It makes for some really authentic candid moments between the bride and groom.
As a couple, First Looks are great because, not only do you get some amazing images, but you also get to relax after your ceremony because there is no mad dash to squeeze in a bunch of bridal party and family photos – they’re already done!
Traditional Wedding Day Timeline
If you are not into the First Look idea and you are having an evening ceremony and you are determined to knock back a Negroni or two during cocktail hour, then be prepared to only make the tail-end of your cocktail hour, if everything runs on time.
Here’s why …
Let’s say your ceremony is at 5:00pm and your cocktail hour is 6:00pm with your reception entrance scheduled for 7:00pm. The average wedding ceremony is about 20 minutes. I’m talking average. There are exceptions, of course. Add in another 10 minutes for some well wishers and a quick glass of bubbly after your ceremony and you are looking at an hour and a half before you are announced for your entrance.
Remember above when I said you’ll need about 90 minutes for family, bridal party, and bride and groom photos? Yeah … that brings you right up to your reception entrance.
Can you cut a little time off the 90 minutes? Sure. If you have a small bridal party and you don’t have a ton of family, but still you are probably looking at a having maybe 15 minutes before your reception. And let me tell ya, after all those photos, you’re probably going to want to chill in your bridal suite to catch your breath before your grand entrance!
So, take it from someone who’s photographed 10 years of weddings – if you want to make your cocktail hour either have an early ceremony or do a First Look.
Feel free to sound off in the comments – I read ‘em all.
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How many hours of photography do we need?
How long will you need your wedding photographer with you on wedding day? I get asked this question quite a bit. Makes sense, right? I mean chances are you’ve never planned a wedding before so naturally this question is on your mind.
The best way to answer this is to consider the following 3 questions …
- What time is your ceremony?
- Do you want photos of your getting ready preparation?
- Do you want photos of your entire reception?
What Time is Your Ceremony?
Your ceremony time is the #1 driving factor for how long you will need your wedding photographer with you on wedding day because once we start, we shoot continuously until we go home for the day. My couples almost always have me arrive to photograph their getting ready preparation and have me stay through to the end of the reception. I like to arrive about 3 to 3 1/2 hours before the bride has to leave for the ceremony. During that time, I photograph both the bride’s details (dress, flowers, shoes, etc.), the candid moments between her and her bridesmaids, a few bridal portraits, and your first look (if you are doing one). If your ceremony is at 5:00pm and you need to leave at 4:30pm for the ceremony, then I’ll arrive about 1:00pm. If your reception goes until 11:00pm then that’s 10 hours of wedding day coverage. Check out the timeline below.
Timeline schedule for 5:00pm Ceremony:
1:00pm – 4:30pm Getting Ready (& First Look, if applicable)
5:00pm – 5:30pm Ceremony
5:30pm – 6:30pm Cocktail Hour/Photographs
6:30pm – 11:00pm Reception
Now if your ceremony is earlier, like say 2:00pm, then you will need me to start earlier. Let’s assume (again) you want me through to the end of the evening, 11:00pm, like the timeline above. That would be about 13 hours of photography on your wedding day. Adds up quickly, doesn’t it!
Timeline schedule for 2:00pm Ceremony:
10:00am – 1:30pm Getting Ready (& First Look, if applicable)
2:00pm – 2:30pm Ceremony
2:30pm – 5:00pm Photographs (maybe even a well-deserved break for the bride and groom!)
5:30pm – 6:30pm Cocktail Hour
6:30pm – 11:00pm Reception
Do we want ‘All Day’ Coverage?
So, as you can see, your ceremony time will largely dictate how much coverage you will need on your wedding day. There are, however, two more considerations that will impact the number of hours you need. Do you want all your getting ready prep photographed ? And do you want all of your reception photographed ? If you only want your getting ready photographed from the time you are done with your hair and makeup and ready to get your dress on then that can cut out about 2 hours of photography. So, using the timelines above, I would arrive about 1 1/2 before you need to leave for your ceremony, 3:00pm for the 5:00pm ceremony start which would be a total of 8 hours and 12:00pm for the 2:00pm ceremony start which would be a total of 11 hours.
You could also choose to not photograph the entire reception. Personally, this is the best place to cut hours. Why? Because dancing photos tend to be repetitive whereas if you cut some of your getting ready you’d miss out on photos of your details and those great candid moments between you and your bridesmaids. With that said, I would recommend that you keep me at least through your cake cutting.
Let’s assume that cake cutting is at 8:30pm for both schedules above. That is the same two hours that we shaved off from your getting ready prep in the above example, so my arrival time would be 1:00pm and 10:00am respectively, but with a 9:00pm departure (I suggest a 30min buffer in the event things run late). So that would be 8 hours for the 5:00pm ceremony timeline (1:00pm to 9:00pm) and 11 hours for the 2:00pm ceremony timeline (10:00am to 9:00pm).
So, How much time do we need?
Based on these schedules, you are looking at a range of 8 to 13 hours of wedding photography depending on your ceremony start time and depending on how long you want your photographer with you on wedding day. Some couples want ‘all day’ coverage from getting ready to the end of the reception. Some couples prefer to send the photographer home in the middle of the reception after cake cutting.
There is no right or wrong answer. It depends on what you want for your wedding day. Your timeline may even be shorter than the examples I used above. I have photographed smaller, more intimate weddings that required only about 6 hours of coverage. There are plenty of options at your disposal.
That’s the advantage of a photographer that has an A La Carte pricing system (like I use) as opposed to a Package system. I believe flexibility is important and you should be able to choose the products and services you want and not be forced into a one-size-fits-all package. You can visit my Pricing Page here.
I hope I was able to shed some light on the number of hours of wedding photography that you will need. If you have any questions for me, sound off in the comments and/or send me an email – email@example.com. If you think this post would be helpful for a bride and groom that you know, then please click SHARE ON FACEBOOK to spread the love or just email them the link.
Highlands Country Club Wedding
There are two things that really make me happy: outdoor weddings and unique venues. Meredith and Will nailed ’em both! I’m lucky. Living in southern CT not only gives me access to the cool venues in Connecticut, but also to the venues in NY. I also love the fact that I can be in the city for an engagement session in no time! Meredith and Will were married on a beautiful July day at the super cool Highlands Country Club in Garrison, NY.
I had never photographed at Highlands before so I was really excited to add another Hudson Valley wedding venue to my list. And I couldn’t have asked for a better couple to do it with! Meredith and I clicked from the moment we sat down for our consultation. Her and her parents and I must have chatted for what seemed like hours. I am a big family guy so I really enjoy meeting my couples’ parents ahead of wedding day. I think it makes us all that much more comfortable with each other on the big day!
I can’t say enough about Meredith and Will. They were super easy to work with. They were down to earth, relaxed, and natural. I could tell we were going to get along well because we had a blast during out engagement session at The Cloisters just outside the city. And that feeling continued on wedding day.
Fittingly, Meredith and Will opted for an outdoor ceremony. I love when couples say ‘I Do’ in the great outdoors and Highlands has one of the most perfect settings for an outdoor ceremony. It was an intimate ceremony with Meredith and Will surrounded by their loved ones. You could just feel the love and warmth in the air as they exchanged their vows. So much so that a few kleenex were required! Tears of joy, of course!
I won’t soon forget Meredith and Will’s wedding. I loved the vibe of the day – outdoor, carefree, and natural. We took full advantage of the gorgeous weather and photographed all over the Highlands property. Our personal favorite was the old rustic barn!
Meredith/Will, congrats to you both on your wedding! It was a pleasure working with you.