Tip 1 - hire a wedding coordinator
Yes - seriously. A full out wedding planner or a day-of coordinator can help save the day in ways you couldn't imagine. Lets say you have a 45 minute ceremony and have an hour and a half scheduled at the church. The church isn’t unlocked - 30 min, Mic malfunctions - 15 min, florist is running late for the bouquets - 15 min. Now that is a rare case, but a coordinator knows what to do when that occurs and has the experience to rearrange things so they have the overall least impact on your wedding day.
It is important to know that creating your timeline ahead of time does not mean it is a done deal. On the wedding day things happen, and sometimes preparation goes out the window and you need someone to create a new timeline on the spot based on the specific needs of whatever the situation is. There is no one better to have on your team in that moment than a professional wedding coordinator.
tip 2 - plan for travel time
If you have different venues for your ceremony and reception you may want to budget a bit of extra time into the timeline for travel. This also applies to the locations where your portraits are going to be taken. If you set aside one hour between the ceremony and receptions for portraits of you and your new spouse but the reception is 30 minutes away that greatly limits our portrait options. If you have specific destinations in mind to photograph the portraits at remember to also include that travel time. There is nothing worse than discovering on your wedding day that you won't have time to take photographs at one, or more, of the places you wanted to.
Not only is there travel time, but there is traffic / parking time that can be a huge issue with some locations. I photograph weddings mostly in San Antonio, and while we don't have Chicago or LA traffic issues, our downtown traffic can get a bit crazy from time to time and parking can be hard to find!
If you're having a weekday wedding this is extra important as you have rush hour to deal with.
tip 3 - time of day affects the photographs
Obviously this is the most important tip of them all because the whole point of getting married is the pretty photos, right? I joke, but it's actually a pretty big deal because these are the portraits you put on your wall, and a little big of planning can make a huge difference in the quality of photograph that ends up on your wall!
Ultimately, reach out to your wedding photographer about this because every photographer uses light a little differently and every wedding is different, but here are a few basic tips you can use.
11am to 3pm is the WORST time to take portraits outdoors. Ohhhh, crap. My ceremony ends at 2 and my reception starts at 4pm, and I was planning on doing portraits from 2:30 to 3:30pm. Don't worry, this doesn't mean you're going to have all horrible photos, but it does requires some alternate plans. You'll need to do a first look and/or evaluate the locations you want to shoot at.
When the sun sets the light is gone. Okay, duh. But no, seriously. If you're planning a sunset wedding ceremony and you don't do a first look then ALL of your portraits will be in the dark. Stop and think about that. Go look at your Pinterest board: are the photos all of couples in pitch black? No? If you have a gorgeous venue don't let it go to waste! Include it in your portraits, which means taking portraits before the sun goes down!! Having a first look before your ceremony will allow you to schedule your portraits during daylight and you still get a sunset ceremony!
tip 4 - know your guests to plan your reception timeline
I've photographed all sorts of different wedding receptions. There are the receptions where the dance floor isn't empty until the end of the night, there are receptions where there isn't even a dance floor and everyone's just talking and catching up with friends and family, and there are receptions where the dollar dance, garter and bouquet toss, and other reception events are the central focus. My point is think about your guests when planning your reception. If you know they're ready to party all night then it might not be a good idea to open up the dance floor until all "dance floor" events (first & father/daughter / mother/son dances, garter and bouquet toss) are out of the way.
Another good idea is to spread things out throughout the reception. If you have planned for toasts, first dance, cake cutting, dollar dance, garter toss, etc. etc. - do not put all of these at the beginning or at the end. People, not just your guests, but people in general like to be entertained for periods of time. If you put everything at the beginning, half your guests will be gone by the middle of the reception because they have experienced everything they have come for. If you put everything at the end, people will think things aren’t going to happen and will leave before having cake! Another important reason to have a coordinator is their experience in knowing when to plan events throughout the night.
tip 5 - schedule extra time. period.
The one thing I can promise you is that something unexpected will pop up on your wedding day. Hopefully you have a wedding coordinator who can prevent this, but either way it's good to be prepared. A groomsman might forget socks, your hair might not cooperate for the stylist, there could be an accident on the only road leading to your venue causing all of your guests to be late, etc. Before you start down the what-if trail, imagining everything that could possible go wrong, just schedule in a little extra time for everything. Your hair and makeup is only supposed to take an hour? Add an extra 30 minutes for it in your timeline. You have a 45 minute wedding ceremony? Make sure you have the church for at least an hour and a half. It's a 15 minute drive between your ceremony and reception venues? Expect your guests to take 30 minutes to make the trip.
Why include all this extra time? Worse case - your wedding will be able to go on as planned, and you have enough time to fix each little hiccup that comes along. Best case - you get down time to hang out with your bridal party and actually enjoy your wedding day, *cough* and have extra time for more gorgeous wedding photographs.... haha but seriously. You don't want to end up in a situation where you're deciding which parts of your ceremony to cut out because it was late getting started, or skip your first look (and thus cut your picture time in half) because your hair and makeup took longer than expected.
tip 6 - don't forget about food!
Of course everyone thinks about the dinner meal, and has time schedule in for that, but do you have time scheduled in for a quick lunch? Outdoor San Antonio weddings can be quite warm, no matter what time of the year you get married, and the one thing you don't want is to pass out during your wedding ceremony. It'll make for a funny story when you're looking at the photography in a few years, but it'll be a bad experience on your wedding day. Eat. Lunch. If it looks like you aren't going to have time for a meal (or you think you'll be too nervous to eat) then organize snacks for the whole bridal party (and any family members involved in the getting ready process).
When it comes to your wedding dinner, the more guests you invite - the longer dinner will take. No matter if your guests are being served or if it's buffet style, it'll take longer with more people. If it's buffet style it'll take a lot longer, so just plan your reception accordingly. In my experience, toasts are the perfect "end of dinner" activity because they don't require your guests to do anything but be quiet and listen. First dance, father / daughter and mother / son dances are also perfect for around the end of dinner because there is no reason for your guests to get up from their tables. Cutting the cake? Save that until all your guests will be done eating.
tip 7 - make time for your guests!!!
There is one San Antonio wedding I photographed that will forever stand out in my head. The couple scheduled their cocktail hour BEFORE their wedding ceremony so they would have a set time where they could go around and talk to their guests, without dinner, portraits, or reception events getting in the way! It was such a smooth wedding and it was perfect. Guests arriving late weren't missing any of the ceremony, and after the wedding it was so easy and quick to take family photos because everyone and their mom wasn't trying to stop the bride and groom to congratulate them!
Okay, I'm not saying you need have a non-traditional timeline like above, but it is something to think about. On your wedding day you're being shuffled from event to event and if you have a short reception, still want to do all the traditional reception events, and a lot of guests at your wedding you might not even have time to talk to them all! Talk to other couples you know who've recently gotten married and ask them what their experience on their wedding day was.