Of course, so much of the answer depends on the individual couple concerned, what they have planned for the day and what they want from their imagery, which is why I do some pretty forensic questioning as part of the planning process so that I discover exactly what each couple wants.
If you purely want completely casual, off-the-cuff, candid photography then it's pretty easy - after ascertaining the timings of the important events I rock up at the appointed hour and shoot what happens and go with the flow of the day until the allotted time is used up. In all honesty, though, in 15 years of Wedding Photography I have yet to meet a couple who only want that type of imagery - even if they do want candid photos there is still a list of essential images they would really like be ticked off - usually sunset or perhaps some essential family groups which means a more formal plan for your photography has to be made.
The inescapable truth is that the really amazing imagery you see in magazines and on the web rarely just happens by chance, and the more planning involved, and the longer time you allocate for the important parts of the day to you, the better your imagery of those aspects will be. Whether it is a spectacular big-sky sunset, twilight under the Milky Way, or an avenue of guests holding sparklers, exquisite imagery takes a little bit of time to set up and ensure you get award-worthy imagery of your own.
When planning the photography for a package of any length, the crucial starting point is usually the ceremony start time. This may be imposed by the venue (especially churches), or determined by some natural phenomena such as sunset, but whatever the criteria that decided it, this is the fulcrum that we work from. I normally expect to be at the ceremony location 30 minutes prior to the start time, allowing time to set up my gear, speak to the venue coordinator and celebrant, as well as capturing some images of the Groom and Groomsmen before they take their places. So what about that all important bridal preparation?
Most brides do want to have at least a part of their preparation for their biggest day captured - how much is a very personal thing and this is often is the most varied part of my wedding day routine. Where you are getting ready needs to be taken into account when planning the time, as I will normally allow around 30 minutes of travel between locations. I usually suggest that you want to allow 1 hour for the "getting ready" photos - this gives me time to shoot the final lacing of the dress, adding the accoutrements like jewellery and to shoot a good selection of photos of you, your bridesmaids and immediate family, not to mention the flowers, rings and all those small little touches you have spent time and money accumulating. This means your actual coverage package will likely commence around two hours before the ceremony start time, though this can be reduced to about 90 minutes if you are getting ready at the same venue as the service.
Allowing the bride a polite, 10-minute late arrival at the ceremony (remember many popular churches will be very strict on this policy), the ceremony will usually last 30 minutes for a civil ceremony by a celebrant or 45 minutes for a church service (services involving a Catholic Mass will normally last around 1.15), after which I always allow you 10-15 minutes to meet and greet with guests. Experience has taught me that this simply can't be rushed, even if the church has another wedding party beginning to arrive. The next choice you have to make is whether to have your group photos immediately proceeding the service or wait until later. The choice to do this will be heavily influenced by the ceremony start time and whether sunset and the remaining daylight is of concern or not.
If you have guests that are only attending the service (which often happens at churches), and you want to capture their attendance, then it is good to do the large group photo immediately after the service. This allows those casual guests to slip away before starting the more intimate family groupings. Depending upon the number of groups you want capturing (we always ask for a list before the day - and get you to check with close family if there are any they would like), it is sensible to allow at least 15 minutes, and often as much as 30 minutes to conclude all the groups. Any less time and you, and your guests will feel very rushed and not enjoy the experience.
Once these "formal" groups are concluded it will be time for your "location" images, which can take place on site if using a single venue or whilst in transit to your reception venue. I normally suggest in planning to allow 45 minutes for each location you want imagery captured at! I can do setups much quicker than that, especially when the light is changing rapidly, however, couples tend to enjoy the session much more when there are fewer time pressures and you get the chance to relax and enjoy a few quiet, reflective moments too. After all, you have just exchanged some of the most important words you will ever say to each other and it's good to have the chance to think about that with your partner, not to mention giving me great opportunities to capture those intimate moments with a longer lens! The 45-minute timeframe should be applied to each different location, so if you want to visit three of Brisbane's major landmarks you need to budget at least 2-3 hours for your photos - unless you want to arrive at your reception in a sweaty, stressed out heap that is!
That brings us to the next critical time of your day - your reception start time. This is another time that may be decided for you, especially if your venue has a strict timeline that they like to stick to! As a professional photographer, I will have you back to your reception venue 10 minutes before you are due to be announced into the party. That gives you time to freshen up, make a pit-stop and check any final details before you go in. It is simply unprofessional to have a couple back late to a reception and something I will never do because my industry standing relies on tight relationships with the venues and wedding coordinators and to assume they should incur costs for overtime or spoiled food through poor planning on my behalf would be highly discourteous. I would much rather take a couple out of their reception for more photos between courses or at natural breaks in proceedings than run late and risk ruining a reception for the venue and your guests who are waiting.
And so on to the reception! This is the other area of the day which is the most subjective for each couple. It is absolutely true that by the time they sit down at the reception, even the most confident, extrovert couples are pretty much over having their photos taken! Of course, this can be the part of the day that other people look forward to the most, especially those who love to dance and party the night away. If you have chosen a limited coverage package such as 6 or 8 hours, then it is likely that you will only have limited cover of your reception. In that case, I normally stage a mock cake cutting and first dance soon after you are announced into your reception and then take you outside after entree to capture the sunset in summer or some night photos of your venue in winter. I will also capture guests at the tables before food is served if you want (or during a reception line if you are doing things more formally), however, with the rise in popularity of Photobooths, this is becoming increasingly rare. If your reception is the highlight of the day, though, with choreographed dances, fireworks and a leaving circle with sparklers or confetti canons then you will likely have booked a package that includes coverage right through to the end and I will be busy capturing all the fun going on!
That's it really! The day is done, all your images are in the can, and you can relax and enjoy your honeymoon. For me, the next task is to do a rush edit so I can get your personalised wedding app ready to send through to you the very next day ith a selection of up to 40 images that will give you, and your guests a taste of the day that they can view on their smartphone, tablet or desktop! Then there will be a few weeks of post-processing before I deliver a DVD or USB stick full of fabulous images for you to enjoy around 4 weeks after the big day. If you have chosen an album-only package then I will upload your images to our secure image server for you to view and select your choice for the album. I will then design a selection of pages based on that selection and you will come back into the studio to choose the final page choices. The album will then take 4-6 weeks to produce and deliver. Simple as that - all done, you just live happily ever after!
So that you have an idea of what time to budget for each part of the day I have created editable wedding timing plans for a range of scenarios based on our most popular coverage packages. All the scenarios are based on the assumption of couples wanting a mix of "candid" and "formal" photography, with options for summer and winter timings. You can email me for a copy of the plans in Word document format.
Of course, these plans are only suggestions, and the actual final timings are for you to decide as every wedding day is unique and only you can decide what is most important to you.