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Why the Wedding Day Runs Late (And 5 Ways to Prevent It)

We’ve all been there before – something runs late on the wedding day, and suddenly that cushy hour of photo time that was on your schedule evaporates into 15 minutes of chaos with a 24 person bridal party and a list of family portraits a mile long.


The ability to handle the pressure of a late wedding day with grace and ease is definitely what sets apart a great wedding photographer from a good one.

But the ability to prevent the day from running late in the first place is what turns a great photographer into a true wedding professional.

Wedding Clients by Wedding Photographers The Youngrens

Jeff and I have identified five of the biggest reasons that weddings tend to run late – at least in our experience – and we’d love to share the solutions that we’ve come up with.

1. The Hair and Makeup Artists Don’t Know the Photo Schedule

The Problem: In our experience, the hair and makeup appointments tend to be the number one reason that brides run late. Why? Without knowing any better (our fault as photographers), brides will tell the artists that they need to be finished at 2:00pm because photos begin at 2:00pm – leaving zero time for putting on the dress, traveling to photos, or somebody running late with their appointment. It’s almost a guarantee that things will run late.

The Solution: When you’re drawing up the photography schedule for the wedding day (read about our perfect wedding day schedule here), tell your brides to schedule their appointments to finish a whole hour before photos are scheduled to begin. Include a hard stop time for the hair and makeup on the schedule and stress the importance of this time throughout the planning process.

However, while we love our couples to death, many times the schedule doesn’t get passed along to the hair and makeup team in the craziness of the wedding plans. Give the hair and makeup artists a call a few weeks out to introduce yourself and to chat through the schedule of photos, letting them know who needs to be finished for photos and when.

This quick five-minute phone call has done more to keep our wedding days on time than any other practice we do. Try it, you’ll be amazed.

2. The Family is Notorious for Running Late

The Problem: The groom’s brother is always 30 minutes late. He gets it from his mother, who has never shown up on time in her life.

The Solution: Tell your couples to create a ‘fake’ photo time for all family members, particularly those that have a history for being late. Our rule of thumb is to tell everyone to be ready fifteen minutes earlier than the actual time, and to put a dependable family member in charge of getting family to photos. Also, give the family a specific, easy-to-find location to meet for pictures. The lobby or entrance of the venue is always a great bet.

Planning for people being late will save your sanity – buh-leive me!

3. Aunt Sheryl Didn’t Know About Family Portraits

The Problem: The couple chooses to do a First Look so all of the family pictures are going to be taken before the ceremony. However, nobody remembered to tell Aunt Sheryl that she needed to arrive early, which means that you have to gather everybody again during the cocktail hour for that last family photo.

The Solution: Work with your couples to develop the family portrait list at least two months before the wedding, and use specific names on the list (ie John and Susie w/Aunt Sheryl, Uncle Bill). That way there is no confusion about who is needed and when for pictures. Make sure to tell your bride to inform any relatives of the photo times and to pass along the list.

4. Last Minute Family Portrait Requests

The Problem: You’ve finished up your list of family portraits and the couple has to leave for the ceremony, but the mother of the bride asks for ten more family pictures, which will make everybody run late.

The Solution: It’s so important to hash out a finalized list of family portraits prior to the wedding day to avoid the lengthy last minute family portrait requests that happen so often.

At least two months before the wedding, create your typical list of immediate family set-ups (using questionnaires in ShootQ), and ask your couples to show it to their moms for a quick approval. Because you’ve done the majority of the work for them already and set the tone for a short, concise list, you should only get a few more special requests – and if you get a long list back, you can either add more time to the schedule or work with them on prioritizing and cutting the list down.

(Keep in mind, though, that the majority of print orders come from family portraits, so during this process help families think about the pictures they’ll want to put in their homes or albums later.)

If a last minute request still occurs on the wedding day, you’ll be in a position to defer it until the reception or the cocktail hour, since both families had the chance to make requests ahead of time.

5. The Travel Time was Underestimated

The Problem: A five-minute trip to the church actually takes fifteen minutes with a bridal party of twenty people. And then there’s traffic on the freeway. And construction on the main road…

The Solution: Always over-estimate the travel times. It takes a while to get a bridal party moving, so instead of trying to force everybody out the door (you’ll drive yourself – and them – crazy), simply schedule more travel time than needed. Plus, you’ll look amazing to the coordinator when you arrive early with the entire bridal party.

Bonus: Arm Your Couples with the Info They Need

You need to take responsibility for educating your couples about the process of a wedding day, and the more help you can provide, the better the wedding day will flow.

Jeff and I developed a document called Make the Most of Your Wedding Photography, and it’s automatically sent to our couples just after they book with us (thank you ShootQ!). It includes all of the tips listed above (and many more) plus a sample schedule of a typical wedding day and our typical list of family portraits.

This document answers our bride’s most frequently asked questions right away – a time-saver for everybody!

So now it’s time to go make your own document. What kinds of details or knowledge would you like to pass along to your couples? Include the information above as well as your own tips and suggestions, and I’d love to hear how everyone else out there keeps the wedding day running smoothly!


Written by Erin Youngren

photographer erin youngren

Jeff and Erin Youngren are international wedding and lifestyle photographers running one of the fastest growing boutique studios in the competitive Southern California market. Although based in San Diego, their deeply emotional style and passionate partnership has taken them from the streets of San Francisco to the canals of Venice to the family suburbs of Chicago to photograph extraordinary weddings and incredible couples. As leaders in the photographic community, they are passionate about helping other photographers build viable, authentic businesses, while building a photography community built on integrity and honest leadership.

The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!
The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!