Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue..... edit..... and a crap load of time too. Hmmmmm, doesn't sound as catchy huh? Well nonetheless, it's true and dare I say more important than all four of the first recommendations. Everything else prepare to take a back seat to this not so common sense. For real.
Time. You need time most. Prioritize it in every way, and build a wedding day timeline around it. From getting ready in the morning, to family formals at the church, to pictures, first looks, location changes, travel time, cocktail hour. Be selfish, seriously. Don't cut yourself short and here's why.
Extra time (planned for time) is crucial to everything that day. You are spending thousands of dollars and countless hours of planning on ONE day. This is the difference between enjoying it, and feeling stressed about it. Ever ran late for an important interview, or a once in a lifetime event, or a big meeting, feels terrible doesn't it. That feeling for me is complete misery and trust me, this is the day you don't want none of it. I've been shooting weddings for over a decade, in the first year I was shooting, I remember I ended up helping out a fellow photographer who was super sick, and shooting her wedding for her. Stuff happens to photographers too, so life happened to her, and I gladly stepped in to make sure everything went well. However, because this was last minute, I was not involved in the planning process, therefore the wedding day timeline. I still remember the phone call I got while I was waiting at the hotel in the morning, from one of her bridesmaids, saying the hair appointments and makeup ran super late and now the bride is in tears because she is running an hour late. Luckily, I was able to give her reassurance that everything would be just fine, (if we hauled ass), and we did and it was. We made the best of the situation and I was happy to help with it. However, some ol' fashioned prior risk management in the form of a timeline could have kept those tears from flowing in the first place. But she's not the only one, I've had limos get lost, trolley's break down, bumber to bumber traffic, bride and groom's have had the stomach flu, tornado sirens go off, and banks get robbed in the same block causing us to be on lockdown.
Fact is, things happen and you need a buffer. That way if things run "late" you will still be on your timeline within the window you need to be, thus no stress. In a minute, I'll explain the best method for this but let me first explain something I find to be the biggest hurdle in this part of the decision making process.
Your day is going to be long, or it should be at least. I'm talking 13-16+ hours long. Say whhhhaaattttt? Yep, make it last as long as humanly possible. So inevitably that means, guests and some family might have to figure out something to do in the middle of the day inbetween ceremony and reception (if it's not at one place). Or if it is in the same place, but your opting out of a first look, this means you will most likely, scratch that, you will definitely need a longer cocktail hour. First comment of resistance will be, I don't think people will want to wait that long, or so and so doesn't think we should have that much time in between. Here's where the selfishness kicks in.... just do it anyway. Plan your day with a 4 hour gap in between if that's the time you need. Everyone else will figure it out. It's ok to ruffle feathers a little, if it means you will have the experience and photographs you dream of.
Having additional time might also create opportunities you didn't think about. For example, if you have plenty of time, and you only hired one photographer, you might be able to have them do pictures of the groom getting ready too, in addition to the bride, which is often a bit tight on time particularly if you are getting ready in different buildings. You might be able to take small breaks during the day for water (booze :), freshening up, not to mention just reflection moments alone, take a freakin' breath. You might be able to fit in that receiving line your parents requested, or that stop for lunch in the middle, talk to just about everyone at your cocktail hour. And as a photographer, I've got to say, this makes your images better from start to finish, because you have dedicated time to take pictures, but your candids are far more relaxed and real and in the moment. Just tiny bonuses when your not rushing all add up.
Okay so strategy time. Have a timeline. A really well mapped out one, prep it in advance and print it out. Email it to everyone involved, bridal party, immediate family etc. You can hand them out at the rehearsal dinner if need be. This way everyone knows what is happening ahead of time, (locations, start times, order of family photos) freeing up some of your mental energy because you won't be fielding logistical questions for 24 hours straight. Awesome.
Planning step one. Strategizing step two. Write down everything that is happening from bride hair appointments, to getting in the dress, to what time the groom is arriving at the ceremony location, drive time to and from locations, to first dance. I mean EVERYTHING. So from beginning to end list it. Then add 15-30 minutes additional to each segment longer than you think it will take. Instead of just drive time, calculate for the worst traffic ever during that drive time. So the most time it could possibly take in a flurry and make that the drive time. LOL not kidding.
Now, consult your wedding planner + photographer. Lots of people don't have a wedding planner. So if thats your situation, then skip that step and just consult your photographer. Typically, as a wedding photographer, I create the actual final timeline every time, the one that the bride and groom will follow as order of events. The wedding planner's timeline often will include a lot of additional moving parts, like linen and floral arrangement arrival, travel arrangements, vendor stuff, management of all the details of your day. Their timeline is just as crucial to yours but it's more complicated. That's why it's nice to have a bride and groom dedicated timeline. Anyhow, planners and photographers will always, if their good at what they do, team up, divide and conquer. So absolutely include them both. They will have helpful insight as to how long things will actually take.
Also, don't be afraid to lie to people about start or end times. Like little white lies. If your like me, I have a big family that thinks two hours late to a family party is on time. So what did I do for my wedding? Told them hair appointments started 30 min earlier then they actually did. It worked like a charm. I still had one show up just as the appointment started but she was technically on time, MY time.
Okay, so go forth and plan well. Prioritize your time. Lie, cheat, steal whatever. Just kidding, but not really. Give your day the minutes it deserves, and the photographs you'll want from it for a lifetime. Don't go cheap, ADD that time girl!