wedding guide

Congratulations on your engagement and welcome to James Thomas Long Photography! Planning a wedding is no small task, especially if you'll be tackling it yourselves without the help of a professional wedding planner. Incidentally, if you'd like my recommendations on a wedding planner in your area, just let me know and I would be happy to point you to some talented planners! Regardless of whether you'll be enlisting a wedding planner or not, it certainly doesn't hurt to educate yourselves as you plan your big day.

To that end, I've put together a few tips that I have learned over the years – things that will help set the stage for a smooth wedding, and absolutely amazing photographs! Remember, my primary goal is to capture your day as beautifully as possible, so if you have a question about something that’s not covered here or want any recommendations for your unique situation, please feel free to reach out and I would be happy to help. And don’t worry, a month or two before your wedding, we’ll have your pre-wedding consultation where we talk through your full wedding day itinerary in detail to ensure we’re all on the same page. You're welcome to ask questions then too!

wedding planning guide

Contact me to get started!

Contact me to get started!

this is your day!

Quick Tip: talk to your venue ahead of time with respect to timing flexibility for things like the cocktail hour, dinner, and dancing. Most venues are super accommodating to couples. But it pays to be on the lookout for the occasional venue that operates more like the DMV, booking multiple weddings in a single day and rushing couples and guests in and out, rather than providing the flexibility that you deserve on your wedding day. Find out if extra time is available before you book. If not, you may want to consider other venues.

book your wedding photographer early!

During peak season, weekends are typically booked a year or more in advance, so don't wait to book your wedding photographer! Here in WA state, peak season is from July through September and sometimes into October. Holiday weekends like Memorial Day, Labor Day, July 4, etc. tend to book even earlier, especially Labor Day, so I recommend planning as far ahead as possible. Book your venue and then book your photographer next!

Creating the timeline for your wedding day is one of the first things you'll want to do as you plan your wedding, but it can be a daunting task. While most of us have been to weddings before, chances are we’ve never tried to actually draw up a timeline. How much time do formal family group photographs take? How soon before the wedding should the bride’s hair and makeup begin to ensure she is ready on time and her makeup still looks fresh? How much time will be needed for photographs of the bride and groom (often these are the most important photographs of the day!)? What about allocating time to photograph the wedding party, capturing you all having fun together? When should the reception hall be ready for detail and room photographs? You'll want to give careful thought to all of these things and make sure you've allotted enough time because once the invitations go out, it is very hard to make changes.

One way to make your timeline future-proof and also is to add a 10-minute buffer for all major elements of your wedding. Whether you end up needing the time or not, you'll be glad to have the extra time even if it is just to take a breather or bathroom break.

Having photographed many weddings over the years from a variety of cultural backgrounds, I’ve gotten a pretty good feel for how long things take and where things are more likely to get behind schedule. To help you create a solid, user-friendly timeline for your wedding day, I’ve included some helpful tips below and also a sample timeline to give you a feel for how much time (in general) you can expect to allocate to the various parts of your wedding. Please keep in mind that your ceremony might be shorter (if it is a traditional outdoor ceremony, for example), or longer if it is a full Catholic Mass or cultural wedding that includes other components (such as a Hindu or Jewish wedding), so you’ll have to adjust accordingly.

Don’t forget to ask your hair/makeup artist for an estimate of how long things will take. Then add at least 30 minutes. We’ve found that this part of the day can take a little longer than expected (this could include getting the dress and veil on just right, pinning the chunni, or any other extra adjustments that need to be made) and having that extra time buffer in there really helps. Come to think of it, if you can, adding a little buffer in there throughout the day is a good idea. After all, it’s better to have extra time to relax than to be rushing trying to make up time.

creating your wedding day timeline

Add a 15 minute buffer whenever you move locations

First looks are a way for the two of you to see each other for the first time on your wedding day while capturing it on camera. They do require some extra setup time as we have to get you both in position without seeing each other, then execute our game plan for how the bride will walk up to the groom, etc., but from there, you can just go right into some couple photographs. And remember, your first look need not be super staged. You can have it as formal or informal as you like. Think about how you’d like to do it and let us know. We love it when couples plan this out themselves too!

First looks are great if you know you won’t have much time after the ceremony for wedding party and bride & groom photographs and you’d like to take care of those before the ceremony instead or if you just want to have some more time for couple photographs in general (we love more couple photography time!) :-) The downside is that because first looks happen earlier in the day before the ceremony, the lighting is often not ideal, but there are always options any time of day and we can still catch the better light with some more photographs later after the ceremony.

Some couples might worry that after a first look, the groom seeing his bride walking down the aisle might not have quite the impact, but after photographing many first looks, we have not really found this to be the case. Whether he’s seen you before the ceremony or not, when he sees you actually coming down the aisle to marry him, all of those emotions will hit him just as hard!

Lastly, first looks require starting everything a little bit earlier than you would otherwise. In general, you'll want to allocate at least about 30 minutes to allow setup time (getting you both in position), and also having the first look and the bride and groom photographs that follow.

hair & makeup

I can’t stress this enough! Of course, family is very important, and all of the guests are very important parts of your wedding too, but the most important people in your wedding are the two of you!

So if going out and getting sunset photographs for 15 minutes during the reception is important to you, but may require a little waiting for your guests, then by all means, go for it! This is your day! Tomorrow and the other 364 days of the year, your guests can do whatever they want, but on this day, you get priority. Get the dance floor going while you are gone or extend the cocktail hour a little to keep your guests entertained while you are gone. There is absolutely no reason why the "cocktail hour" has to just be an hour... It can be longer if you want. Most venues are more than happy to accommodate requests to extend the cocktail hour. It may cost a little extra, but remember, you'll have those photographs forever!

Think about what is most important to both of you and make sure you allocate time for it in your timeline. Years later, no one will remember waiting an extra 10 or 15 or even 30 minutes, but you’ll be super glad you got those golden hour or sunset photographs.

first looks

typical wedding timeline (with 1st look):

11:30am – Bride & Groom Preparations
2:30pm – First look, followed by Bride & Groom photographs
3:30 – Wedding party photographs
4:00 – Bride & Groom return to hide and get ready for ceremony
4:30 – Ceremony begins
5:30 – Family group photographs begin
6:00 – Photographs of the bride & groom
7:00 – Bride & Groom join cocktail hour and reception hall is all set up and ready for photographs
7:15 – Doors open and reception begins
12:00 – Reception ends.

Congratulations on your engagement!
I am truly honored to be your wedding photographer.

creative photographs of the bride and groom

While your ceremony itself is generally the most important part of the day, the most important photographs of the day are of the two of you. Together. We really can’t stress enough how important it is to make sure you allocate time for these incredible important images. After all, these are the photographs you’ll be sharing with friends and posting to social media, displaying in your home, using for your album cover, and so much more. Creating these images takes patience and often a little perseverance (remember, it’s going to be a busy day)! Be sure to factor in at least 45 minutes to an hour for them. Add another 30 minutes if we’ll be doing the wedding party photographs then too or if there is some travel time to get to our location. You’ll want to make sure that whatever happens, even if things are running late, that we don’t lose this time! Years later, you will be very glad that you did! Go in with an open mind, ready for a little adventure, and lets rock it! Here’s where making sure you eat a good breakfast and lunch can really help too

want to get started or have any questions?

Be sure to ask the venue about the lighting during the time of day your ceremony will be taking place. You don’t want one of you in bright sunlight and the other in shade or squinting into the sun. Outdoor lighting is generally best in the last 2-3 hours before sunset and worst around mid-day. If possible, plan your ceremony 2-3 hours before sunset and then your creative couple photographs after the ceremony will also happen during the best light of the day!

Yep, 15 minutes every time you move to a new location. That means every time you get in a car to go somewhere, you add 15 minutes. And it also includes every time you move around within your location (such as moving from the front of the building for family photos to the reception hall inside). This will ensure walking to/from things, a quick restroom stop, a chance to hug loved ones you haven't seen in ages, or other small hiccup doesn’t cut into time for the next item on your timeline. If you finish early, that just means more time to relax, more photographs of the bride and groom and wedding party, or more time for the reception party. And who doesn’t want that?!!

getting ready

These are some of the most beautiful images of the day. Make sure you plan where you’ll be getting ready well ahead of time and who will be getting ready with you. Do you prefer something quiet with just a few people or would you rather have a lot of people around. If you are getting ready in a hotel, consider booking a larger room or suite. More space will allow for more creative freedom when it comes to your preparation photographs, especially if you are going to be getting ready with a lot of your friends and family there. If you’ll be getting ready at home, consider setting up your hair & makeup in a room with plenty of natural light.

outdoor ceremonies

Please complete the contact form so that I can get to know a little about you and your wedding plans. And if you'd like to set up a time to chat or meet with me at my studio in Snoqualmie and talk about your wedding in more detail, I would be happy to set that up too. I look forward to meeting you!

indoor ceremonies

For churches, make sure you ask about any restrictions for photographers. Some churches require photographers to stay back a certain distance, some allow photographers on the balcony for a different (and beautiful) perspective. For other indoor venues, don’t forget lighting! Especially if you will be using a canopy or something that could block light where your ceremony will be. You don’t want the ceremony area to be the darkest place in the room, so make sure you have the venue or your lighting vendor direct some lights towards the ceremony or better yet, hang a chandelier or lanterns above where you’ll be for a warm, romantic feel.

wedding receptions

Lighting is key when it comes to receptions. For indoor venues, chandeliers, candles, lanterns, and holiday mini-lights work well. Uplighting along the perimeter is a great idea too. If your reception will be outdoors, bring in as much light as possible, such as hanging strands of mini-lights, lanterns, and plenty of candles at the tables. This will create a wonderful ambience in the background for your photographs (instead of completely black). For outdoor receptions, you'll also want some lighting for your stage area wherever people will be giving speeches, etc. This in very important not only for guests to see in the dark, but also for photography and video.

wedding decor

We want to make sure we capture your important details that you’ve carefully planned for. This includes the table setups, cake, desert bar, and any other decorations for your reception. Make sure you coordinate with your vendors to ensure this is setup (including all candles lit, etc.) and emptied in time so that we can photograph the room before your guests take their seats. We’ll want the room to be empty for wide shots as well as close-ups of individual tables and other items.

go with the flow!

Unexpected things can happen, whether it’s forgetting that piece of jewelry or pair of shoes you were going to wear for the reception, or sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate. But if you can take it all in stride and have an open mind, then these unexpected things might turn into blessings in disguise, allowing for spontaneity, and making your wedding even more one-of-a-kind. Remember to smile and enjoy the day, regardless of the little surprises that pop up along the way. You’ll be glad you did!

Contact me to get started!