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Top Ten Wedding Timing Tips

Probably the most-asked question I get as a photographer relates to timing.  And this is to be expected!  How can you know how much time you need if you’ve never planned a wedding before?  While some of your schedule will be dictated by how long you have access to the reception venue, what times of day your church allows ceremonies to be held, religious preferences that determine how long your ceremony will be, and (especially in Key West) the timing of natural elements such as the sunset and the tide, there are ways you can maximize your timing so that you get the most of your photographer’s time.

Before we go into actual schedule examples, let me first share my


1. If you want breathtaking sunset portraits, don’t schedule your outdoor ceremony at sunset.

A sunset ceremony is certainly beautiful for the guests, but I promise they will be just as thrilled to watch you get married an hour before then also.  Otherwise by the time you kiss, walk down the aisle, receive everyone’s congratulations, and pop off a few quick family group shots, it will be dark come time for us to shoot the two of you together.  If you’re having an outdoor ceremony, plan to start about an hour before sunset.  This will leave you 20 minutes for ceremony, 5 minutes for recessional, 15 minutes for family portraits, 20 minutes for daylight portraits of the two of you (which by the way will be amazing lighting as the sun reaches the horizon), and about 15-20 minutes of pictures during the actual sunset and immediately after.  NOTE: If you are getting married somewhere where the terrain isn’t flat like Key West, or in a city, then bump this time up even earlier to accommodate for the sun being lost behind hilltops and tall buildings.

2. Plan a “first look” session to allow time for pictures together before the ceremony

Couple have a "first look" to get pictures before the ceremonyYou chose a destination wedding because you wanted something less traditional, right?  Alright then, toss formalities aside and spend time with your photographer before the ceremony.  The moment will still be magic when you see each other, and after almost 12 years of shooting weddings, I can tell you that I’ve never had a couple regret doing so.  Then after the ceremony, you won’t have the sense of urgency to get through the family groups, just to rush even more through pictures of the two you while everyone is waiting (or worse, end up so far behind schedule from overwhelming family requests that it leaves absolutely no time to do any photography of you at all before heading the reception).  Having pictures of just you before the ceremony alleviates all of this and gives you some room to breathe.

3. If you can’t see each other before, plan for family portraits before the ceremony

I realize sometimes tradition trumps logistics, so another way you can maximize your photography time is to instead get photos with family before the ceremony.  You with your parents and grandparents, him with his siblings and cousins, etc.  Then after the ceremony, save for maybe one big group family portrait with everyone, we can skip right to images of you as a newly married couple while the guests make their way to the reception.  The only drawback is that the family won’t have their group shots with both of you, but if that’s not a priority, this can be a great alternative to the “first look” plan.

4. Build time into the day to make use of all that Key West has to offer.

A quick stop to Higgs Beach for pictures before the receptionMaking use of areas within Key West other than your ceremony and reception site is a great way to capture some amazing images you wouldn’t otherwise get.  You can have pictures at any hotel in the world and no one would know the difference (ok, that might be a little harsh, but you know what I mean!).  You came to Key West for a reason, so let’s go see Key West!  This is something couples often overlook because they are tied so tightly to an itinerary dictated by the venue(s). Explain to your coordinators, however, that having time to hit some different spots around Key West is important to you, if that’s something you want to do.

5. Choose (or ask your photographer to choose) locations that offer a variety of settings in one small area.

Fort Zack offers a variety of scenes.  90 degrees to either side results in either a beach or rock background as well.Whether you’re having a short ceremony-only event on the public beach or hitting up additional spots around town in the middle of an all-day event, you still want to make the most of your time with your photographer.  Choose locations or venues that have a lot to offer in terms of visual interest within a relatively small area.  Fort Zachary Taylor is one such location, offering park benches, wooded trails, sandy beaches, rock jetties, a historic fort, and wide open areas, all in one small park. The public beaches, Smathers and Higgs, are similarly rich in variety, from palm-lined walkways, to roped boardwalk walk-overs, to a colorful sea wall, to rocky grotto buildings (actually a bathroom, but you’d never know it from the outside).  🙂  And of course the usual areas of sand, water, and rocks.  If the beach isn’t your thing, hit Old Town and enjoy historic buildings, funky signs, dramatic steps, and quirky back-alleys.   The main idea, though, is to have several options within walking distance.

6. If budget – and therefore time – are restricted, skip the preparation shots

Preparation shots are nice, but don't include them at the expense of later more memorable shots.Sure, I love pretty detail shots of the shoes awaiting their debut performance and the gown hanging gracefully in the window, but I’d much rather have time with you to celebrate your newly wedded bliss with amazing photos!  In twenty years, it will be the dramatic sunburst kisses against the big blue sky that will take you back to this day than the up-close shot of your maid of honor helping you lace up the back of your dress.   This tip is especially true if your event takes place in multiple locations that are not close to one another.  For example, if you’ve booked a hotel in Key West because that’s where your reception will be held and where you’re staying the rest of the week afterwards, but your ceremony is going to be up the Keys, that drive can sometimes translate to an hour or more of wasted time.  Since most photographers’ time limits are based on “start to finish”, it’s unlikely you’ll get a price break just because part of your total 4 hours is spent driving.  So the way around this is to skip the prep shots and just have them meet you at the ceremony location.  Even if they charge mileage, it will be much more cost effective than paying them their hourly rate for time they aren’t actually shooting.  On the other hand, if your photographer offers a “full event coverage” (aka “no” time limit) option like we do, then this might not be a concern after all.

7. Restrict the formal portraits to just immediate friends and family

If you are having a small wedding with less than about 25 to 30 guests, then skip this tip as it won’t really affect you either way.  But if you are having an average-sized (for Key West) wedding with 40 to 60 people or more, then make a conscious decision beforehand of which groups of people will be included in the “formals”.  I know it sounds at first like I’m saying “don’t get pictures with certain people”, but really what I mean is just limit it for the formal, posed, orchestrated group shots to your core “peeps”:  parents, grandparents, siblings (and their  spouses and children), and bridal party, with maybe one or two with some other key people in your life.  Especially if your photographer will be with you through the reception, there will be plenty of time to get fun group photos with second-cousin Ned and his third wife and son you’ve never met.  By doing this, you’ll eliminate the free-for-all mentality and the “me next!, me next!” beckoning of people who’s formal portraits you will never put in your album, you’ll never hang on your wall, and who will likely themselves never bother to do so either.  So why waste daylight when we’ve got a sunset to catch!?Large group portraits are a great way to maximize timing at your wedding

8. Include transportation for your guests if your event will be at more than one location

The investment you’ll make in having a dedicated driver and coach will be small in comparison to the frustration you’ll experience at fielding calls from family members driving in circles around the city trying to find your quaint Key West guest house, or the delays you’ll end up facing the rest of the day as half your bridal party goes missing while finding a place to park at the reception.  In addition, having a van or bus at the ready will prove helpful for making your way through the city with your photographer getting those cool Key West location shots we talked about earlier.  Having everyone together, and not having to worry about parking a caravan of vehicles, will make for much less stress and a more timely itinerary.

9. Don’t feel like your photographer has to be there until the DJ stops playing

Party photos are fun, but more than about an hour of dance shots, and you have enough to tell the story of your dayThis is another area where I see brides waste their photography budgets, by assuming that if their reception ends at 10pm, that their photographer needs to be there until 10pm also.  99% of the time, the last hour (or two even!) of the reception consists of people just dancing the night away.  Now I’ll be the first photographer on the scene wiggling between writhing bodies to grab those hilarious moments on the floor, but beyond that first half hour to 45 minutes, if you’ve seen 50 dance pictures, you’ve seen them all.  It’s usually the same small clique of movers and groovers, so if you think about it, really how many angles do you need of Uncle Jim doing the robot?  😉  I’m certainly happy to stay all night and capture every last thrust and fist-pump, if you so desire.  But after the food, toasts, cake, bouquet toss, garter toss, first dances, table shots, and guests mingling, the story of your day can usually be rounded out after only about a half hour of party-rockin’.

10.  Plan your day based on what is important to YOU!

Bridal portraits at the Truman Hotel in Key WestAll the tips and suggestions in the world don’t mean anything if they conflict with what is really important to you.  While there are “common ways” and “ideal ways”, really the best way is just, well, your way!  So my best advice is no matter what type of wedding you’re having, create a rough outline of priorities where photography is concerned, and plan your day around that.  If you’re a little camera shy and don’t care to be the center of your photographers attention for the two hours they would like, then say so.  If it’s more important to you to not see each other before the wedding, even if it means you have to leave out a few family shots, so be it.  Or conversely, if formal group portraits are your thing, and you could care less about shots of you running silly down the beach with your bridesmaids, then plan the day around that.  But have a schedule, discuss it with your planner and photographer, and ultimately, do what will make you happy!

What does a Key West wedding photographer wear?

If you’re getting married in Key West, you might be curious how the overall laid-back atmosphere translates to photographer dress code.  While it is true that Key West is more laid back, and our dress code is, in general, less formal than most places you’ll visit, a wedding is still an important event and your photographer should dress with respect to the level of formality of the wedding.

Since the majority of the weddings we shoot down here in Key West tend to be smaller, more casual, typically outdoors, typically with very few guests, and often on the beach, our dress code is understandably less stuffy than you’d find at a black-tie event in a big city ballroom.

I wanted to have some fun, so here is the “official-unofficial” attire you can expect at a typical Key West wedding.  😉

What a wedding photographer wears to a casual outdoor Key West eventPHOTO CAMO  – Practical, solid, non-flashy colors like black or brown.  “No khaki?” you ask.  Not really….it gets dirty too easily, and black is the unofficial “wedding vendor” color.

STUNNER SHADES – That sunset sure is pretty, but does a number on the eyes after hours on end.

GREAT ATTITUDE – The most important piece of wardrobe!  Period!

BIT OF “SASS” – If you’re not a natural supermodel, no worry!  I’ll help you channel your inner “Vogue” by demonstrating various butt-pooking, back-arching, and hip-popping poses to make you look amazing!

GRAB BAG – Especially if we are hitting up several locations, and even moreso if I’m shooting by myself, being able to do those quick battery changes and card-swaps is essential to keeping the momentum rolling.

KINOS – “THE” essential footwear anytime I’m shooting anything that doesn’t require pants.  Getting those fun shots of you running down the beach isn’t quite as easy if I can’t dump the ‘flops in sand and trot along with you.  Closed-toe would definitely not be an option.  Plus, they’re comfy and cool, and who wants their photographer to be cranky ’cause her feet hurt, right?

GAUCHOS – Sort of like soft, flowy capri pants, these are my go-to bottoms when shooting in the heat.  I like wearing black, but in this heat, the light fabric is perfect for preventing me from melting into the sand.  A passed-out photographer doesn’t make pretty pictures.

TOUCH OF COLOR –   Just something to add a little spark and fun into the outfit.  Sometimes I even score extra points by managing to match the wedding colors.  But usually it’s olive green, fuschia, lemon yellow, or turquoise.

and obviously, no ensemble is complete without the FANCY SCHMANCY CAMERA.  🙂  Depending on the wedding, sometimes I’ll just tote one piece of gear at a time, and sometimes I’ll have one on each shoulder and swap back and forth as we change locations and settings.  For those that care, we shoot all Canon gear, though some of “my peeps” who second-shoot with me do shoot Nikon.  We are equal-opportunity where gear is concerned.  🙂

So, there you go!  I hope my fun little “Make up of a wedding photographer” graphic was entertaining, and hopefully I’ll see you soon down here in Key West for your destination wedding!

Black and white photos in a very colorful world

Sunlit bride in historic Key West home before her wedding

Do photographers still shoot black and white wedding photos?  As you’re planning your wedding, the question of “color versus black-and-white” may come up at some point, and it’s a good question to ask.  While most modern brides are hip to the idea that their wedding images will be captured on a digital camera, it’s often uncertain as to how that affects your ability to have some of the photos “taken” in black-and-white.

There are several ways to achieve this.

1) Your photographer can use a backup film camera and shoot “real” black and white film and have it processed the traditional way.

PROS:  Your black and white images will have that nostalgic feel of old film, especially if they are using a high ISO (speed) film, on which larger particles of silver halide make for a slightly grainier appearance.

CONS: If you decide an image shot in black and white would look better in color, there’s no going back.  Unless you can afford to have two photographers – one shooting ONLY in black-and-white, this option has its limitations.  In addition, there is generally a longer turnaround time for black-and-white images shot with film to be delivered with the rest of a wedding shot digitally, since not only does the film have to be processed, but the negatives also then scanned for delivery in an online gallery, as many brides are now accustomed to.

Bride laughing at the top of a stairway - half black and white

2) The second method is for the photographer to shoot using a Black and White setting on their professional digital SLR camera, if their equipment has this ability.

PROS: You get the attention to highlights and shadows from your photographer, since they are composing strictly for black-and-white, and the seamless integration into the other digital proofs.  Further, you don’t have to wait for your photographer to manually convert from color to grayscale during the post-production and retouching phase.

CONS: Like film, images shot in digital black-and-white cannot be converted back to color if you later decide that’s something you want.  And while the processing time will be faster, digital black-and-white offers much less range between the brightest highlights and the darkest shadows than film offers.  It is much less forgiving, so in a situation where you have two ends of the grayscale represented, it’s inevitable that the quality of at least one value will be slightly compromised.  In other words, you’ll always either have some dark areas that are just too dark, or some higlight areas that are blown out.  It’s not a huge deal if the overall aesthetic and emotion of the image is there, but “technically speaking”, it won’t be “perfect”.

3) The third, and most common, way to incorporate black and white images into your destination wedding photos is to simply have them captured in color, and converted in the post-production process by your photographer. 

PROS – You have full flexibility to have any image in either color, black-and-white, or even a little bit of both!  If you’ve ever seen a black and white image of a bride, for example, holding a bouquet of flowers that are still in color, then you understand what I mean.  This used to be achieved on film by literally hand-painting the negatives with dye.  This highly artistic skill is still around by an elite sect of photography artists, but it is relatively difficult to do, so is generally a somewhat specialized service.  However, the same effects are now achieved using Photoshop and other photo-editing software, and while certainly (when done well) no less skill is involved in making the effect come to life, the tools are much less messy and the process a bit faster.  Now, am I advocating that you run to your photographer and request 20 images be post-produced this way?  Heck no.  The effect had its peak in the early 2000’s when digital retouching was really getting going.  For the modern bride, it is a nice treatment for perhaps one or two photos that will go into an album, but can turn tacky and cheap really quick if over-used (in my humble opinion).


CONS – Converting from color to black and white is simple and painess, right?  Well, it’s certainly painless, but not necessarily simple.  Sure there are tools that magically remove the color from a photo, and if you’re happy with a muddy, lifeless version of the image like the one on the right, then go for it.  But to be done correctly, your photographer should have a comfortable working knowledge of digital retouching skills known as “Channel Mixing”, “Tone Curves”, and “Levels”.  These tools allow the conversion to simulate – as much as possible – that very rich quality of black and white film I spoke of before.  Notice the difference between the two black-and-white versions above, and you’ll see what I’m referring to.

4) Last but not least, you can have your photographer leave all of your images in color, and simply order the prints on True Digital Black and White paper from your online gallery.  “But what is this?” you ask?  Well!  I shall tell you!  🙂 

So, back in the day when we darkroom-lurking photographers did our own printing, we used a type of light-sensitive paper made by a company who’s name is synonymous with “black and white” in the industry:  Ilford.  A few chemical baths and several hours of drying time, and you had your image.  Today, Ilford is still in the game, only now with digital in mind.  Because the emulsion is silver based, the characteristics are the same as traditional B&W papers. That translates to good sharpness, “pop”, and archival quality.  And for you as a bride, this gives you total control over which images you keep in color and those that are delivered in black-and-white.

PROS:  As mentioned, you get archival quality black-and-white printing and the ability to have images both in color and/or in black-and-white, and you don’t have to wait for your photographer to do the production work before you order.  If ordering from us here through our online gallery system, the process is as simple as clicking a button in your shopping cart.


CONS: If you want those nifty “spot color” images discussed above, they have to be printed on color paper.  You also don’t get any input on the black-and-white conversion process like you would if your photographer were doing it.  While most professional photography labs that offer this paper are also highly trained in this process, occasionally you might run into a situation where you might like some input.

While you might be getting married in the Florida Keys and be looking for a wedding photographer who can handle your request for black-and-white photography, it’s important to understand the options available to you.  It’s a very colorful world down here in Key West, but it’s nice to know that you can still get quality black-and-white photography in today’s digital age.

Johnston Family Portraits

We had a great time with the Johnson family during their resort photography session at Casa Marina!
family portrait shoot at resort in Key West

The Casa Marina resort provided the perfect backdrop for us to capture this beautiful family during their vacation to Key West.

Family portraits on beach in Key Weest

Family portraits are even better when served “on the rocks”.

They wanted to capture some amazing images during their stay in Key West, so we did photography all around the location, using the beautiful veranda, palm-tree lined walkway, grassy lawn areas, and took some fun beach portraits with the family playing in the water and cheering.
A nearby boat dock provided a fun area for some destination vacation portraits

A nearby boat dock provided a fun area for some destination vacation portraits

The sunset was hiding from us a bit, but did offer some captivating afternoon light during the photo shoot. Thank you again for choosing BFS Key West Resort Photography Services!
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