How to Cope When All Goes Wrong at a Wedding

Dear Jasmine,
I wonder if you ever have the problem of events not going according to plan at your weddings. I shot a wedding on Saturday that was a nightmare from start to finish. Everything seemed to work against me.
I couldn't shoot the wedding dress the way I wanted to because it was getting steamed.
I couldn't shoot the details because a bridesmaid was rushing me.
The bridal suite was crammed with bridesmaids and family.
The ceremony started two hours late.
By the time the ceremony ended, it was dark and our plan for pictures in a garden were squashed.
In the middle of shooting family portraits at the alter, the hotel staff began to tear it down with people still standing on it.
The bride wanted outdoor photos, so I fired flash at her because I had no time to set up off-camera light.
The bridal party disappeared.
The coordinator didn't help and my skill in directing large groups of people is very low.
I would love to hear what your thoughts are as to how you would handle an event gone bad or if it has ever happened to you. The question of “could I have done more” is plaguing my mind. These people did not prioritize photography, and gave me the impression that they wanted to hang out and party rather than make time for good photos. I could just feel the new gray hairs sprouting from my scalp. This is the last wedding I am ever shooting.
Prematurely Gray

Dear Prematurely Gray,
I totally understand what it feels like to have wedding day plans dissolve into thin air. In no time at all, the worried pit in your stomach turns into a monsoon of debacles and you're drowning in stress. Been there, sugar pie. But let's talk about the things I've learned in seven years of being a wedding photographer.

First things first: things will go awry. In fact, it happens more than we'd like to admit, so buckle up because this ride isn't for the faint of heart. Being a wedding photographer sometimes feels like part referee/stylist/coordinator/time manager/family organizer, but it's part of the territory and it gets easier with time.
Secondly, take ownership in documenting the photos. Regardless of how little time you have, you must make things work. You have no other option. Sure, I'd love 15 minutes to photograph the wedding dress, but sometimes I get five. Take what you have and make it magical…professional wedding photographers do this on a weekly basis.
Lastly, speak up. If you have a hard time directing large groups of people, you need to get better. Does that sound like tough love? Well, it is. Wedding photography is masterfully and efficiently getting lots of people to do what you want into the shortest time possible. If this seems like a daunting task, I highly encourage you to shoot with other photographers and learn how they do it. The faster you can work through the large group photos, the more time you can make up if the timeline has gone off schedule.

On that note, here are a couple tips that might help when wedding day gets away from you…
    1. Memorize the Timeline
Every weekend I memorize a wedding timeline so if it derails, I know where and when I'll make up time. I'm able to forecast early conversations to keep the bride informed. For example, at last weekend's wedding, the timeline was moved up by 15 minutes (I didn't find this out until I arrived for bridal prep). The minute I discovered this, I had to work twice as fast to document details, but I also informed the bride we should move photos with the bridesmaids until after the ceremony. I forecasted this request in a professional manner in real time so she wasn't left guessing how the amended timeline looked.
    2. Stay in Control
I'm a firm believer in projecting positive energy, even in times of stress. Large-scale family photos is one of the daunting tasks on a wedding day, so I request for the bride to assign two family members (one for the bride's side, one for the groom's side) to help corral family members after the ceremony. While everyone is milling around, it's important for the wedding photographer to take charge. I position the bride and groom and then announce (with a strong, yet kind voice) who I'm requesting for the photo (May I please have all the Ford family at the alter?…Ford family, please join me at the alter!). My second shooter reiterates my request through the crowd and I start positioning family members. The more organized and professional you appear (even if you feel like a hot mess), the better people respond to you.
    3. Have a Witness
If the timeline is inordinately off-schedule and you discover you cannot possibly make up lost time, a conversation must be had with the client. At the appropriate time (in between events or walking from one location to another), have your second shooter and another person (the maid of honor is a good choice) be there to listen to the conversation you have with the bride. Outline her options, ensure she approves, and run it by her witness to ensure everyone is on the same page and she can't come back later and claim she misunderstood. Making big decisions (like delaying the start of the reception or adding hourly coverage) is stressful, so make sure she has someone on her side to keep her accountable.

Prematurely, I hope you don't feel discouraged. We all go through tough spots, but they serve as great learning opportunities that refine our business acumen, but also our character. I wish you all the best in the future!
Stay Fabulous,