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How To Plan A Wedding Timeline With Photography In Mind!

Hot air balloon wedding portrait

Everyone wants to plan the perfect wedding day! From the gorgeous floral palettes, to the yummiest cake, to the elegant bridesmaid's gowns, many brides (and grooms) find themselves at a loss on how to bring flow to the many details that create their big day. The one way every couple will remember and preserve their hard work is through the photographs captured on the day. Here's a helpful guide on how to pace the wedding day through the lens of the wedding photographer!

Starting Strong With Getting Ready

The easiest way to set the tone for your big day is by giving yourself ample time to get ready. Brides - consult with your hair and makeup artist to know when you'll be 100% ready to slip into your gown. Your photography coverage should give your photographer ample time (30 minutes or so) to photograph your dress, accessories, and any other details (such as wedding invites) before you put on your dress. To capture more playful photos of the bride with her ladies, you'll want to add 15mins for champagne & robe shots! Getting ready time is also a great opportunity to check off some of your bridesmaid and immediate family portraits.

Bridal Getting Ready Break Down
30 Minutes - Dress Photograph / Accessories / Flat Lay of Wedding Invites
15 Minutes - Bridesmaids Robe and Champagne Photos
30 Minutes - Bride Putting Dress and Accessories On; Followed by Solo Bride Portraits
20 Minutes - Solo and Group Portraits with Bridesmaids and Immediate Family Present

Once a bride is fully ready for the big day, taking portraits with her bridal party and immediate family is the perfect way to take less photo pressure off the rest of the day and capture the bride's excitement and emotion of the morning.

bridesmaid pose idea

Grooms - the guys tend to take less time to get ready which can also lead to errors! An unprepared groom and groomsmen can run the ceremony start time behind. When your photographer arrives, groom and groomsmen should be in their shirts and pants (no accessories) ready to grab photos hanging out and helping each other put on suspenders, taking shots, or exchanging gifts. If either of the couple's wedding party has gifts to exchange or cards to read from each other before the ceremony, add an extra 10-15 minutes to capture this.

Groom Getting Ready Break Down

20 Minutes - Flat Lay of Groom's Details / Candid Photos of Groom Helping Groomsmen
15 Minutes - Groom Putting Vest/Jacket, Cufflinks, and Accessories On
20 Minutes - Solo and Group Portraits with Groomsmen and Immediate Family Present

After everyone is dressed and ready to say "I Do", the flow of your wedding photography will largely be determined by whether or not you'll be having a first look.

To First Look Or Not First Look

First looks aren't just an opportunity to see your spouse-to-be, but also a chance to restructure how much photography is punctuating your day! For photographers, a first look is a must unless there are cultural or religious reasons for opting out. While there are famously lots of traditions that point toward seeing each other at the aisle, almost every wedding client expresses how much relief they felt and how exciting it was to observe a private first look before the pressure of being surrounded by family and friends. First looks are a special photo moment that are best captured by two photographers! Two photographers are crucial to capturing each member of the couple simultaneously throughout the day (saving you hours of coverage and adding a lot of photos to your gallery).

First wedding look

If you opt to do a first look you will save a lot of time after your ceremony/cocktail hour. First looks take on average 10-15 minutes so having your moment in a place that's easily accessible for wedding party and family to meet you at is key. Here's a photo schedule of what you can accomplish before your ceremony with a first look:

First Look & Portrait Breakdown

30 Minutes - Couple's First Look and Romantic Portraits
15 Minutes - Full Wedding Party Portraits
30 Minutes - Additional Immediate and Extended Family Portraits
{Optional: More time for romantic portraits can be added after family portraits and/or during golden hour}

By accomplishing your wedding party and family portraits ahead of the ceremony, you and your spouse will be able to do more portraits together after as well as join your cocktail hour! If you do not do a first look, this segment of portraits will need to be completed during the cocktail hour.

Ceremony to Cocktails

While the ceremony is arguably one of the most important and unique parts of a wedding, it can range wildly in length, traditions, and style. Many non-denominational ceremonies take as little as 5-10 minutes whereas some religious ceremonies take an hour or more. Letting your photographer know exactly what exciting and personal things you'll be incorporating assures that each step is photographed and non surprises are missed!

pampas grass wedding ceremony

If your ceremony is in a different location than your reception, you will need to pad a lot of extra time for not only you but your photographer and guests to transport themselves from each area. For many couples, they want their portraits in the same location as their ceremony, so keeping any wedding party or family needed on deck is so important. If you do not opt for a first look, a concise family shot list is necessary to keeping your allotted portrait time flowing.

Non-First Look Portrait Breakdown

10-60 Minutes - Ceremony
15 Minutes - Immediate and Extended Family Portraits
15 Minutes - Wedding Party Portraits
30 Minutes - Newlyweds Portraits

Cocktail hour is a time both for guests to get refreshed after the ceremony and for portraits - if you'd like photo coverage of your cocktail hour space, guest candids, and group shots of friends you will need a second photographer. Your lead photographer will focus on the portrait magic while their second hangs out with your cocktail hour guests until you join them!

Golden Hour Goodies

If photography is your top priority, checking with your photographer about golden hour timing for your wedding is key. Golden hour is the hour proceeding sunset, however just the 10-15 minutes before sundown is the best time of day for portrait lighting. Since the window is small, we recommend just romantic portraits between the newlyweds!

Hot air balloon wedding portrait

Golden hour lends itself to wide open areas with a horizon line - if you have a great spot at your venue for golden hour portraits, let your photographer know so you can plan how much time you will need to arrive there.

For winter weddings golden hour may coincide directly with your cocktail hour time, however for summer weddings it often overlaps with your dinner and reception programming. Finding the best time to sneak out to grab more portraits will give you more alone time with your spouse - which is in short supply during a busy wedding day!

From Dinner to Dancing

Reception programs are widely different in timing and events, but mostly start with dinner and end with open dancing at the end of the night. Having an awesome wedding coordinator and emcee will make sure the events of your evening flow without a hitch, and keep your photographer(s) in the loop about updates to the timeline. Each reception event takes time to set up, check lighting, and complete - here's a common timeline for reception events that allows for ample time to capture each activity:

Reception Break Down

1hr Post-Ceremony - Guests are seated, introductory toasts/ grand entrance, and dinner service begins. Sneak out for golden hour after dinner service begins.
15-30 Minutes - Speeches and toasts while guests finish dinner, this will vary widely on how many guests are speaking and their speech time limit.
15 Minutes - Newlyweds conclude speeches with their first dance and parent dances, guests may join dance floor with any Anniversary Dance or other group games
15 Minutes - Bouquet Toss and Garter Toss & Cake Cutting
15-30 Minutes - Open Dance Floor Photos

wedding reception photograph ideas

Stacking your reception events allows you to have all activities photographed before the dance floor opens up; waiting until the last minute to cut your cake or start the Soul Train line may mean missing out on photography coverage. Your photographer should check in with you as the reception progresses to ensure your coverage hours will cover the aspects of your reception you want lifelong memories of. Creating a clear and updated timeline with your photographer and coordinator to make sure your wedding photography covers everything you need from your vows to your sweet dance moves!

Cheers to a Captured Wedding Day

Whew! A wedding day is a lot of planning - but when it's laid out like this, you can see how much photography guides and adapts to the very things that matter to you on your big day. If you start the day strong, you can accomplish so many portraits early on and give yourself time to just enjoy and participate in your day while your photo team captures the rest. Finding the right photographer who can craft your own custom timeline and work with you and your other vendors will make a daunting day of details into an elegantly effective event!