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Your Wedding Photography Timeline: A Guide To Planning the Perfect Day

Creating a schedule is essential for the perfect wedding day. This guide will give you all you need to know about your wedding photography timeline.
Rachel Sue Boehm, 5 star rated wedding and elopement photographer, holding a camera and posing under a tree.

I’m a wedding photographer with over 10 years experience. Based in Wisconsin, I specialize in elopements across the USA and worldwide.

As a certified drone pilot, I can offer aerial photography for a unique views of your wedding.

I’m also ordained through the Universal Life Church meaning that I can be your officiant and your photographer!

Get in touch with me to discuss your wedding or elopement photography.

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I am often questioned about the timeline for a couple’s wedding day. While many photos may look effortless, there can be a decent amount of time that goes into creating those images. Planning a timeline for your day is an absolute must, especially if you did not hire a wedding planner to help you create one.

So how much time do you really need to reserve to get all the photos you want on your wedding day? Let’s take a look.

What Is a Wedding Day Timeline?

Your wedding day is one of the most important days in your life, so it’s essential that you plan out everything to perfection. Having a good timeline for your wedding photography can make all the difference on this special day. With some careful planning and consideration, you’ll be able to capture every moment of joy with stunning photos!

Your wedding day timeline is essentially what it sounds like: a plan for your day, including who will be where and what photographs you will be taking.

Why Do You Need to Plan A Wedding Day Timeline?

When planning your wedding day, it’s essential to have a timeline that everyone can follow – including your photographer. Having an organized plan for the big day will ensure that all of the photos you’ve been dreaming about are captured!

A well-planned photography timeline is key to creating beautiful memories from your special day. It’s important to think through what kind of shots you want and where they should fit into the schedule. You’ll also need to consider how long each activity takes so there’s enough time for everything – leaving room for unexpected events or delays along the way.

No matter how good your photographer is, they can only capture what is in front of them. Without a proper plan in place, you risk your photography becoming haphazard and disorganized. More importantly, you may miss out on some photographs that you had your heart set on.

Typically, your photographer will set aside a whole day to shoot your wedding so you may as well make the most of having them around. The cost of hiring your wedding photographer will most likely have included the pre-ceremony, the ceremony itself and the reception so it’s well-worth thinking about what photographs you’d like during these times.

By taking some extra time to plan out your wedding day schedule, you’re setting yourself up for success by ensuring that no moment goes uncaptured. This includes making sure that your photographer has plenty of time to get those perfect shots while still allowing you some space to relax and enjoy being newlyweds. So take a deep breath before saying “I do” and make sure to plan ahead!

an aerial photograph of a bridge and groom, taken with a drone on their wedding day

How Much Time Should You Schedule?

First of all, consider the type of coverage you want for your big day. Do you envision photos before or after the ceremony? Is there an outdoor shoot location that could benefit from some extra time? These questions will help determine how long each section of the timeline should take.

For example, if you plan to do a first look session with your soon-to-be spouse prior to walking down the aisle, allow at least 30-60 minutes for this part alone. Another great option is inviting your photographer along while getting ready with close friends and family; depending on how many people are involved, this could require anywhere between 45 minutes – 2 hours.

As far as post-ceremony shots go, here’s what I recommend:

• Traditional Portraits: 10-15 min per group (i.e bridal party & immediate family), likely 45-60 mins in total
• Bride & Groom Session: 30-45 mins
• Reception Coverage: 1 hour+
• Candid Photos: 30 mins+
• Formal Shots (cake cutting/first dance): 5-10 mins each

Finally, don’t forget about travel time in between locations; not only does it give everyone a chance to catch their breath but also allows for more beautiful backdrops throughout the day and night. When planning out your timeline make sure to include any potential delays such as traffic or late arrivals so that you won’t miss capturing any precious memories. If you’re planning to add any aerial photography, you should also factor in that you may need to travel as not all locations are suitable.

Continue reading below for a more detailed wedding photography timeline.

Close up photograph of a bride and groom's hands, entwined

Should You Do A First Look?

A “first look,” is a popular way to capture photos of just the couple on the first time they see each other that day. It can be a great way for couples to capture some intimate moments before walking down the aisle.  

Many photographers think this is a great way of accomplishing many of the photos prior to the ceremony (and a great way for you to enjoy cocktail hour with your guests). Not only is it super romantic, it also has practical benefits that can allow you to make more of your wedding day.

  • A first look allows you to share in your partner’s joy before any other guests arrive. You’ll feel like the only two people in the whole world as you exchange loving glances and warm embraces – no one else matters!
  • The first look gives you both a chance to take in each others’ beauty without distractions or expectations from family and friends. Sometimes it can be hard to act how you really want when you know that everyone’s eyes are on you. Your photographer will be able to capture these special memories which can last forever.
  • Doing a first look prior to the ceremony will also save time later on, when you are taking photographs with all the guests present. This also means more time spent at your wedding reception enjoying delicious food, drinks, music, and dancing with everyone who came out to celebrate with you!

Even though there are great reasons to have a first look, whether to include it in your wedding photo timeline is a personal choice and must be decided by you.

If you opt to stick with the tradition to wait until the ceremony to see each other, expect to spend most (if not all) of your cocktail hour taking photos. Before you continue with your wedding timeline planning, make sure to decide this prior as this will influence much of how the remainder of your day will follow.

A pre-ceremony photo session should definitely be considered while planning your perfect wedding day timeline. Not only does it give you extra time with just each other, but it helps create amazing photos that will last long after your big day has come and gone.

a close up of a bride's sparkly shoes, showing the heel and a green sole
a close up of a bridal bouquet

What Are The Best Times for Wedding Photographs?

Timing is everything! As the bride and groom, you’ll want to ensure there’s enough time for your photographer to get all of those important shots that will last a lifetime. As for when the best times are, it really depends on what time of year you get married. Summer weddings typically start later because of the “longer days” when sunset doesn’t arrive until late in the evening. If you choose to get married in the winter or fall, expect your day to start earlier to make the most of the daylight hours.

Firstly, you should plan on having some pre-ceremony photos taken before guests arrive. This can be anything from getting ready with your bridesmaids or groomsmen, including getting detailed photographs of your dress and rings. Your photographer should have plenty of ideas here so don’t hesitate to ask!

Plus, if you do opt for a first look – which I’ve already highly recommended – then this would be the perfect opportunity for photographs:

  • In front of floral arrangements
  • With beautiful natural light flooding in
  • Surrounded by loved ones who can share in the emotion.

Both of these sessions will usually take place during the early part of the morning. Naturally, the majority of the photographs will be taken during the day. As long as there is sunlight, it doesn’t matter exactly when they happen.

For post-ceremony images to turn out special, I’d suggest making sure there’s still some natural light left at this point. Sunset is often ideal since pictures taken during this time tend to give off warm and dreamy vibes. They don’t call it the “golden hour” for nothing!

During the summer months, this time may fall on or around 8 – 8:30pm. In fall or winter, it will be earlier so make sure you’ve considered this when creating your schedule. Another thing to factor in is the time between the ceremony, and these photographs being taken. Ideally, you don’t want it to be too long from the reception to this final photography session.

a bride and groom in front of their wedding car, surrounded by smoke for an atmospheric picture

Can I Get Help With Planning My Wedding Photography Timeline?

Sure you can! Professional wedding photographers do these kinds of days all the time, so you may as well ask them for advice. When choosing a photographer for your wedding, it will help to share any ideas that you have with them. But don’t worry if you’re unsure yet, they usually don’t need all of the info until much closer to the big day.

Anyone who has photographed a few weddings will have an understanding of typical timings, and be confident in estimating how long you will need to spend on each part of the day. You should definitely look for someone who will share that experience with you.

Typical Wedding Day Timelines

Here are some example timelines that you can take a look at, tailored to whether you wish to include a first look or not. These are a great example for you to base your planning from, and are typical of the weddings that I usually photograph. However, you should always look to adjust these to suit your personal preferences as well as your own wedding schedule.

The amount of time you spend on each can depend on how many guests you have around to photograph. A large traditional wedding will feature more guests than a small intimate wedding, and so will require a little more time to capture photographs of everyone.

Photographer’s Arrival – 30 minutes

I like to arrive early and capture those moments before the ceremony. Upon arrival, once everyone has said hi, I take photographs of your dress, your wedding rings and bouquet etc.

Getting Ready Photos – 1 hour

This is a truly great part of the day – before you’ve seen your soon-to-spouse, and there are much fewer eyes on you I get to photograph some of those amazing moments when it’s just you, your bridesmaids and a couple of close family members. The getting ready photos are very relaxed and intimate.

I make sure to arrive in plenty of time to capture these, so nothing is rushed. The last thing we want is for the hair and makeup stylists to feel under pressure!

First Look and Couple Portraits – 45 minutes

The first look is where we can capture the emotional photographs of when you see your partner for the first time. Again, I don’t like to rush this session – I want everyone to feel relaxed and just enjoy being in one another’s company.

Once we’ve done the first look, I take couple portraits. I like to capture things “naturally,” so there’s no pressure to do any awkward poses. Trust me, on this part of the day your love for one another will shine through.

Wedding Party Portraits – 30 minutes

The chance to include some of your nearest and dearest guests. It’s good to speak to your photographer about exactly what photos you’d like, and who they involve, so that they can make sure to capture them all. Some typical portraits I often capture include:

  • Bride with each member of her wedding party, and all together
  • Groom with each member of his wedding party, and all together
  • Group photos

This time is always full of laughter and smiles: it’s not only lovely to capture you with your closest friends, and we always get some really fun shots.

Family Portraits – 30 minutes

After the wedding party, we’ll include your closest family members. This is a special part of the day which really symbolizes the joining of two families and what better way to show that than with photographs!

  • The couple with the bride / groom’s parents
  • The couple with the bride / groom’s parents and siblings
  • The couple with parents, siblings and grandparents
  • Bride and groom individually with their own parents
  • All other important family members

Ceremony – 30 minutes

After all of these photos have been taken, it’s time to get yourselves out of sight for when the guests arrive!

This is the big moment that the whole day is structured around. I’ll capture the guests’ arrivals and them chatting before the ceremony – I find these really nice, natural photos of your loved ones are often greatly appreciated because you miss seeing them yourself.

And of course, there is the ceremony itself. I’ll have scouted ahead and found a great place to photograph from: somewhere that’s not intrusive for you or your guests but allows me to capture this special moment in all its glory.

Cocktail Hour – 60 minutes

During this time you’ll get to mingle with all of your guests, blush as they tell how gorgeous you are, and just enjoy being around your friends, family and loved ones.

If you had a first look, the cocktail hour is a great time to get some photographs with the guests who weren’t in your wedding party.

Grand Entrance – 60 minutes

The grand entrance into your venue with all eyes on you is always a nice moment to capture, and I’ll also make sure to get pictures of the speeches.

While dinner is taking place, I’ll put the camera down and let everyone relax – nobody wants to be photographed eating!

Reception and Dances – 60 minutes +

After the many months spent preparing, and the whole day being focused on just you two, here’s the chance to let your hair down and have some fun!

Of course, the first dance is one of the most important parts of the reception and I’ll get some great photos of this, as well as those other fun traditions such as the cake cutting and the bouquet toss.

After this, the reception has the most candid shots. Once the drinks have been flowing, nobody cares about the camera anymore!

Sunset Shoot – 15 minutes

As the evening draws to a close, the opportunity for some gorgeous photographs arises. The “golden hour,” is the final hour of sunlight of the day and it offers the perfect lighting to create stunning photographs.

Some couples go as far as scheduling their entire wedding around the golden hour, so that they don’t miss it during the shorter daylight months in winter and fall.

Send Off / Exit – 15 minutes

At the end of the reception, I like to capture some lovely shots of the guests seeing the couple off into their new lives together. Taken when the sun has set, they often involve sparklers, smoke or special lighting to create some really cool effects.

This doesn’t have to be done at the end of the reception anymore. Nowadays, many “send offs” are simply taken during the reception, which then allows you to get on with enjoying the rest of the reception and dancing the night away!

Summary

When it comes to ensuring that your special day is captured in all its beauty, a wedding photographer can make all the difference. With the right package and timeline, you’ll be able to structure your day to make sure that all the important moments are captured in all their glory!

I wish you luck on your search for the perfect photographer who will capture all the memories of your big day; and hope that this post has helped you to come up with a perfect schedule of your own.

If you’d like to discuss wedding packages, or making a custom wedding photography timeline, just get in touch and let’s talk.

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