The Wedding Day Photo Timeline

This is such an exciting time for you! I’ve been a bride myself, so I know your mind is probably racing with everything that needs to be done. That can be a bit overwhelming! You’re planning a day that you’ve been anticipating for a long time and yet you only get one shot at it. What’s more, by the time you get the hang of it, the planning is over! After capturing more than 150 weddings, I’ve seen it all. As a wedding photographer, my very first goal is to help make your photo planning process simple. Not only do you deserve beautiful photographs, you also deserve an amazing photographic experience. Creating a clear photo timeline will ensure you have enough time to capture all the photos you envisioned and enjoy a stress-free, relaxed day. 

You may have heard that the photo timeline can make or break your photography, and for that reason it can feel intimidating. These next pages will outline a wedding day working off of a 5pm ceremony time frame. Keep in mind that for an outdoor ceremony, the ideal start time is 2 hours before the sun sets. This will give you plenty of daylight for portraits after the ceremony is over, and also account for any lateness. The example timeline that follows assumes you would be getting ready and having your ceremony and reception all at the same location. However, each wedding day is different! Your timeline may differ due to travel times and unique situations. Please note that the following photo timeline is based on 8 hours of coverage. You can always add more coverage if you need it.

Let's get started!

2:00 - 2:30 :: Bridal Details

You’ve put so much time into finding your beautiful dress, shoes, jewelry and invitations. These details help to tell the story of your day, and should be photographed editorially...like they came out of the pages of a magazine. Photographing the details properly is not a quick process. Each item needs to be styled, and the background should coordinate with your wedding colors.  

A few tips to make this part of the photography easier and faster: Have your details separated and laid out in the getting ready room. The dress should be outside of the protective cover (sometimes it takes 15 minutes to get it out of the packaging). Bring a nice hanger for your dress (a simple wooden hanger looks much more elegant than a plastic one). The most common details missing when I arrive are the rings – be sure to keep them in the getting ready room until they are photographed. Have the bouquets and boutonnières delivered to the bride and groom before the portraits, we will need them!

2:30 - 3:30 :: Bride and Bridesmaids Prep / Bride to put on the dress

This is such a special part of the day – it simply can’t be rushed! If you are in a hurry to put on your dress, it will show in the photographs that everyone is a bit tense and pressed for time. I usually ask the mother of the bride and all of the bridesmaids to be dressed by the time the bride is ready to get into her gown. This ensures that everyone will look nice in those images.  

Once you are in your wedding dress, you can put on your jewelry, veil, shoes, and any other accessories. This is also the perfect moment to open a gift or a letter if you and your groom are exchanging those. I’ll use this opportunity to shoot some additional bridal portraits with beautiful window light. At this time, my second photographer will be with the groom and groomsmen as they get ready. 

A tip: Be sure to have a hair and makeup trial. Knowing exactly how you will look ahead of time will give you peace of mind, and allow you to make adjustments to your look in advance if necessary. I recommend allowing 50% more time than you may think you need for hair and makeup. This alleviates the number one reason weddings end up running late.  It will also ensure that you have plenty of time for all the pictures you want to take before the ceremony!

3:30 - 4:00 :: Bride and Bridesmaids’ portraits

This is when I will be photographing you and your lovely bridesmaids as a group! If you like, I will also take individual photos of you with each one of them. I will take a few bride’s portraits as well. It’s important that the bouquets are photo-ready and have been delivered to where you put on your dress. After this part is complete, the bride will go into “hiding” so that early guests don’t sneak a peek!

4:00 - 4:30 :: Groom and Groomsmen’s portraits

It’s time for the guys to have their photos taken! Have someone put the boutonnières on the groom and groomsmen before they arrive for their portraits. Countless times my second photographer and I have had to jump in and put the boutonnières on ourselves. I don’t mind doing this at all, but it can slow things down and delay the photo timeline. I will also be taking the groom’s portraits at this point. 

4:30 - 5:00 :: Photographers get ready for ceremony

If the reception is in the same location as the ceremony, I will use this time to shoot the reception décor untouched. My second photographer will be capturing the guests arriving at the ceremony location. 

A tip: If the ceremony and reception are in different locations, I recommend having a cocktail hour outside of the main reception area if possible. This way I can grab some great shots of your reception details before the night begins and guests start laying purses and coats down at their seats.

5:00 - 5:30 :: Ceremony time!

It’s time to get married! Most ceremonies are around 30 minutes long. If your ceremony is going to be longer, we will make adjustments to the timeline. 

Cherish these moments...they will pass by so quickly! Look at one another, take in your guests and the beautiful space in which you are joining your lives. Enjoy!

While I’m photographing everyone walking down the aisle, my second photographer will be with you and your dad, to capture those sweet moments right before he walks you down the aisle to become a wife. 

Quick tip: Find out the rules for photography at the ceremony location. Every venue is different; some restrict the location of photography and even have specific times at which photography is not permitted.

5:30 - 5:55 :: Family Formals

Family formals traditionally take place right after the ceremony. It’s best to save the family formals until after the ceremony because all family members will definitely be present at this time. Two months prior to the wedding I send my clients a very detailed questionnaire in which you can list the exact photos you want. I recommend photographing just the immediate family after the ceremony – you want to leave enough time for the bride and groom’s portraits! Remember, we can always capture photos with your extended family during the reception. My second photographer will be photographing the cocktail hour at this time. 

5:55 - 6:05 :: Bridal Party portraits

At this time, I will be photographing the entire bridal party together. A quick tip: Don’t return the bouquets to your planner right after the ceremony, we will need them for these photos!

6:05 - 6:30 :: Bride & Groom’s portraits

After I take photos of the bridal party together, I will begin taking portraits of the bride and groom. I will find the locations for these shots. Remember, the light determines where we shoot, so I can’t decide on portrait locations until the day of your wedding. As we shoot these portraits, the bridal party can start making their way to the reception. A quick reminder: The more group photos you add prior to the bride and groom’s portraits, the less time we will have for them.

6:30 - 10:00 :: Introductions and reception events to follow

While you are getting ready to be introduced as husband and wife, I will set up my flash to beautifully capture you in a low light situation. Another tip: For an exciting dance floor, the bride and groom should be rocking on it! 

10:00 :: The grand exit

Confetti, lavender, bubbles, sparklers...rice! Guests love to shower the bride and groom with wishes for prosperity and abundance at the end of the wedding – and there are so many beautiful ways to do it! If you’re planning an exit with sparklers, get the longest ones; small sparklers start smoking right away. 

The first look

The first look is a personal decision. Don’t let articles on the internet or your friends’ opinions dictate what you should do on your wedding day. If your priority is to enjoy cocktail hour and get all of the photos done beforehand, then go for it! If you’ve always dreamed of your loved one seeing you for the first time as you walk down the aisle, don’t do the first look. The bride and groom should be on the same page with this decision and it should come from the heart! If you decide to do the first look, please note that your photo timeline will shift, and you’ll likely have to add extra coverage for me to stay until the exit. 

1:30 - 2:00 :: Bridal Details

2:00 - 3:00 :: Bride and Bridesmaids Prep / Bride to put on the dress

3:00 - 3:15 :: First look 

3:15 - 3:45 :: Bride & Groom’s portraits

3:45 - 4:30 :: Bridal party portraits

4:30 - 5:00 :: Photographers get ready for ceremony

5:00 - 5:30 :: Ceremony time!

5:30 - 5:55 :: Family Formals

5:55 - 6:05 :: More Bride & Groom’s portraits with better lighting 

6:05 :: Bride and Groom join cocktail hour

6:30 - 9:30 :: Introductions and reception events to follow