Wedding Photography Timeline Planning & Tips
Big congrats on your upcoming wedding day! We're honored to be a part of this big day and capture it all with our cameras. This guide will provide insights & tips so you can get the most out of your photography experience! Please keep in mind every wedding event, couple, and family is different (which is wonderful!) and we HIGHLY encourage you to do your own thing and plan things accordingly to your tastes and preferences. However, there are some ideal time frames you should consider when planning the day. Your wedding coordinator and/or venue will likely have suggested timelines which are great as well.
As photographers we generally break up wedding day photo events into these categories:
- Individual Portraits
- First Look
- Daytime Couples Portraits
- Wedding Party (Bridesmaids & Groomsman)
- Big Group Photo (everyone present at wedding)
- Cocktail Hour
- Family Portraits
- Sunset Couples Portraits
Arrival & Photo Timeline
Whether you are doing a first look or not, we recommend our arrival 2-3 hours before the ceremony. For most weddings, 2 hours is just right. Every wedding is different though, and sometimes it's nice to arrive 3 hours before your ceremony if:
- You have a larger sized wedding party (moving people around takes time) and want lots of photos with them in different locations around your venue (or even offsite)
- Getting ready photos are quite important you want more than 60 mins of those photos
- You want to do family photos before the ceremony (we typically do not recommend this for reasons explained later)
Most commonly coverage on the wedding day is for 8 hours from 2-10pm but it also depends on your selected package, how much coverage time is included, and your own timeline of events. You're free to use the coverage time however you'd like (1-9pm, 3-11pm, etc). You're also free to add more time to any package to have coverage start earlier or end later. It's even fine to add more time on the spot if the dance party is still rockin and coverage time is ending.
Typical photography flow of events and approx time needed:
- Arrival: 2-3 hours before ceremony
- 60-90 minutes: Details, preparation, getting ready, individual portraits
- 60-90 minutes: First look, daytime couples portraits, wedding party portraits
- 20-60 minutes: Ceremony
- 5-10 minutes: Optional big group photo (either immediately after ceremony or at end of cocktail hour is usually best)
- 30-120 minutes: Cocktail hour, or two! Family/Friends group photos, additional couple & wedding party portraits. Time required varies but typically 30 min if first look was done, or 60 minutes if no first look was done
- 3-5 hours: Reception! Photos of all reception events, dancing and candid moments. Sunset couples portraits (10-20 minutes), exact timing is always TBD but typically 30 min before sunset time. Sometimes also nighttime couples portraits towards end or after reception (10-20 minutes)
Here's an example of a normal photography schedule with times for a wedding with 4pm ceremony and first look:
- 2PM: Photographers Arrival
- 2-3PM: Details, preparation/getting ready/individual portraits
- 3-4PM: First Look, daytime couples portraits, wedding party
- 4-4:30PM: Ceremony
- 4:30-6PM: Cocktail hour (group photo, family/friends portrait photos, additional couple & wedding party portraits for 30-45 minutes. Longer if no first look was done)
- 6-10pm: Reception (All reception events are photographed, and usually more couples sunset portrait photos around sunset time)
To First Look or not to First Look?
One of the main questions we ask which will determine a lot about your timeline and order of events is: Will you be doing a first look? First look is when the couple gets ready separately and then have a revealing when all dressed and ready! First looks have become more popular because they allow more opportunities for photography before the ceremony, therefore giving you more time to hang out and enjoy the cocktail hour rather than being away taking photos. They also make that first moment of seeing each other more intimate which some couples prefer, and some don't. If you don't do a first look before ceremony, then it's when the bride walks down the aisle, which is wonderful too. Every couple is different and we personally don't prefer one way over the other, but we encourage you to research and make that decision yourselves according to your preferences and the needs of your timeline. There are a few cases when we're more likely to recommend a first look though:
- If your wedding is in the Fall or Winter. Late September through March the sunset times in the Northwest are 7pm and even much earlier which leaves less daylight for photos after the ceremony. You could have an earlier ceremony though to leave more time after for photos.
- You have a later than usual ceremony time (usually 5pm and later, but varies with season).
- You have a long list of photos and want hours of photography with yourselves, wedding party and/or family around the venue.
- You want to take additional photos away from the venue in different locations.
- Approx time needed: 30-60 minutes total, scattered throughout day
- What: Photos to remember all those beautiful details you spent so much time planning & executing
- When: Upon arrival, just before ceremony, and just before reception. Also scenic detail photos throughout the day.
- Where: Various locations
- Advice: Remember to bring and have available what you'd like photographed. Rings (freshly cleaned is best!), dress & suite, shoes, jewelry, invitations, sentimental items, bouquet/flowers, etc.
- Approx time needed: 30-60 minutes
- What: Journalistic coverage of getting ready for the big day
- When: Upon arrival, before first look and portraits
- Where: Wherever you're getting ready. Photogenic locations with windows & natural light work best. Ok for ladies/guys to be in separate areas at same location but ideally not at a different address that requires a drive and adds logistics
- Advice: Allow time so you're relaxed, not rushed. Try to schedule hair & makeup to be completed at or shortly after our arrival. Have your wedding party together and present with you. Turn up some fun music, have a drink & cheers together, have fun and be excited!
- Approx time needed: 10-20 minutes
- What: Portraits of bride/groom individually
- When: Just after you're finished getting ready and just before first look
- Where: Can be inside, outside, or a mix. We'll choose great spots that work well and look best. Window light is common and looks beautiful.
- Advice: Brides- don't forget to have your bouquet available. And grooms, don't forget to pin that Boutineer. Relax, be yourself, and we'll take care of the rest :)
- Approx time needed: 30-60 minutes
- What: There are many different combinations of photos for wedding party. We do photos of everyone together, each side together, bride with each bridesmaid, groom with each groomsman, and more.
- When: Various times throughout the day. During getting ready, before & after ceremony. We like to get the more "formal" wedding party photos done earlier in the day, as the wedding party tends to get a little wild later in the day, which is great for the more relaxed unposed photos :)
- Where: Can be inside, outside, or a mix. We'll choose great spots that work well and look best.
- Advice: Wedding party should be dressed & ready to go (don't forget bouquets & Boutonnières!) at the same time as you. If kids are in wedding party, they will be included in some photos and should be ready at the appropriate time too. Kids can be photographed after ceremony as well if that works better.
- Approx time: 20-60 minutes
- What: Capturing all the events and moments of your ceremony
- When: Your chosen ceremony time
- Where: Your ceremony site
- Advice: Pretty straightforward here! We don't control this part of the day but we'll sure do our best to capture it all :)
Big Group Photo (optional)
- Approx time: 5-10 minutes
- What: A big group photo of everyone at your wedding, if you'd like. Easy peasy, if planned correctly! We like to get the nice standard smiling shot, and then a fun one!
- When: Typically immediately after ceremony or at end of cocktail hour is usually best.
- Where: Usually right around the ceremony site
- Advice: If planned correctly, this isn't as hard as it might seem. If not planned correctly, it's difficult and slow to gather all your guests who are usually dispersed during most of the day. If we do the photo immediately after ceremony recessional or right before transition into reception (end of cocktail hour) the officiant or DJ makes an announcement, and we direct everyone and get it done quickly. If you'd definitely like to have this photo just let us know and we'll make it happen!
- Approx time: 60-120 minutes
- What: Photos of the happenings at cocktail hour, candids, and unplanned group photos.
- When: Immediately following ceremony
- Where: Varies at different venues and locations
- Advice: Every couple wants to enjoy their cocktail hour and every couple also wants lots of beautiful photos! We are always conscious about working quickly and efficiently so you can enjoy as much of your cocktail hour as possible, while still getting the photos we need.
Family/Friends "Formal" Group Photos
- Approx time: 20-30 minutes
- What: "Formal" Group photos of your families (extended & immediate) and friends
- When: Usually towards beginning of cocktail hour
- Where: Nearby cocktail hour at a central area so it's easy for family to come & go and they don't feel like they're missing out on the fun.
- Advice: ??Many couples think of this as the long, painful part of the day, but don't worry! We have learned a lot of tricks to make it easy, lighthearted and even fun! Cocktail hour is the best time to do family photos, usually after their first cocktail ;-) We generally prefer to "gather everyone up" only once for photos, so we don't recommend trying to do family photos before ceremony, except candid/unplanned ones. If a first look was done and photos were taken before ceremony, then it's not as crucial to spend time taking more wedding party/couples photos during cocktail hour but we'll likely want sneak in more at opportune times. If you're a list type person- don't forget to take advantage of our photo list page to help with your family/friends must take group photos.
Bride/Groom Couples Portraits
- Approx time: 60-90 minutes
- What: Beautiful portraits of the two stars of the day!
- When: Scattered throughout the day & night. Some at first look, some during cocktail hour, some during sunset & nighttime
- Where: All over! We're always paying attention to the best spots with the ideal lighting & backgrounds!
- Advice: The super creative part of the day when you get to be romantic, look beautiful, and just have fun together! We take portraits throughout the day, but the best "hero shots" are right around sunset time when the light is colorful and soft. We'll handle all these photos and get as much variety possible while keeping in mind you have an event to host and not let you miss too much. Just relax, be yourselves, have fun! You're going to LOVE your photos!
- Approx time: 3-5 hours
- What: Party time! We take photos of all your reception events and lots of candid/fun photos throughout the entire time. At some point we'll quickly sneak you out for sunset photos (weather/timing dependent) and maybe some night photos as well. If we missed any photos earlier in the day with family etc, we'll try to do them in this time too.
- When: Afternoon/evening
- Where: Your reception location, plus some other nearby spots for sunset etc
- Advice: Relax, unwind, have fun! This is when you can forget about photos, lists and timelines! We're shooting photos of all the events and action while you're eating, drinking, and dancing! We always hope you've booked enough time to have coverage until the end, but you can always add time if the party is rockin and your coverage time is up, just let us know!