Tips For Planning Your Wedding Day Timeline

how to make the perfect wedding photography timeline  

Planning the Perfect Wedding Timeline

Planning the perfect wedding timeline is the key to a stress-free wedding. It’s the backbone of your wedding day and ensures that the entire day runs smoothly, from start to finish.

During our first consultation, we’ll make a preliminary timeline based upon your wedding information. A few months before the wedding, I’ll send out a Wedding Questionnaire and refine the timeline to make sure it’s perfect.

The best way to ensure that there’s enough time for all of the essential wedding photos is to allocate enough time for each part of the day. Even better: Add a cushion to account for unexpected mishaps! I’ve seen all kinds of delays happen on wedding days like broken zippers, stained suits, misplaced vows, etc. Adding extra buffer time into your timeline will allow you to handle these moments without any added stress, or, best case scenario, if everything goes super smoothly, you’ll get a few extra minutes to just rest, relax, and soak in the day. Win-win!

Here is the minimum amount of time that I would recommend setting aside for each part of the day:

  • Bride Prep: 1.5-2 hours
  • Groom Prep: 1-1.5 hours
  • Couple Portraits: 30-45 mins
  • Wedding Party Portraits: 20-30 mins
  • Family Portraits: 20-30+ mins (depending upon the number of family members)
  • Ceremony: Typically 15 -60+ mins (add extra time if you plan to have a receiving line or an exit)
  • Cocktail hour: Typically 1-1.5 hours
  • Reception: Typically 4+ hours

* If you don’t plan on having a First Look, I would reserve 2+ hours for Bride Prep and 1.5+ hours for Groom Prep so we can save time by taking the separate bridesmaids and groomsmen photos before the ceremony. 

* If you don’t plan on having a First Look & your venue offers a 1.5 Hour Cocktail Hour, I highly recommend it so we have more time to take all of the portraits and reception detail shots in that time frame!

* If you don’t plan on having a First Look, I would also recommend carving out a 10+ minute time slot during your reception for us to sneak away to take some more photos together, since we might not be able to get enough during cocktail hour.

how to make the perfect wedding photography timeline

Some Factors to Consider:

What’s the travel time in between locations?

To get an estimate of travel times, enter the start & end locations into Google Maps, select “Arrive By,” and enter the date and time of your wedding. I always recommend going with the more conservative estimate and factoring in extra time for traffic. Also take into consideration that a limo/party bus may drive a bit slower or have to take a different route due to overpasses, non-commercial vehicle roads, sharp turns, construction, etc.

How large are your families?

If you both have large families, or if it takes a while to gather & arrange your family members, it could take up to 30 minutes to take all of your family portraits. To expedite this, please be sure to submit a family shot list of all the family combinations you’d like photos of (including everyone’s names so we can call them out easier) in your Wedding Questionnaire so we can be as efficient & organized as possible.

Are you ok with friends/family seeing you before the ceremony?

Some couples don’t want any guests to see them before the ceremony – if that’s the case, the portraits should be finished at least 15-30 minutes before the invitation time so they can hide away. This also allows us to photograph your ceremony details and get all set up for the ceremony. (If your package includes video, this is also when we set up the audio & video equipment for the ceremony.)

How many guests are attending your wedding?

If you have a lot of guests, it may take a while for everyone to find their seats between the cocktail hour and reception. It will also take a little longer for the wait staff to take everyone’s dinner orders and bring out all the entrées.

What time does the sun set?

Enter the date and location of your wedding into to find out what time the sun will set on your wedding day. The hour before sunset (“Golden Hour”) is my favorite time to take photos! Please keep in mind that all outdoor portraits (including the wedding party & family photos) should be finished no later than half an hour after sunset, when all the natural light will be gone.

Are you having a First Look?

If your ceremony & reception are taking place in the same location, with no gap between the ceremony and cocktail hour, I highly recommend doing a First Look. If your ceremony & reception are in different locations, with a 1+ hour gap in between, I would recommend not having a First Look and taking most of the portraits after the ceremony instead. If you don’t want to have a First Look but there is no gap of time in between your ceremony & cocktail hour, I would highly recommend asking your venue if they offer a 1.5 hour cocktail hour so we have more time to take all of the portraits and reception detail shots in that time frame. Still not sure if you should do a First Look? I have an entire blog post to help you decide!


Example Ideal Timeline

Here are some examples of ideal timelines both with or without a First Look.

* Every wedding day is different. I’d be more than happy to put together my recommended timeline for your wedding – just send me the start & end times of your ceremony, cocktail hour, & reception, and the addresses of your prep locations! *


1-2:15pm – Groom Prep at hotel (details, getting ready, getting dressed, etc.)
* groomsmen head to venue at 2:15pm – 15 minute drive *
1-2:30 – Bride Prep in bridal suite (details, getting ready, getting dressed, etc.)
2:45 – First Look, B&G portraits, full wedding party photos
3:45 – Family Portraits
4:15 – B&G hide away, photographers capture ceremony details
4:30 – Guests arrive
4:40 – Ceremony
5pm – Cocktail hour, photograph reception details
6pm – Reception starts
9pm – Cake cutting, bouquet toss
9:45pm – Sparkler Exit
10pm – End time


1-2:15pm – Groom Prep at hotel (details, getting ready, getting dressed, etc.)
* groomsmen head to church at 2:15pm – 15 minute drive *
1-2:30 – Bride Prep at home (details, getting ready, getting dressed, etc.)
* bridesmaids head to church at 2:30pm – 15 minute drive *
3-4pm – Ceremony
4pm – Bubble exit from church, immediate family photos
* drive to park – 10 minutes away *
4:30-5:15 – B&G portraits, full wedding party photos
* drive to venue – 15 minutes away *
5-6:30pm – Cocktail Hour, extended family photos, photographers capture reception details
6:30pm – Reception starts
7:30pm – Sneak away for some sunset portraits
9:30pm – Cake cutting, bouquet toss
10pm – Photography coverage ends
10:30 – Reception ends

Should My Photographer Leave Early?

Some couples choose to end their photography coverage half an hour or an hour before their reception ends. This is a smart way to save some money on your photography package but it’s not a perfect fit for all weddings.

I would not recommend this if:

  • You plan to have a sparkler exitfireworks show, or some other grand send-off at the end of the reception
  • You’re driving away in a “Just Married” car and would like that to be captured
  • You’re having an after-party you’d like coverage of

If you are ending your coverage early:

  • Make sure that your coordinator/planner/DJ knows that the cake cuttingbouquet toss, or any other formalities will have to take place at least 15-20 minutes before the photographers leave
  • Make sure that your favors are laid out 15 minutes before we leave so we can take photos of them

wedding night sparkler sendoff vs ending photography coverage early

Good Luck & Happy Wedding Planning! If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to ask!


Read more helpful wedding planning blog posts here.

October 15, 2018

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