Though a wedding day can flow smoothly with several different timeline possibilities, this is one suggested order of events. Couples often have many questions regarding how they should structure the timeline so that they can have everything documented beautifully and enjoy the day without stress. The times suggested below are simply estimates, and your wedding day timeline will likely need to be customized to fit your unique needs! If you have a wedding coordinator, she will definitely be able to assist with this. I am more than happy to help as well. Two weeks prior to your wedding date, I will be in touch to request a completed timeline and have you fill out a wedding day questionnaire so we are all on the same page.
Some questions to consider while putting together your wedding day timeline:
- Do I want to see my bride or groom before the ceremony? (Jasmine Star wrote a really great post on why she encourages the First Look.) Ultimately, it is up to you whether or not you will see your bride or groom before the ceremony, but having a first look does allow for more photo time before the ceremony. This way, by the time cocktail hour and reception rolls around, you can mingle with guests and enjoy the evening.
- Which parts of the day are most important for me to have documented?
- How will the lighting be at the time of day the ceremony is planned?
– Sample Wedding Day Timeline –
getting ready (one hour)
This is one my favorite parts of the entire day. When all the girls are gathered around the bride, doting on her every need, makeup and shoes and accessories sprawled out on the bed, and traces of hairspray and perfume lingering in the air. I love a good girl fest! I’ll capture your mother or maid of honor lacing up your dress, the reactions of your bridesmaids as they see the final look put together for the first time, and a gift or card exchange from your husband-to-be.
If time allows, and especially if the bride and groom are getting ready at the same location, I also like to pop in to get some prep photos of the groom and his groomsmen. For the ties, cufflinks, shoes, boutonniere pinning, and the boys hanging out together.
I strongly encourage couples to have getting ready photos, as it helps tell a complete story of the day. From start to finish.
first look (15 minutes)
When I arrive at the venue, I spend time scoping out the best place for a first look if the location has not already been determined. Usually, we look for a spot that is quiet, private, and is in the shade. The groom will typically face away from his bride, and she will then walk up and tap him on the shoulder. Capturing the reactions of each person in this moment is such a treat.
bride & groom portrait session (30 minutes)
Immediately following the first look, the three of us can go on a little adventure for some bride and groom portraits. You will treasure these photos of just the two of you! Time permitting, we can even leave the venue. For instance, if you’re getting married on a rooftop in downtown Los Angeles, let’s explore the streets for colorful walls, murals, and maybe a little bit of cool city grunge.
If time does not allow for this to happen before the ceremony, we can always sneak away for a bit during the cocktail hour after your ceremony concludes. You may prefer this option if you’re looking for “golden hour” images with that magic sunset light.
family and bridal party formals (one hour)
At a pre-determined time and location, all family members should meet for family formal portraits. It’s pretty essential that we have a list of must-have shots (bride + groom with both sets of grandparents, bride + Aunt Rosie, etc) so that we don’t leave anyone or anything out!
The bridal party should be on standby at this time (since often family members will be in both bridal party and family portraits). After family images are complete, all members of the family are free to go while we do pictures of the bridal party. This may include the bride with each of her bridesmaids, the groom and his best man, and the whole group – including little ones like the flower girl!
details (20-30 minutes)
Before the ceremony, as you retreat back to the room to regroup and relax, I will be capturing detail photos of the reception and ceremony site, table settings, and other venue shots. It’s important I have time for this before the guests arrive to these locations, so I can document everything in its perfect place.
ceremony (20-30 minutes)
Please consider the time of day you plan your ceremony, as good lighting is EVERYTHING! Soft light will be the most flattering; in full sun (and especially midday and early afternoon) you may be squinting and there will be harsh shadows. The closer toward sunset, the softer the light will be. A shady spot is always good if possible! Conversely, having your ceremony inside or during a time of day that is very dark can also produce lighting challenges.
cocktail hour (30-45 minutes)
I’ll be capturing candid moments of guests and taking shots of table settings and venue details. If we need more time for bride and groom or bridal party portraits, this would be a great time for that as well.
grand entrance + first dance
The couple below had their first dance on a cliff overlooking the ocean in Malibu at sunset. It was an elopement, with no DJ present – just a portable speaker playing Jimi Hendrix. Moral of the story: just do your thing. We’ll make it work.
dinner (45 minutes)
Typically not the most opportune time for taking pictures (think people chewing and stuff), I’ll take this time to have a bite of food while staying close by in case a photo opportunity arises!
toasts + speeches
These can be sprinkled in before or even toward the end of dinnertime. I’ll focus on capturing guest reactions and all the emotions in the room.
This may begin with a father/daughter and mother/son dance before the dance floor is opened up for everyone.
If you are cutting the cake and doing a bouquet toss or a garter toss, these will typically occur at about the same time. However, the cake cutting you see below happened at about 3:00 in the afternoon. It was a morning wedding followed by brunch. So, there may be wedding guidelines but no set “rules.” Do what makes you happy! I’m actually quite the fan of untraditional weddings and rule breakers.
As you can see, a lot of photography occurs before the ceremony even happens! When deciding how many hours of coverage you need and which parts of the day you want photographed, I’d almost always recommend more time prior to the ceremony instead of after.
Like I mentioned previously, there is no one “right” or “wrong” way to plan your day. This is just one rendition of a wedding day flow of events that I have found works well.
Please let me know if you have any questions about your wedding day timeline. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to helping you however I can!