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July 21, 2021

Wedding Day Timeline Planning Tips:


Wedding Help

We aren’t sure whether you know this or not, but we go to a few weddings here and there. It is kind of our “jam.” 🙂

So, when we receive responses to our questionnaires from our couples about their wedding day photography timeline about 30-40 days prior to their wedding, it is not uncommon for us to review those responses and give a little wedding day advice to help the day flow a little more smoothly in regards to photos.

Since we started our studio over 13 years ago we have shot a couple of hundred weddings. Over the years we have noticed that we are regularly giving the same wedding day advice to each couple. So, we decided to put together the ultimate guide for putting together an awesome wedding day photography timeline that will flow as smooth as silk over a baby’s behind. So Marianne and Joe “How do I plan my wedding day timeline?” Glad you asked!

Q. How much time do Marianne and Joe need for photos on the wedding day?

A. Here’s a rough and dirty guide to how much time we need to do the various types of photos that we usually do at your wedding:

  • Getting Ready: At least 30-45 minutes with both the guys and the girls, but the more the better (see the F.A.Q.s below for how to figure out our start time)! Plan for about 15 minutes for bridal details (wedding dress, shoes etc). More if you are having your coordinator put together a lay-flat of your invitation suite for us to photograph.
  • Bride + Bridesmaids: 20-30 minutes (before the ceremony is recommended). More for larger parties.
  • Groom + Groomsmen: 20-30 minutes (before the ceremony is recommended). More for larger parties.
  • Wedding Couple Together: 45 minutes-or-so. If you do a “first look,” that usually takes about 15 minutes and we usually recommend scheduling about 15-20 minutes right before sunset for the best light.
  • Whole Wedding Party Together: 20-30 minutes
  • Immediate Family: This is based on how many groups you want to do. We usually recommend about 2 minutes per small group (2-8 people) and about 5-7 minutes per large group (8+ people).
  • Extended Family: We usually recommend keeping family formals to immediate family and then doing less “formal” photos with extended family members as you see them during reception. But, if you would like to include extended family in the formals, then use the same timing calculations as for immediate family.
  • Ceremony Prep Time: 20-30 minutes. Don’t schedule any other photo sessions for the 20-30 minutes right before your ceremony so we can get set up, communicate with videographers about how we/they plan to shoot and photograph your ceremony details, etc.

You give us those chunks of time and we will give you some sweet, tasty wedding photos!

Q. When do Marianne and Joe usually start shooting?

A. Typically we recommend deciding on our start time in one of two ways:

1) We can start getting ready for photos just before our bride(s) start makeup (that way she/they is somewhat done before we start shooting. We recommend having your hair done before makeup). Or just for the last few minutes if makeup touch ups. Then, presuming that you have booked us for our base package of 8 hours, go forward 8 hours and make sure that we are at the reception late enough to capture all of the events you want us to capture and about 30 minutes or so of open dancing. If we aren’t there late enough to capture everything you would like, you can either adjust our start time or add time to your package.

Keep in mind, that if you are having a grand exit (sparklers, confetti, lavender, etc.) you may want to double-check that we will be there until then!

2) Start with the last event at reception plus 30-45 minutes of open dancing and then look back 8 hours. If our start time gives us 30+ minutes of getting ready, then you are probably good! If not, we will have to either adjust the start/end time or add time to your package.

Q. How ready should we be when you get here/what should we have ready?

A. We usually recommend that we start when our brides have their hair completed and just before they are starting make-up or towards the last 15-20 minutes of makeup for the Bride. We recommend that our grooms be showered (because we are pretty confident that you don’t want photos of that…) and have their pants and undershirt on (no collared shirt, tie or jacket on). You will also want to plan on having any details you want photographed out and readily available (dress, shoes, invitations, garter etc). That way we get to experience and capture all the parts of your day and really tell the full story.

Q. How long should we set aside for sunset photos in our wedding day photography timeline?

A. This will vary a little depending on your location/how much time we have already spent shooting with the two of you. If we have already gotten around 30 minutes of couples photo time then setting aside 10-15 minutes for a few sunset photos in gorgeous light should be perfect. Even if we don’t have a brilliant sunset in terms of color the light itself is much more golden and flattering at this time.

TIP: Sunset times change every day and vary depending on where your wedding is located! So, look up the sunset time for your wedding day/location here and schedule a little reception “down-time” (maybe during dinner or near the beginning of open dancing?) during the 15 minutes before sunset so that you don’t have to worry about missing anything important during your sunset photos.

Q. Should we still plan for sunset photos in our wedding day photography timeline if there is no view of the sunset?

A. If your wedding location doesn’t have a view of the sky then “sunset photos” will probably not be very… sunset-ey. BUT! We can set aside that same time to do some night photos instead and they are super awesome too! Even if you DO have a view of the sunset, feel free to schedule some time for some night photos in addition to your sunset photos for a double dip of awesomeness!

TIP: Night photos take a little longer because we have to set up lighting. It might take us 5-10 minutes just to get 2 or 3 deliverable epic photos versus being able to deliver 20 or 30 in the same time period in daylight. These are much more involved photos.

wedding day photography timeline.

Q. When should we feed you?

A. Much like with a mogwai, making your photographer wait to eat until after midnight is a bad life decision. Wedding photography is a super active profession and by the time your reception starts we will have trekked several miles with very heavy equipment hanging off of us the whole time. So, we need to eat or else we risk passing out or getting sick from our blood sugar getting too low. A nice hot meal will get us back in action, refreshed and ready to rock the rest of the evening!

Equally important to whether we eat is when we eat. The best time for us to take a few minutes to get a few calories down is when you (the wedding couple) are eating. Why? Because that is normally the only time of day that people don’t really want photos (pictures of people eating are probably the least flattering photos we could possibly take) and when no other events are happening. If we have to wait until after the guests are all served, you will be done eating and ready for toasts, dances, mingling, and other things that make for great photos! So, if possible, let your caterer/coordinator know that we will need to eat at the same time as you and schedule that into your wedding day photography timeline in order to make sure we don’t miss anything. If your caterer will not accommodate this (bummer!) please let us know so we can plan ahead,

– Myth #1: We don’t want to do a first look but in order to save time on family formals after the ceremony we want to do shots of the bride and her family and the groom and his family separately before the ceremony.

Don’t do it! Just do all of the family formals after the ceremony and make sure that everyone knows exactly where to go after the ceremony. They don’t need to go exactly where we will be shooting family formals, they just all need to 1) know that they are going to be in family formals, and 2) be in one place.

Here’s why: The thing that takes the most time with family formals is gathering everyone together and getting people organized. If you set up your wedding day photography timeline to do the bride and her family and the groom and his family separate before the ceremony and then the bride + groom and both of their families together after the ceremony, then we have to gather families three times instead of just one. Moreover, the difference between the group “Bride + Groom + Bride’s Parents” and the group “Bride + Bride’s Parents” is just saying “Groom, can you step out for a second?” which takes about 3 seconds to quickly re-arrange and will save you time in the end.wedding day photography timeline.

The difference between these two photos was just asking our groom to step out for a second.

Finally, 9 out of 10 times someone will forget that they were supposed to show up early for family photos before the ceremony (or they get caught in traffic or they are busy dealing with the florist or they forgot their boutonniere or their little kids took longer to get dressed than expected… etc.) which typically results in everyone spending time getting everyone together only to discover that someone is missing and then spending more time trying to figure out where that person is and then finally deciding to just do that side of the family’s photos after the ceremony.

No one is going to be so late that they miss your entire ceremony and then some (at least it is very unlikely). If you let your immediate families know to just be in a certain spot after the ceremony, then you can save yourselves a LOT of headaches and get your family formals done super quickly and efficiently while still getting awesome photos of the people you love. There are sometimes exceptions to this for sure. If you’re doing a first look we may be able to plan to get these done before or if you have a very very long list of photos we may need to tweak some timing.

– Myth #2: Doing a first look will take “something” away from our ceremony.

It probably depends on who you ask, but everyone we have asked (and we have asked several of our past couples and here is a write-up one of our past couples did about the experience of having a first look) has said that doing a first look did not take anything away from the ceremony at all. We also did a first look at our wedding, so we speak from personal experience when we say that doing a first look is a whole different experience than seeing each other as you walk down the aisle.

For us, all we wanted to do all day from the second we got up in the morning was to see one another! Our wedding day was such a huge day for us and we wanted to experience as much of it as we could together. Plus, we aren’t exactly huge fans of being the center of attention, so seeing each other before the ceremony gave us a sense of “ok, we can do this together.” When Marianne walked down the aisle, both of us were just floored because it wasn’t until that moment that it hit us: we are getting married today. We are getting married right now! This is the beginning of the rest of our lives together!

It is totally, 110% o.k. if you prefer to wait. We aren’t pushing first looks as the best and only way to plan your wedding day photography timeline (although doing a first look does give you a lot more flexibility in your timeline). We have just heard sooooo many couples say that they want to do a first look, but they think that it will take something away from the ceremony. It doesn’t. If you want to do a first look, then do one. If you don’t, then don’t. This is your wedding, so do what you want to do!

wedding day advice.
wedding day photography timeline.

– Myth #3: My makeup artist and/or hair stylist gave me a time estimate for each person’s hair/makeup that they are doing, so I will just put their estimates into my wedding day photography timeline.

A lot of makeup artists and hairstylists are infamously bad about keeping schedules (but we love them anyway and they do awesome work!) It is not really their fault since most of the time they can’t schedule a consultation and meet up with every single person whose hair and makeup they are doing before they give you a time estimate, so they really can’t be certain of what all they are going to have to do on the day of your wedding (we have even seen makeup artists unexpectedly have to cover up groomsmens’ black eyes from sports accidents on the morning of the wedding!). They will also be a little slower on your actual day than they were at your hair/makeup trial because they are working their hardest to make you look the best you can and they really want to get it just right, which is awesome! Regardless of whether it is their fault or not, they can’t send people out without them being done and if the hair and makeup professionals are running late, it is usually photo time that gets cut to make up for it. Instead of relying solely on their estimates, give yourself a little bit of a buffer (approximately 5-10 minutes more per person being done than what your professionals are asking for), just to be safe.

– Myth #4: I should make a shot list/Pinterest board for you guys so you know what is important to me/what shots I want you to take.

It seems like every wedding planning blog we look at makes this recommendation but we have absolutely no idea why they are telling couples to do this! The only shot list we need from you is the list of family formal photos you would like (which we will ask for in the questionnaires we send to you) so we can make sure to budget enough time to get your family formals completed and that will help that part of the day run much more smoothly.

For the rest of the day we will be watching for important moments. If we are having to check things off a list it is very likely that we will miss something that we otherwise would have been able to capture because we were staring at a piece of paper trying to make sure we “get the shots on the list” instead of paying attention to what is going on at your wedding! We shoot many, many, MANY weddings and understand the flow and key moments of a wedding day and you will get our absolute best work if you let us pay attention to what is happening around us instead of hunting down shots on a list.

That is not to say that we don’t want to know what is important to you! We absolutely DO want to know all about the special details that you have planned for your day and we want to capture those for you. That is why we also ask you to tell us as much detail as you can about any special details, events, and surprises that you are planning for your day in our questionnaires! 🙂

TIP: We cannot replicate photos from Pinterest because to do so would be copyright infringement. If you want to send us a Pinterest board to give us a feel for the vibe of your wedding, that is totally fine! 🙂 You can also always let us know while shooting if there was a general type of location/pose you were wanting to photograph and we can make it customized for you, not an exact replica of someone else’s.

– Pitfall #1: Failure to plan for travel and traffic in your wedding day photography timeline.

This one can be really bad and it is super important. Five weeks before your wedding and on the same day of the week as your wedding (i.e. if you are getting married on a Saturday, then look at the Saturday five weeks prior to your wedding), pull up Sigalert (or any other traffic monitoring site) and see what traffic is like on the routes you will be taking at around the times that you are likely to be on them. Do this every week and you might notice that there is consistently more or consistently less traffic on your routes than you had planned. You can save yourself a LOT of stress (and perhaps even prepare appropriate tasty treats and beverages!) by knowing ahead of time if you are probably going to be sitting in traffic for 45 minutes between your getting ready, ceremony, and reception locations.

– Pitfall #2: Planning every second of your day.

This one is a little tricky because you want to be organized and you want to know where you are supposed to be and when and be able to track whether things are running on time. BUT, if you try to plan out every second of your day you will spend all day looking at your timeline (instead of enjoying your wedding!) and it will just stress you out once you inevitably get a couple of minutes behind! What do we mean and what is the difference? Here’s an example of good planning that let’s you know what is supposed to be happening, when it is supposed to be happening, and where it is supposed to be happening:

9:00 a.m. – 9:45 a.m.: Girls meet for breakfast together at ____
9:45 a.m. – 10:15 a.m.: Girls travel to getting ready location at ____
10:15 a.m. – 10:45 a.m.: Bridesmaid 1 gets hair done
10:45 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.: Bridesmaid 1 gets makeup done while bridesmaid 2 gets hair done
… etc.

Here is an example of over-planning:

9:00 a.m.: Girls meet for breakfast at ____
9:05 a.m.: General greetings finished, request table from host/hostess
9:07 a.m.: We are seated
9:10 a.m.: Flag down server
9:15 a.m.: Order mimosa, 2 eggs, and a piece of toast
9:20 a.m.: Pleasant conversation with bridesmaids
9:25 a.m.: Eggs should be done cooking by now or else they will not be over-easy
9:30 a.m.: If server is not back with breakfast yet, no tip because she ruined my wedding
9:30 – 9:34 a.m.: Consume 2 eggs in 12 bites, chewing 30 times per bite at a rate of 3 chews per second with 10 seconds between each bite. Do not consume toast because carbs make you fat.
9:35 a.m.: Finish up eating/drinking and flag down server for check
9:40 a.m.: Pay on Visa ending in **** in order to get airline miles
9:45 a.m.: Enter car and exit through South end of parking lot
… etc.

Obviously, that second example is a little on the extreme side, but you get the point!

TIP: if you are planning in intervals of less than 10-15 minutes-or-so, you are probably over-planning your day.

So, those are our wedding day photography timeline tips, myths and F.A.Q.s! If you are one of our clients, then we are happy to review your responses to our questionnaires and we will give you customized feedback about your wedding day photography timeline. No matter who you are, we hope that this page was helpful and that your wedding elevates the meaning of the word “awesomeness” to a whole new level!!! 🙂

As a starting point we have also created some general timelines for you to check out below. Of course consider these are very general and you will want to consider your specific wedding needs (travel/traffic, family formal list size, bridal party size etc) when creating your timeline draft. This may be a good jumping off point though! These assume a wedding party of 3-6 on each side and a “typical” immediate family formal list (parents, siblings, grandparents).

Sample Wedding Timeline with no First Look and one location:

2:00pm – Photographers Start At Wedding Venue

2:00pm – Wedding Outfit Details (Dress, Shoes, rings)

2:15pm – Joe Shoots with Groom + Groomsmen

2:20pm – Bride Gets into dress

2:45pm – Bride + Bride Crew Photos (Groom and his crew tucked away)

3:15pm – Bride + her crew tucked away. 

3:30pm – Photographers shoot ceremony details and prep for ceremony

4:00pm – Ceremony

4:30pm – Immediate Family Photos

5:00pm – Full Wedding party Photos

5:20pm – Wedding Couple Photos

5:30pm – Dress is bustled – photographers prep for reception

5:45pm – Grand Entrance (parents, sponsors, wedding party couple) + First Dance

5:55pm – Welcome and Blessing

6:00pm – Dinner

6:45pm – Toasts (2) (we recommend giving toasters a set amount of time)

7:00pm – Parent Dances 

7:45pm – Sunset Photos (this time will change each day based on sunset)

8:10pm – Official Sunset

8:20pm – Thank you by Wedding Couple then Cake Cutting

Open Dancing

9:45pm – Last Dance

10:00pm – Exit

Sample Wedding Timeline with a first look at one location:

2:00 – Photographers start at wedding Venue

2:00 – Photograph Wedding outfit details (Dress, shoes, etc) and makeup touch ups

2:30 – Bride(s) get into dress/Groom(s) Gets Dressed

2:50 – First Look with wedding couple

3:15 – Bride + Bride Crew / Groom + Groom Crew separate group photos

3:30 – Photos of Whole Wedding Party Together 

4:00 – Photographers Prep for Ceremony and Photograph Details. Couple and Wedding Party relax/freshen up

4:30 PM – Ceremony Start Time

5:00 – Family Formals

5:30 – Additional Photos with Wedding Couple

5:45 – Prep for Reception and photograph Reception details

6:00 – Guests Invited to Reception

6:15 – Grand Entrance right into First Dance

6:25 – Welcome Toast and Blessing

7:10 – Toasts (3 total)

7:35 – Parent Dances

7:45pm Sunset Photos

8:15 – Thank you/Cake Cutting/Tosses

10pm- Photographer End Time

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