Wedding Day Timeline with First Look


The number one question I get from clients is how to plan a wedding day timeline and determine how many hours of photographer coverage you need. Your timeline sets the pace for the whole day, affects how rushed or relaxed you’ll feel, and dictates the amount of time I have to create your photos. Keep in mind, however, that it should be flexible. If something runs behind, you’ve got to have some wiggle room in your schedule to make up for it.

When you work with me, I’m 100% on board with helping you plan your wedding schedule. Even if you hire a great planner/coordinator, I want to be involved in tweaking your itinerary to make sure I can accomplish everything you want me to do with your wedding photography.

The following tips for timeline planning are aimed at meeting the photography needs of most weddings. I fully support having your wedding your way, however. If there’s something unique about yours (there almost always is!) let’s talk about making sure I have the time to capture it as effectively as possible!


The following sample timeline is for ten hours of photographer coverage, at two locations:

  • 12:00-12:30 details, decor
  • 12:30-1:30 hair, makeup
  • 1:30-1:45 groom getting ready
  • 1:45-2:15 groom, groomsmen portraits
  • 2:15-2:45 bride finishing touches
  • 2:45-3:15 bride, bridesmaids portraits
  • 3:15-3:30 buffer time / break time
  • 3:30-4:00 ceremony
  • 4:00-4:30 receiving line
  • 4:30-5:00 family portraits
  • 5:00-5:30 bridal party portraits
  • 5:30-6:00 bride and groom portraits
  • 6:00-6:30 (travel to reception)
  • 6:30-6:45 reception arrival, first dance
  • 6:45-7:45 toasts, dinner
  • 7:45-7:55 cake cutting
  • 7:55-8:05 other special dances
  • 8:05-8:45 guests dancing, mingling
  • 8:45-9:15 sunset portraits
  • 9:15-10:00 guests dancing, mingling
  • 10:00-10:30 sparkler exit


Initial Questions:

The following information is step-by-step how I work with my clients to create a timeline. First, you need to answer these essential questions:

  1. What parts of your wedding day do you want photography to cover?
  2. Do you want photos of all your décor and details? Do you want jewelry, invitations, shoes, flowers, cuff links, etc. photographed?
  3. Do you want photos of you getting ready early in the day? Do you want pictures of your friends/family helping you with those finishing touches?
  4. Which special reception events would you like to have photographed? i.e. cake cutting, first dance, bouquet and/or garter toss, dollar dance or anniversary dance, an special reception exit?
  5. How many locations will we be using? How long does it take to travel between them?
  6. What time is sunset on your wedding day? We can plan for sunset portraits or creative nighttime portraits of you as a couple, but it’s best to have large group outdoor photos finished at least 30 minutes before sunset. (For a winter wedding in Ohio, this means bridal party and formal family photos done by 4:30 PM if you want them done outside)

How Long Do Things Take?

  • Getting ready photos: 20 - 90 minutes per person. In 20 minutes, I can photograph a groom putting on a jacket, a tie, shoes and a boutonniere. In 20 minutes, I can photograph a bride stepping into her dress, putting on her jewelry, and having her veil placed. This is assuming, however, that everyone will be ready to do all of these things at the moment I walk in the door. If you want to relax and get pictures of family and friends, your flowers/details/invitations/etc. or bride hair and makeup being completed, you might want to schedule 90 minutes instead.
  • First looks: 10 minutes. Seeing each other before the wedding may or may not be something you’d like to do. It has advantages for timeline planning. We can get portraits of the two of you and bridal party and family photos finished before the ceremony. This would give you the ability to go straight to your reception after your ceremony, preventing your wedding guests from waiting a long time at your reception for you. Snacks, cocktails and a great DJ can make that wait fun though!
  • Ceremony: 30-60 minutes. Talk to your officiant about the length of yours, and then add at least 15-20 minutes for guests to linger and congratulate you afterwards. How many guests will you have? Will you have a receiving line? Consider how long it will take you to hug and greet each guest before moving on to the next section of your day. A formal receiving line can take 30-45 minutes with large groups.
  • Family photos: 30-60 minutes. Formal family portraits are usually most efficiently done immediately before or after the ceremony, when everyone is gathered, relaxed, and looking their best. Create a list of family groupings you want photographed, and then multiply that by 2 for the minimum number of minutes to schedule for these. If you have 20 family photos to take, schedule 40 minutes – then add 15 minutes if we need to set up lighting (this is often the case for indoor portraits and sometimes for outdoor portraits). I can complete family pictures in less time than this, but it’s common for a few people to wander off or for family members to ask for extra groupings. This formula should give us enough time to prevent anyone from feeling rushed.
  • Bridal party photos: 30 minutes. I’ll typically take a few posed photos of each side, a few posed of the group all together, something fun and unique if you’d like, and then a portrait of each of you with each member of the group.
  • Couple portraits: 60-90 minutes is a great amount of time to plan for having portraits done as a couple on your wedding day. BUT we can break this up into 2 or 3 sections throughout your day. For instance, we could spend 30 minutes on this after a first look, 30 minutes after the ceremony, and 30 minutes at sunset while your guests are eating/dancing. Get creative, but expect better photos with larger chunks of time, since you’ll be able to relax and get more comfortable with the camera.
  • Reception: 3 hours +. I’ve found that three hours is an efficient span of time for photography coverage at a reception. You can front-load this section of your day with first dance, mother-son and/or father-daughter dances, cake cutting, and toasts to get away with less than 3 hours with your photographer. A good DJ is a valuable asset for receptions and will be a great person to help you schedule this part of your wedding day.
  • “Pad” each piece of your day with extra time. Add in the minutes it takes to travel from one location to the next or one room to the next, the time it takes to get in and out of vehicles (consider how much more carefully than usual you’ll do this in your wedding attire), time for your photographer to set up equipment (5-10 minutes for me with each location/room change), wiggle room in case of delays, etc. Also, don’t forget your photographer is human and will need a bathroom/meal break!


If you feel like this is a daunting task, ask your vendors for help! A wedding planner or coordinator will most definitely assist you with this task, but be sure to involve your photographer as well!

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