Wedding Day Timeline Tips from a Wedding Photographer

Nothing can have a more drastic effect on a wedding day (negative or positive) than the way the timeline is laid out - and whether or not that timeline is adhered to. As a wedding photographer, I have seen first hand how a well-planned, spacious timeline allows me to create great photos and allows the bride and groom room to relax and breathe. I have also seen how cramped timelines that are more of an afterthought cause frenzied brides and grooms and missed photo opportunities. 

Great timelines are kind of my thing. I’m one of those annoying Type A people that loves being on time and loathes being late or feeling rushed - especially when I’m photographing someone else’s wedding day. My clients invest a lot into their wedding photography and the number one thing that will help them get the most of their time spent with me is having a well-planned schedule. Here are my top wedding day timeline tips:

Choose the right amount of wedding day photography coverage. A lot of people will choose a 6 hour photography package in the hopes of getting everything an 8 hour package offers (just for a lower price). Many times I have seen brides choose 6 hours of coverage while trying to smush a bunch of stuff into that amount of time. It doesn’t work that way. This usually results in high stress situations on a wedding day where we are all racing the clock (and the sunset time). My goal is to get brides the best possible pictures of their wedding day. Trying to take bride and groom portraits in 5 minutes when it should really take 30 minutes does not make for great photos. Sometimes 6 hours is the perfect amount of time - this is usually best for smaller weddings with only a couple of bridesmaids and weddings that only take place at one location. It’s not great for big weddings with an army of bridesmaids. 

Schedule enough time for hair and makeup on the wedding day. Even if you’ve got the perfect timeline set in place before the wedding day, it can all go awry if hair and makeup takes longer than expected. A pro stylist will know exactly how long it should take to do your and your bridesmaids’ looks. This will allow you to stick to the schedule and move on to pictures on time. Since this is the first part of the day, it can be a nasty domino effect if you don’t finish and get into your dress on time. 

Schedule a specific time to mingle with your guests. I see this at a lot of weddings: The ceremony is over and everyone is really excited. They should be! You’re married to the love of your life! However, this is usually the time for family photos, wedding party photos, etc. and not the time for mingling with guests. Generally the sun is going down and we have a limited amount of time to take photos. You should definitely take time to greet your guests and the best time to do that is during the reception (hopefully after you have had dinner). 

Create enough space between the ceremony and reception. This is so important. If you decide to not do a first look, you’ll have family photos, wedding party photos, and bride and groom photos to do after the ceremony. It’s a beautiful thing to have an hour for all of this (the more time, the better). To keep guests happy during this time, I would suggest a cocktail hour where you provide hor'dourves.  If you decide to do a receiving line after the ceremony, don’t include this in the portrait time. You can’t expect a photographer to take good photos in half the amount of time that was allotted. 

Do a first look! (If you want) I would never try to coerce couples into seeing each other before the ceremony but I will let them know how advantageous it is to both your wedding photos and your wedding day sanity. A first look will allow you to spend a couple of hours rather than minutes taking pictures. This will give you SO many more amazing final images of your day. You’ll get way more pictures of you with your new husband, you with your bridesmaids, and you with your family and you’ll get it all done before the ceremony. You will be able to leave your ceremony and go straight to your reception or you might get to spend a few minutes alone with your groom. Last year I photographed a wedding at an amazing venue in Dallas. Thank goodness the couple decided to do a first look because it gave us tons of time to explore the grounds and take pictures in every beautiful spot. We were even able to go back out for sunset pictures. 

Leave when it’s time to leave. A reception shouldn’t go so long that guests start to get bored and leave. However, you don’t want to leave too early either. The best receptions generally end about 2-3 hours after the bride and groom enter. That gives you time to eat dinner, mingle with guests, do the first dance and parents’ dances, toasts, and any other wedding reception traditions you might subscribe to. Some couples decide to do a “fake send-off” because they have run out of wedding photography coverage for the day. This isn’t something I would suggest doing because I have heard from wedding DJs that this kills the mood and makes the remainder of the night awkward. To fix this problem, I would refer back to my first tip about choosing the right amount of coverage. Or I would make a decision about your priorities: do you want more photos of you getting ready? Or would you rather have a long reception?