Wedding timelines are important, and as a professional photographer who knows it better than you? There are many interpretations of wedding ceremony timelines to ensure that everything runs smoothly- right from the time the couple arrives at the ceremony venue to their reception exit. Wedding reception timelines ensure that everything runs seamlessly for the couple as well as the wedding vendors. Hence it will always help you as a professional wedding photographer to have your own wedding photography timeline for a hassle-free experience. Wedding day timelines are important, but the best person to create them would be the professional photographer assigned for so many reasons. Firstly, the wedding photographer is the only wedding vendor who is going to stand by the couple all day long. As almost every other wedding vendor will drop off their goods and services or will be only present during the wedding ceremony or reception. As you are the official wedding photographer, you will be there hands-on from the time the bride gets ready until the wedding party ends. In this article, we’ll talk about a feasible wedding day photography timeline that you can prepare and keep handy for all your future wedding photo sessions!

As a professional wedding photographer, you might get asked a lot by couples about how much photography coverage they need for their wedding day. A wedding photography session is a moving target and it is not easy to figure out how long one would need to reach the venue or decide the exact time at which dinner will be served. You know you want to capture amazing and special wedding moments throughout the day and creating a wedding photographer timeline is the best way to accomplish that. The most important rule of this wedding photography timeline is all about starting with what is important to you and what the couple wants to document (there might be special requests) and it varies from couple to couple. If you create your own wedding photography timeline, it is the best way to ensure to get stunning wedding images. Apart from being lighting experts, you would know the exact way to capture the best moments as they unfold candidly throughout the big day celebration. From knowing when to schedule family portraits and bridal party shots to getting your A-game for stunning couple photos post-ceremony, who can be more amazing at doing this than you?


Creating the ideal wedding photography timeline as a photographer:


Arrival and exterior shots/ 30 minutes

Arrive at the wedding venue and greet the couple’s friends and family. Then concentrate on photographing the exterior of the venue or ceremony. If you have a drone included and the weather is cooperative, capture some epic aerial footage.


Detail shots of bride and groom/ 45 to 60 minutes 

This is the time to photograph the bridal gown, shoes, rings, invitations, florals, and other accessories. While this may not appear to be a significant amount of time, curating details is actually one of the most time-consuming aspects of the day. Also, take candid photos of everyone getting ready. This is usually when final makeup is applied, or when lunch is served. You might need a little extra time if the bride wants a photo of the girls in robes or matching getting-ready outfits.


Getting ready portraits/ 40 minutes

Make it a habit to ask all your couples whether their dresses have buttons or zippers, as getting into a wedding dress can take 10 minutes or 45 minutes! Since brides are frequently surprised that this can take longer than expected, it is always feasible to add extra time to your timeline here to ensure that you are not rushed. This is the one time of day when you don’t want to rush through things. Let the bride take one last girls-only photo or portrait with her mother and enjoy these moments with her closest friends. You will be glad you took the time to take these photos.


Parent First Look or Bridal Party First Look/ 15 minutes 

This isn’t something every couple does, but it’s becoming more common. If your couple wants to share a special moment with their parents after you are done with your getting-ready portraits, add 15 minutes to your wedding day schedule. You can do a bridal party first look either before or after the first look of the bride, or another fun option is to have a reveal with both the bride and groom together as the bridal party arrives for group photos. It’s usually a short and enjoyable experience that lasts about 5 minutes.


The first look/ 45 to 60 minutes 

Photographing the first look is undoubtedly one of the favorite things for wedding photographers to capture! In 30 minutes, you can photograph the first look and bride and groom photos, but you might prefer to have more time whenever possible. The absolute minimum is 30 minutes. Setting aside enough time will allow you to be creative, as well as give your couple some much-needed alone time! Since weather can be unpredictable on wedding days, it is recommended to schedule 45+ minutes of total bride and groom portrait time throughout your day. This way, if it rains early on but clears up later, you can still photograph them as a couple! Please don’t overthink the weather scenario!


Wedding party photos/ 30 minutes

You can almost always complete bridal party photos in under 30 minutes, depending on the size of the bridal party and how cooperative everyone is. But you would want to photograph everyone together, the groomsmen only, the bridesmaids only, and individual members of each family with the bride or groom separately. If your wedding photo timeline is efficient, you can definitely move through them quickly in one location. You might also want to add a little extra time for some more creative bridal party group photos or a different location to give some variety to the wedding photo album!


Family portraits/ 30 minutes 

Try to schedule your family portraits before the wedding ceremony takes place. You will be able to photograph both immediate families and grandparents in under 30 minutes. But if the couple is inviting extended family, have a large family, or have young children ages 2 to 6, it is recommended to plan for 45 minutes so that everyone has a stress-free experience. While family portraits aren’t always the most enjoyable experience, they are invariably some of the most important photographs you will take as a wedding photographer. Portraits of generations are important. 


Pre-ceremony portraits/ 30 minutes

All group photos should be completed no later than 30 minutes before the start of the wedding ceremony. Especially if you intend to take group photos at the wedding venue. This gives you time to relax while the guests arrive and take their seats. Many couples might decide to extend it to 45 minutes because, yes, guests will be arriving!


Wedding ceremony/ 30 to 60 minutes 

Every wedding ceremony’s duration is different. The majority of protestant ceremonies last about 30 minutes. Catholic weddings with mass last about 60 minutes, while non-Catholic weddings last about 45 minutes. It is found that the majority of non-religious weddings last around 30 minutes.


Post-wedding ceremony/ 15 to 20 minutes

The time it takes for the guests to leave the ceremony will vary between 10-15 minutes. Some couples opt for a receiving line or a row-by-row dismissal of guests. Receiving lines take the longest of the two options. Since this is dependent on the number of guests, please inquire about time frames.


Wedding reception details/ 20 to 30 minutes 

You would want to tell the entire story of the wedding day you are capturing. Hence it is great to have at least 20 minutes to photograph the lovely reception details and decor. It is great if you can ask the couple to communicate with the catering staff to leave for a few minutes so you can photograph the empty reception area. To get a full room shot, you will usually only need about 5 minutes of the room after being completely cleared. Then you can concentrate on smaller details and single tables. You would often photograph these shots while the bridal party isn’t around prior to the ceremony if the ceremony and reception are in the same location.


Cocktail hour to wedding dances/ 2 to 3 hours

The majority of cocktail hours are at least an hour long. After cocktail hour, make sure to allow time for your guests to transition to their seats. Document everything as it unfolds. The majority of weddings include the couple’s introductions and announcements, a welcome or blessing, and dinner. Ask the bride to factor in time for toasts (roughly 5-10 minutes per toast), cake cutting (quick and easy), and dancing! Suggest the bride schedule the wedding toasts either before or after dinner is served. Eating is a noisy activity, and most people prefer to converse with their companions. You will not want this background noise if your toasts are being recorded.


Here’s a common wedding reception timeline:

  • Cocktail hour: 60 minutes
  • Guests seated: 15 minutes
  • Grand entrance,  cake cutting, and welcome: 15 minutes
  • Dinner: 45-60 minutes
  • Toasts: 15-20 minutes
  • Special dances: 15 minutes (first dance, with parent dances following)
  • The dance floor is open!
  • Reception Details: 20+ Minutes


Golden hour photos/ 15 to 20 minutes

This is the part of the day that your couple would look forward to the most! For each couple, taking a moment to step back, take it all in, and bask in that newlywed glow is a special moment. As a wedding photographer, never forget to stress the importance of a quick sunset portrait time while preparing your wedding schedule. Not only would they enjoy this brief respite during their reception, but these sunset hour photos are frequently among their favorites from the entire day. Keep an eye on the sky and check the time of sunset beforehand. Start shooting sunset portraits 30 minutes before the scheduled time by keeping an eye on the clouds and weather.


Wedding exit/ 5 minutes 

Probably one of the most lovely wedding photographer’s secrets: Exit photos are not taken at the end of the night! Most couples do a fake exit with a few friends and bridal party members before they leave, so that you will still have some fun photos of them, but they don’t have to end their night early or extend coverage. It’s a win-win situation for both parties! Alternatively, the couple might want to consider leaving right after their ceremony, as this will ensure that a large number of people attend their dramatic wedding exit.


Travel Time

Don’t forget to insert any travel time into your wedding timeline! Think about parking, traffic, and special events that might cause there to be a longer drive.  Driving in cars or a party bus doesn’t typically change the travel time.  Always give yourself a few extra minutes for travel time.


Lunch or snack break 

You will need a break once in a while, and keep some buffer time aside for snacking or hydrating during your wedding photo session. Wedding shoots can be very lengthy and to keep your best foot forward for clients, it is always necessary to have little breaks from time to time to level up your energy as well as everyone around you.


Having a wedding photo timeline will keep everything on pace and the goal is to provide a variety of personal touches to and make each and every wedding photo album stand out in its own ways. For instance, in one photo session, the bridal crew photos can be scheduled right before the ceremony and for another photo session, you can add in the stunning sunset for a golden hour glow in the post-wedding couple portraits. The goal here is to have fun while navigating through your wedding photography timeline and not missing a single opportunity to capture the nuances of the wedding day!

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