One of my most frequently asked questions is: How long should I book my wedding photography for or what is an ideal wedding time? These are great questions, and today I’m here to help you find the answer. If you’re trying to plan out your wedding timeline for your big day, I have compiled some helpful timing tips to help you figure out your schedule. We will go through the day in order of the most typical timings for each event. Now disclaimer, I totally understand that every wedding is different and if you have a wedding planner, that they have their own timelines. These are just my suggestions for a timeline based on all the weddings that I have done, I just wanted to give you a point of view from a photographer’s perspective. Brace yourselves, this is going to be long and in-depth, I simply want to help cover all the bases to help you smoothly plan out your perfect wedding day.
Getting Ready Wedding Timeline
Typically both the bride and groom will get ready at the same time, just in different rooms or different locations. I will go with the bride and my second shooter will go with the groom, so that way we can cover both at the same time and help document your wedding day. On average, I feel like an hour and a half gives us plenty of time to not rush the details and get ready before we need to move on.
Let’s start with the beginning of the day shall we? I typically advise that photography coverage begin about 15-20 minutes of your scheduled makeup completion. This gives us a little time to get started with your outfit details. I like to try to find a clean space to hang the dress and layout your details, like any jewelry and your shoes. At the same time, my team will do the same for the groom. Hang his suit and lay out his accessories like the tie, watch, socks, cuff links and shoes. On average this takes about 20-30 minutes to find a location, clean it from any distractions, and lay everything out. Then we set up and take some photos and let the videographers get their shots if one is hired.
From there, I like to move onto what I call my fake up shot. Hopefully your hair and make up finish on time. A decent amount of times, these run behind on schedule and then it’s a race to get ready and stay on time. This is why it is great to either schedule your hair and make up to finish even earlier and let you sit and relax, or hire a trusted and professional make up artist who will get the job done. Anyways, back to my fake up shot, this is a shot that I like to capture for all of my brides. Once your hair and makeup are done, I like to stage a few shots, getting your final touches, perhaps in a cleaner area if needed. Out of all the weddings I have photographed, none of my brides have ever wanted photos with half their face done up and curlers all in their hair. I like to get soft flattering light to really help showcase the makeup artist’s hard work. This shot on average takes about 5 or so minutes to capture.
Bride and Bridesmaids
From here, if you have bridesmaids and they are in the room with you and you want those fun robe shots, then now would be the time to do them. Depending on how many you have with you, we can typically take these shots on the bed or couch. But if there are a bunch of girls then we might need to do it standing. Typically, I like to get fun group shots here, either laughing and having a good time, blowing a kiss towards the bride, everyone squeezing nice and tight. This is also where someone might give a little toast and pop a bottle of bubbly for a nice cheering shot. Typically, these shots take about 15 minutes to capture.
Groom and Groomsmen
So typically, the groom doesn’t have to do his make up, so he has a little more time on his side. More often than not, the groom is still finishing doing his hair or shaving. But after the outfit details, sometimes the groom will do a toast with the guys, someone gives a few words and everyone has a good time. If this happens it can take about 10 minutes or so during prep time.
So by now, we are about 40-45 minutes in and we haven’t even started getting dressed! Typically everyone thinks they will be able to get ready in less than 10 minutes, which is understandable. But then I remind them that this is their wedding day and we need to document all the little moments. I also like to get any family or friends that are getting ready with them to help them out. I have them stop every part of the way, which allows me to get all the different angles and expressions. Depending on who is in the room or how many people will give me some different options for photos. For example, I step out and let the bride get in the dress and then go back in. At this point I like to have either a bridesmaid, or mother of the bride help with the back of the dress. After the dress, I will have someone else help put on jewelry, the bride will typically put on her own earrings. Then I like to get a few girls to help hold the bride while one girl puts on the shoes. For ladies, this whole process can take anywhere from 30-40 minutes depending on how much we need to put on and how many girls there are.
Over on the guys’ side, the same thing can happen depending on who is in the room with the groom and how many people. The groom can take care of his shirt himself, but depending on his accessories and the amount of guys with him, I’ll have them help with his cufflinks, watch, tie and jacket. For the guys, things might go a little quicker than the girls, but not by much. I would say that the guys usually take about 25-30 minutes to get dressed.
This doesn’t happen at every wedding, but it happens enough that it deserves a mention in this ideal wedding timeline guide. If there is an exchange at all, it typically happens once the bride and groom are ready. I usually like to have a bridesmaid and groomsmen make the delivery to each other’s sides so we get some fun shots. At times, the bride or groom can get emotional reading, if this happens, I document this as it happens, but then let them be for a second to take it all in. The exchange takes about 10 minutes or so. Now it’s finally time to get some portraits taken!
First Look/Bridal Party Portraits Timeline
Once we’re finally done with getting ready we are ready to get some portraits done. If the guys finish before the girls, I will typically have my second shooter start taking portraits of the groom and his guys. For the purpose of this guide, I’ll first explain a timeline with a first look. If you aren’t going to do a first look, simply read on ahead to the next section, bridal party photos are possible prior to the ceremony. Simply know that each respective side can have their party photos taken, and then a full bridal party photo will be taken after the ceremony. Just know that we will have to do couples session, bridal party, and family formals after the ceremony so it is important to have enough time in between the ceremony and the reception.
Once getting ready photos are all done, I like to get a few portraits in the room we are in before heading out. This can be a few portraits so it only takes about 5 minutes and then we head out. For first look we get the groom in position first, facing away from where the bride will be coming. That way he can’t cheat and see her first. Once he is in position, the bride comes out, walks up behind him, and taps him on the shoulder. At this point I simply document this moment as it happens naturally. Sometimes the bride and groom take a few moments to themselves talking and taking each other in. Once they let me know they are good, I like to do it all over again, at this point I reposition myself a little closer to the action to get a different feeling to the photos. I don’t get as close during the first take because I want them to have their own moment. In total this takes about 15 minutes.
After first look, I then like to transition into a quick couples session. This can range from 15 minutes to 45 minutes. As much time as I am given, I will take portraits. There are weddings where we don’t really get to do much of a couples session due to falling behind, this is why it is important to have an experienced vendor team to help you out along the way.
Next we finally get to the bridal party. Depending on the size of your party, this can range from 30-45 minutes. I like to capture each side on their own, then get a full group photo. If you are wanting to get an editorial posed group photo, just know that this can take 10 minutes for just one photo. If you want to get solo photos with each member of the bridal party, this can take about 5-10 minutes in total.
Now if there is still time before the ceremony, we can do immediate family formals. A good rule of thumb is to plan for each group shot you want to take about 3-5 minutes each. If everyone is accounted for and you have created a family list then this can go a little quicker, but I recommend still planning for it to take a little longer. More often than not, someone runs off to the bathroom or is doing some last minute wedding prep. I go into a little more detail on Family Formals in this guide.
Ceremony Wedding Timeline
So far this guide has been based on having a first look. If you aren’t having a first look for your wedding day, then depending on the timing, we would go from getting ready to doing each side of the bridal party, and each side of the immediate family.
One of the great things about having multiple photographers on my team the day of the wedding is being able to be in multiple places at the same time. If you are doing a first look, my second shooter will help with the bridal party photos, but then usually go any take care of ceremony details while I stay and do family formals. If you aren’t doing a first look, typically the guys manage to get ready a little faster than the ladies, so my second shooter will help with the bridal party, then go do ceremony details.
If the ceremony is at a different location from where we are getting ready, then I advise for planning double the travel time. This accounts for traffic or if things are running a little behind, it gives us a little extra cushion. My second shooter will travel to the ceremony location prior to guests arriving and capture the necessary photos to show off the hard work and planning that has gone into your wedding day.
Typically, most venues or churches want you to be hidden in the bridal room 30 minutes to ceremony, that way any early guests don’t see you. A typical traditional ceremony lasts about 20-30 minutes and a Church ceremony can last about an hour to an hour and a half. This is at the discretion of the Priest/Officiant.
Post Ceremony Formals
At this point we will do any remaining family formals that we did not get before the ceremony. This is typically extended family and friends and both sides combined if there was no first look. This takes about 3-5 minutes per group as mentioned before. We will also do Wedding Party photos if we were not able to capture them before the ceremony. On average, this can take about 30 minutes, you will need to check with your venue that we will have the time to take these, sometimes venues/churches have multiple ceremonies in a day and stick to a strict schedule. Check out this guide on how to get Family Formals done as smoothly as possible.
Wedding Reception Timeline
Now that the ceremony is over, it’s time for the party! Let’s get cocktail hour started and let the good times roll. If the Reception is in a different location from the ceremony, as mentioned before, account for double the travel time just in case if things run behind. Sometimes, clients account for the travel time and then have a shorter cocktail hour before the reception begins. If the reception is at the same location, simply skip the travel time and account for the cocktail hour.
Post Ceremony Couple’s Portraits
After the formals, if time allows, we try to get some more portraits of the two of you. This takes place during cocktail hour. It’s typical to have 20-60 minutes here for portraits. Depending on the time of year that you get married, it might get dark right after the ceremony and these will be our sunset portraits. If timing permits and my clients are up for it, I like to get a few portraits with them in the ballroom just before doors open. Ideally we will have about 15 minutes to capture these inside.
Cocktail Hour/Reception Details
After the Ceremony while we are taking our portraits, typically the guests will enjoy cocktail hour. Cocktail hour can last anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half. It all depends on your Reception schedule. During cocktail hour is when my second shooter will capture the reception decor while the guests are mingling outside. If the cocktail is longer, my second will be able to capture a little bit of cocktail hour as well as the decor, but if timing is tight, my second typically goes for the decor as a priority. Reception doors open about 30 minutes before grand entrance time, this allows guests to grab a few drinks and find their seats.
Once the guests have taken their seats, it’s time to get the program started. Starting with grand entrances, this typically takes about 5-10 minutes depending on how many people enter and if they are individually called. If it is just the two of you guys then it will be quicker, but sometimes clients have their parents and siblings introduced, their wedding party either by guys and girls or each pair individually.
Now the rest of the night usually happens with everything happening one after another. So I will just list typical events that happen during a reception program and the usual amount of time it takes.
- First Dance – 5 Minutes
- Parent Dances – 10 Minutes
- Toasts – 5-10 Minutes each
- Dinner – 1 Hour
- Games – 10-30 Minutes
- Open Dancing – 1-2 Hours
- Night Shot – 5-10 Minutes
I tell my clients that they don’t really need more than an hour of open dancing. But, if there is a Grand Exit then coverage can be extended until the end.
If you made it this far, then congratulations! You really like to read haha.
Other things to note:
- If you will be having a receiving line, this usually takes about 30 to 45 minutes.
- I will need 30 minutes prior to the ceremony to do a light check and take detail and guest shots.
- Typically, two hours is enough time to shoot all of the main events at a reception.
- If you’re having a traditional wedding and the ceremony and reception are at the same venue, eight hours will generally cover this.
- If you are having a cocktail hour and dancing (still at the same venue), this will normally be a ten-hour day.
- If you’re having a Catholic ceremony, you typically will need full day coverage (up to 12 hours)
- If your ceremony and reception are not at the same venue, don’t forget to add travel time into your schedule (I suggest doubling the travel time just to be safe).
- If you’re doing a special exit from the reception, like a sparkler exit, you’ll need to have full day coverage.
- Some weddings can be covered in just four to six hours. If you’re having a backyard wedding or a courthouse wedding where your reception is short (for example, no dancing, etc.) and then this could all be covered in four hours.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. Happy Planning!