A well considered wedding day photography timeline can make all the difference when the big day rolls around. With all the preparation that you will have put into finding and working with the best suppliers for your wedding day, it’s no small feat to plan out what happens when. In photographing weddings, I’ve found that there’s often a direct relationship between there being enough time for photographs and the day running smoothly and stress-free for all involved, not just the photographer. I don’t think that this is a coincidence!
In my old career, I used to run a lot of projects. I spent a lot of time advising people against bunching milestones together, trying to pack too much in, and not leaving any time for the unexpected. When I started shooting weddings, I noticed some of the exact same issues coming up. Naturally, I also saw many things go very well! Over time, I’ve come to understand what brides and grooms can do – with a little advance planning – to make their wedding days run like clockwork (and be even more awesome as a result).
When planning a wedding day, there’s a whole bunch of people to consider. Obviously, the guests have got to know where to go and when, the ceremony often has timings that are set in stone and all of the different suppliers will want to know when to start the music, serve the starters, and crack open the bubbly. But, at its most basic, there are the only three parts of any wedding day: before the ceremony, the ceremony itself and after the ceremony. Your wedding may have many different things going on compared to someone else’s. However, it will still fit into those three parts. When considering how your day is photographed, a few minor changes or tweaks to the timings can make all the difference – so that’s what we’ll be focusing on here.
For each part of the day, I’ll list out the photos that are typically taken and what to consider in terms of timings as the day progresses. At the end of this post, I’ll talk about other things to consider such as second photographers, wedding planners/taskers and the ever-coveted ‘golden hour’. I’ll also provide a sample wedding day photography timeline based around a ceremony that starts at 2pm. If you’ve got any questions, just drop them in the comments below!
NB: although I’m referring to a ‘bride and groom’ in this post, the same would apply for bride & bride or groom & groom!
Wedding day photography timeline (with a ceremony at 2pm)
Before the ceremony
A wedding day photography timeline always starts at the very beginning: getting ready! If there’s just one photographer in action, then they will be with the bride. A second photographer can be with the groom getting ready, and can get to the ceremony location a little earlier than the main photographer to start getting photos of people arriving.
Photos typically taken before the ceremony
- Details of both the bride and groom
- Candids of the bride and bridesmaids getting ready
- Candids of the groom and groomsmen getting ready
- Portraits of the bride
- Portraits of the groom
- Departing for the ceremony
Time required getting ready
For the bride, key times to have in mind are easiest to think about working backwards:
Depart for the ceremony at 13:40pm: if we say it’s a ten minute drive to get there, leaving 20 minutes before the ceremony is ideal. It’s important to leave enough time to get there neither too late nor too early. You’ll also want a few spare minutes for any last minute adjustments.
Dress on at 12:40pm: this is when we’d take portraits and any quick group photos of the bridal party. Photographers will also tend to leave shortly before the bride does. This is because we’re off to go and photograph the groom at the ceremony venue. That’s why it’s an hour before your departure.
Hair and makeup done at 12noon: again, just to leave plenty of time in the before getting dressed. A great chance to actually eat something, too!
Photographer arrives at 10am: there are loads of little details to capture on the morning of a wedding day. Getting there early with plenty of time to spare gives me a chance to capture all the different details like flowers, jewellery and the dress.
Optional – second photographer arrives an hour or so before your other half leaves for the ceremony: if you decided to have a second photographer at your wedding, they would ordinarily want to get there an hour or more before they leave. This is just to get some shots of them getting ready!
In many ways, this part of the day depends entirely on the type of ceremony you’re having. Some are done within 20 minutes, some can be up to an hour or more. Many of the same things will still happen, though, from ‘I do!’ through to confetti!
Photos typically taken during the ceremony
- Groom and groomsmen waiting and organising guests
- Bride’s arrival
- Bride’s entrance
- Bride and groom during the ceremony
- ‘I do!’
- Signing the register
Time required during the ceremony
Ceremony starts at 2pm and finishes at 2:45pm: there’s nothing to make any considerations for here, the ceremony takes as long as it takes! The priority here is that things run smoothly, and that your photographer works around it and keeps a low profile while capturing all of the moments that happen.
After the ceremony
It’s after the ceremony that things really get going, when there’s lots of stuff happening all at once. Most of the conversations I have with my couples about timings focus on when what should happen after the ceremony. Group photos and time for portraits are the two things that need the most time, but are easy to make time for with a few adjustments. The most important thing I would always recommend at this part of the day is to leave enough time between the end of the ceremony and the start of dinner. I would always say at least two hours but if you can manage three, even better. Here, we’ll assume there’s two and a half hours between the two.
Photos typically taken after the ceremony and throughout the rest of the day
- Group photos
- Portraits of the newly married couple (you!)
- Candids of guests
- Reception details
- ‘Sneak out’ portraits
- Cutting the cake
- First dance
Confetti photos at 3pm: if the ceremony finishes at 2:45pm, it will typically take a little while for everyone to make their way outside. Your photographer should take the lead here and get everyone arranged for when you emerge… to be pelted with confetti! This is also a perfect opportunity to take a little time to yourselves together. After all, you just got married – take a moment!
Group photos at 3:05pm: with the confetti done and with everyone in one place, this is – in my opinion – the best time to do most of your group photos. Why? With everyone in one place and with no other distractions (e.g. booze and canapes!!), this is the prime time to take these photos without losing an uncle or aunt in the mix. During the reception itself, guests will be catching up with people they perhaps haven’t seen for ages. (And having a drink or two.) With larger families, it can take a while to get everyone organised. To give yourself more time to enjoy the day itself, it’s usually faster to do group photos directly at this point. It’s not always possible of course, but it can make things easier for you. I’d always recommend no more than ten different group photos; five or six is ideal.
Leave for reception and take portraits at 3:20pm: with group photos done and with guests heading off to the reception, this is the best moment to disappear for a short while to take portraits. I always look to plan in advance where you want to do these. Depending on where the ceremony and the reception venues are (or if they’re the same place!) we may already be in the best place for portraits, or we may even drive off somewhere picturesque to get some stunning shots. It’s entirely up to you! I recommend at least twenty minutes, and thirty if you can. This is something that’s really important to consider when putting together your wedding day photography timeline.
Candids of guests and reception details at 4:15pm: with portraits done and with the wedding breakfast not yet ready for a short while, this is the perfect time for getting photos of the details of your reception (the venue, tables, flowers and so on) and candids of your guests enjoying themselves. It’s also a perfect time for you to grab a glass of something bubbly!
Guests head into dinner at 5pm to start at 5:15pm: it’s around this time that I’ll pause taking photographs of guests because they start eating! No-one likes getting caught on camera munching bread rolls…
(This is normally the point where I sit down and eat something for the first time in about 7 or 8 hours! And change batteries, memory cards… phew!)
‘Sneak out’ portraits at 7pm: if there’s a lull in dinner, and if it’s golden hour, it’s awesome to sneak away for a bit to get a few more portraits taken. Especially if things are taking place when the light is beautiful, it’s always amazing to be able to take advantage of it! This is a great thing to drop into your wedding day photography timeline if you can!
Speeches at 7:30pm: most weddings have speeches, and they usually happen after the meal. It’s becoming more common to have some before, some during and some after but, for this post, we’ll assume they happen after dinner and last about thirty minutes. I’ll pop back in at this point to photograph the speeches, and the guests’ reactions!
Cutting the cake at 8:15pm and the first dance at 8:30pm: again, not all weddings have one or both of these, but for those that do I would always recommend leaving a gap between the two. This gives guests time to head to the dancefloor and for me to set up any lighting I’ll need.
Dancing from 8:30pm onwards: I love this part of the day. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves!
Other things to consider in your wedding day photography timeline
I’ve written at length about whether or not you should have a second photographer at your wedding. If you’re having a wedding with more than 100 guests, it’s certainly something to consider. Or, likewise, if it’s not possible to spare that much time between the end of the ceremony and the start of the wedding breakfast. I can only be in one place at any given time, so having a second photographer can help to make sure that nothing is missed if we’re tight on time.
Wedding planners and taskers
I’m not a wedding planner by any means, but I know plenty of them! They can help organise every element of the day and make things run smoothly while taking a bunch of tasks off your shoulders. It’s also worth considering a ‘tasker’. Taskers don’t plan the wedding in advance, but turn up on the day to organise and make things happen. If you’d like to know who I’d recommend for either of these roles, do shoot me an email.
But what if…
The day a wedding runs exactly to time is not a day I expect to see in my lifetime! Sometimes delays happen here or there, it’s just a fact of life. This is why I recommend leaving enough time between the two parts of the day that can’t really change their timings. That’s the ceremony and the wedding breakfast. Within that, I’m all about thinking on my feet and adapting regardless of what happens. I’ve always been a problem solver and a do-er – after shooting weddings for a while now, not a lot can phase me! But, with time on our side, this always makes things easier.
Wrapping up – let me know if you have any questions!
So there we have it! A quick guide to sorting out your wedding day photography timeline to make the most of things. I hope you found it useful! If you’ve got any questions at all, just drop me a comment below.
I’m checking my comments all the time so should be able to answer anything you post super fast.
Thanks so much for stopping by!