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Tips for Creating Your Wedding Photography Timeline


July 12, 2019

Choosing your photographer is one of the very first steps in planning your wedding, but it’s only the beginning of everything that goes into planning your wedding. Your photographer will be with you throughout your big day capturing every special moment big and small.  A well thought out wedding photography timeline will help you coordinate with ALL your vendors and ensure that everything goes smoothly on your Big Day. 

There are a ton of questions you need to consider in figuring out your wedding photography timeline that you probably haven’t even thought about yet…

  • What time do hair and makeup need to be finished?
  • Will you do a first look or not?
  • What time should the ceremony be?
  • When is the best light for photos?
  • How do I plan MY perfect wedding? 
  • Cocktail Hour – will we get to attend it?
  • Do I want photos of the Grand Exit?  

The  answers to these questions will impact the flow of your whole wedding day, and thinking about these early in the game will make planning your wedding so much easier (and your wedding planner and other vendors will love you for it!)

When creating your wedding photography timeline, here are a few things to consider…

What Time Is Your Ceremony?

The general rule of thumb is to schedule your ceremony 2 hours prior to sunset if you are NOT doing a first look and 3 hours prior if you are sharing a first look.  Of course, the exceptions to this are in the winter when the sun sets much earlier or if you aren’t planning to have any photos taken outdoors.

I always recommend planning your wedding ceremony time around the sunset hour for that day. This will help you make sure you have the best lighting possible when capturing memories before, during and after the big event.


Are your wedding ceremony and reception at the same location, or will people need to travel in between?  If so, are you providing transportation or are people making the transition on their own?

If you will be moving locations, make sure you consider travel time when planning your day and be sure to add in a bit of a buffer in your schedule to ensure there is ample travel time for everyone. I often recommend using this gap of time in your favor by scheduling some of your photos during this time as your guests are preoccupied with traveling from one location to the next.

Wedding Party in winter wedding

How Many People Are In Your Bridal Party?

This plays a significant role in knowing what time to begin hair and makeup for the ladies.  It is also important when allowing time for portraits of the wedding party.

Your hair and makeup team will most likely ask you early on what time you need to be ready for pictures.  You will want to make sure all of the hair and makeup is done at least 2-3 hour before your ceremony and that the bride goes first! This is important since it allows the bride to be finished first so that there is extra time to take some bridal boudoir shots or some fun “getting ready” photos while the rest of the bridesmaids finish up. It’s also important to consider who you want to help you get into your dress. They should not be the last to get their hair and make-up done either.

Are You Sharing A First Look?

There is no right or wrong answer here but it is super important in planning the timeline of events during your big day.  I’m a huge fan of the first look because it allows you to get some really special photos of the ONLY time on your wedding day you’ll get to be alone together. But they do need to be planned in advance to make sure there’s time before the ceremony. ​

Also, keep in mind that first look photos don’t have to just be between the bride and the groom! Why not do one with your Dad or other special family member instead?  For many different family members this is definitely a moment to be savored and one the both of you will always want to remember.

However, if you are on a tighter budget or looking to cut down on photography coverage hours, I recommend foregoing the first look unless it is an absolute must for you. As this extra hour or two of photography will often increase your photography costs slightly. 

Photos of bride and groom on garden path holding hands standing back to back on their wedding day laughing, while hiding a first look from one another before the ceremony

Are You Planning On Attending Your Cocktail Hour?

Considering hosting a cocktail hour or activities in between your ceremony and reception?

This is can often be a little tricky if you are not having a first look. Generally, if you would like some extra time to spend with your guests I recommend capturing first look photos before your ceremony so that you do not have to take up as much time taking portrait photos together during your cocktail hour. Unless of course you plan an extended cocktail hour to have accommodate photography time, which is totally doable!

Having  a well thought out and generous timeline for photos during the day will allow you to make an appearance at your cocktail hour and mingle with your guests. Many of my couples do this and then are formally announced at their entrance and kick off to the wedding reception. 

Are There Any Special Reception Details?

Receptions are one of my all-time favorite parts of a wedding. They are seriously so much fun! Do you want to have specific moments or activities that you would like captured during this time? If so, be sure to discuss this with your photographer and any specific events during the reception that you want them to focus on and the times these events will be happening!

Are You Having Any Special Events Or Send Off?

Sparkler exit, fireworks, getaway car?  There are so many fun options for the send off of your wedding! Make sure you plan for these events in your timeline and let your photographer know what events you would like them to capture throughout the day.

However, if you don’t really feel the need for your photographer to stay until the end of the reception, there are plenty of ways to do this earlier in the day... One idea on how to do this is to have a grand exit from your ceremony instead.  Blowing bubbles or tossing flower petals as you make your exit from the wedding ceremony makes for some great wedding recessional pictures!

Wedding Party w bubbles

Be Sure To Add In Some Cushion Time!

Although your wedding will be one of the best days of your life, it is normal for you to get stressed here and there during your big day. Having extra cushion time built in will minimize these stress levels. The entire day will run smoother, and enable you to relax and enjoy yourself!

Consider Hiring A Wedding Planner...

They will make sure that there is enough time for everything you have planned and take care of any day and rough patches without you even knowing it. Bonus if you are using a wedding planner they will be so impressed that you have photography timeline for your wedding day already! This allows them to have more time to focus their energy on other details to help make your big day exactly what you’ve been dreaming of.  

P.S. All of my suggested tips are already wedding planner approved!

So, How Many Hours of Photography/Video Coverage Do You Need?

The amount of special moments or events that you would like captured play a huge role in determining how many hours of coverage you will need according to your wedding timeline.  For example, often times video coverage comes in a 6 hour package. That amount of time usually either allows for video of the getting ready portion of the day and the ceremony or the ceremony and a portion of the wedding reception, but not all three.  The same holds true if you choose to have less or more photography coverage. I personally recommend to budget for at least 8 hours of photography coverage if you want coverage before, during, and after the ceremony.

Night photo in the rain

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Meet Kathy

A woman in glasses holding a coffee mug.

I’m Kathy – wedding photographer, mom of 1 daughter & 2 doodles, and avid sunset watcher. Once you’ve gotten to know a little more about me, it’ll be my turn to get to know you as too!! When I work with a couple, we usually end up feeling more like old friends by the time your wedding day arrives – which means a more relaxed, enjoyable wedding day experience for everyone. And when it comes to photo style, you’ll find your photos are vibrant and classic, in true-to-life color and timeless black and white. It’s my honor to serve joyful, authentic couples who want their wedding photos to be as timeless as their vows.

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