I'm the type of person who plans their vacation to not miss a single thing by creating a spreadsheet with hour-by-hour itinerary. I make dinner reservations a month in advance and have a shared google calendar with my partner, though I doubt she checks it. When any of my clients inquire about booking a wedding with me, I always ask to discuss the timeline. Why? It's not just because I'm a stickler for adding transit time between locations.
It's because I actually care about having enough time to do the job you're paying me to do.
I ask about your priorities in coverage, the timeline for each person's arrival, the major events happening during your celebration because if you care about them, then I do too. And I need a certain amount of time to do a good job to photograph everything you want me to.
I'm dedicating this article to the couple who gave me only 15 minutes to photograph 60 family photo combinations, and then got upset when they didn't have time to pull another dozen people into group photos because their wedding coordinator was ushering them to do their grand entrance into their reception. I dedicate this blog to the couple who didn't get a chance to mingle during their cocktail hour because they didn't realize it was 100% okay to photos before their ceremony. I dedicate this post to the clients who felt like they were rushed through their carefully planned wedding day and didn't get a chance to enjoy it.
My vote: we should make a timeline and plan that let's you enjoy your big day with the people who you loved enough to invite.
How much time do I need for the different parts of my wedding day?
No two weddings are the same, so here is a list of commonly included events throughout the day that my clients often prioritize
15 minutes - 1 1/2 Hours
What it could include: hair styling, make up, pre-gaming, attire, getting dressed, jewelry, florals, opening gifts, doing a group prayer, writing vows, you name it. Whatever you need to do to get ready to get married!
Do you care about having your getting ready process photographed? If you do, here are some questions to consider:
1. Are you and your partner getting ready separately or together?
I've photographed both ways, and my preference is always getting ready together. There's an energy when you're getting ready - a mix of nerves and excitement - that I personally would want to have my partner with me to calm and balance me. This is pretty common in outdoor elopements when a couple is getting ready at the location. I've photographed weddings with no wedding parties where the partners helped one another get ready because they wanted their wedding day to to start and end with them committing to, relying on, and being with one another.
2. Are you getting ready at the same time, or one before the other?
So, as you might have realized, I can make magic happen, but I'm not actually a witch. I can't be in 2 places at once. If you and your partner are getting ready at the same time in two separate rooms, buildings, hotels, homes...(you get the idea), we might need to talk about having a second photographer.
If you prefer having only one photographer, then an alternative is to have the getting ready locations close to one another (like 2 rooms on the same floor, or in the same house) that I can bounce between. Even better, have one partner get ready first, then send them to the venue or scout the ceremony location if you prefer to not see each other before the ceremony. If you have kids, pets, a rowdy gang of friends, or very nosy in-laws, having one partner managing the crowd while the other gets ready can be a blessing.
3. How early are you starting, and where?
If you value photos of your attire, jewelry, shoes, and the whole getting ready process for one or both partners, I can arrive about 30 minutes before hair and makeup are done to grab photos of everything before it comes time to put it all on.
Want hair and makeup photos? These can be so fun, especially if it's a group of people at a salon! The logistics of taking getting ready photos is easier if hair/make up is done at the getting ready location, but if you're getting hair/make up done elsewhere and then traveling to the getting ready locations, I might need to add an hour to stop at one spot and then travel to the other. Having your attire and details ready at the getting ready location makes my job a lot easier, and saves me from running around trying to find your bow tie, shoes, veil, rings, and anything else I need to photograph before you're ready to put everything on.
Getting a dress, suit, pantsuit, or other attire on, especially if it needs to be buttoned or laced, can take between 15-30 minutes. I'm happy to step out to let you get naked and then get 80% dressed, and then stage some family and friend tender moments of the final touches, like putting on blazers, shoes, ties, final tie up, or veil.
After all the clothes are on, do you have any other private activities, like writing vows, reading letters, saying a prayer with family, or opening gifts? I'd suggest adding 15 minutes for these types of getting ready moments per person (if you're getting ready separately).
YOU'RE DRESSED. WHAT'S NEXT?
15 minutes - 1 1/2 Hours
There are so many things you do between getting ready and a ceremony.
My first item of business: travel/transit - if we need to travel to a venue or location, how is everyone getting there, together or separately - how long will it take us? If we're hiking to a ceremony spot, we need to account for drive time, grabbing all our stuff, hiking, unloading, tidying up, and possibly finishing getting dressed/swapping shoes. If we're going from a hotel to a venue, we might need to consider traffic and parking.
Would you like to do a first look with anyone? First touch? Reading each other a pre-ceremony letter? Do a private vow exchange? Have a smoke together?
Would you like formal photos before your ceremony?
FIRST LOOKS/FIRST TOUCHES
10 - 30 minutes
I love first looks because they're real and raw. And first looks aren't just for the person you're marrying! You can do a first look with parents, wedding party, kids, and even pets! You can do first looks with your wedding guests - you don't have to wait until the ceremony reveal!
First touches take a little more setup time, since we either have to find a corner or wall to hide both partners, or do a backward blindfolded walk. They're so special, especially in more religious weddings. I've had couples who wanted to pray together before their ceremony stand back to back and hold hands blindfolded. I've had couples who wanted to try to figure out what the other person was wearing while doing wild gropes in the air (again, while blindfolded). It's hilarious and tear-jerking.
FORMAL PHOTOS (PRE-CEREMONY)
1 / 2 - 1 Hour
If you're on board with seeing your other half before the ceremony, you can start your formal photos! If you're not doing a first look and want to remain separate, that's fine too - we can still take wedding party, family, friend, and pet portraits, now that you're dressed up. Most of my couples prefer to get their 1:1 photos with each wedding party member, group wedding party shots, parents, children, and pet photos done before the ceremony. The additional formal photos with guests can happen after the ceremony.
But Daniela, what if we're eloping? Excellent - you can take photos whenever and wherever you damn well please. You can absolutely plan to do photos at various locations before, during, and after your ceremony, depending on whether you and your partner want to see each other.
For non-elopement weddings, my vote is for split formal time. Get some done (with or without your partner) beforehand, and then the rest after your ceremony. Your feet and face will thank you. It's a real thing to get tired of smiling and standing.
Logistics: if it's possible to do these formal photos close to the ceremony location, that will cut down on the crunch time to get ready for the actual ceremony, especially if it's indoors and there's a formal procession. If you'd like the photos to be more private/away from arriving guests, then let's find a park or a beautiful space close by and meet there.
My general rule is that, on average, I need 2 minutes per group photo. It's not the shutter click that takes time; it's the corralling of family and friends who are buzzing with excitement and possibly slightly drunk on mimosas already. For any types of formals, having a list of the group photos you so the photographer or a loud volunteer can call out names and have folks lined up and ready to hop in and out is the most time-saving method I can recommend.
If the photos are just you and your partner, and maybe 4-6 other people, we can have photos done in 20-30 minutes. If we're expanding the list to 10-20 people, we might need closer to 40 minutes. Over 20 people, and I'd suggest planning for an hour of formals so we can get every permutation of photos with each person, plus you two alone.
*No Rules Reminder*
You don't have to do any of the above, or you can do them without a photography coverage if that's what makes you happy. It's your day, and you should choose whatever rituals make sense for you and your loved ones. You can your partner should discuss what matters and makes sense for both of you, and what you want to see photos of afterwards. It's your fantastic day, and you should not devote a single fuck to doing something you don't want to.
DO YOU WANT TO GET MARRIED NEXT?
Quick note before I get into ceremony and reception coverage: you don't have to get married first today. Why do the most nerve-wracking big thing of the whole day, in front of everyone, first?
Yes, 100%, you can absolutely have food, fun, fiesta time before your ceremony. You will be more relaxed, your guests that always run late will have arrived, and more of your guests will stay through the end of the festivities if there's a ceremony later in the timeline.
IF YOU WANT, LET'S GET YOU MARRIED
15 minutes - 1 Hours
It's up to you to decide how long your ceremony is, and I'm just along for the ride. When figuring out the timeline for your wedding day, most couples start with planning the time they want their ceremony to start or end. Then, we can work backwards figuring out what time photography should start.
*No Rules Recommendation: If you're planning a sunset ceremony, my recommendation is to plan for 1-2 hours before the actual time of sunset so you get that evening golden hour glow but still have time after with a little light leftover.
YAY! YOU'RE MARRIED! NOW WHAT?
15 minutes - 1 Hour
Unless you're eloping, you're probably going to have a lot of excited people around you wanting to give you kisses and well wishes and grab a photo with you.
Option 1: start formals/more formals with friends/family
You can always email specific people before the day-of to let them know you'd like them to wait at a certain spot after the ceremony is over, rather than heading to a cocktail hour, reception, or home.
Option 2: sneak away for some private photos of just you two newlyweds
If your guests are heading off to enjoy some food and drink, then don't feel bad for taking some time to take some romantic photos at a location at or close by your venue. If you're eloping, we have even more flexibility to explore different locations and take some epic photos.
Option 3: enjoy time with your guests, and let us take photos of you mixing and mingling, yielding more casual shots as you get to relax.
Option 4: you newlyweds take some time to yourselves
I've had couples break away from the party to have some sexy time, take time to nurse a baby, or just take a break from the festivities and decompress in a quiet space. Some couples intentionally schedule a multi-hour gap between the ceremony and post-ceremony festivities, and that's totally okay! If your guests are having a cocktail hour or two, I can go photograph them, or the reception location.
*No Rules Reminder: our wedding coverage is continuous, so if you have questions or are planning a longer break from photography services during the day, let's chat to figure out the best package for you.
If you'd like to have coverage for cocktail hour to document your guests having fun while having formal photos in a different location, the best solution may be to have 2 photographers for your wedding.
RECEPTION & PARTY COVERAGE
45 minutes - 3 Hours
Some couples have a reception kickoff, with formal entrances, walkout music, and even choreography. Others slip into their reception with less fanfare and some forgo a formal reception entirely. Other couples start their wedding days with a lunch/brunch/cocktail hour party before having a ceremony.
1) Are you planning on doing any of the traditional rituals, like entrances, first dances, toasts, blessings, cake cutting, bouquet toss, decorated exit? If so, in what order?
2) Are you serving your guests food? If so, what's the serving style? Buffet is usually the fastest, with restaurant-style serving and food carts/trucks taking a little longer. I usually pencil in 30-45 minutes for food.
3) What do you prioritize having photos of?
Because the coverage I offer is continuous, I don't take a break at dinner (although I might take a minute to snack to stave off the hangry), and instead can cover the food being served, take photos of desserts, rings, kids playing, people laughing while enjoying the festivities.
If your reception has dancing, games, or just low-key mingling, I'll be a fly on the wall, documenting everyone having a blast, and possibly even getting some blackmail photos for you. If dancing is the last thing on the agenda, then I usually suggest photography coverage for 30-45 minutes once the dancing starts.
IF you're planning on doing a formal/planned exit, such as sparkler or confetti send off, you have a few options for when and how to accomplish it. You could have it as the entrance to your reception, a mid-reception break, or end of reception/post-ceremony send off to end the night. If you want photos of it, you might want to consider whether you want me, your photographer, to stay until that point. For instance, if dinner is at 7 PM, dancing at 8 PM, cake cutting at 9 PM, and then your sparkler exit is at 11 PM or midnight, you may need to extend your photography coverage to after midnight. If you're on a tight budget, doing a planned exit earlier in the day, or to or from your ceremony could create the group-celebratory effect you're looking for without adding 2-3 hours to your photography coverage. And, you might have more guests participate if they have young ones waiting at home or are early risers.
A FEW SAMPLE TIMELINES
Sample Timeline 1: 5 hours
Photographer arrives: 3:45 PM PM
Getting ready coverage of one partner with parent finishing dress lacing: 4:15-4:30 PM
First look: 4:30-4:45 PM
Formal photos of to-be-weds: 4:45 PM - 5:15 PM
Ceremony: 5:30 PM
Cocktail hour: 6-7 PM
Formals with 10-15 family members and wedding party: 6-6:30 PM
Reception begins: 7 PM
First dance and newlyweds thank you speech: 7:05 PM
Dinner served: 7:15 PM
Toasts/blessings/cake cutting: 8 PM
Dancing: 8:30 PM
Photographer departs: 9 PM
Sample Timeline 2: 6 hours
Hair/make up/prep starts at 12 PM
Photographer arrives: 1:45 PM
Getting ready (partner 1 finishes): 2:15 - 2:45 PM
Getting ready (partner 2 finishes): 2:45 PM - 3:15 PM
Travel to venue: 3:30-3:45 PM
First look: 3:45 - 4 PM
Nearlyweds enter reception: 4 PM
Mingling/cocktail hour: 4 - 5 PM
Ceremony: 5 - 5:30 PM
Photos: 5:30 - 6:30 PM
Reception resumes: 6:30 PM, dinner available
Dancing begins 7:15 PM
Sunset bubble and confetti exit: 8 PM
Photographer departs: 8:30 PM
Sample Timeline 3: 2 hours
Couple arrives 12:30 PM (outside courthouse)
Photographer arrives 12:45 PM
Everyone clears security
Ceremony: 1 PM
A few photos with the judge and witnesses: 1:15 - 1:30 PM
Travel to park: 1:35-1:50 PM
Couples portraits location 1: 50 - 2:15 PM
Couples portraits location 2: 2:25 PM - 2:45 PM