The Ideal Wedding Photo Timeline : Guidelines for a Successful Wedding Day!

September 9, 2020

An ideal wedding photo timeline is one of the most important aspects in planning your big day! In this post, I’m going to go over the timeline and explain the nitty gritty details behind it!

A Wedding Photo Timeline is Essential!

A great wedding photo timeline is paramount to a smooth wedding day. First, it helps you–the bride–feel organized and in control. In addition, it helps your vendors–in particular your photographer and videographer–know when and where to be in order to make sure your day runs smoothly!

Don’t Create the Wedding Photo Timeline on Your Own!

However, wedding timelines shouldn’t be created in a vacuum. First, if you have a coordinator, let her/him take the lead. After all, this is part of what you’re paying them for! And, they are very knowledgable in how long it takes to set up tables, install floral arrangements, etc. In addition, your wedding photographer can play a huge role helping to create a proper wedding photo timeline.

Creating the Ideal Wedding Photo Timeline

Ok, so let’s talk about the ideal wedding photo timeline! The timeline below is a pretty common structure, but there may be slight differences depending on the wedding. We’re going to base this off eight hours of photography, which is my most common coverage for a San Diego wedding. We’re also going to assume there are two photographers, which is standard in all my wedding photo packages. Finally, we’re going to assume that the ceremony and reception take place at the same property.

The timeline:

  • 2:00-3:00 PM : Photographer arrives; getting-ready photos
  • 3:00-3:30 PM : Separate bridal/grooms party and solo bridal/groom portraits
  • 3:30-3:45 PM : First look
  • 3:45-4:10 PM : Photos of entire bridal party
  • 4:10-4:45 PM : Family photos
  • 4:45-5:00 PM : Chill
  • 5:00-5:30 PM : Ceremony
  • 5:30-6:45 PM : Cocktail hour
  • 5:30-5:50 PM : Remaining group/family photos
  • 5:50-6:30 PM : Bride and groom romantics
  • 6:30-6:45 PM : Bride and groom enjoy cocktail hour
  • 6:45-10:00 PM : Reception, dinner, dancing, etc.

Getting Ready (1 Hour)

This is one of my favorite parts of a wedding! You and your bridesmaids are having fun getting ready, maybe sipping a little champagne and sharing funny stories.

But the tension is quietly building. In a few hours, your relationship status will change to “married” 😉

Ideally you should allow at least an hour for this part. This gives your photographer time to say hello, get your details set up and photographed, and then devote the remainder to candids of you and your bridesmaids getting ready!

hair stylist spraying hairspray on bride's hair

Your photographer will have a mental list in her/his head about the necessary shots. But, it’s important to let your photographer get creative, like this hairspray shot above!

bride adjusting veil

In addition, your photographer can play with light and different angles as the veil is put on and adjusted!

bridesmaids react to seeing bride in wedding gown

Bonus picture: Have your photographer organize a “bridal party first look” with you and your bridesmaids. The reactions are priceless and it’s always a great shot!

Pro tip: Shortly before your photographer arrives, enlist your bridal party to tidy up your bridal suite and toss out any empty water bottles, food containers and other trash. This will ensure your images are as great as they can be!

While I’m with you and you bridesmaids, my second shooter is with your fiancee, getting pictures of him/her as they get ready!

Separate Bridal Party/Solo Bridal Portraits (30 Minutes)

Once you’re in your gown, it’s time to shoot some great photos of you and your bridesmaids!

I’ve found that it’s good to start with bridal party photos, for a few reasons. First, solo portraits tend to be more stressful, so it’s good to start with a situation in which you’ll be comfortable! For these shots, it’s good for your photographer to mix in both formal and fun photos.

In addition, the second photographer should be getting similar shots of the groom and his groomsmen!

bride and bridesmaids laughing and joking in group photo

Next, it’s on to solo photos of the bride! The goal of this session is to really show of the beauty of the bride and her gown.

Your photographer should use this time to get some gorgeous, solid shots in the can. Then, take the remainder of the time to get creative and make some unique photos!

First Look (15 Minutes)

I love shooting first look photos! All that tension that built up during the getting ready phase has come to a head. Now, it’s time to see your fiancée for the first time!

bride and groom exchanging surprising expressions during first look

A first look is great because, unlike during the ceremony, you can pick out a really pretty location with great light.

bride cries as she approaches groom during first look

And, I’ve found that brides and grooms are much less self-conscious without a crowd of guests around. It’s just the bride and groom, and their photo/video crew. As a photographer, this is great because they’ve let their guard down and the emotions can really come out!

In my ideal wedding photo timeline, I like to allow about 15 minutes for this session. It’s enough time to get you guys positioned, do the actual first look, and then a few minutes after for you to soak it in!

bride fans face with emotion during first look in garden at la jolla bed breakfast inn

If you’re not doing a first look, that’s perfectly okay! I can appreciate the tradition of seeing each other for the first time during the ceremony. Both make for amazing photo opportunities!

Bridal Party Photos (25 Minutes)

I love doing bridal party photos! As a photographer, it’s such a great way to get to know the bridal party better.

Bridal party photos generally fall into one of two categories: Super-structured/Vanity Fair-style or very casual.

formal bridal party photo at hilton la jolla torrey pines

Super-structured bridal party photos can take considerable time to set up. Keep in mind that the photos you see in Vanity Fair are the result of months of planning with a huge crew. So, it’s best to let your photographer know ahead of time if you want to go this route. This way your photographer will have time to scout for locations, arrange for posing items (chairs, sofas, etc.) and coordinate with an assistant.

formal bridal party walks in balboa park

On the other hand, bridal party photos that are more casual don’t take that much time at all! A simple arrangement of everyone, maybe a stroll with everyone laughing–BOOM!

Group/Family Photos (35 Minutes)

Ah, group photos! For couples this is like nails on a chalkboard. But, I actually like them because it gives me the chance to get to know the bride’s and groom’s families!

Pro tip: For a smooth group/family photo session, make a list ahead of time of all the guests you want photographed, and tell them where and when to be there. Also, delegate a trustworthy friend or family member to help wrangle guests!

In the ideal wedding photo timeline, it’s good to allot 30-40 minutes to photograph everything. Obviously, a list with fewer group photos will not take as long as a list with a ton of people, so plan your time accordingly.

I recommend getting as much of these photos done before the ceremony. It’s way easier to corral family members at this time since the lure of the bar isn’t there! After the ceremony, it gets increasingly difficult because your guests just want to party! I suggest letting family members know ahead of time when and where these pictures will be taken.

Remaining Group/Family Photos (20 Minutes)

Romantic Couple Photos (40 Minutes)

Romantic couple photos are a key element of any wedding photo timeline. These photos are the images you hang on your walls, display large in your album and post on social media. They are pictures that ooze romance and are the true visual representation of your love.

bride and groom kiss romantically under veil

So, it’s really important that you devote a good chunk of time for these pictures. Depending on your wedding venue, there may be multiple locations to shoot, so you’ll need as much time as you can get!

In my ideal wedding photo timeline, I like to set aside at least 40-50 minutes for this session. If it’s a bigger venue with lots of different locations, we can devote over an hour.

Cocktail Hour (1 Hour, 15 Minutes)

While the lead photographer is capturing romantic pictures of the bride and groom, the second shooter should be capturing details and candids of your guests!

I recommend adding an extra 15-20 minutes onto your cocktail hour (75-80 minutes total). It gives your guests extra time to mingle and it allows you to catch the tail end after your romantic photo session!

Reception (Approx. 4 Hours)

In the ideal wedding photo timeline, your reception will run between three and four hours. But, it’s not uncommon for it to run longer, particularly for multicultural celebrations with unique traditions.

hotel del coronado crown room during wedding reception

This gives you enough time for dinner service, speeches and cake cutting. In addition, you can also fit in first dance, father-daughter/mother-son dances, open dancing and a grand exit!

Wedding Planners Who Make Ideal Wedding Photo Timelines

Wedding planners are *masters* of creating timelines. I’ve learned so much from them over the years! Here are a few of my favorite planners!

I hope this has been helpful! If you’re planning a wedding, I’d love to chat! Click the button below to set up a consultation!

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