How to DIY Your Wedding Photo Timeline

March 16, 2021

If there’s one thing you must have on your wedding day, it’s a timeline. Consider your timeline the roadmap and blueprint of your day – with one glance you know who is doing what, where, and at what time. It’s the backbone of your wedding day and outlines the event from start to finish.

The best part about your wedding day timeline?  Peace of mind!  Mapping out your day means everyone knows where they’re supposed to be and what is happening, which means less room for error and less stress. With a solid timeline, you can feel confident knowing your vendors, bridal party, and even family members are ready and prepared for each piece of your day.

If the idea of creating a wedding timeline freaks you out a bit, you’re not alone!  You’re likely feeling pretty new to this, and it’s normal to feel overwhelmed.  But thankfully, I’m an expert so you don’t have to be!

The last thing I want for my couples to feel on their wedding day is stress. You’ve spent months – maybe even years at this point – preparing for this day. You should be able to just show up and enjoy every second of it. As a wedding expert who has photographed hundreds of couples in the past 14 years, I’ve seen it all.  I know what to do to help a wedding day flow smoothly, and I’ve definitely seen what to avoid.

It’s important that each vendor you choose for your wedding team are not only able to provide you with a great service on your wedding day, but are truly experts at what they do.  We’re here to look out for problems ahead of time so you don’t have to.

Many couples feel stressed about the idea of getting photos on their wedding day, especially because they don’t want their day to feel like a rushed production.  That’s where a timeline comes in and makes all the difference. 

The good news is – wedding day photo timelines can actually be quite simple!  Once you know how long everything should take for an optimal wedding day flow, you can easily map out your times and events to adjust accordingly. The even better news? I’ve already done the hard work for you 🙂

Below you’ll find the most common wedding day events and how much time each event should take on a 10-hour wedding day timeline.  

The following ranges are all based on genuinely documenting the story of the experience without causing stress or taking too much time. It’s best to think of them like this:  the shorter time frame is enough to get something comfortably, and the longer time frame is best if it’s a priority to document well.

“Memory Based Detail Photos” – 30 minutes to two hours:

 This can represent anything from simple photos of sentimental gifts and ‘what the day felt like’ images of the venue, to complete artistic arrangement photos of all jewelry, florals, wedding invitations, wedding attire, etc. 

Bridal Party Groups Getting Ready – 45 minutes to three hours:

 This is meant to document actually hanging out with your closest friends and family members, in a casual setting.  Getting ready photos are almost entirely candid, from photos laughing together to mimosa toasts, to guys goofing off, to final touch ups.  This also includes any ‘casual’ group photos before everyone is dressed.  For days with only one photographer, two hours or more is recommended. For two photographers, 1.5 hours is a great middle ground.

Bridal Party Portraits – 45 minutes+ for each group

 Bridal party portraits are not just lining up and grinning at the camera, but an opportunity to get beautiful images with your favorite people in a relaxed way.  I’ve found it’s so beneficial to take our time with these in particular, because nerves are already high, and this allows the couple (and the bridal party) to let loose and have some fun.  It helps with nerves, and the individual photos of the bride with each of her bridesmaids (and the groom with each of his groomsmen) are often really meaningful to each of them.  

First Look or First Touch – 15 to 45 minutes

 This is always a special opportunity – not just to share vows or a quiet moment together before the ceremony, but to shake off any pre-wedding jitters with your person.  If this is a first touch, we leave plenty of time to talk, share letters, or pray together – usually 15-20 minutes.  For a first look, we give extra time to take some couples’ portraits then and there while the emotions are high.  

Protip: First Looks aren’t just with the bride and groom.  Some couples love the idea of a first look with their bridesmaids or with their parent(s), all of which are easy to set up.  For each of those, it’s best to budget ~15 minutes.

{ A Note on Buffer Times }

 When it comes to schedules and timelines, we always hope to stick to our best laid plans.  But since weddings involve quite a lot of moving parts (and humans), it’s best to plan for a few portions going late, such as hair and makeup taking an extra 30 minutes, someone not arriving on time, or even wanting some down time to relax nerves.  Because of that, I recommend adding a buffer time into a few sections of the day, especially in the time right before the ceremony starts.  Guests and family members will arrive inexplicably early, and we don’t want either of you to be seen or sucked into a conversation when you already have a lot on your mind.  I always recommend 45+ minute gap between the final pre ceremony photos finishing and the ceremony starting.  We often have to spill into that buffer, and it can be an absolute godsend for your peace of mind.   If there’s room to spare in the schedule, it’s also great to have a small gap between the bridal party groups (to keep you hidden from each other) and a few extra minutes of cocktail hour.  

Ceremonies – Add 15 minutes

 Ceremony times can range anywhere from 15 minutes long to nearly two hours.  What most people don’t consider in their schedule, is that the ceremony time must also include guests seating, the processional, the recessional, and the exit of all guests to clear the ceremony area.  That’s why it’s wise to budget an extra 15 minutes or more into your official ‘ceremony time’, so that if something goes late, it doesn’t affect the rest of your evening plans. 

Family Portraits – 20 to 45 minutes (3-5 mins/combination)

 This is arguably the least ‘fun’ portion of the day for many couples, as it can be logistically complicated and involves you standing in one place and smiling over and over 🙂  The truth is, it can actually be an easy and painless process, and because it’s important to have these portraits too, it needs that level of preparation.   To do this, there are three steps: 

1) Picking your ‘must have’ combinations (usually 3-5 groupings on each side of the family)

2) Telling all of those family members ahead of time what to expect

3) Letting a family member who knows ‘who is who’ to help call out names

If we follow all of the above, it can go by super quickly and smoothly.  The general rule is, each combination takes 3-5 minutes to set up and photograph. 

The Whole Bridal Party Together – 15-45 minutes

Whether this is right after a first look or after the ceremony, this is an important time to get some photos of the whole crew together.  For some bridal parties that are tight-knit groups of mutual friends, it’s important to take extra time with these and have plenty of everyone, from formal portraits to more relaxed, fun moments.   For most weddings, this is simply an important photo and we don’t spend a huge amount of time on variety.  I’ve found that if it’s not a main priority, 20 minutes is plenty. 

Newlywed Portraits – As much time as is comfortable (usually 30-60 mins)

On a wedding day, it is of the utmost importance to get photos of the two of you together in a beautiful, natural way.  These will become the photos that grace your your album, your home, and often those of parents as well.  What most don’t realize is that this is also one of the only times in the entire wedding day where you can actually experience some fun and romance as a couple, away from the noise and rush of the day.   Nothing is more sad than feeling obligated to spend time on something else, then never having beautiful photos of you and your spouse on your wedding day.  Because of that, this is one part of the day we will always seek to protect, especially around sunset time. 

Reception Moments – 1.5 to 3 hours

All receptions are different, but the vast majority of them follow a similar structure of important moments mixed in with dinner and dancing.  Since my documentarian style of photography relies on capturing real emotion and moments, it’s usually important to photograph an entire reception (I can’t even count how many instances I’ve photographed a beautiful moment at the most unexpected time).   For most weddings, this covers everything from dinner to toasts to photos of reception decor and cake to photos of all the first dances.  

Dance Floor Candids – 30 minutes to 2 hours

What most people consider ‘reception photos’ are actually only a small portion at the end of the evening.  Dance floor candids can be heartwarming slow dance photos of elderly family members, throwing down with your bridal party, and even your last dance at the end of the night.  Some couples don’t want a huge amount of these, while others love the range of emotions and look forward to seeing these candids the most (hence why I have such a wide recommended range).

Grand or Faux Exit – 15 minutes

It’s important to have some form of crescendo at the end of the night, not just for a great emotional peak in photos, but as a fun sendoff for your guests.  This can be a last dance with confetti, an exit with sparklers, you name it.  To fully prep everyone and document this, it usually takes around 15 minutes.

Now that you have know how long each event would ideally take on your wedding day, you can start crafting your wedding day timeline.  Below, I’ve created a sample timeline for a 10-hour wedding day as a reference.

Sample Timeline: Full Day of Coverage (10 hours)

12:00pm – Memory-based detail photos, of everything from sentimental items and gifts to rings and “what the day felt like” photos of the venue

12:40pm – Candids of everyone getting ready, laughing, touch ups, etc

2:10pm – Bride steps into dress, photos with mom and/or girls helping

2:30pm – Bride and bridesmaids photos

3:15pm – Groom and groomsmen photos

4:00pm – ‘First Touch’ private moment

4:15pm – Wrap up pre-ceremony photos

5:00pm – Ceremony begins 

5:30pm – Ceremony ends, guests exit for cocktail hour

5:40pm – Family group photos

6:00pm – ‘Full Bridal Party’ photos

6:20pm – Newlywed portraits

7:00pm – Portraits finish (down time for couple)

7:10pm – Entrance into reception

7:00pm to 9:00pm – “Main Moments” in Reception (first dances, toasts, dinner, candid conversations, etc)

9pm to 9:45pm – Dance floor candids 

10:00pm – Grand Exit

Pro tip: Keep in mind, the events you want to take place before your ceremony will greatly affect the timeline and the flow of the day. For example, if you choose not to do a First Look or First Touch, your pre-ceremony flow will look much different since you have more time available, and your post-ceremony flow will be much more full. 

And just like that, you have a wedding day timeline!  Feel free to shift the times forward or back to fit your ceremony time.  You can use this reference for your vendor communications and as a place to save any important notes for the day of. 

When in doubt, it’s always best to add little buffers here and there and over estimate each section.  It’s way better to have a more relaxed, slower day than a day full of panicked rush and anxiety if anyone is late.  

Looking for a little more help DIYing your timeline? Grab my free timeline templates here!  See how I craft an 8-hour and a 12-hour wedding,  and as a bonus, a timeline for an intimate local or destination wedding weekend (yes, micro weddings and elopements need timelines too)!

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