Ideal Wedding Day Photography Timeline

The original post appeared on January 26, 2011 (before I deleted my blog and it was popular). I updated it to reflect changes to how I currently cover weddings. Thank you to Melissa Jill for permission to borrow from her post!

Over the past two five years, I’ve photographed countless weddings. While I’m no expert wedding planner, I thought it might be helpful to share, from a photographer’s point of view, an ideal wedding day timeline.

With this general timeline, I’ve experienced a smooth wedding day and the bride and groom have the opportunity to enjoy their day, stress-free when their timeline is similar.

As a side note: Melissa suggests first and foremost, to hire a wedding planner. She provides an excellent top ten list as to why you should. I know from my own experience, planning a wedding can quickly become a huge burden on your time.

Every wedding is unique and every day will be special to the couple it represents. This timeline is a starting point to designing your day for smooth sailing. As Melissa states, your wedding ceremony time, sunset time, location/weather, transportation time, the amount of time required from your photographer for portraits, the type of reception you want and other cultural elements will all affect the schedule for your day.

This original model has been designed around a sunset time of 6pm. It assumes the bride and groom have decided to see each other before the ceremony for portraits, which I highly recommend. You may read Melissa’s thoughts about first look’s as well.

Ideal 8 Hour Wedding Day Photography Timeline (sunset time of 6pm):
1:00pm Photographer Arrives | Bridal Hair & Make-up
3:00pm Bride and Groom’s First Look Portraits
3:30pm Bridal Party Portraits
4:00pm Family Portraits
4:30pm Bridal party may freshen up while guests arrive
5:00pm Ceremony (perfect outdoor lighting is hr before sunset)
5:30pm Cocktail Hour (you get to enjoy this)
6:30pm Dinner Reception

Ideal Reception Timeline:
6:45pm Grand Entrance | First Dance | Blessing
7:00pm Dinner (allow guests to eat without interruption for 45 minutes)
7:45pm Toasts | Special Dances
8:00pm Open Dancing
8:30pm Cake Cutting | Open Dancing

My old packages included 8 hours of coverage on the wedding day. So, for the above timeline, I would suggest the bride and groom have a photographer shooting from: 1:30pm to 9:30pm OR 2:00pm to 10:00pm


My current packages include up to 5 hours of coverage on the wedding day, but you could even work with 4 hours comfortably for wedding coverage if you’re on a budget. So, let’s update this old post and take a look at how a 5 hour day looks:

Ideal 5 Hour Wedding Day Photography Timeline:
2:30pm Bride Gets Ready | Photographer Arrives
3:00pm Bride and Groom’s First Look Portraits
3:30pm Bridal Party Portraits
3:45pm Family Portraits
4:00pm Bridal party may freshen up while guests arrive
4:30pm Ceremony
5:00pm Cocktail Hour

Ideal Reception Timeline:
6:00pm Grand Entrance | First Dance | Parent Dances | Blessing
7:00pm Toasts | Dinner | Dancing | Photos with Cake

Depending on where you’d like more photos, getting ready or reception, you may adjust the timeline. With longer days, of course it’s easy to fit in your full day. With the shorter day, you have to make a decision if you want more photos of you getting ready, or if you want more at the reception.

I recommend brides booking a shorter package for the photographer to be finished after the Best Man’s Toast. Photos with the cake can be done ahead of time and this covers all of the essentials. Let your DJ and coordinator know that your photographer is leaving then, to make sure important dances and activities are done earlier.

For brides who’d like to book for an 8-hour day, I offer the opportunity to pay a 2nd photographer to come in at the Best Man’s Toast and cover the rest of the reception.

Brides, count backward from when you’ll see the groom to start the first look portraits (3pm above) to figure out what time to start getting your hair and make-up done. Plan at least a 1/2 hour to get into your dress, and for a little hang out time.

It’s better to plan out more time to get ready, than not enough. There are always unexpected events the day of, so having more time in your schedule will help you plan better.

For bridal party and family portraits, usually you want to make sure you give at least 15 minutes or more if possible. The more time, the more options you’ll have.

You want your wedding day to go smoothly. You want beautiful portraits, time to spend with family and friends and an overall good experience. Planning your timeline carefully helps shape your day into one that you’ll always cherish.

Happy Wedding Planning!

– kn –