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Building Your Photography Timeline

Building your wedding photography timeline can be a tough thing to do, especially since most of the time, it’s a bride and groom’s first time getting married.  You may be thinking, where do I even start? Will I have enough time for portraits? How do I set up my day to get the most out of my wedding? Living in Southern California, you know that it’s going to be a go, go, go type of day just like most days in our lives, always on the run. You have to keep in mind what time will be the best for light in regards to your first look, family portraits and those ever sought out sunset photos.

Here is the best way to plan your own wedding timeline:

Decide what time to have your ceremony and find out what time the sun sets

What time of year you have your wedding will play a big part in your timeline. If you’re having your wedding in August, the sun will be setting at 8 pm and your ceremony start no later than 5:30 pm. This will allow for plenty of time after the ceremony for family portraits, wedding party shots and just married portraits. If you are having your wedding in January, your timeline will look a little different. The sun sets at 5 pm so everything will have to be earlier. The ceremony should start at 2:30 pm. Do your research. Google what time the sun will set on your wedding day and allow for an hour and a half for the above mentioned shots. Sunset portraits will take place 20 minutes before sunset, so allow time for that as well.

Add your first look into your schedule if you choose to do it (you should!)

Another big part of the day to keep in mind when making your timeline is a first look. Are you having a first look be a part of your day? If you do decide to do one ( I strongly recommend that you do one, they are highly beneficial for a day filled with dreamy portraits, more on that in a separate blog post) then you will have to allow for proper time for that. Check Pinterest for some first looks and take some time to read about them and the benefits of doing one. This will take up some time in the middle of the day so you will want to start getting ready earlier than if you weren’t doing one.

Figure out what type of portraits you want from your wedding day

The main focus of your wedding photos will be you and your partner, however, you will probably want photos with your closest friends and relatives too. Most photographers provide a “suggested formals list” of portrait groupings that you can refer to and edit with the names of your loved ones. While your parents may try to insist take formal portraits with all of your distant relatives, remember that the more portraits you take, the more time you will spend away from your big day. Try to keep your formal portraits to a minimum (10 different groupings at most) and include only your immediate family members, and maybe a few special relatives.

Decide on your locations for your portraits

Now that you’ve decided who will be included in your wedding portraits, it’s time to figure out where you will be taking these photos. The easiest locations are your ceremony and/or reception venues, of course, but the surrounding areas can also serve for some great locations. If there’s a particular location where you’ve always dreamed of taking your wedding photos (a local beach or park, a neighborhood in your city, etc.), you’ll have to factor the travel time into your wedding photography timeline—and plan for transportation so that all of your posse get there safely and on time.

Know how long each part of the photos will take

For the best results, photographers alike will agree that getting ready and detail shots will take an hour (30 for each,) wedding party photos will take about 30 minutes, family portraits take about 30 minutes (if you’re sticking with only photographing close family), and couple portraits take between 45 minutes to an hour. If you’re having a first look, you can choose to do all of these  before the ceremony. This will free you up to have more time with your guests. If you’re not having a first look, you can still take separate photos of the bridesmaids and groomsmen before the ceremony, but any portraits with the couple together such as the family portraits and bride and groom photos will be taken during cocktail hour. Allowing the proper time in your photography timeline will help your day run smoother without the chance of running over important events.

Draft your timeline and share it 

Work with your wedding coordinator/planner to create a fully detailed schedule of your entire wedding day, including the wedding photography timeline. Add 5 minutes of buffer time throughout the day to prepare for any hiccups or events running over the allotted time, and don’t forget to factor in travel time if you’re moving between locations. Be sure that all of your VIPs are aware of this schedule, and know where to be at what time. Even if you’re the on time type, weddings have a way of running late, so encourage your loved ones to stick to the schedule.

Here is a sample of a summer-time wedding photography timeline

Trust me, every bride hates this part! It will determine the stress level of the wedding day. Most brides don’t realize this when they are planning! So to all of you brides-to-be out there… consider yourself warned! Your timeline needs to be a photographer’s timeline. Little strategic things like doing a first look and allotting ample time for travel and ALL of the needed portraits, it will really help your day run smoothly. Here is a sample timeline with detailed information to show you how your timeline will look. Remember every wedding is different, this is just an example.

Photography Timeline WITH a first look


5:30 Ceremony with sunset around 8pm
1:00 I begin with details & girls/guys getting ready
2:30 Dress on!
3:15 First Look & Portraits
4:00 Bridal Party Portraits
4:30-4:45ish photograph untouched ceremony before guests arrive
5:00 Bride in hiding (Photograph reception details if at same location)
5:30 Ceremony
6:00 Family Formals (this can be done before ceremony if you want)
6:30 A few portraits of the newlyweds if the light is pretty! (If not, they can join cocktail hour!)
7:00 Introductions
7:30 Sunset Portraits (15-20mins) during dinner
10:00 Contracted coverage ends

Photography Timeline WITHOUT a first look


5:30 Ceremony with sunset around 8pm
1:00 I begin with details & girls/guys getting ready
2:30 Dress on
3:15 Bridesmaids portraits/Groomsmen Portraits in separate locations
4:30 photograph untouched ceremony before guests arrive
5:00 Bride in hiding (Photograph reception details if at same location)
5:30 Ceremony
6:00 Family Formals (Limited amount due to lack of time)
6:20 Quick & efficient Wedding Party Portraits
6:40 As many Bride and Groom Portraits as we can fit into 20mins!
7:00 Introductions
7:30 Sunset Portraits (15-20mins) during dinner
10:00 Contracted coverage ends

Other things to keep in mind:

1. Allow your photographer time to capture the reception details UNTOUCHED
2. If you have a TON of bridesmaids… have more than one or two hairstylists.
3. Don’t wait till the morning of the wedding to steam your dress!
4. Allow extra getting ready time… there will always be something that takes longer than expected!…. ie: fake eyelashes!
5. Save your photographer time by having ALL of your details in one place when they arrive!

6. The most important, relax. Your day will be beautiful and with all of this information you are well on your way to having your dream wedding.

Still don’t feel great about making a timeline on your own? have questions? I encourage you to reach out to me and express any concerns you may have and I will happily help you build your timeline.

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