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Tips and Tricks

Planning your Wedding day Timeline – Tips and Tricks

October 9, 2019

Wedding timelines are one of the most important pieces of your special day. Whether you are doing it all on your own, or you have a coordinator, planning a wedding timeline for your photographer is super important! In this blog post I am going to go over all the tips and tricks on timelines, as well as my personal opinion as a wedding photographer. Let’s go!

**If you are looking for tips and tricks on engagement session outfits, I have a blog post for that too!  **


Picking the right season for your wedding is super important. For instance, Oregon tends to get a lot of rain and cold during certain months of the year. In Western Oregon, June-September tend to have the lowest chances of rain. Other months like late spring and early fall (October) can work as well but there will be chances of rain. As a seasoned wedding photographer I am used to shooting in various weather conditions, and if a little rain won’t bother you, that’s A-OK with me — but if you are looking for the perfect time to get married keep this in mind!

In Arizona (the state I was raised and started my wedding photography business) it’s basically the opposite. You get your monsoon season which can start and last between late July through early October. Weather is unpredictable at this time! It might pour rain or it might be extremely hot. Typical wedding season is the fall and early winter September-December and then spring March-May.

Wedgewood Secret Garden Wedding

Getting Ready Portion

Getting ready photos are so important and valuable! Especially if you are getting ready in a separate location from your partner. You wonder what they’re up to before you see each other for the first time, and these photos highlight those moments.

They’re also a great opportunity to document spending time with your wedding party and the moments you put your dress/tux on — all the important details!

For me, I start off the getting ready portion by documenting wedding details — invitations, shoes, rings and ringboxes, vow books, etc. This can take about 20 minutes usually. From there I’ll hang around and take photos of your finishing touches with hair and makeup, photos in your robes (optional), and photos getting into your dress. Usually I have a second photographer who is with your other half capturing those details as well.

I would say, never sacrifice the getting ready portion from your timeline with your photographer. Our job is storytelling, and the moments before you walk down that aisle are so crucial. If you have purchased a smaller package from your wedding photographer I would consider having them come for at least some of the details, and sacrifice some reception coverage.

groom getting ready photo ideas

First Look Options

This is a highly debated topic for wedding timelines — should you do a first look?

Well, just remember one thing. This is YOUR wedding day, and what you want to do, DO IT! But here are some benefits of a first look:

  • You can get your formal wedding photos out of the way early
  • You can do wedding party photos and immediate family photos early
  • You get some quiet moments together before you walk down that aisle

The first look itself doesn’t have to be long. Really it can only take about 15 minutes. But you should block off at least an hour for all the photos that follow (wedding party, individuals, family photos)! Leaving around 30 minutes before the “ceremony start time” for the couple to be tucked away for guests that are arriving.

first look wedding photo in the forest

Ceremony Times

The lighting can vary throughout the day and that’s why ceremony times are so important. In sunnier states (like Arizona) bright, harsh lighting can be your worst enemy.

You’ll want to be strategic though, because if you don’t do a first look — you have to cram in wedding party, family photos, and photos of you two after before all the light is lost.

My best advice is to download an app on your phone that predicts the sunset times throughout the year by location. It will show you when the sun sets and when the LAST bit of light is for any location and any date. This will help you SLAY that golden hour timeline. Usually a ceremony 2 hours before the sun sets is a good practice, or at least an hour and a half. For example, let’s say the sun sets at 7pm in this scenario:

5:30-6 Ceremony

6-7 Family Photos, Wedding Party, Formal Couples Photos (cocktail “hour” is usually happening here)

7:15/30 Grand Entrance

If you hire me as your wedding photographer, I tend to work pretty well during blue hour which is that hour after the sun sets that is still light out, and the sky looks like cotton candy. In my personal opinion I love shooting during blue hour. Sometimes the moon even makes an appearance and is great for photos.

La Jolla Wedding at La Valencia

Family & Group Photos

Sending your photographer a family shot list in the wedding timeline prior to your wedding day is SO important and here’s why.

When you’ve just finished getting married, and you or a family member are corralling your family together for pictures, it can get pretty crazy. Having a list that specifically states the names of your family members in each group makes it easy to shout out and get through the pictures as fast as possible. I recommend having a family member or friend assist in getting everyone where they need to be.

Also, I always recommend immediate family for these pictures so there is more time for your wedding party and photos of the both of you. But once again, it’s your wedding day so if you have a family member you want a photo with during this time, put them in there! Just make sure they’re on the list you give your photographer.

Post Wedding Portraits

After the first look or ceremony comes the “just married” portraits. I recommend asking your friends and family to give you space for this part (most people find it easier to relax when you don’t have an audience – but if you prefer having your personal hype people with you, absolutely go for it). If you don’t do a first look, we’ll do this part right after the ceremony! Either way, you’re bursting with love and excitement, and these photos will show it! This is the part that people tend to worry about. I know, you’re “awkward in photos.” I don’t think anyone’s ever come to a session with me and said, “I’m the BEST at having my photo taken!” But the truth is, how comfortable you feel during your session is pretty much entirely up to your photographer. If I stood there, didn’t say anything, and clicked my camera while you stared into it, you’d probably be pretty unhappy – both during the session and when you see your photos.

If you had photos together before the ceremony (you did a first look) these are often super short and just a few of you both wearing your new rings. 😉

Pro tip if you’re getting these photos out of the way before the ceremony – wear your wedding rings (bands, too)!

Grand Entrance & Reception

Yay, you did it!! Now it’s time to party!
Typically in a wedding timeline, a grand entrance is done right after or 15 minutes after cocktail hour. For instance, if you have a cocktail hour (the hour after your ceremony finishes) from 6-7pm, a couple will do their grand entrance at 7:15!

Every couple does things differently, but here are a few agenda items that are common during a reception:

– wedding party entrance
– first dance
-parent dances
-anniversary dance
-bouquet/garter toss
-cake cutting
-grand exit

If your photographer is only hired for 6 hours, I would recommend bundling together the “activities” right after dinner, so he/she can capture them all before they leave!

Lastly, if you are wanting to do a “grand exit” but your reception lasts longer than a photographer’s coverage, you can talk about doing a “last photo of the night”! Your DJ will help announce this for you, and even better, you get the last of your photos out of the way and can party for a few more hours, no pressure! Wedding timeline = SLAYED.

wedding timeline planning tips and tricks

Sample Wedding Timeline:

For your convenience, I’ve copy and pasted a sample timeline for an August wedding in Portland, Oregon! Check it out below to get an idea of how long it takes for certain photo sets to be done:

This example is with a bride and groom with a traditionally sized wedding party and 8 hours of coverage.

1:00 pm | Getting Ready
3:00 pm | First-look
3:10 pm | Couple Photos (wear rings)
3:45 pm | Wedding Party Photos
4:15 pm | Couple Downtime; Photograph Ceremony & Reception Decor & Get Ready for Ceremony
5:00 pm | Ceremony begins
5:30 pm | Ceremony ends; Family Photos (Cocktail hour begins for guests)
6:30 pm | Reception begins; Grand Entrance of Wedding Party
6:40 pm | Speeches
7:00 pm | Dinner is served
7:40 pm | Cake Cuttin
7:45 pm | First Parent Dance
7:50 pm | Second Parent Dance
7:55 pm | Couple’s First Dance
8:00 pm | Dance Floor Opens
8:15 pm | Sunset or Nighttime Photos of Couple
8:30 pm | Sparkler Exit or “Last Photo of the Night”
9:00pm | Photography coverage ends

2:00 pm | Getting Ready
3:45 pm | Bride & Bridesmaids Photos
4:00 pm | Groom & Groomsmen Photos
4:15 pm | Couple Downtime; Photograph Ceremony & Reception Decor & Get Ready for Ceremony
5:00 pm | Ceremony begins
5:30 pm | Ceremony ends; Family photos (Cocktail hour begins for guests)
6:00 pm | Wedding Party Photos
6:15 pm | Couple Photos
6:45 pm | Grand Entrance of Wedding Party
6:55 pm | Cake Cutting
7:00 pm | Speeches & Toasts
7:20 pm | Dinner Begins
7:50 pm | Sunset or Nighttime Photos of Couple
8:05 pm | First Parent Dance
8:10 pm | Second Parent Dance
8:15 pm | Couple’s First Dance
8:20 pm | Dance Floor Opens
9:30 pm | Sparkler Exit or “Last Photo of the Night”
10:00pm | Photography Coverage Ends

Final Thoughts

Every wedding day is different- from the location, to the time of year, size of wedding party etc; no timeline will look the same as the next! The above sample wedding photography timelines work well and factor in time for important photos and moments throughout the day. As a photographer, I will never say no to having more time for photos at any point in the day!

These wedding timeline samples are balanced nicely so that there’s plenty of time for photos and relaxation while not keeping guests waiting too long or “stealing” the couple away for too long. Whether you’re considering a first-look or not, every wedding schedule can be adjusted to fit your plans! Hopefully, this helps you start to plan out your day as you piece together your wedding day timeline. If you ever have questions or don’t know where to start, I’m always here! Just shoot me an email or you can DM me on Instagram!

Looking to book me for your wedding or elopement and get some additional timeline advice? Click HERE to contact me!

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