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What’s in a day: suggested wedding day timelines

As all  my brides and grooms know, I offer help with building their wedding day timelines.
But I know that bringing the entire schedule of events together is challenging since…well, let’s face it…you probably haven’t been married before! 😉 I hope this post is helpful to you, if you’re a bride or groom who values wedding photos!

A few notes before we begin:

  • Plan all must-have shots to be done by sunset, unless you’re confident with and LIKE your photographer’s portfolio of off-camera flash photography. Check sunset times for your wedding day here.
  • Be sure your flowers are delivered in time for group pictures with your girls/guys. If you are spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on flowers, they should be in pictures, right?
  • Don’t forget to allot for time it takes to get from event to event and place to place, a period of time that I have not added on this list as that varies.

The below list is the standard amount of time “events” typically take on the day of the wedding. If it looks like there is too much time designated for something, that’s a good thing. Everything always takes longer than planned. Following this list are two sample timelines. Most wedding days (from preparation to leaving the reception) last anywhere between 10-15 hours.

Do you need a photographer for that whole time? Probably not. Most photographers will book 4, 6, 8, 10 or 12 hour packages. I feel 8-10 hours is the best amount of time to tell your story. I typically aim to show up the last hour of the girls getting ready and stay until a bit after all the reception events (cake, toasts, dinner, special dances, bouquet/garter toss) are done. This doesn’t always work out…depends on when the ceremony is in comparison to the reception.

The following order of events assumes that sunset doesn’t occur until around the time when the reception begins….and assumes also that the bride and groom ARE NOT seeing one another beforehand and that the bride and groom are fine with not doing a receiving line. If sunset is at a different time, just rearrange the order of events.

BASIC ORDER OF EVENTS W/ TIME ESTIMATES (if NOT seeing one another before the ceremony)
2-3 hours: girls at salon or wherever to do their hair and makeup (depends on how many girls there are and how many stylists/artists there are) If you have to omit coverage of something, this would e my suggestion
30 min-1 hour: girls putting on dresses/finishing touches; the bride putting her dress on might not seem like it’ll take that long, but sometimes it can…consider if you have to lace it up, shoes, jewelry, garter, seeing your father??? etc. (The guys get ready during this time)
20-30 minutes: group girl shots
20-30 minutes: group guy shots
30 minutes: all bridal party members should have this time to chill while ceremony guests are being seated
30 minutes-1 hour: Ceremony 
30 minutes: formal pictures with family (I have my couples keep it to fewer than 12 groups)
15-30 minutes: full bridal party pictures    
30-45 minutes: bride & groom shots–the most frame-able pics of the day!!! (if you choose a location that is close to the reception or the ceremony site, that works perfectly!!!)
3-5 hours: reception

NOTE: these timelines do not take into account travel time between venues.


(3:30 p.m. ceremony w/ sunset anytime after 5 p.m.)
For brides and grooms who want to see one another well before the ceremony so they can be sure to get photos together of the two of them before sun down. If your ceremony is an hour or less before sundown, I highly urge you to do a FIRST GLANCE. Your photographer will surely agree.

12 p.m. photography begins (usually photos of girls getting ready and of dress, shoes, etc.)
12:45 p.m. Bride putting on dress

1:15 p.m. FIRST LOOK (we’d do more pics in the best lighting of the day after the ceremony)
1:30 p.m. full bridal party photos (all girls, all guys, everyone together)
2:15 p.m. family formals (usually only need 30 minutes, but it never hurts to cushion it a bit)
3 p.m. everyone is relaxing/freshening up
3:30 p.m. Ceremony (no receiving line)
4:15/4:30 p.m. Bride/Groom final portraits
5 p.m. announced at reception
5:15 p.m. dinner

  • toasts
  • cake
  • special dances
  • bouquet/garter belt
  • open dance (if you can get 30-45 minutes of this covered, you’ll be good to go!)

8:15 p.m. photo coverage ends



(5 p.m. ceremony w/ sunset after 7;15 p.m.)
For brides and grooms who opt to not see each other until the bride walks down the aisle. This scenario works if your ceremony will end with at least 75-90 min of daylight left. And you should be fine with also having your reception guests wait a bit. Usually guests don’t get cranky if there is something to nibble on or drink while waiting for up to 1.5 hours.

Noon–Girls at salon or wherever to do hair/makeup (have lunch delivered!??)

2:30 p.m.–recommend that photo coverage begins while guys/girls finish getting ready
***Flowers delivered by 3 p.m.
3 p.m.–Bride puts on dress/final touches
3:30 p.m.–Girls go with photographer for group shots; bride alone
4 p.m.–Guys go with photographer for group shots; groom alone
4:30 p.m.–all photos done; break until ceremony
5 p.m.–ceremony; I recommend NOT doing a receiving line or you’ll have to go without some sort of pics
6 p.m. formal pics (12 groups max to keep within the 30-40 min)
6:30 p.m. full bridal party pics
6:45 p.m. Bride and groom pics
7:15/30 p.m.  B&G announced at reception
 (if you have 1.5 hours of sunlight to work with after guests leave the ceremony, that is enough time to get 10 formal family shots and then fun wedding party images and bride/groom pictures so long as travel time is not drastic)

If you only have the photographer for 3-4 hours of the reception, then plan your reception events wisely so you can get them all covered. Here is one order of events that works really well.

  • Bridal party announced
  • dinner/food lines open
  • Bride/groom cut cake when finished with dinner
  • toasts while cake is being served
  • special dances (b/g first dance; father/daughter dance; mother/son dance) while cake is being eaten
  • bouquet/garter belt toss
  • DANCING!!!!!

For MY brides and grooms (as in, the ones who have hired me to shoot their wedding)….if any of this confused you, just email me your ceremony time, let me know if you are seeing one another beforehand…and I will draft you a timeline! 🙂 Remember…my goal is to have happy brides and grooms. And though you hate to revolve your entire day around your photos, if you don’t make time for the photos you want, you won’t get the photos you want.

(The above post is copyright, All Rights Reserved….so please do not repost or publish anywhere.. but feel free to link back to my blog. 🙂 ) Thank you.

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  • Anonymous - this is so incredibly helpful. I actually am getting married this fall outside of Austin, Texas (horrible timing, I know since you might end up there!!) and I hope you don’t mind, I’m going to use one of these timelines for my own pics. My wedding photographer will probably be very grateful. haha

    –Misty L.ReplyCancel

  • snowfalldesigns - I am shooting my first wedding this weekend and this is very helpful – thank you! And I love your work!!ReplyCancel

  • Allison - This is SO helpful! Thank you so much!ReplyCancel

  • Brittani - This is a very helpful article!! You must be pretty good at what you do. =)ReplyCancel