If you haven’t noticed, I love preparation and planning in regard to weddings.

Although I’ve blogged before about preparing for a wedding day, I get a lot of questions about how this is practically executed. Keep in mind that I’m writing about this from a photographer’s point of view, however, your photographer will be with you more than anyone else on the wedding day (even more than your spouse, family, and any other vendor aside from a wedding videographer).

The goal of tips for developing your wedding day timeline is to ultimately help you get the most out of your wedding day as well as help you get the most comprehensive images as the day unfolds.

First, some quick tips to remember:

Add buffer time. Delays happen, so I recommend adding 15 minutes for any transition from one activity to the next. For example, add 15 minutes when going from hair and makeup to putting on the dress.

Have bride and groom details at the bride’s prep location. These include: the rings (all 3); jewelry; wedding invitation, response card, envelope; garter; veil; dress; bouquets; shoes; and any other sentimental pieces you’d like to have photographed. Bonus: Remove all tags and stickers prior to the wedding day.

Light is at its best 1-2 hours before sunset, so I always recommend having couples portraits during this time for flattering images in beautiful, even light.




The earlier the better. If your hair appointment is allotted for 2 hours, estimate 30-45 minutes beyond that due to hair and makeup taking longer than expected. Have your bridesmaids get hair and makeup done at the same time or before the bride as bridesmaids will need to be dressed when they help the bride into her dress.

If you want special photo requests (i.e. popping champagne on the bed, bride and bridesmaids in bathrobes), remember that hair and makeup should be done prior to these images taking place. Also, try to keep the getting ready room presentable by having someone tidy up as you go.


Your day typically starts later than the bride’s, however, you’ll want to make sure your “getting ready” room is presentable for images. Have everything but your jacket, boutonniere and tie/bow tie on for the initial images, and make sure that your groomsmen are in their wedding attire, including boutonnieres.

First Look

Account for the walk and set-up of the first look. The photographer will first get the groom in place, followed by the bride, so having the groom’s arrival 5 minutes prior to the bride’s arrival is preferred. While a first look is typically fairly brief, it doesn’t hurt to add buffer time for makeup or hair touch-ups prior to beginning couple portraits.

I recommend 30 minutes for bride, groom, and individual portraits following the first look as this gives the couple time alone together and images together before the ceremony even begins.

Bridal party photos

It’s safe to have 30 minutes of portrait time total for the bride and bridesmaids, groom with groomsmen, as well as complete wedding parties, and other combinations you would like to have.


Family photos

Group shots, particularly family groupings, can take up to 2 minutes per grouping, so consider this when anticipating family photos.  If possible, plan these images prior to the ceremony to cut down on portrait time later.

*The biggest time saver I see on a wedding day is letting family know beforehand where and when photos will take place. I’ve seen so many couples spend time away from their celebration tracking down guests, family, or friends who didn’t know where or when photos were taking place, or that they were even going to be in photos.


Regardless of when your wedding is scheduled, give yourself at least 30 minutes to hide away from guests, retouch, and relax prior to the ceremony.

Traditional ceremonies take 20-30 minutes, however, discuss with your officiant to determine a more accurate timeframe of ceremony and also account for any special events during the ceremony (i.e. unity candle, communion).

Savor time

This is one area that Patrick and I neglected, but wish we had not: time alone post-ceremony. Walking out of the ceremony as husband and wife brought out emotions for both of us, but we had to suppress this as we quickly transitioned to family portraits and reception. I recommend scheduling in several minutes where you can savor being husband and wife.

Cocktail Hour

If you’re not doing a first look, think about extending your cocktail hour to 90 minutes so that your photographer can capture all family and bridal party portraits as well as cocktail hour and reception details. If you have an evening wedding, I recommend couple portraits 1 hour prior to sunset for the best light.


It’s all about the flow. No one likes a party where nothing is happening, so I recommend giving guests something to see or experience while celebrating with you. Plan out what activities you would like, and then identify when you would like them to happen. The order of the events is up to you, however, it’s important to have a timeframe in which they will happen. I’ve shot weddings where events never happened, simply because there was not a timeframe for the dj or planner to know when it should take place.

For evening receptions, most couples go right into their first dance after they are announced and then follow up with dinner. Toasts typically proceed the cake cutting while bouquet and garter tosses occur after guests have been dancing. With that being said, it’s ultimately your wedding, which means that how you structure your day is ultimately up to you.

Final Thoughts

Feel overwhelmed? Don’t. All of these recommendations for time are more than likely what you’ve already accounted for without knowing it. I recommend writing it all down and give the timeline to everyone; that is, everyone who has a role that is greater than attending the wedding. From ushers and family to bridal party and caterer, having a timeline gets everyone on the same page and creates flow for a day you can feel prepared for.