Creating a wedding photography timeline is perhaps the most impactful preliminary work you can do ahead of the wedding day. A well-crafted timeline can help you set realistic goals, give you and your couples a heads-up if more time is needed to accomplish those goals, and also allow you to breathe more easily on the wedding day knowing you have everything covered. If you struggle with time management, or simply need a refresher on the best way to create a wedding photography timeline, this blog will help you stay on schedule and stress-free when you shoot your next wedding!
Wedding Photography Timeline Framework
Every wedding is different and every wedding photography timeline has to be crafted to include the hours you’re contracted for, the needs of the couple, the structure of the day, the venue specifications, the vendor deliverables, and, most importantly for you, the light! Below we have listed some suggested timeline elements you can copy and paste to get you started. Once you do, just fill in the time it actually takes you to do those things on average and you’ll have a great place to start!
1. Dress, Accessories & Details
You would probably never forget to photograph the bride and groom wearing their wedding clothes, but we also suggest you schedule time in your wedding photography timeline to capture images of the bride’s dress (and veil) and groom’s tuxedo/suit before they get dressed. Additionally, other details like rings, jewelry, shoes, and bouquets/flowers can be aesthetically arranged and photographed to help tell the wedding day story.
2. Getting Ready Photos
You can get some of the most raw and emotional images when you photograph the bride getting ready. Whether she decides to get ready alone or with her bridal party, getting ready photos are a great way to get some candid images. You can also take the bride’s hair and makeup pictures during this segment. Similarly, you could also capture some fun photos of the groom with his groomsmen as they get ready together. These photographs tend to be genuine, so try to dedicate some extra time for them.
3. Solo Portraits
After your couple finishes getting ready, it’s time for their solo portraits! This is likely the best time to photograph them as the hair and makeup, bouquet, and boutonniere are fresh. You can use window light or off-camera light to create these photos. If they are not already, this could be the time when your bride and groom start getting more comfortable with you and the camera.
4. The First Look
The first look can be a special moment if the couple chooses to do one. This is when they see each other for the first time before the ceremony. This is a moment filled with love and (happy) tears, so try to capture every emotion they show at that moment! Though the actual first look doesn’t last long, you can use any extra time you have afterward to photograph the couple before the ceremony starts.
5. The Wedding Party Images
Depending on the size of the bridal party, you may want to schedule plenty of time for this portion of the day. How much time you spend also depends on how your couple feels about the importance of these photographs as part of the wedding photography timeline. When you’re with the group, get as many different shots as you can of everyone having a good time. Try including props and capture any details, such as matching socks of the groomsmen or the matching hair accessories of the bridesmaids. Take photos of the flower girl and the ring bearer during this time too.
6. Photos of the Immediate Family
If the couple has done a first look, you can take these photos before the couple moves to their ceremony site. Include the parents, grandparents, and siblings for this session. Besides taking all the classic posed group photos, add some fun and creative images into the mix too! Also, don’t forget to mix up the bride and groom’s side of the families. Capture some photos of the bride with the groom’s family and vice versa. Does your couple have any pets? Make them a part of the immediate family photos too.
7. Ceremony Photos
The time allotted for the ceremony photos will depend on the kind of ceremony your couple is having. Your couple usually will work with an officiant to determine the ceremony length so be sure you’re all on the same page when it comes to timing here. For the ceremony site photos, if you plan well you can take pictures of the set-up before the guests arrive. With no people around you will get a chance to photograph the venue and the arrangements at their best. As you take sweeping photographs of the architecture, don’t forget those photos that really shine the light on even the tiniest decor details. For the actual ceremony, once your couple and the guests take their positions, focus all your energy on capturing events as they unfold.
Related Read: Wedding Ceremony Photography Guide
8. Post-Ceremony Formals
Once the ceremony is over, you can either take all the family portraits if you didn’t do them before the ceremony, or you can take more with any family members who were not present for the earlier photos. You can also include other close family members or any other important guests. It’s always a good idea to work with your couple before the wedding day to generate a list of the must-have groups to include during this time. Having a list ahead of time will allow you to plan for just the right amount of time in the wedding photography timeline.
9. Romantic Couples’ Portraits
By the time you reach this point, sunset may be approaching so you can take advantage of golden hour for the perfect romantic portraits of the newlyweds. This is well-known as the best time of day for photography in terms of lighting and hopefully will produce warm light and colorful skies.
10. Reception Venue, Decor & Detail Shots
Try to reach the reception venue before the couple to photograph the venue and the reception set up. Take photos of the florals, table decorations, cake and dessert table, place cards, and any other element that are unique to your couple’s big day. If it’s a themed reception, make sure that you get photos of the little things too! Your couple has spent time planning even the smallest details, so take some extra time to show them that you noticed all their efforts. They will appreciate it when they look back!
11. The Grand Entrance
Once all the guests have arrived at the reception venue, the couple typically will make their entrance. They might have planned a stylish and choreographed entrance, or their wedding party might have planned to give them a fun welcome. Whatever the scenario – be prepared with your camera! The Grand Entrance can be an unforgettable moment for the couple, so give it your all. These photographs will allow your couple to relive that moment years down the line. If you have other photographers on your team, brief them about the importance of this moment and ask them to cover all angles.
12. Welcome Speech, Toasts, Cake Cutting & Dinner
The welcome speech, toasts, and cake cutting are all important moments to add to your wedding day photography timeline. There could be a lot of laughter and tears during the toasts when the couple and their loved ones often pour out their hearts. And watch for antics and funny faces when the couple attempts to feed each other the first bite of cake.
Suggested Read: 7 Wedding Cake Photos Your Couple Will Love
13. The First Dances & Open Dancing
Before or after dinner, set aside time for the couple’s first dance. Also check with your couple and see if they will be having a father-daughter dance, a mother-son dance, or any other family dances that you need to be ready for. After first dances, the open dancing usually begins. Depending on how much time the couple has contracted you for, this is what you could spend the balance of your evening photographing.
14. Night Photos With the Couple
Steal your couple out of the reception for some lovely night photographs. If you can, try to incorporate the night sky in your images. Play with angles and also different types of light sources. You could also add props like sky lanterns or sparklers to these photographs. These photographs at night can be a welcome moment for the couple away from the guests giving them some time to enjoy each other’s company after a whole day of entertaining.
15. The Exit
Just like the reception entrance, The Exit is usually a grand, photo-worthy affair too! It could involve props like sparklers or confetti, so be prepared to find ways to capture the couple, the guests, and the additional elements in a single frame. This may be the last part of your wedding photography timeline and is a great way to close out the night. Sometimes couples opt to do a “Fake Exit” in the middle of the reception so they can get all the photos they want and then go back to dancing late into the night. Consider talking to your couple about this as an option if they want their exit photos captured but don’t want to hire you to stay until the reception ends.
BONUS TIP: Build In Extra Time
If your experience with weddings is that they tend to run behind schedule, we suggest that you keep your timeline flexible and build 30 extra minutes into your timeline where you can. You never know when a crisis will occur, and having those extra minutes can help if one does!
As a wedding photographer, you are expected to capture every moment on your couple’s special day. And even if you are a pro, a wedding photography timeline can undoubtedly make your wedding day workflow easier. You will have to adjust your photography timeline according to every wedding (especially ones from different cultures), but the basic structure often stays the same whether it is a 9-hour wedding or a 6-hour wedding!
At ShootDotEdit, we aim to help simplify your wedding photography processes. We also offer professional photo editing services that match your editing style. To learn more about how we can help your wedding photography business, check out our price plans.