One of the most common questions we get from couples is, “How much time do we need for photography?” This question can have a lot of different answers depending on a lot of different factors. Some people want only candid photos, while others have large families and a lot of posed photo requests. Some couples enjoy spending a longer time with us doing creative portraits, while others are eager to party with their guests. Because they can vary so much, we include a timeline consultation for all our couples so that we can talk about the timing of the wedding day and what their particular photo priorities are.
Nonetheless, it’s helpful to have a basic idea of how a wedding will flow. Below, I’ve included what I consider to be an “average” wedding timeline. Almost every wedding deviates from this, but it’s close enough to most weddings to give you an idea of the pacing. (This timeline is from a photography perspective using 0:00 as the start time for your ceremony.)
(-1:30) Photos begin
We most commonly begin photographing 1.5 – 2 hours ahead of the ceremony start time, depending on whether or not the couple wants to do a First Look. If you decide to do a First Look, you’ll obviously need more time up front.
We use this time to do detail photos of the dress, shoes, rings, flowers, etc., and “finishing touches” during the getting ready process. One of the benefits of having two photographers is that Jesse can take photos of the guys while I hang out with the girls. (Stay tuned for a blog post that will elaborate more about what to expect during getting ready photos.)
(-0:30) Guests start arriving
If we do any sort of posed photos ahead of time, we aim to wrap up 30 minutes before the ceremony so you can retouch your makeup and hide out from your guests (and take a deep breath!).
0:00 Ceremony begins
0:30 Ceremony ends
Most ceremonies are 15-20 minutes long. We generally add extra time in case the ceremony starts late. Religious ceremonies tend to take longer, so be sure to talk to your officiant about how much time they need. Believe me, you don’t want to rush this very important part.
Be sure to decide if you want to have a receiving line or not. Spontaneous receiving lines are notorious for causing weddings to run behind; depending on how many guests you have, they can take up to 45 unplanned minutes. If you don’t want to have a receiving line, have a hideout where you can go after your ceremony as guests exit.
0:45 – 1:30 Family [30 min.] and wedding party photos [15 min.]
If you did a First Look, you probably took wedding party photos before the ceremony and don’t need as much time. If you have a large and/or boisterous family, you may need to plan for more family photo time. The extra 15 minutes between the end of the ceremony and the beginning of these photos is for family wrangling.
This is also the beginning of the cocktail “hour” for the rest of your guests. I put hour in quotes because there’s no need for it to be kept to just an hour if you want more time for photos. I’ve never heard a guest complain that cocktails lasted more than an hour as long as the bar was open and food was available.
1:30 – 2:15 Bride and Groom portraits [45 min.]
These are our favorites to do, so we like to have ample time to craft the kinds of photos you’ll print out and hang on the wall. If you do a First Look, we’ll usually still take a handful of photos after the ceremony, but the majority will be done ahead of time.
2:15 Bride and Groom are announced
2:30 – 3:30 Dinner
From here on out, we like to leave the exact timing up to your caterers and DJ, because this part is their forte. During the reception, we take candid photos and record everything as it unfolds.
However, we do like to sneak you out at some point to do a sunset/dusk photo. We stay in communication with your caterers and DJ to make sure we don’t steal you away from something important, but we can pretty easily find the 5-10 minutes we need for some photos with dramatic lighting.
3:30 – 3:45 Toasts
(If your family is anything like mine, this might take longer!)
3:45 Cake cutting
4:00 First dance, Father-of-Bride and Mother-of-Groom dances
4:20 Dance floor is open to everyone, party on!
Your DJ should help you MC any other events, like bouquet and garter tossing, and make sure your guests are engaged and having fun.
6:30 Photographers depart
For our typical eight-hour wedding, we’ll usually depart after capturing all the important events, as well as your guests dancing and having a good time. We’ll always check in 20-30 minutes before our time is up to see if there’s anything else you want us to photograph before we head out.
A final note: never forget to pad your timeline. Weddings always run late, so any extra time you allow will either help you catch up if you’re behind or give you a chance to catch your breath. Either way, you’ll appreciate it on your big day.