Wedding Tips

The Ultimate Wedding Photography Timeline | Ideal Times For Your Photography

Wedding Photography Timeline

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Ever wondered how much time it actually takes to photograph your wedding day?  Not sure how many hours you’ll need a photographer for, but want to be sure all your special moments are captured? Well, today I’ll be breaking down your wedding day for you, section by section, from a photography standpoint. With our wedding photography timeline, you’ll know exactly how much time you need based on your priorities!


Importance of a Wedding Photography Timeline

First and foremost, I’d like to stress the importance of creating a Wedding Photography Timeline.  Whether or not you are hiring a planner, it is so important to coordinate with your photographer when it comes to the timing of your day.

Since there are many variables when it comes to weddings, eg: diversity in cultural aspects and traditions, time of year (when the sun sets), whether or not you’ll be doing a First Look, the distance between venues/photo locations (if any), how many family formals will be taken, etc… a “One Timeline Fits All” approach simply does not work.

There are, however, basic time frames you should consider when planning your big day. Today, I’ll be sharing my recommendations below.


Ideal Times + Tips for your Wedding Photography Timeline


Details: Rings, Dress, Shoes, etc.

Wedding Photography Timeline photo details

* Ideal Time:  45 minutes

* Advice:  This is usually the very first thing we start with on a wedding day. Scheduling in at least 30-45 minutes will allow your photographer time to warm up and get creative with your details.  It also allows us the ability to take the details to the lobby or even outside if the room is simply too crowded, messy, etc.  I always recommend that you make sure your details are laid out and ready before we arrive so that no time is wasted on gathering them and we are able to start shooting right away.

Details may include rings, dress, shoes, jewelry, veil, garter, bouquet, stationery, perfume, gifts, etc.  For guys:  shoes, cuff-links, tie, watch, socks, bow tie, gifts, etc.

* Tip: keep all your rings together and with the bride in the morning: both wedding bands + the engagement ring. This allows your rings to be styled and photographed altogether and with the rest of your details in the morning – which gives a more cohesive look to your album!


Getting Ready Photos

Getting ready photos wedding photography timeline

* Ideal Time:  45 minutes

* Advice:  During this time we will be taking photos of hair and makeup, candids of you and your friends/family getting ready and interacting, and then for the women: getting into the dress, shoes, veil, jewelry, etc. And for the men: helping put on the vest, tie, shoes, cuff-links, suit jacket, etc.  

The lead photographer will be with the bride and the second photographer will be with the groom during this time.

* Tip: be sure that whoever is going to help you get ready is in full hair/makeup and/or wardrobe by this point as they will also be in the photos with you.


Individual Portraits

Couples portraits

Ideal Time:  15 minutes

Advice:  Once you’re fully dressed, this is the ideal time for some individual portraits of the bride and groom, separately.  Makeup and hair are fresh and it allows for a moment to breathe and to be sure we capture a few beautiful portraits before the day is off and running.  I strongly recommend that whatever space you choose to get ready to have at least one large window (the more windows the better).  This window lighting allows us to capture some beautiful and unique portraits with lighting that is not likely to be found throughout the rest of the day.


First Look + Couple’s Portraits: Daytime

First Look wedding photos

* Ideal Time:  45 minutes

* Advice:  If you choose to do a First Look, this will generally take about 15 minutes. At this point, it’s great to go right into some Couple’s Portraits while that initial/genuine excitement is still present.  

I recommend leaving the bulk of your bride and groom photos to be taken after the ceremony in the 30-60 minutes leading up to sunset (more info below). This is when we can capture your first photos as HUSBAND and WIFE officially, while the light is beautiful, soft/flattering, and golden/romantic.

However, having this chunk of time set aside for portraits at the beginning of the day ensures that, regardless of how the rest of the day unfolds, you’ll have some beautiful portraits of the two of you on your wedding day!


Wedding Party Photos

Wedding Party Photos

* Ideal Time:  30 minutes

* Advice:  If you’re doing a First Look, I suggest then going directly into Wedding Party photos (since they’re usually all-around at this point anyway). If not, these are typically done after the ceremony and family formals.  Depending on the size of your wedding party, you should allow at least 30 minutes for these shots.  

During this time we’ll get a variety of groupings and poses.  These range from the entire wedding party together, bride + all bridesmaids, groom + all groomsmen, bride + all groomsmen, groom + all bridesmaids, and even individuals with the bride + each bridesmaid and the groom + each groomsman.  Keep in mind the more groupings/poses you’d like to do, the more time you’ll need. But generally, 30 minutes is sufficient.


Immediate Family Formals

Wedding photography with family

* Ideal Time:  30 minutes

* Advice:  I recommend doing Immediate Family Formals before the ceremony for two reasons.  1:  It allows for additional and more relaxed portraits with your parents, siblings and grandparents outside of the full family formals later on.  2: It cuts down the time needed for family formals after the ceremony. This frees up more time for Couple’s Portraits in all your “just-married” glow and before the sun goes down. (This is especially important if you’re NOT doing a First Look as you’ll then have significantly more images to try and squeeze into the small timeframe between the end of your ceremony and the beginning of your reception).

Family formals take approximately 3 minutes per grouping.  Eg: 10 groupings will take about 30 minutes.


Ceremony Details

Details of wedding ceremony decoration and setup

* Ideal Time:  15 minutes

* Advice:  Typically, if you have a second photographer, they will be capturing the ceremony details while the lead photographer is finishing the immediate family formals.  I recommend allotting at least 15 minutes for this.  The best time to capture the ceremony site will be right after it has been set and before your guests start to arrive.


Ceremony Photos

Wedding Photography Timline ceremony photos

* Ideal Time:  N/A – this will be entirely up to you, your traditions, religious values, customs, etc. Ceremonies can range anywhere from 10mins – 2hrs.


Extended Family Formals

Wedding photos with extended family

* Ideal Time:  30-45 minutes

* Advice:  These typically happen right after the ceremony.  You will need to decide in advance how many groupings you would like.  Whether you would like to include only close family, all extended family and/or friends, and other guests as well.  Keeping in mind each grouping will take, on average, 3 minutes.  

I strongly recommend making a list of groupings in advance. Then enlisting a friend/family member or two to help gather everyone. This will keep family formals running as smoothly and as quickly as possible.


Couple’s Portraits: Sunset

Wedding couple portraits during sunset

* Ideal Time:  30-60 minutes

* Advice:  I recommend scheduling these portraits within the hour leading up to sunset.  This is when you will get that beautiful soft, golden lighting that is very warm and romantic.  

If you’re interested in a sunset shot specifically, it is important to schedule these to end no later than 15 minutes after sunset.  Eg: if the sunset is at 5:15 pm, you would need to schedule these photos to end no later than 5:30 pm. This way we can make sure to capture any color in the sky. (Assuming Mother Nature decides to cooperate that day, of course).


Reception Details

details of wedding reception decoration

* Ideal Time:  20-30 minutes

* Advice:  As with the ceremony, the second photographer is typically the one to capture cocktail hour and reception details. The lead photographer is capturing your family formals and couple’s portraits. Depending on how big and decorative the space is, they will need at least 20-30 minutes to capture all the beautiful details before guests are allowed to enter the reception.


Reception Photos

Wedding photography timeline reception photos

* Ideal Time:  N/A (but average coverage time is 3-4hrs)

* Advice:  Similar to the ceremony, this will be entirely up to you, your traditions, religious values, customs, special performances, etc. We typically cover around 3-4hrs of reception. We find that this is generally enough time to capture Grand Entrance, Welcome Speech/Prayers, Dinner/Table Shots, Toasts/Speeches, First Dance, Parent Dances, Bouquet Toss, Garter Toss, Cake Cutting, at least 30mins of Open Dancing, and nighttime portraits…


Couple’s Portraits: Nighttime

Wedding couple portraits during nighttime

* Ideal Time:  10-20 minutes

* Advice:  If you are interested in a creative nighttime shot, as most of our couples are, you will need to plan to duck out of your reception for 10-20 minutes.  We know how important the reception is to our couples and do not wish to pull you away from your party for any longer than is necessary.  With this in mind, we will typically go ahead and set up the shot in advance before calling you over. This allows you to quickly come step into the shot and then head right back to your party!  Quick and easy!


Wedding Photography Timeline – Bonus Tip

When creating your wedding photography timeline be sure to add in BUFFER time. In my 8+ years of photographing weddings, only a handful have ever been exactly on time and went exactly according to plan. Wedding days are unpredictable and it’s important to remember that. While it’s great to have a plan, come your wedding day, the best thing you can do is sit back and enjoy your day! However, it may unfold! And scheduling in buffer time between events will help keep the day as relaxed and as stress-free as possible!

Creating a wedding photography timeline that fits your needs and dreams is a huge part of the experience with Stefani Ciotti Photography. So I hope this article has helped you get a better idea of how to structure your own wedding day.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to email me or leave a comment below – I’d love to help!

Best of luck and happy planning!!

Logo of Stefani Ciotti Photography, a Southern California Wedding Photographer

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