Bonded to you in emotional bliss, united in physical rapture, I realize my dreams as fantasies. Engulfed in contentment and satisfaction. I know heaven in your arms. My intense hunger is nourished, deep yearning fulfilled, I am open to you in total trust. You are my refuge, my everything.
Don’t worry, I got you! I’ll walk you through how you can plan your small wedding day timeline in the best way possible to get stunning photos and not feel overly rushed on the day!
As a wedding and elopement photographer I have a ton of experience with wedding timelines and making sure that the important parts of the day are captured. I’m excited to share my knowledge of shooting weddings for the past three years with you!
Your wedding day timeline sets the tone and pace of your entire wedding day. You’ll want enough time for all parts like getting ready, your first look, and family photos! Even if you’re having a larger wedding these suggestions will still work for you. Want to get great wedding photos with the perfect timeline? Read on!
The key to getting the BEST timeline for you is to think beforehand about what you value when it comes to your wedding. Your timeline is basically an outline or plan of how your wedding day will unfold so think about how you would like to spend your time on your wedding day. Planning your timeline is going to be unique and personal so it might not look like every cookie-cutter wedding timeline out there and that’s okay. The most important thing to think of is how you would like to spend the day and what’s important to you! Remember that this is your day and no one else should decide what your day will include or be like!
Things you might want to consider are your values. Do you love quiet time alone together? You may want to schedule more time for your first look, private vow reading, or sunset portraits! Do you value the close friends that will be there? Take time to get a photo with every guest during your reception! Thinking about these things and your constraints (sunset time on your wedding day, venue rental hours) will help you get started!
When you start planning your timeline I recommend starting with your ceremony time OR the sunset time on your day and building your timeline up and down from there. I’ve added two sample timelines so that you can see the recommended times. These are two real timelines that are great examples!
I generally recommend referring to these time chats to understand how long each part of the day will take:
Details – 30 minutes to 1 hour, includes location scouting for the best locations for the rest of the day
Getting ready – 30 minutes to 1 hour, last parts of getting ready, solo portraits
First Look – 30 to 45 minutes, can include private reading of vows
Wedding Party Photos – 30 minutes, depending on the size of your wedding party
Family Portraits – 30 minutes – up to 10 family groupings
Ceremony – 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on parts of the ceremony
Sunset photos – 30 to 45 minutes, typically taken during cocktail hour
If you’re not already considering a first look, I highly recommend it so we can photograph your wedding party and your family formals before your ceremony. This frees up more time for sunset photos after your ceremony so you can get to your reception without feeling overly rushed.
Detail photos are the perfect way to kick off your wedding photography and are an important part of your timeline! Detail photographs are one of the best ways that your photographer will begin to tell the story of your day. Allow for 1 hour for detail shots and scouting for other shooting locations on your wedding day. I recommend having a small box of all your detail items ready before your photographer arrives! If you collect all these items in advance you won’t have to stress about trying to find them during hair and makeup.
This is the part of the day when it really starts to feel like you’re getting married. During this portion of the day, you’ll be photographed doing things like buttoning up your dress and putting on jewelry. Be sure to allow 30 minutes to an hour for this portion of the day especially if you’re a fan of getting ready photos!
Tip: Hair and Makeup can tend to run a bit late so be sure to give yourself plenty of space in your timeline during the early part of the day and be sure to ask your hair and makeup team how early you’ll need to get started on the day of!
I’m a huge fan of first looks on a wedding day! If you aren’t familiar with a first look, it’s a private part of the day where the two of you see one another in your wedding attire for the first time! First looks are intimate and emotional and may sometimes include the reading of private vows. Some portraits are taken of the two of you during this time!
Not only does a first look allow you to have a special private moment with each other during the busyness of your wedding day but it also allows you to check off other parts of your day earlier! Things like your large wedding party photos and family portraits can be scheduled before your ceremony. If you don’t have a first look you’ll need to move your family photos and large wedding party shots to after your ceremony which could cut down your portrait time during sunset, and push back your reception start time!
Photographing a wedding party or bridal party is always fun! No two groups are the same and we always have a great time! In your timeline be sure to carve out at least 30-45 minutes to photograph your wedding party. Keep in mind the size of your wedding party and increase or decrease your time accordingly. If you have the time, I highly recommend planning one activity to photograph your party doing, like popping a bottle of champagne or exchanging gifts. These create more candid moments that can be captured in your final gallery!
This may be one of the few times both of your families come together like this, so I want to make sure you get great family portraits! You’ll want to allow 30 minutes before (preferred) or directly after your ceremony to take these photos. It will take your photographer a bit of time to organize all your family members so make sure to allow them enough time to get this done!
Tip: Pick a point person. One way to speed up family portraits is to choose someone from each side of your family who knows everyone and can help wrangle family members together for their groupings. Be sure to let them know that it’s their job to assist your photographer during this time and I can guarantee it will make organizing everyone together a breeze!
Your ceremony is typically a set amount of time (typically between 20-45 minutes) so you’ll want to ask your officiant how long you might need for this part of the day. Be sure to factor in any unique traditions or special parts of your ceremony. I highly recommend adding in a little buffer time after family photos and before your ceremony to touch up and be out of view of any guests who have arrived early.
Sunset photos aka portrait time! This is my personal favorite part of the day as I live for those golden dreamy portraits! Typically this time is scheduled after the ceremony but can also happen further into the reception, depending on the location and time of year. Be sure to schedule enough time to have this session together. This portion of the day will be similar to your engagement session so no need to worry about poses just have fun and I’ll give you plenty of direction.
Tip: Be aware of the topography or where you’re getting married. If you are getting married in the mountains sunset is often a half hour earlier than the actual sunset time due to the coverage of the mountains so be sure to plan accordingly!
Let’s get the party started! Receptions are when you get to greet all your guests and get the party started! Receptions often include events like speeches, dances, cake-cutting, and open dancing. The times for these events can vary but I generally recommend allotting 10-15 minutes for speeches, 15-20 minutes for cake cutting and 20 minutes for special dances! The rest of your reception time will be spent on dinner and open dancing and these times will depend on your catering and size of your event!
An exit is the perfect way to end the night! I’ve seen so many variations on an exit – using sparklers, bubbles, glow sticks, petals, and more! Be sure to allow for around 20-30 minutes to set up and organize everyone for your exit so you have a chance to go through it more than once. Also, don’t forget to kiss during your exit for the best shots!
If you’re looking to make your wedding timeline even more customized and best fit who you are as a couple I have a few ideas! If you’re more introverted, you may want to schedule a private dinner with you and your future spouse or you may want to schedule a private vow reading after your first look. If you’re all about the special people in your lives you may want to schedule in table visits so you can get a photo with everyone at your reception or a group toast after your ceremony (Best for smaller weddings with 50-60 guests)!
No two wedding timelines will be exactly the same so be sure to prioritize the parts that are most important to YOU! Generally, you can build your timeline using the suggested times above as a starting place! If you need more specific advice for planning your wedding timeline I offer my Wedding Planning Guide for all my wedding clients. If you’re ready to get started working together you can inquire here! I can’t wait to help you design the perfect wedding timeline with photography in mind with you!
I'm an elopement and wedding photographer based in Arizona. I’m passionate about providing an experience built on genuine connection + care. I want to hold space for you so that you can show up as your true, authentic self. Let’s get to know each other!