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Wedding Day Schedule Guide: Get Better Photos With Less Stress

Feeling overwhelmed with where to start when creating your wedding day schedule? This guide will show you the most efficient ways you can structure your timeline so you can get the best wedding photos possible.

The Secret to Getting Better Wedding Photos

It’s not a secret, it’s actually pretty mundane. Having a good plan for your wedding will make your day considerably less stressful because it gives everyone clarity about what is happening and when. A good plan will also naturally lead to better wedding photos and more time with your guests later in the day!

To make things as easy as possible for you, I have also created editable wedding day timeline templates in excel format. This will allow you to download the timeline, customize it, and share it with whoever you’d like!

How to Design your Wedding Day Timeline

Before we talk about timing, it’s important to understand the four main segments of a typical wedding. These events include:

  • Getting Ready Photos
  • Wedding Ceremony
  • Formal Wedding Portraits
  • Reception Coverage
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Where to Start your Plan

Whenever I design a wedding day timeline for a couple, I always start with the time of the ceremony and build the day around that. For the best lighting opportunities during your ceremony, you should schedule it to begin 1hr before sunset. 

Once you know when and where the ceremony will take place, it becomes much easier to know when all other segments of the wedding should happen. Simply note the “recommended coverage times” for each segment in your timeline template and arrange them as needed around your ceremony start and end times.

Bride & Groom Getting Ready Photos

The bride and groom getting ready segment is the perfect time to capture portraits of both of you as individuals, it’s also the the ideal time to capture portraits with family and attendants before the day becomes busy.

Capturing all of these portraits before everyone arrives will make your wedding considerably less stressful. It will also naturally lead to higher quality photos and will allow you to spend more time with your guests later.

Bride Getting Ready Photos & Solo Portraits

Brides are photographed getting ready with family and bridesmaids. Formal portraits with each person and group photos are also captured during this time. Portraits of the bride alone are captured with the remaining time in a variety of poses to document details such as hair, jewelry, dress, bouquet, etc. Once I have my must have shots, I use the rest of my time to generate a few creative portraits for the bride.

If desired, I can also capture photos of you getting into your dress, however I highly recommend that bridal boudoir photos be captured on a separate day from your wedding for best results.

My basic shot list for the bride’s getting ready coverage includes:

  • Detail shots of accessories and getting-ready shots with bridesmaids, e.g. headpiece, earrings, ring, front and back of dress, necklace, bracelet, bag, bouquet, etc.
  • Bride by herself (full length or 3/4 and close-up).
  • Bride with all the bridesmaids (including flower girls).
  • Bride with each bridesmaid and flower girl.
  • Bride with mom and dad.
  • Bride with mom only and bride with dad only.
  • Mom and dad by themselves.
  • Bride with immediate family.
  • Bride with brothers and sisters only.
  • Bride with each brother and sister.
  • Bride with each brother and sister and their respective families.
  • Any other requests.
  • Veil placed over bride’s face.
  • A few more shots of the bride and bridesmaids (more creative).
  • Bride leaving home.
  • Bride entering car on the way to the ceremony.

It’s important that all of the people mentioned above are present, and ready to be photographed 30 minutes after the scheduled start of this segment.

For images consistent with my portfolio, I recommend at least two hours of bride getting ready coverage to capture everything mentioned above.

When Should The Bride Have Hair and Makeup Done?

For best results the bride should have her makeup finished second to last in the bridal party. Not going last ensures the bride’s makeup is fresh for her solo portraits, yet also allows for wiggle room in case the makeup artist is running late.

Note that if your hair and makeup artist runs late at this stage, it can push your entire wedding day timeline back or compromise your coverage. Both of these options suck a lot and it happens way more than you probably think.

To make sure everyone’s hair and makeup is done on time, hire a reliable artist with a reputation of punctuality. If you need referrals for a makeup artist I’m happy to provide some for you if need be.

Also make sure that your makeup artist has a copy of your itinerary so she can plan accordingly and knows when she needs to have everyone finished by. It’s good practice to have a confirmed timeline for all vendors no less than a week before the wedding.

Groom Getting Ready & Solo Portraits

Like the bride, grooms are also photographed with their family and groomsmen individually and in groups. The groomsmen and family should be photo ready at the designated start time. The groom should be ready wearing his pants and shirt. Putting on his shoes, jacket, tie, cuff links, etc. will be captured on camera.

My basic shot list for the groom’s getting ready coverage includes:

  • Detail shots of accessories and getting-ready shots with the groomsmen, e.g. putting on shirt, cuff, cuff links, belt, tie, vest, jacket, cologne, shoes, watch etc.
  • Groom by himself (full length or 3/4 and close-up).
  • Groom with all groomsmen (including ring bearers/pageboys).
  • Groom with each groomsman and ring bearer/pageboy.
  • Groom with mom and dad.
  • Groom with mom only and groom with dad only.
  • Mom and dad by themselves.
  • Groom with immediate family.
  • Groom with brothers and sisters only.
  • Groom with each brother and each sister.
  • Groom with each brother and each sister and their respective families.
  • Any other requests.
  • A few more shots of the groom and groomsmen (more creative).

Groom getting ready photos are almost always captured before the bride since grooms don’t need hair and makeup. This makes the most sense timing wise so I can work on the groom while the bride is getting ready.

For images consistent with my portfolio I recommend 1.5 hours of groom getting ready coverage to capture everything mentioned above.

First Look Bride & Groom

What Is a First Look?

First looks are an intimate way to capture the expression of the groom seeing the bride in her wedding dress for the first time. First looks give the bride and groom an opportunity to share this moment privately. It also has the advantage of capturing your couples portraits early. Capturing your couples portraits early allows you to spend more time with your guests later at cocktail hour when you’d otherwise have to break away for portraits.

How Long do First look Photos Take?

I recommend you set aside an hour for your first look and couples portraits. First looks usually only take about 10-15 minutes. The remaining time is then used to capture your couples portraits.

First Look Pros and Cons

There are pros and cons to a timeline with and without a first look. If you choose not to have a first look, you’ll need to excuse yourselves from your guests during cocktail hour to have your formal portraits taken then. Choosing to have a first look allows you to capture all of your formal couple portraits early so you can spend more time with guests later.

On the other hand if you do your couples portraits during cocktail hour, this is usually pretty well timed with sunset. An hour before sunset is called golden hour and generally has the best outdoor lighting opportunities of the day.

There are other variables that make either decision more or less attractive. For instance if you have access to a beautiful indoor space then outdoor lighting conditions might not matter. Just be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of each choice. If you’re on the fence, get in touch with me, and I’ll be happy to offer my opinion from a photo perspective for your wedding.

Wedding Ceremony

How Long are Wedding Ceremonies?

Depending on preferences or religious customs, ceremonies can be anywhere from 10 minutes to over an hour in length. That said most are ceremonies are about 20-30 minutes long. This is enough time to cover the basics such as the assemblage of the wedding party, speech by the officiant, exchange of vows / rings and the first kiss.

To best tell the story visually in the album I try to capture as much of the following during the ceremony as possible:

  • Bride in car doorway.
  • Dad escorting bride out of car.
  • Bridesmaids adjusting dress outside church.
  • Bride walking up to church.
  • Groom and groomsmen waiting at front of church.
  • Guys walking up to church, down the aisle, at front of church, waiting for bride.
  • Bride, dad and girls in doorway of church entrance.
  • Children and bridesmaids walking down the aisle.
  • Bride and dad walking down the aisle.
  • Groom reaction to seeing her walk down the isle.
  • Bride and groom at front of altar.
  • Wide church shot from front and behind.
  • Detail shots.
  • Formalities including ring exchange, kiss, etc.
  • Bride and groom signing register (also with priest if expected).
  • Bride and groom walking down the aisle, congratulating, etc.
  • Group shot from balcony or at front of church.
  • Bride and groom in doorway of entrance.
  • Confetti shots, mingling etc.
  • Wide shot of couple with church spire.
  • Big group shot of all guests.

Formal Group Photos

What group wedding photos should be taken?

Formal group photos are when I capture pictures of the entire wedding party and any remaining combinations you want from your shot list. My basic shot list I start with includes:

  • Bride and groom with bride’s parents.
  • Bride and groom with bride’s parents and bride’s brothers and sisters (spouses and children included, with and without grandparents).
  • Bride and groom with both sets of parents.
  • Bride and groom with groom’s parents.
  • Bride and groom with groom’s parents and groom’s brothers and sisters (spouses and 
children included, with and without grandparents).
  • Bride and groom with siblings only, both sides.
  • Bride and groom with each brother and sister’s family (if requested or appropriate).
  • Bride and groom with each set of grandparents.
  • Any other requests… uncles, aunts, friends, etc.
  • Groom’s mom and dad by themselves if not done at home.

Group Formals Tips

Immediately following the ceremony BEFORE COCKTAIL HOUR is the best time to capture group formals. You’ll want to capture these portraits before drinks because if you do it after, it basically becomes an exercise in herding cats.

Pro tip: It’s best to capture elderly family, pregnant women and families with children first. If you write your shot list in order of who should go first, it makes everything much faster and easier for everyone on the day of the wedding. Speed and efficiency is the secret for how to get the best group photos possible from your wedding.

In most cases formal group photos usually only take about 30 minutes or less with the above workflow. Some couples with big families or those with a large shot lists should budget more time with 2-3 minutes per photo being a good starting point.

Couple Photos

If you choose to not have a first look, the best time to do your couples portraits is during cocktail hour. Doing your couples portraits at this time has it’s perks as it’s usually perfectly timed with sunset. An hour before sunset is called golden hour and is usually the best outdoor lighting opportunity of the day.

If you’d prefer to have cocktail hour with your guests, you should consider doing your couples photos following a first look earlier in the day.

An hour is about the perfect amount of time to capture some nice formal portraits and a few creative ones with whatever I find around us.

The Reception

Wedding Day Schedule - Reception

Like your ceremony, your reception is captured photo journalistically and usually includes: cocktail hour, the grand entrance, speeches, first dance, mother and son dance, father and daughter dance, cake cut and the garter / bouquet toss.

Cocktail hour is the first part of the reception and is the best time to excuse yourself for couple’s formal portraits if you decided not to have a first look. If you did have a first look and already finished with your couples portraits, this is a great time to capture what we call grips and grins with guests after your grand entrance.

Remember that even if you already did your couples portraits earlier, we can still briefly sneak away for more couples portraits if you’d like. Generally speaking though, if your couples portraits have already been captured, I try to leave you alone as much as possible from this point forward so you can enjoy your time with your guests.

The rest of the reception events can happen in any order you’d like, as it shouldn’t have any affect on your final photos. Just include your plan on the timeline so I’m roughly aware of what’s happening and you should be all set!

For complete reception coverage, budget roughly 4 hrs for everything mentioned above. This will include about an hour of you and your guests dancing. If you’re looking to save a bit of money and are willing to part with some dancing pictures, 3 hrs of reception coverage should be sufficient.

Help Me Make This Wedding Day Schedule Guide Better!

If you didn’t see the answer to your question in this wedding schedule guide or you disagreed with anything mentioned, comment below and let me know what I missed.  I want to make this the best resource possible for couples building their own wedding day timelines.

If you found this article useful, please let me know how it helped you specifically so I can continue creating the best content I can everyone.

Jason Guy

I am a portrait photographer based out of Sonoma, California. I create portraits for people of all ages with the goal of making images that are timeless. Portraits you will look back on decades from now, and still love them just as much then as you do today. While flattering lighting and pose are important, capturing how others see you is what I ultimately strive for.

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