Let me just start by saying that a strong timeline is the single most important aspect in having a stress-free, relaxing wedding day. Knowing exactly when & where everything is going to happen throughout your day should be decided weeks in advance. For those of you who are Type A, this is probably music to your ears. For those that love spontaneity and hate planning, bear with me. A wedding day timeline benefits everyone!
In this post, I’m going to focus on planning your timeline according to wedding photos, which, surprisingly, will dictate the timing of much of your day. However, there are a lot of non-photography elements of a timeline that are also important. If you’re working with a wedding planner (which I highly recommend . . . more on that later), he/she will create a wedding day timeline for you that will outline every part of the entire wedding weekend, including vendor coordinating.
Before we can make any decisions about timing for your wedding day, you’ll need to look at the non-negotiable schedule for your day. Have you booked an official start and end time for your ceremony? Does your reception require you to end at a certain time? Are you 100% against a first look? These factors should be at the forefront of your mind early on, as they will dictate the rest of the timing for your day.
Write these times down on a paper, and then look at how much time is left before, after and in-between and make a note of this. This will give you a general idea of how much time there is for photos at each part of the day.
Another non-negotiable is the sunset. Check the sunset time for your date and make a mental note. Keep in mind that all portraits should end before this time. If your ceremony is at sunset, then you’ll need to finish all your portraits before the ceremony, meaning that a first look is necessary.
When possible, I suggest that couples wait on setting an exact ceremony & reception start time until after we have a conversation about the timeline. This way, couples can make timing decisions based on their personal preferences photo-wise. For instance, if you’re 100% against a first look, you should have a ceremony that ends at least 1-2 hours before sunset. However, I know from experience that many couples have to pick these times when they book their venue, often before they book me (so keeping the rest of this article in mind will be helpful to those of you who have not yet set a date!).
After reviewing your non-negotiables, the next thing to consider is a first look. As mentioned previously, it is occasionally necessary to do a first look in order to get portraits before sunset. However, most weddings have the flexibility to do portraits before or after the ceremony. In this section, I’ll explain how each either will affect the timeline for your wedding day.
Let’s start with a wedding day that does not have a first look. If you’re not having a first look, then there are some portraits that will have to wait until after the ceremony – the full wedding party (group photo with all bridesmaids & groomsmen), family, and bride & groom. These three combinations generally take about 60-75 minutes total, not including travel time between locations (if your ceremony & reception are taking place in different locations). As you decide on whether or not you’d like a first look, take this timing into consideration. Your cocktail hour will need to be a little longer than 1 hour, and you two will likely not be able to attend. Some wedding days have a larger gap of time between the ceremony & reception, but most wedding days do not. It’s important that you know this information early on, so that you can make a decision based on your priorities!
Next, let’s talk about wedding days that do have a first look. With a first look, there is more flexibility in when to schedule portraits. You can do absolutely everything before the ceremony, or we can split up portraits based on how much time you’d like to spend at your cocktail hour (or alone!) before your reception begins. Usually, I suggest finishing all wedding party photos before the ceremony to leave more room for portraits of just you two afterwards. You also have the option to do family portraits beforehand, which can make the rest of the day more relaxed. Having more portraits before the ceremony does mean an earlier start time, which will mean you’ll need to be ready earlier, too. Both of these options offer different advantages, and ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what sounds better!
I get this question from almost every couple I work with: When should we finish getting ready?
It’s an important question, isn’t it? You’ll definitely want to have a clear answer in mind well before the wedding day! While some of the answer depends on your decision about a first look, there are some general tips to follow, even before you make that decision!
Typically, I plan some portraits before the ceremony regardless of the first look decision. Bridal portraits, groom portraits, photos with the bride & bridesmaids, photos with the groom & groomsmen, and some family photos will probably be before the ceremony no matter what. As a general rule of thumb, it’s wise to plan to be completely finished getting ready at least 2 hours before your ceremony, although we will nail down the specific timing as more details come into place! If you’re doing all of your portraits beforehand, then you’ll likely need to be ready 3-4 hours before the ceremony begins!
As the timeline begins to form, I’ll give you an approximate time to put your dress on (!!!) and then we’ll make a final decision shortly after that! I always assume that something will run late and suggest planning plenty of “padding” time in case this happens. This way, even if you’re running late, you won’t have to stress or rush!
The photos that couples most often overlook in timeline-planning are detail photos. Even though the timing for these photos is often overlooked, the photos themselves are important to most (if not all) couples with whom I work. Remembering to factor this in to your hours of coverage and timing for the day should be on your list of priorities!
There are two different sets of details on which we focus: bridal details (which I will style myself with the items you give me) and ceremony & reception decor (which I’ll photograph as styled by your wedding planner, coordinator, florist, etc.). I always plan an hour at the very beginning of the day for the bridal details. This includes your wedding dress, shoes, invitation suites, bow ties, jewelry, and a lot more (if you’re working with us, you’ll actually get a checklist!). An hour may sound like a lot of time, but to style all the details, move your dress to a pretty spot to photograph, shoot everything, and return it neatly to you is surprisingly time-consuming! These detail photos are done at the beginning of the day because many of them are items that you’ll be wearing.
Ceremony details are usually photographed shortly before the ceremony begins, after the bride and her bridesmaids have gone away to hide from guests. When possible, it’s best to plan these photos for 30-45 minutes before the start of the ceremony, so that guests are not in the photos. The reception space also requires time in the room without guests, so I also recommend that you leave about 15-20 minutes in your wedding day timeline for me to photograph this space before guests are allowed in to your reception.
Obviously, this all is a lot to think about! All of my couples receive full photo timeline planning from me throughout the process (so if we’re working together, I’ll guide you through the process! No worries!), but keeping a few of these factors in mind early on can help you plan so that all your top priorities are met!
We saved the most important tip for last! If you really want your day to be totally and completely stress-free with incredibly fluid and smooth timing, a high-quality, trusted wedding planner is a must-have. You can plan for just about every scenario, but on the day of your wedding, you do NOT want to be thinking about those details. Not even a little bit.
A great wedding planner can do countless wonderful things to make your vision for your wedding day come to life. When it comes to timing specifically, they know best! They’ll help create the most perfect timeline possible so that you can focus on enjoying your day, knowing all your priorities and expectations will be met, if not exceeded!
We have a VIP list of wedding planners who we love working with – send us a message (info@LVERphoto.com) if you want the list!
Romantic with moody fall vibes and jewel tones, this wedding was cozy and so beautifully designed.
La Vie En Rose photographs their 100th wedding at an all-time favorite wedding venue, Rockhouse Hotel.
Mixing sophisticated style with family traditions and meaningful moments - our kind of DC wedding!
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La Vie En Rose is a wedding photography and videography studio for couples who want photos that live in the moment with them. They are based in Washington, DC and Naples, FL and are available for travel worldwide.