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A Step-By-Step Wedding Photography Timeline for Photographers and Couples Planning Their Special Day

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

Wedding Timeline

The Ideal Wedding Photography Timeline for Your Special Day

A wedding is a magical day for any bride or groom about to marry their soulmate. As a wedding photographer or a spouse-to-be, one of the top ways to prepare for your special day is by having a wedding timeline to ensure that you stay on schedule without missing monumental moments.

Wedding photographers benefit from a wedding timeline because a timeline helps to understand how to photograph a wedding day, what moments to photograph, and how long you should spend photographing each part of a wedding. For brides and grooms, a wedding timeline will help you plan accordingly for each part of your wedding day.

Without a wedding timeline, you might find your day a bit more hectic than expected. This article will help you solve this issue with a detailed wedding timeline to ensure that the day goes as planned, whether you are a wedding photographer or a future spouse.

Also, if you are engaged to be married and planning for a wedding photographer, RayCee the Artist is the perfect choice for you! RayCee the Artist serves clients in Los Angeles, Orange County, and surrounding counties seeking a professional wedding photographer to capture their happiest moments. Contact RayCee the Artist today to learn more about wedding packages and planning your big day.

Wedding Photographer Arrives and First Photos: 45-60 Minutes

Before you can start taking photos, you need a set time for when the wedding photographer arrives. Ideally, the wedding photographer will arrive about an hour before the bride is ready to start the wedding day.

If you are a wedding photographer, arriving an hour early while the bride is getting her hair and makeup done is perfect so you can prepare your setup and photograph more minor details, such as her dress, ring, shoes, or other accessories. Arriving an hour early also allows you to photograph the bride during the final touches to her hair and makeup.

This portion typically happens in the morning, so ensure that you have plenty of time and arrive early enough to get pictures of the little details before you take photos of the bride, groom, and wedding party after they are dressed and ready for the day.

Individual Portraits: 30 Minutes

Wedding Timeline

Once everyone has their hair and makeup finished, you can move on to individual portraits of the bride and groom. This section is crucial because the spouses-to-be look fresh and ready for the day ahead. Up-close portraits are the perfect way to remember the details of this special day.

Consider taking portraits of the bride alone by a window or near a natural light source. Most of the pictures you take on the wedding day will be of the bride and groom together or with other people celebrating their special day, so ensure that you have adequate time to get these rare solo shots.

Individual portraits will usually happen in the morning or early afternoon, depending on the time the ceremony begins. This time of day is perfect for natural lighting by windows in the bridal suite and should begin as soon as everyone is dressed and ready for the rest of the day.

First Look: 45-60 Minutes

Some brides and grooms choose to have a first-look photo session before the ceremony. While you might consider saving the first look for when you walk down the aisle, you should consider a first-look session to get beautiful, authentic images of the bride and groom on their own, seeing each other in their wedding outfits for the first time.

Most of the couple's portraits will be taken later in the day, during and after the ceremony. A first-look photoshoot is excellent for capturing an intimate moment between future spouses where they can relax and be together before joining everyone else. First-look photos are great for an outdoor shoot with beautiful, natural lighting.

This part of your wedding timeline also occurs in the morning or early afternoon before the ceremony begins. First-look photos are perfect for outdoor settings surrounded by picturesque natural sights. Consider shaded areas depending on how bright the outdoor lighting is when taking photos.

Wedding Party Portraits: 30 Minutes

Wedding Timeline

Next up on the wedding timeline are wedding party portraits, which should last around 30 minutes. You can take pictures of the bride with her bridesmaids and the groom with his groomsmen during this time. You can also take individual portraits of people in the wedding party, pictures of the bride with her maid of honor, or pictures of the groom with his best man.

The wedding party is essential to the ceremony and reception, so capturing them all dolled up for the special day is crucial for future spouses to remember everyone that helped them along the way.

Once again, this portion of the day will typically occur in the morning or early afternoon. You may photograph the wedding party in the exact location as the first-look photos; however, you can also consider taking pictures in the ceremony venue or any off-site, picturesque location.

Family Portraits: 30 Minutes

Wedding photographers should also make time for family portraits if requested by the bride and groom. For example, you should allocate about 30 minutes for pictures of the bride and the groom with their parents. Additionally, you should include siblings, children, or extended family members in the family portraits section.

The bride and groom will cherish these photos because they celebrate their love and the love and support of their family members who have watched their relationship blossom. This final photoshoot before the ceremony begins is perfect for natural lighting off-site or gentle lighting in the ceremony hall.

Ceremony Details: 30 Minutes

Before the ceremony starts, allow the bride, groom, and wedding party some time to rest before the guests arrive. Take pictures of unique ceremony details that you won’t be able to capture during the wedding. Capture the venue in all of its beauty before guests are guided to their seats.

Additionally, if you provide video services, you will need this time to set up your camera in the best position to capture every detail of the ceremony. Taking 30 minutes to photograph the ceremony details will help ensure that you know the best angles and visuals to capture when the ceremony begins.

These photos are usually taken in the early afternoon. The time can change depending on the ceremony and whether the spouses-to-be want a dark, romantic setting or light and joyous venue. If the ceremony occurs outdoors, prepare for natural lighting and different angles to capture the details.

Ceremony: 30-45 Minutes

Wedding Timeline

Wedding ceremonies typically last around 30-45 minutes, so wedding photographers should ensure they have a list of moments to photograph. For instance, you should prepare to photograph the bride and groom walking down the aisle along with individual wedding party members entering before the bride.

Once you’ve captured these photos, pay attention to crucial moments and details in the ceremony. Many couples will want photographs of them saying their vows or of any readings during the ceremony. And, of course, don’t forget to capture the first kiss–this moment is one of the most extraordinary and memorable parts of the day.

This part of the day usually occurs in the afternoon but depends on the couple’s preferences—factor in the venue before deciding how you want to photograph the ceremony. Outdoor settings will need different lighting and technique than an indoor ceremony.

Additional Portraits: 30 Minutes

Once the ceremony is over, and guests are filing out of the venue, you should consider taking more portraits of the bride and groom. This portion depends on what the bride and groom want–for instance, some spouses may prefer all portraits taken before the ceremony, while some prefer them to be taken afterward. Additionally, you may receive requests to take portraits before and after the ceremony.

These portraits capture emotional, joyous moments for the newlyweds. Some brides and grooms will want additional photos with their wedding party and family after the ceremony, so leave ample time for this.

Consider natural lighting for this section of the day. Because these photos usually happen immediately after the ceremony, plan for afternoon lighting in an outdoor venue. With the proper lighting and location, you can capture the joy and beauty of the occasion.

Couple’s Session: 60 Minutes

You can never take too many photos of the happy couple. Before the reception begins, take some time to capture the two of them together in a romantic and intimate setting. If beautiful outdoor sights surround the wedding and reception, this couple's session is perfect for scenic shots and beautiful lighting right before sunset.

While everyone in the wedding party should have photos taken, remember that this day is about the newlyweds. Above all else, ensure you have adequate time to capture them throughout the day.

Reception Details: 30 Minutes

Wedding Timeline

Carve out some time during cocktail hour to get pictures of the reception hall before guests get to their seats. The reception will have many gorgeous details to capture, such as unique centerpieces, flowers, or other romantic details that the bride and groom will want to remember.

You will usually take these pictures right before the reception in the early evening. Many receptions are indoors, so factor in the venue’s lighting and color scheme before taking pictures. You want these photos to be romantic and intimate while still looking formal, and lighting is the key to finding this balance.

Reception First Look: 15 Minutes

This step is optional and will depend on the couple’s preferences. While some newlyweds prefer to see the reception hall for the first time with all their guests welcoming them in, some will want to see the hall before anyone else arrives.

If the couple wants a first look at the reception setup before people arrive, plan for about 15 minutes of photographs where you capture their genuine reaction and other intimate details, such as preparation for the first dance or a first kiss.

This portion of the wedding day will likely occur in the early evening. You can keep a similar setup for these images for the reception details section, but ensure that your lighting and angles give the pictures a romantic, genuine, and comfortable feeling.

Guests Enter Reception: 30 Minutes

After the reception first look, you can escort the bride and groom out of the reception hall and start taking pictures as the guests arrive. If there are specific family members or guests the couple wants to be photographed, take them aside and get some great shots. This section typically lasts around 30 minutes as the guests make their way to the reception, but it can be shorter depending on when guests arrive or if the cocktail hour is connected to the reception hall.

As the evening festivities begin, capture positive images and moments of the guests preparing to celebrate the night ahead. Don’t feel the need to be too formal during this section–guests joining the reception is fun and exciting, and the photos should reflect that instead of keeping an overly severe tone.

Couple Enters, First Dance, and Toast: 60 Minutes

Wedding Timeline

The grand entrance is another portion of the special day where the allotted time could change depending on the couple's preferences, so ensure that you are all on the same page before the reception. Capture photos of the couple entering the reception for the first time as newlyweds. Even if you took first-look photos for the reception, you should capture the moment when the couple enters with all of their friends and family, celebrating their love. You will surely get beautiful smiles and authentic, joyful expressions from these photos.

Once the entrance is completed, move on to other reception parts. Typically, the couple's first dance will happen toward the start of the reception. The first dance is a critical moment to photograph or videotape, depending on the couple's desires. Ensure that you have adequate, romantic lighting to portray the beautiful intimacy of this moment.

Following the first dance, many receptions will move on to toasts from the maid of honor and best man. Set up the shots so you can capture authentic, meaningful moments during the toast and speeches. Depending on the seating arrangement, you might be able to capture images of the speeches along with reactions from the bride and groom. The toast is a perfect time to get pictures of smiles, laughter, and tears of joy.

For each part of the early reception festivities, maintain a romantic atmosphere in your photos. Consider different angles that complement the lighting in the reception hall. These images are taken in the evening, so account for this if the reception is in an outdoor setting.

Couple’s Reception Session: 20-30 Minutes

While the guests mingle, take the newlyweds aside to get some romantic evening shots. Sneaking out the couple briefly during the reception is perfect for capturing their joy in a romantic nighttime setting. If the weather allows, take the couple outdoors to get some stunning views in these pictures.

This session shouldn’t last too long because the guests will start wondering where the couple disappeared, but just long enough to ensure you have plenty of photos. Speak with the bride and groom beforehand to double-check about this session. Some newlyweds might prefer a reception session after everyone has left instead of during the celebration.

You will likely take outdoor evening photos when you help the bride and groom sneak away. Account for this when you’re deciding how to set up each picture. You won’t have as much time for this section as you will for many others, so prepare for the lighting ahead of time.

Dinner: 30 Minutes

You won’t need too many pictures of the wedding dinner, but some brides and grooms will want pictures of their beautiful meals and guests as they are served. Even if you don’t capture photos of the meal, consider taking images of the food setup or additional details like unique plates, embroidered napkins, or fancy champagne flutes.

Dinner will be served in the evening, so your pictures should reflect the time. Consider darker, fancier lighting instead of bright colors and lights. Bright, natural lighting will take away from the authenticity of the images.

First Dances With Parents: 20-30 Minutes

Wedding Timeline

If the bride and groom have their first dances with their parents, ensure an adequate setup and time to capture this particular moment. Many receptions will have a father-daughter dance and a mother-son dance. These dances are some of the most moving moments of the celebration, so prepare ahead of time by deciding specific angles and lighting choices for this moment.

The father-daughter dance and mother-son dance are dances which are a special moment, but not a romantic one, so you will have to find balance with your lighting. Because this portion of the reception happens in the evening, play around with soft lighting and colors that give off a warm and inviting atmosphere.

Dancing and Celebrations: 60 Minutes

Next on your wedding timeline are photographs of other guests dancing and celebrating. After dinner and before dessert, many guests will take to the dance floor and make the reception a real party. Consider getting group shots of individuals dancing or memorable moments of the couple’s family sharing a slow dance. Whether posed or candid, photographing this part of the reception will help the couple remember the romantic moments of their day and the fun, joyous ones.

While these celebrations happen in the evening, they are considered a fun and upbeat part of the night where people get to let loose and party. Unless people are slow dancing, keep your lighting in tune with the music. If a song is upbeat and fast-paced, you can consider brighter lighting, different angles, and unique shading.

Photographing and Cutting the Cake: 30 Minutes

Wedding Timeline

The cake is arguably one of the biggest highlights of any wedding reception, so you should take time to photograph it before and during the cutting process. Capture the stunning details of the wedding cake before the bride and groom cut into it, including any accessories, fancy frosting or lettering, and cake toppers.

When the husband and wife are ready to cut the cake, capture every moment of their joy. Take images as they cut into the cake and take the first bite. Some couples like to get a bit messy during this time and either feed cake to each other or make a small mess of the frosting. You should pay attention to these fun, lighthearted moments when deciding what to photograph.

This portion of the reception occurs in the evening, but how you photograph the cake cutting depends on the couple. Some couples prefer a sincere and romantic vibe to these pictures, while others might want a fun, upbeat atmosphere. Discuss this with the couple beforehand to ensure that you capture this moment in the best way possible.

Bouquet and Garter Toss: 30 Minutes

Wedding Timeline

If the reception has a bouquet and garter toss, ensure you leave around 30 minutes to capture all the details. Before the bouquet toss, you should double-check that you took stunning photos of the bride’s flowers before she tosses them at the reception for the next lucky couple.

The bouquet and garter tosses are some more fun and lighthearted moments during the reception that you should consider when deciding what to photograph. Since this moment tends to be lighthearted, focus on capturing happy moments and brighter color schemes or lighting. If the reception is outdoors, account for this so you can plan the best lighting accordingly.

Exit: 30 Minutes

Conclude the wedding timeline with pictures of guests and the couple as they exit from the reception hall. The final send-off is a romantic and meaningful moment as the couple steps into their future together, now wed. Consider taking pictures of family members hugging the bride and groom as they leave and the bride and groom alone in the reception hall once everyone else has filed out. You can also end your photographs with a final wedding day kiss between bride and groom.

As you photograph guests leaving, account for the late-night lighting and how you can make photos that complement the atmosphere. If you photograph the guests as they go outdoors, ensure outdoor lighting, such as lamps or lights attached to the building. If you want to take pictures of the newlyweds once everyone leaves the reception hall, revert to romantic and gentle lighting to provide a final moment of intimacy in your pictures.

Have the Wedding of Your Dreams With RayCee the Artist

If you are engaged to be married and planning for a wedding photographer, RayCee the Artist is the perfect choice for you! RayCee the Artist serves clients in Los Angeles, Orange County, and surrounding counties seeking a professional wedding photographer to capture their happiest moments. Contact RayCee the Artist today to learn more about wedding packages and planning your big day.


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