Your FREE, No-Stress, Wedding Photography Timeline Planner

13 min read

Don’t let chaos run the show! Take charge and build a reputation as a wedding photographer who works quickly and efficiently, with humor and optimism, no matter what challenges the wedding day brings.

In Part 1, we talked about how preparing for photography chaos is every wedding photographer’s secret weapon. Here, in Part 2, we delve deeper, helping you plan every part of the wedding day with a photography timeline!

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Photo by SOMETHING BLUE BY SUSAN ELIZABETH

Sample Wedding Day Photography Timeline

The wedding day timeline is the most important part of you getting ready for the wedding day.

The wedding day timeline planning should be done alongside your bride and groom – either in person or through written questionnaires, correspondence, and wedding planning phone calls.

Your wedding day timeline should include the following:

  • Photography start time, location, and what will be happening when you begin
  • Portrait time(s) and location(s), and which portraits will be taken during these periods
  • Ceremony start time, ceremony location, parking considerations and ceremony venue photography restrictions
  • Cocktail hour start time and cocktail hour location, and parking considerations for the cocktail hour location
  • Wedding party photos start time and location, parking considerations for this location, and whether you can access this location early to store/setup photography equipment (if applicable)

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Photo by SOMETHING BLUE BY SUSAN ELIZABETH

  • Wedding party decor photography plans. If detailed photos aren’t pre-planned in a timeline, you may arrive to find the wedding party room already overrun with guests!
  • Wedding party timeline – such as cake-cutting, first look, first dances, toasts, etc.
  • Photographer’s timeline – when will you eat? Even if your photography contract doesn’t require your clients to feed you, you need a 15-minute break to rehydrate and refuel. Have some energy-boosting snacks on-hand, and set aside a few minutes to eat and drink.
  • Wedding party portraits end time, and the couple’s exit plans (confetti, rose petals, sparklers, special transportation?)
  • Official wedding photography end time 

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Photo by SOMETHING BLUE BY SUSAN ELIZABETH

Remember that most couples have never planned a wedding before, and have no idea what to expect. Even if they’ve attended 20 weddings, they’ll be shocked by how quickly their wedding day passes!

Hopefully, your bride and groom are working with other professionals who will help them getting ready, but you may be the couple’s best (or only!), advocate.


Pro Tip: Account for every minute of the wedding day – but allow 15 minutes to 30 minutes of wiggle room at any given time. All it takes is a misplaced shoe or late limo driver, and the entire schedule is thrown off.


How to Plan Wedding Photography Timelines

You may encounter different types of wedding ceremonies. These photography tips will help you adjust to each ceremony you photograph. 

Start With the Wedding Preparations

Save time, at least 60 minutes, to photograph the bride and groom while they’re getting ready.

  • Ideal time: 60 minutes 
  • Possible location: bridal suite, groom’s room

Don’t Forget the Details

This can coincide while the bride and groom are getting ready, before the first look photos. Have a second shooter spend at least 30 minutes capturing all the important details while they’re getting ready before the ceremony begins such as dresses, hair and makeup, bouquets, and rings.

  • Ideal time: 30 minutes  
  • Possible location: Bridal suite, lobby, outside the room

Allot Enough Time for First Look Photos

The first look photos let you capture the moment the bride and groom first look at each other on their wedding day. First look photos could be the best time to capture the bride and groom portraits. 

  • First Look Ideal time: 45 minutes 
  • First Look Possible location: Rooms, hallways, lobby, ceremony venue garden 

Take Control of the Portraits List

If you ask your clients to list every portrait they’d like taken at their wedding, they’ll likely request approximately 83 unique photos. At least.

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Photo by SOMETHING BLUE BY SUSAN ELIZABETH

Set realistic expectations by notifying your photography clients that each portrait grouping will take 2-3 minutes to pose and photograph – assuming everyone in the bridal party is present and accounted for. Provide your clients with a “Suggested Portraits” list.

  • Ideal time: 2-3 minutes per group, 30 minutes
  • Possible location: Bridal suite, ceremony venue lobby

Strategize Enough Time for Family Portraits

Taking immediate family photos can send you into a frenzy, especially if the couple has a big family.

  • Family Portraits Ideal time: 3 minutes per group, 30 to 45 minutes
  • Family Portraits Possible location: Reception’s accommodation

Because no one wants to spend hours making posed family portraits, bridal party photos, and first look portraits, hone in on the most-requested, most-printed, most-desirable portrait groupings.

They are:

  • Each Partner with His/Her Attendants
  • Bridge and Groom Portraits with Full Bridal Party
  • Couple with 1st (then 2nd) Partner’s Immediate Family Portraits (Parents & Siblings) 
  • Couple with 1st (then 2nd) Partner’s Extended Family Portraits (Parents, Siblings, & Grandparents)
  • Couple with 1st (then 2nd) Partner’s Super-Extended Family (Parents, Siblings, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, & Cousins)*

*If family photos groupings are very large, they can be divided into Maternal and Paternal sides, or 1st Parent’s side and 2nd Parent’s side.

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Photo by SOMETHING BLUE BY SUSAN ELIZABETH


Pro Tip: Use inclusive language on all contracts and questionnaires, to accommodate the wide range of family styles and lifestyles! (E.g. “parent” instead of “mother,” “partner” instead of “groom,” “ceremony venue” instead of “church.”)


Stay Focused on the Wedding Ceremony

Aside from the bride and groom, take portraits of the ceremony officiant, parents, entourage, and guests before the ceremony begins. Capture ceremony highlights like the bride’s entrance, first look, exchange of vows, and first kiss.    

  • Ideal time: 30 to 45 minutes
  • Possible location: Church, garden

Reception Time

The wedding party usually lasts for up to 5 hours. Highlight the ceremony preparation details, guests, cocktail hour, and food.

Things to Remember in a Wedding Day Photography Timeline

While a photography timeline helps you keep organized, every ceremony has surprises. Remember these things in every wedding timeline so you remain stress-free.

Avoid Awkward Moments

Wherever there’s family, there’s potential for discomfort, discontent, and a whole lot of awkwardness. Avoid faux pas in every wedding and maintain your clients’ comfort during the ceremony by addressing sticky situations upfront.

Take a deep breath, and ask these questions:

  • Are there any deaths or divorces in your family of which I should be aware?
  • Are there any family members who should not be posed together?

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Photo by SOMETHING BLUE BY SUSAN ELIZABETH

Go ahead and ask all the questions. Do your clients have children? Stepparents? Should their siblings’ or parents’ boyfriends/girlfriends be in photographs? Are there any other VIPs on the ceremony who should be on the portrait list, such as Godparents or dear friends?

If you commit an unintentional faux pas, apologize sincerely but briefly, and move on.

If others are acting uncomfortable or rude, maintain a pleasant, nonchalant attitude, and stay focused on the task at hand. Their family drama isn’t your business; and if you’re properly prepared, it won’t be your problem, either.


Pro Tip: Never assume you know how someone is related to the bride and groom! (There is nothing more embarrassing than mistaking the bride’s sister for her mother!) Instead, say, “I’m Name, Couple’s wedding photographer! It’s so nice to meet you! And how are you connected to Client and Client?”


Be the Boss

A prepared photographer is an in-control photographer. When you’re in control, there is no time for anyone to feel uncertain or uncomfortable.

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Photo by SOMETHING BLUE BY SUSAN ELIZABETH

Move portrait participants in and out of their positions unapologetically and with confidence as a photographer, reminding them, “The sooner we get these done, the sooner you can go eat, drink, and dance!” 

Move people and things when necessary (and appropriate). Don’t get stuck photographing the cake-cutting from the back of the crowd. Say, “Excuse me!” and move to the front. It’s your job as a photographer.

Move yourself to the prime location for the right shot. Great portraits and photos don’t drop themselves straight from heaven onto your flash card. They’re worked for and made. Be a maker.

Move emotions by remaining connected to the truth of why you’re there in the first place: to photograph a story of love and celebration.


Pro Tip: Coordinators and DJs/Band leaders are a photographer’s best friends at a ceremony and wedding reception! They’ll keep you on track if the timeline gets changed, and confirm you’re in place before any of the main events in the timeline (like toasts) begin – so make friends with them!


Don’t Be Afraid of a Re-do

Especially when you’re starting out, you may occasionally miss a shot or two in the timeline. Maybe the first kiss was more of a “first peck.” Maybe your memory card filled just as the bride and groom sliced into the cake or during the bride’s first look. Maybe your flash misfired when the couple raced outside for their grand exit.

Whatever the scenario, don’t be afraid to ask for a re-do.

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Photo by SOMETHING BLUE BY SUSAN ELIZABETH

Missed the first kiss? Take the bride and groom back to the altar and have them smooch again – lightly and slowly.

Missed a few seconds of the cake-cutting? That’s an easy re-creation!

And all you have to do is yell happily, “The sparklers are still burning! Run through again!” and 9 times out of 10, the bride and groom will – with big, fat grins on their faces. Because: sparklers.


Pro Tip: Even if you’re a pure photojournalist, it’s okay to encourage your clients to slow down and savor the experience. Not everything has to be done at top speed!


Get Zen

No matter how prepared you and your timeline are, something will go wrong – it happens at every ceremony. From traffic jams that delay caterers, to double-booked officiants, to missing DJs, to disappearing wedding party members, no wedding day is without challenges.

The best thing you can do for your clients is to become stress-free as they encounter stress. The more you embrace that truth, the better equipped you’ll be to just shoot

You may spend too much time with the bride and groom, more than anyone else on their wedding day, so your energy will set the tone for their experience. If you’re anxious and overwhelmed, they’ll sense it. If you’re relaxed and organized, they’ll settle back and enjoy their wedding day. The happier your clients are, the better your photos will be!

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Photo by SOMETHING BLUE BY SUSAN ELIZABETH | Floral Designer: Desiree Dean Designs | Hair Stylist: Elan Hair Studio | Jewelry: Jared The Galleria of Jewelry | Hair Stylist: renarde salon | Event Venue: The Channel Club | Submitted via Two Bright Lights

Conclusion

When it comes to wedding photography, you, your wedding photography team, groom and bride, and wedding organizers must be all on the same page as the ceremony happens. Develop a wedding photography timeline so you’re in control and take all the necessary portraits. 

 



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