This entry is from our Expert Guest series where wedding and honeymoon professionals share their best tips on creating memories that last a lifetime.
I’ll start off by saying that every couple’s timeline can be completely unique and can depend on many factors! You may have a wedding planner helping you plan your timeline, and hopefully, you’re also getting input from your photographer to make sure they have enough time to capture everything (and that you’ll have great lighting)! Every wedding is different, so you may need more or less time for certain things, you may have additional activities, or maybe you’re opting out of some traditional parts, and so on! Things almost always run late so it’s good to set aside more time than you think you’ll need for everything. And don’t forget to add in travel time (with traffic) if there are multiple locations!
Planning Your Wedding Day Timeline
Detail Photos & Getting Ready Photos (1 hour 30 min – 2 hours)
For the bride, Detail Photos usually include the dress, shoes, headpiece, bouquet, jewelry, garter, and other accessories or mementos. For the groom, it’s usually his tie, shoes, socks, watch, cufflinks, boutonniere, maybe some special cigars and so on. I also like capturing their rings all together. Since I like to get a little creative with the detail shots and find cool spots to style them, I usually set aside 15-30 minutes for these, preferably 30 minutes.
For Getting Ready coverage, I usually give an hour to capture the bride getting her hair and makeup done and some candids of the general atmosphere of the morning and sipping mimosas. The guys only need a few minutes to get dressed, some time to style their hair, and then they’re usually just hanging out and grabbing some beers. Then I like to give 30 minutes for the bride to get her dress on (during this time I recommend the groom and guys head over to the venue if it’s in another location). While that usually only takes a few minutes, it’s good to have some buffer time and it also gives everyone a little breathing room before the day really gets started!
First Look (30 minutes)
I recommend for all of my couples to do a First Look for tons of reasons (you can read about them here)! Assuming you’re doing a First Look, you should allow about 15 minutes to prep for it. This includes heading to the perfect spot for this sweet intimate moment, and I like to give the bride and groom my own little pep talk encouraging them to soak in this moment because it’s the one time in the day they have to be together just the two of them (besides their photo and video teams of course) and how special it is! The First Look itself only takes a few minutes, but I like to give the couple some time to themselves and maybe take some photos.
Family Photos & Wedding Party Photos (1 hour)
Keep in mind that if you’re not doing a First Look, you’ll likely be doing these photos after the ceremony. A good amount of time for Family Photos is 30 minutes since it can take time to get all the family members gathered and get all the combinations you want. I find it’s better to start with big groupings and narrow down so when someone’s done, they can head to cocktail hour! I recommend 30 minutes for Wedding Party photos, which includes Bridesmaids, Groomsmen, and the whole Wedding Party together – this should be enough time to have some fun together!
Pre-Ceremony & Ceremony Details (30 minutes)
Hopefully, all of the above activities are done before guests arrive and the ceremony area is all set up and ready! This is when I capture the ceremony details before any guests get seated there. This includes the overall look and any decorations, guest book table, etc. This also gives the bride and groom some time to wind down before the ceremony. As the ceremony time approaches, the guests will get seated and anyone included in the ceremony gets lined up and ready to go.
Ceremony (30+ minutes)
Now for the big event – the ceremony! I say “30+” minutes because this really depends on your unique ceremony. Most of the ceremonies I’ve photographed end up being around 15 minutes, but some couples like to add in special activities during their ceremony like a ring-warming ceremony, extra readings, etc. that might take up extra time, and church ceremonies can be anywhere up to an hour and a half. Every couple is different and should have a ceremony that reflects them and their love!
Bride & Groom Photos (1 hour)
One of my favorite parts of the entire day! I love just having some time with my couple to enjoy that newlywed bliss and adventure together for their Bride & Groom photos! I like to do these in the hour before sunset and wrap up a little after the sun gets hidden. An hour is a good amount of time to get some different spots and variety and make sure it doesn’t feel rushed. This is also when I like to take individual photos of the bride and groom. It’s also never a bad idea to include some beers here! Then, time to party!
Grand Entrance, First Dance, Parent Dances (30 minutes)
Give some time to prep for the Grand Entrance if you’ll be including your Wedding Party since it may take some time to track everyone down and get them all lined up (but let them know ahead of time when to be ready). Then after the DJ announces for everyone to head to their seats, that takes a little time. The Bridal Party can land on the dance floor and then head to their seats before the First Dance, or they can head right to their table. I usually recommend the bride and groom head straight to the dance floor and go right into their First Dance! Some couples like to have the Parent Dances right after that and I’m a fan of getting all the activities out of the way so there’s more time for dancing later!
Dinner & Toasts (45 minutes)
Finally – FOOD! The bride and groom should get their food first, and then if you’re having a buffet it’s a good idea to have the photo and video teams line up to get their food before the guests do – it’s best we eat while guests are eating so we don’t miss important moments (and people don’t like to be photographed while they’re eating anyway). For a buffet, you’ll need to include time for guests to get through the line and serve themselves, and for a plated meal it takes time for the plates to be served. Then, of course, some time for folks to eat, and the toasts/speeches can happen during dinner.
Bouquet & Garter Toss (15 minutes)
If you’re doing a bouquet and garter toss, around 15 minutes should be enough time to get all the single ladies up on the floor and do the bouquet toss, get the single guys up for the garter toss, and get everyone up on the dance floor to start some dancing!
Cake-Cutting & Dancing (35 minutes)
Cake-Cutting is pretty quick and easy so I just leave 5 minutes for it. The DJ can announce that the couple will be doing their Cake-Cutting and anyone who wants to join can go up by the cake, we take some photos of them cutting it and get a little silly with it if they want. Then it’s back to the dance floor! I recommend just 30 minutes of photo coverage for dancing since these photos will start to look the same after a while, but that’s just personal preference. Now there’s nothing left to do but have some drinks and dance the night away!
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Bio: An Intimate Wedding & Elopement Photographer based in Southern California (currently in Long Beach, CA), Sarah Linda says of her style “ love capturing moments that are organic and real and I would consider my style dark and moody – I am not into artificial or traditional posing or fancy lights in a studio. I want to capture the quirky, the silly, the embarrassing, the hidden smiles, the tears, and the laughs. I’m all about those in-between moments and all the wonderfully raw and authentic pieces of you and your love for each other. I’m basically a professional third wheel and I love when couples will allow themselves to be vulnerable and intimate and let me into their special moments.”