How to Create a Wedding Day Photography Timeline Quickly and Effortlessly

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A wedding day photography timeline can help streamline the order in which you photograph a wedding.

From when the couple is getting ready all the way until the dance party, the timeline helps to keep everyone, especially you, on top of how the day unfolds.

It doesn’t matter if the couple has a coordinator or if the venue has a planner. A wedding day photography timeline will make sure that you are ready for the next big event.

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Portraits of the bride and groom at two different times during the day.

Why You Should Create Your Own Timeline

As the photographer, you need time during the wedding day to be able to capture all of the essential details, moments, and events that unfold throughout the day.

If you want to have even a little bit of control with the photography, you need to have a timeline made.

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Creating the timeline gives you control over how much time you have during any part of the day. Like the getting ready, where you can have the time to photograph the details.

Having a specific timeline for photography is priceless not only for you but the couple as well. It can help the bride to schedule her makeup and hair team.

The timeline also allows the bridal party to know where to be at what time. It also helps with family members who need to know when the extended family portraits are.

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A wedding timeline can help you choose or prepare for each of the important portraits during the day.

Not only does the timeline help you anticipate what is next during the wedding day, but also makes you look more professional because you know what is coming next. You aren’t scrambling asking the couple what is next.

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The wedding timeline can serve as a guideline for you during the wedding day. A directive ensures you get all the necessary photos of the day without questioning when or if you’ll have time to get them.

That way, you won’t miss the ring or shoe shot, or the photo of the bride with her favorite uncle.

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The timeline lays it all out for you – the couple, the guests and the bridal party. It even outlines the other vendors who will be working alongside you, such as the videographer or planner.

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Take advantage of any downtime during the day. This gives you the opportunity to create something unique and different.

It’s best to have the timeline made as soon as you know all of the major details of the wedding day.

Send it to your clients with at least a month in advance. Doing so gives them the time to make any last minute changes if necessary.

Confirm the wedding timeline at least a week before to make sure the day unfolds as planned.

Answer These Questions First

The following questions are important as they determine how you are going to schedule each portrait event of a wedding day.

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Some of the questions will have to be answered by the couple and other questions are for you to answer.

All of them equally important to the timeline!

  • Will the couple be having a ‘first look’?
  • If not, will there be enough light after the ceremony to take the bride and groom portraits?
  • If the couple is doing a ‘first look’, will they want bridal and family portraits following the portraits?
  • If the couple is not doing a ‘first look’, then the family portraits will have to be done separately. Also, bridal party portraits may have to be done separately as well. Is the couple okay with having these portraits separate?
  • Will the couple want sunset photos?
  • Are the locations for the portraits far from the ceremony or reception venue?

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What it comes down to is whether the couple is deciding to have a traditional wedding or a ‘first look’ (when the couple sees each other before the ceremony).

Photography timelines are vastly different for each, which I will explain in more detail below.

It Doesn’t Have to be Fancy

The wedding photography timeline doesn’t have to be made in Adobe Illustrator (although you could do that). A simple Word document, or equivalent, would work just fine.

Having this schedule gives the couple a chance to look over the timeline and if need be, make changes of their own.

The following questions are important as they determine how you are going to schedule each portrait event of the wedding day.

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Also, you’ll want to create a template of some sort since you’ll be creating more timelines as you continue to grow your business. Once you get more experience creating these timelines, it will get easier and easier to fill in the details.

Traditional Wedding Day Photography Timeline

A traditional wedding means that a couple will not see one another before the ceremony and portraits get taken after the service. It usually isn’t a problem.

However, it is important to note if there will be enough light after the ceremony or if you will have to photograph the couple using artificial lighting.

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This couple opted to keep their wedding day traditional. Portraits were scheduled right after the ceremony.

The easiest way to create the wedding photography timeline for a traditional wedding is, begin with the times of the two most important parts of the wedding day: the ceremony and the reception.

From there, you will be able to work your way back and schedule the times for the rest of the days’ essential details.

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The same couple also decided to have sunset photos after dinner and toasts.

Say, for example, the ceremony begins at four o’clock in the afternoon, and the reception starts at seven o’clock. Begin with writing the ceremony time down first, and work your way backward until you reach the ‘getting ready’ part of the day.

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‘Getting ready’ photos can lead into the bridal portraits seamlessly.

Example Timeline for a Before the Traditional Ceremony

Working backward in time from the ceremony, a sample wedding day timeline may look like this:

  • 04:00 pm  – BRIDE AND GROOM ARE MARRIED
  • 03:00 pm – Travel time to ceremony location and allow the bride to have touch-ups and get ready for the ceremony. Photos of the ceremony location and details. Candid photos of guests arriving
  • 02:45 pm – Portraits of the groom with his family
  • 02:00 pm – Portraits of the groom with groomsmen
  • 01:00 pm – Portraits of the bride with her family
  • 12:00 pm – Portraits of the bride alone and with bridesmaids
  • 11:00 am – Photography coverage starts
  • 10:00 am – Getting ready

Even if you may not be photographing the ‘getting ready’, due to collection choice or otherwise, it’s good to have a general layout of the day.

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This couple kept their wedding traditional. There was no more light after the ceremony and we prepared for that because we had a timeline.

Example Timeline for After the Traditional Ceremony

Once you have the bulk of the day laid out, it’s time to schedule all of the events after the ceremony.

It can look something like this:

  • 05:00 pm – Portraits of the family with the couple after the ceremony. This can be either at the altar, ceremony location or somewhere close by.
  • 05:45 pm – Portraits of the bridal party altogether with the couple.
  • 06:00 pm – Bride and groom portraits
  • 06:45 pm – Arrive at the reception location. Take detail photos of the reception set up.
  • 07:00 pm – Reception time
  • 10:00 pm – Photography coverage ends
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Knowing when family portraits will be done can help keep everyone on schedule.

At the Reception

During the reception, it’s good to consult the coordinator or planner to ask what their scheduled timeline is. When there is no planner or coordinator, go to the DJ booth and consult with them.

The reception is much more relaxed than the rest of the wedding day. Here, you can follow the timeline that the other vendors provide so that you can focus on getting great photos of the dancing without the pressure.

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Work with your clients to outline which portraits are the most important for them. That way, you carve out enough time for those. The remainder can be filled in throughout the day.

For example, if the couple isn’t interested in having family portraits after the ceremony, fill the time with more bridal party photos or extend the couples’ portrait time.

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Ask your clients if they want sunset photos or if they will be having something special during the day. This way you can include it into the timeline.

Each wedding timeline can differ. Beginning with the ceremony and working in reverse will give you the quickest way to lay it all out.

‘First Look’ Wedding Day Photography Timeline

Again, even though the couple will be seeing each other before the wedding, it is quick and easy, to start with the ceremony time.

We’ll keep the same times for this example so that you can compare the two. Refer back here when you are creating your clients’ wedding timeline.

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‘First look’ before the ceremony.

‘First Look’ Example Timeline for Before the Ceremony

The ceremony begins at four o’clock and the reception begins at seven o’clock.

  • 04:00 pm – BRIDE AND GROOM ARE MARRIED (Ceremony)
  • 02:45 pm – Bridal Party Portraits with the couple
  • 02:00 pm – Bride family portraits and groom family portraits
  • 12:30 pm – Bride and groom ‘First Look’ and portraits
  • 10:00 am – Getting ready photos

A timeline can change somewhat depending on ‘light’ situations. The afternoon sun is very harsh, especially for outdoor photography. You’ll want to avoid setting this time for the bride and groom portraits unless necessary.

In my experience, this is more often the case.

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The above is a typical wedding timeline and even with the harsh light, you can opt for a covered or indoor location.

‘First Look’ Example Timeline for Before the Ceremony with Formals After

When your couple chooses to only do the ‘first look’ before the ceremony, and then do the formals later in the day, the wedding day could look something like this:

  • 04:00 pm – BRIDE AND GROOM ARE MARRIED (Ceremony)
  • 02:00 pm – Couple portraits alone
  • 01:30 pm – Bridal party portraits with the couple
  • 01:00 pm – Bride family portraits and groom family portraits
  • 12:30 pm – Bride and groom ‘First look’ only
  • 10:00 am – Getting ready photos
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This couple had their ‘first look’ and formals before the ceremony. They also had formals after the ceremony during sunset.

‘First Look’ Example Timeline for After the Ceremony

From here, the post-ceremony timeline would look something like this:

  • 05:00 pm – Portraits of the family with the couple after the ceremony. This can be either at the altar, ceremony location or somewhere close by.
  • 05:45 pm – Cocktail hour at the reception venue
  • 06:00 pm – Photograph reception details and other candids during this time
  • 07:00 pm – Reception time

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There are many different timelines because every wedding event is unique. Depending on your style, you might schedule the portraits earlier or later in the day.

Perhaps you’re photographing on a beach and want beautiful sunset photos. You may choose to take pictures of the couple earlier, and again during sunset.

Stick to the Timeline But Also be Flexible

Keep in mind that setbacks happen more often than not during wedding days. Fortunately, you have a handy wedding timeline. Due to the way it is set up, you have the option of rearranging and moving things around if necessary.

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An example of this would be if a groomsman is running late to the bridal party portraits, you can begin with the bridesmaids. Or if the bride is late for the portraits or ‘first look,’ you can switch to the pictures of the groom with his family instead.

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We didn’t have time before the ceremony to take the full bridal portraits so we opted to do them at a later time.

Having the timeline in mind during the wedding day will make these setbacks easier to overcome. You can reassure your clients that you will still get all of the photos that are of utmost importance to them.

Template for Quick and Easy Wedding Day Photography Timeline

Creating timelines doesn’t have to be a grueling task. Use the below template to help you effortlessly create quick and easy wedding photography timelines. It works for both traditional or non-traditional weddings, and begins with the ceremony and working backward.

Once you’ve created your timeline, make sure to confirm all of the details with your couple. Sure, things can change on the day, but it is still essential for the couple to sign off on it.

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Be sure to send a copy to the wedding planner or coordinator as well. That way, everyone is on the same page in regards to the timeline of how the day will unfold.

Conclusion

As the photographer, it’s important that you, your clients, and team, are all on the same page as the day unfolds.

Taking the time to create a timeline of each significant photographic moment during the day will save time and keep you in control of the photography.

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Work with the coordinator or DJ for the reception events. Add these to the timeline, even if they might be changed on the day.

With time and experience, you’ll be creating wedding timelines quickly and effortlessly!

Do you have trouble with wedding day photography timelines? Are their extra things you would consider? Share with us in the comments below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Jackie Lamas is a destination wedding and portrait photographer based on the beautiful beaches of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. She earned her degree in photography from California State University, Fullerton. Jackie has over 10 years of experience as a professional photographer and teacher. When she’s not on the beach, you can find her writing on her blog and spending time with her baby and husband. See more of her work on Instagram.

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