The wedding plans have all been made, everything is perfectly lined up, and the big day is here! The day will fly by faster than me eating a taco (which is VERY fast!), and all you will have to remember and re-live the day is your pictures!

So, how do you make sure to set yourself up for success and get the absolute most from your wedding day photography? It’s all in the TIMELINE, my dear! Which, I suggest, you should start thinking about early on in your planning process. Having a well thought out timeline will give everyone involved a smooth wedding day experience AND the best photographs possible!

“But, Nicole, I’ve never planned a wedding, how am I supposed to know?!” I hear ya, boo! And that’s why I’m here to help. So let’s dive in…

Most of your timeline is going to be based around 2 important decisions: 1. If you choose to do a first look or not, and, 2. Your ceremony start time. And these two decisions also affect each other, so the sooner you can nail them down, the better!

1.First look, or no first look? That is the question.

First of all, what is a “first look” exactly? It is a time on the wedding day, prior to the ceremony, where the bride and groom will share a special moment of seeing each other for the first time, just the two of them, rather than seeing each other for the first time during the ceremony. It is a time to soak in the moment together, away from the crowds, and just spend a few quiet moments in each other’s presence alone. When I photograph a first look, I try to be as far away as the location will allow me to, photographing it with my zoom lens, so that my couples can let go and try to forget I’m even there.

I’d say a majority of couples these days choose to do a first look, as it gives them some precious alone time together, a more relaxed photographic experience, and more time for bride and groom portraits. Some folks feel very strongly that they do not want to see each other prior to the ceremony, and that’s fine too! Here are the main differences between a timeline with or without a first look that you need to consider.

Essentially, if you do not choose to do a first look, you will need to allot a greater amount of time after your ceremony before the reception begins (usually referred to as cocktail hour) for photos than you do if you do a first look.

For couples who do a first look, the vast majority of formal photos (bride and groom portraits and bridal party portraits) can be done prior to the ceremony, so that after the ceremony, the bride and groom can take a few more portraits together at sunset (if they wish), and then head immediately to their cocktail hour or reception.

For couples who opt to not have a first look, you will probably need to allot around 90 minutes of time in between your ceremony and reception to have all of the formal photos taken. (Examples of timelines with and without first looks are below!) Although, you will still want to take as many portraits as you possibly can prior to the ceremony as well. For example, bride with bridesmaids, bride with parents, groom with groomsmen, groom with parents, you get the drift…

One thing to bear in mind is that typically couples who do have a first look will have a greater amount of bride and groom portraits, simply because there is more time to get those. So, if having the maximum amount of bride and groom portraits is very important to you, you may want to consider this option.

2. Ceremony Start Time

Once you have decided if you are going to do a first look or not, you need to consider when exactly you should start your ceremony. If you are not going to do a first look, you may want to consider starting your ceremony about 2-2.5 hours before sunset, so that once you are done with all of your family and bridal party photos, you can have some bride and groom sunset portraits. (The best light is typically about 30-45 minutes before the actual sunset time.) Or, if you are doing a first look, having your ceremony about 2 – 1.5 hours prior to sunset works well.

As you look at the time lines below, bear in mind that things on a wedding day typically take longer than you think. For example, time will be spent simply walking from one location of your venue to another. Or, during bridal party or family portraits, it is very common to need some additional time to track down one member who wandered off or is in the bathroom, getting folks positioned, etc. If you finish up early with one section of portraits, awesome! But, it’s better to have a little extra cushion time scheduled in to make sure you get everything you want!

And, of course, no two weddings are the same and there are always other factors that come in to play as well. Some common scenarios are: if time needs to be allotted for traveling to multiple locations, or if the ceremony is a Catholic mass or other service that is longer in duration. In those cases, you may need 9 or 10 hours of wedding day coverage.

However, the most common wedding day timeline I see is for 8 hours of wedding day coverage when the ceremony and reception are at the same venue. So here are examples of timelines with and without a first look for that scenario:

Wedding Day Timeline – 8 Hours
One Location + First Look with a 7pm Sunset

2:00 – 3:15   Details + Getting Ready Shots
3:15 – 3:20    First Look
3:20 -4:00    Bride + Groom Portraits
4:00 – 4:20   Bride with Bridesmaids
4:20 – 4:40    Full Bridal Party
4:40 – 5:00    Groom with Groomsmen
5:00 – 5:30   Bride & Groom Hide, Rest & Retouch (Nicole Photographs Ceremony Decor)
5:30 – 6:00   Wedding Ceremony
6:00 – 6:20  Immediate Family Photos
6:20 – 6:35   Husband & Wife Sunset Portraits
6:35 – 7:00   Bride & Groom Join Cocktail Hour (Nicole Photographs Reception Decor & Guests)
7:00              Sunset
7:00 – 7:15    Guests Seated & Grand Entrances
7:15 – 10:00  Reception

Wedding Day Timeline – 8 Hours
One Location + No First Look with a 7pm Sunset

2:00 – 3:00   Details + Getting Ready Shots
3:00 – 3:15   Bride Portraits
3:15 – 3:30   Bride with Bridesmaids
3:30 – 3:45   Bride with Her Family
3:45 – 4:00   Groom Individuals
4:00 – 4:15   Groom with Groomsmen
4:15 – 4:30   Groom with His Family
4:30 – 5:00   Bride & Groom Hide, Rest & Retouch (Nicole Photographs Ceremony Decor)
5:00 – 5:30    Wedding Ceremony
5:30 – 5:50    Full Bridal Party
5:50 – 6:10    Immediate Family Portraits with Bride & Groom
6:10 – 6:40   Husband & Wife Sunset Portraits
6:40 – 7:00    Bride & Groom Retouch or Join Cocktail Hour (Nicole Photographs Guests & Reception Decor)
7:00              Sunset
7:00 – 7:15    Guests Seated & Grand Entrances
7:15 – 10:00   Reception

I hope this helps you in your wedding planning process! If you have hired me, or are considering hiring me, don’t worry! I’ll be working with you closely prior to the wedding to help you nail down the perfect timeline for your wedding day to flow smoothly and for you to get all the pictures your little heart desires!

If you’d like to see my work, or contact me for more information on wedding photography – please do! I’d love to hear from you!

Mostly importantly, ENJOY this fun and special season of life you are in and try not to get stressed out by everything that needs to be done! (I know, easier said than done, right?!) This time is going to fly by SO fast and, guess what, everything always has a way of working itself out!

Take care and thanks for spending some time with me today!



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