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How To Plan The Perfect Wedding Day Timeline

Danielle & Brandon's Wedding at Celebrations at the Reservoir in Richmond, VA

Planning out your wedding day timeline can be a bit overwhelming and you may not know where to start! (I totally get it!) You also may not know how many hours of photography coverage you’ll need in your wedding package because you aren’t sure how many hours are needed to capture everything you’d love to have photographed. No worries! I’m here to help. Here are a few answers to the most common questions couples ask about how to plan their timeline + a free copy & paste timeline that you can use to help in planning your ideal wedding day timeline!

I’d like to have my entire day captured, from preparations to my reception. How many hours do you recommend booking a photographer for this?

Every couple’s timeline is a little different but having at least 8 hours is recommended to be able to capture details, preparations, your ceremony and most of your reception. In some cases, 8 hours isn’t quite enough to cover until the very end of your reception, especially if you are having a special exit like sparklers or bubbles! You can always start with 8 hours and add an extra hour or two to your package as your timeline fleshes out.

What time should I ask my photographer to arrive to allow enough time to capture preparation and detail photos?

I recommend having your photographer arrive at least 3 hours before your ceremony to ensure time to capture your important details like your dress, shoes, jewelry, etc. as well as some candids of preparation and final touches.

What time should we be ready if we are doing a First Look?

I recommend planning your First Look for at least 2 hours before your ceremony. This way, you and your fiance get to have a few moments together, followed by a few portraits. Many couples prefer to take a few bridal party and family portraits immediately following the First Look so that they don’t have as many portraits to do during cocktail hour. In this case, starting your First Look at least 2 hours ahead of your ceremony allows time to capture some of these portraits and gives everyone a little time to relax before heading to the ceremony.

What if I’m also having a First Look with my mom or dad?

I recommend planning your First Look with mom or dad right before your First Look with your bride or groom and allow about 10-15 minutes. If having either First Look is something you and your fiance are hoping to have during your wedding day, we’ll plan out the best spot for each, in advance, when we review your final timeline together.

How much time should we allot for formal portraits after the ceremony?

Depending on the size of your family and how many formal portraits you are hoping to capture, an hour is usually a perfect amount of time to capture bridal party, family and couple’s portraits. Most weddings have a cocktail hour for guests, immediately following the ceremony, and this is typically the perfect time to capture formal portraits. Some couples prefer to spend time at their cocktail hour so they like to do a few of their formal portraits before the ceremony.

What time should we plan to have our ceremony for the best lighting?

The best time to have your wedding or elopement ceremony is usually at or right before golden hour. Golden hour is the hour before sunset where the sun is low and “glowy”. If you are having a 20-30 minute ceremony, and sunset is at 6pm, for example, I recommend starting your ceremony at 5pm or sooner. The reason I recommend a little earlier than an hour before sunset is because many times family and bridal party portraits can take up to 30 minutes following the ceremony, only allowing a small amount of time for bride and groom portraits during the golden hour light. Ideally planning in bridal portraits for the last half an hour before sunset will allow for the most flattering light and give time to capture a few portraits right at sunset!

How long are most wedding ceremonies?

A majority of wedding ceremonies range from 20-30 minutes in length. Some couples who have more religious ceremonies or are planning to do a few more traditional things within their ceremony may plan for an hour or more.

Should we have our first dance right after we are announced in or wait until after dinner?

This is totally up to you! A majority of my couples choose to have their first dance right after they are announced into their receptions and may choose to wait and do father/daughter and mother/son dances until after dinner. The events of your reception are a little more laid back as far as timing since you’ll be in your reception space for the remainder of the evening. Timing also depends on how many events you’d like to have during your reception, like a bouquet toss, anniversary dance, etc.

Should we have a special exit?

This is totally up to you as well, but can definitely be fun and offers the chance for some great photos! I’ve seen couples do everything from sparklers to bubbles to dried lavender for their special exits. No matter what you choose, I’ll be prepared to capture it in the most beautiful way!

I hope this helped you in knowing where to start in planning your own wedding day timeline! Here is a little copy & paste 8 hour ideal wedding day timeline that you can use as a starting point:

(Copy & Paste) 8 Hour Ideal Wedding Day Timeline

2:00: Photographer & second shooter arrive to capture detail photos and preparation photos of bride and groom

3:00: First Look with mom or dad (if you choose)

3:15: Bride & Groom’s First Look (if you choose)

3:30: A few portraits of the bride & groom, family and bridal party before the ceremony (you might leave this part out if you are not planning to have a First Look)

5:00: Ceremony (assuming sunset is at 6 or 6:30pm)

*Make sure to factor in time for travel between your ceremony and reception location if you plan to have them in separate locations

5:30: Cocktail hour for guests, formal portraits for family, bridal party and ending with Bride & Groom

6:30: Reception Begins - Wedding party and Bride & Groom are announced in

6:45: Special Dances + Welcome/Prayer

7:00: Dinner

*From here on, this part of the night can be in any order you choose! You might also have a bouquet toss or other events happening after dinner that can be added anywhere in this time period. Here is an example if you were just to have toasts, a cake cutting and a special exit:

7:45: Toasts

8:00: Open Dance Floor

8:30: Cake cutting

10:00: Bride & Groom’s Special Exit

Best of luck in your planning and as always, feel free to reach out to me with any other questions!


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