The best timeline tips I’ve learned after 6 years of being a wedding photographer

When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong

I’ll admit this was the working title for this blog post while it was brewing in my head (thank you Dave Chappelle) – because honestly, you can try to keep it real all you want, but sometimes your wedding timeline just goes a little wrong when the big day rolls around. And that’s okay- of all the weddings I’ve photographed, not a single one was perfectly on time.

So, if it’s nearly impossible to control all the variables on your wedding day that impact timeline, what can you do to make things flow smoothly?

Well my friends, I’ve got answers.

I work with all my couples to provide advice on how to A. spend as much time together on their wedding day as possible, B. how to not run around like crazy people and miss eating their dinner with the rest of their guests, and C. how to get the photos they want without that list dominating their wedding day and stressing them out.

Here is that advice.

1. Allow 30 minutes of buffer time in your getting ready schedule.

This is my first piece of advice because we want to start the day off right. I like to plan a time where we tentatively will have the bride ready for bridal portraits with a 30 minute buffer of time in case we are waiting for final touches on hair and makeup or waiting for mom or a maid of honor to arrive/be ready to help the bride into her gown. If these things are taking longer than expected, we already allotted that extra time and know that we aren’t delaying the events of the day. And, if everything is running smoothly and we start the bridal portraits on time, we can then go into some group portraits a little early, relax a bit, and enjoy that precious pre-ceremony time.

2. Front load your group photos prior to the ceremony as much as possible.

I strongly suggest to all my couples to take advantage of the pre-ceremony time to check off as many group portraits as possible. Have your wedding party and immediate family dressed and ready to go 2 hours prior to the ceremony, and you’ll be able to work through your must have shot list.

This will alleviate some of the pressure to get EVERY group photo taken during your cocktail hour and enable you to enjoy some of that cocktail hour mingling with your guests rather than be tied up with photos the entire time. The basic list of portraits I suggest getting done prior are:

  • Bridal portraits
  • Bridal party as a group
  • Bride + individual bridesmaids
  • Bride + mom
  • Bride + dad
  • Bride + mom and dad
  • Bride + siblings
  • Bride + parents + siblings
  • Groom portraits
  • Groomsmen as group
  • Groom + individual groomsmen
  • Groom + dad
  • Groom + mom
  • Groom + mom and dad
  • Groom + siblings
  • Groom + parents + siblings
  • Bride + groom couples portraits if you choose to do a first look

3. Allow 15-30 minutes of a break prior to the start of your ceremony.

Once we’ve worked through your pre-ceremony group photos, you deserve a break! Group photos can be a bit exhausting, and I want to be sure my couples are rested, relaxed and ready to walk down the aisle.

This is also a great time for a break because you want to be out of sight when guests start to arrive so they don’t bombard you and drive you nuts. Trust me, this will happen if you don’t find a private location to wait in.

Bonus: if you’ve opted to do a first look with your partner, you’ll have already seen each other and can enjoy this break together before you meet each other at the altar.

4. Strongly consider a first look.

I know this will be a bit controversial for some of you reading it, but I do strongly suggest you at least consider sharing a first look with your partner prior to the ceremony. These are the main reasons why I’m crazy about first looks:

  • First looks give you much more time as a couple on your wedding day. A first look early in the day versus waiting to see each other during the traditional ceremony gives you that many more hours of togetherness.
  • First looks are often more intimate. Without the distraction of stage fright and parent hand-offs, it can be a very special few minutes of alone time.
  • You’ll also have a larger variety of couples portraits with different locations, backdrops, and lighting if you plan a first look earlier in the day.
  • Being able to get family photos done prior to the ceremony gives you so much more time to enjoy the rest of your day with less stress. (Aka, have more cocktails during cocktail hour, take care of more group photos prior to the ceremony, not feel rushed to complete both the must have shot list and all your couples portraits after the ceremony). In addition to the group portrait list I provided in #2, you can also incorporate both sides of the family into photos prior to the ceremony if you’ve already seen your partner and they can join in on the photos with you.

5. Ask your DJ/band to announce friends/college roommates/colleagues/etc. gather on the dance floor for large group photos.

Trust me, this will be WAY easier than trying to corral them during cocktail hour and will take up much less time. If you’re reading along and wondering where/when to incorporate those friend and colleague photos, this will be your best opportunity to do so. These photos tend not to be overly formal anyway, so stick to using pre-ceremony and cocktail hour time for couples portraits and immediate family. Save the fun friend groups for sometime during the reception. My suggestion is after dinner, but before open dancing because things tend to get a little crazy after Love Shack and Jump On It start playing.

6. Plan a sunset run/private break with your partner during the reception.

Are you catching on to my love for breaks? Guys, you’re going to want a break. I hear time and time again from my couples just how quickly the actual wedding day flies by. All the planning and prepping for months, and it’s over within just a few hours.

I ask my couples if they want to plan a quick sunset run during their reception. They’ll head outside with me, take advantage of some beautiful sunset glow for a few more couples portraits, and then I leave them to have a few moments alone. No photographer, no guests, no parents, just you and your partner. It’s a great little 10-15 minute break in the reception to just be together before you head back in and party with your guests for the rest of the night.


Looking for some more advice? Check out these 6 top tips wedding vendors want you to know.


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