When you hire a photo-journalistic wedding photographer to capture your day, your wedding photographer will be as "behind-the-scenes" as possible, capturing the day authentically and naturally without imposing themselves. So, it's great to also hire a wedding day coordinator, whether that is someone you hire independently, is provided by your venue, or is even a close family member or friend who is willing to assist with ensuring that everything runs smoothly (and on time) on your special day.
If you do have it in your budget to hire a coordinator, here are some wonderful wedding planners who also offer day-of coordination services - and are fellow members of the Association for Wedding Professionals International, Sacramento Chapter - whom I highly recommend:
I do have a lot of wedding experience and can provide a sample timeline, at least to get you started. The timeline below has a 4 pm ceremony time with 10 hours of coverage, based on a "traditional" American wedding with a first look between a bride and groom (yes, that is becoming traditional!). You can remove sections and/or replace times to fit your own day, if you don't want or need all of the events below, if you have less coverage, or if you have a different ceremony time. Some events often occur in a different order; this is just a sample. Also note that this timeline is designed for coverage with just one photographer to help clients on a budget see the possibility of single-photographer coverage (it will vary with two photographers). And, finally, this timeline is written to a bride with a groom, but please know that I am LGBTQ-friendly and I can help adapt this timeline for a bride-bride or groom-groom, too - so just ask!
12 pm to 12:30 pm: Bridal Details & Final Bridal Hair / Make-up
First thing's first: Be sure to schedule all hair and make-up to be 100% complete either before your photographer arrives, or at least, no later than 30 minutes after your photographer arrives. This is very important - hair and make-up always takes longer than expected! If you don't time this right, the rest of the day will be off, and you will have to sacrifice moments later that you had hoped to occur. If you schedule hair and make-up to be finished before your photographer arrives - and it actually does get finished on time - we can always do some "mock shots" for final hair / make-up for your gallery, if you want. This break photo-journalistic rules a bit, but it's so much better to be safe than sorry. There's a lot that can happen between hair and make-up and the ceremony, as you will see below - unless hair and make-up run late and you have to rush to get into your dress and rush to the ceremony without all of the pre-ceremony fun you had planned.
Photojournalism Tip #1: Keep a large portion of each “getting ready” location / hotel room clean, near a window with good light, for the details / “getting ready” / portraits area, and only include items in that area that you want photographed. This will save your photographer from having to spend your photography time cleaning your room, or, having to work extra hard using angles to crop out all the clutter.
Here are some things I like to capture if I do have 30 minutes here, in addition to all of the other candid moments that will occur:
Bride getting final makeup / hair done: 5 Minutes
Wedding rings, invitations, shoes, jewelry, perfume, veil, bouquet & other accessories: 15 Minutes
Wedding dress hanging up: 10 Minutes
Photojournalism Tip #2: Let your photographer know if you want a dress-hanging shot, and where you would like for it to be.
12:30 pm to 1 pm: Fun Bridal Party Photos
Now is a great time to have some fun with your bridesmaids before everything begins!
Photojournalism Tip #3: If you are doing matching robes, socks, slippers, etc, be sure your bridesmaids bring those items and are wearing them before your photographer arrives, to save time, if you are incorporating this portion into your day.
Bride and bridesmaids all together / hairstyle close-ups / names on back of robes / socks / slippers: 5 Minutes
Bride giving bridesmaids gifts / bridesmaids opening gifts / detail shots of bridesmaids' gifts: 10 Minutes
Popping champagne / pouring champagne / cheers / sipping champagne / laughing together: 15 Minutes
1 pm to 1:30 pm: Groom Details / Groom Getting Dressed / Groom Portraits
When we start with the groom, he can be all ready dressed with everything other than his jacket, belt, shoes, tie, cuff links, and boutonniere (his accessories), so those details can be captured separately before he finishes getting ready, which can also be captured. We don't need to spend as much time with the groom as we do the bride - everything just happens faster with the guys, as long as they are almost ready to go! A cheers and some portraits with the guys, then afterwards, they can take their jackets off again for awhile if they want and play more foosball and pool while we capture the bride getting into the dress and bridal portraits.
Belt, shoes, tie, cologne, cuff links, boutonniere & other accessories: 5 Minutes
Groom / groomsmen finish getting dressed: 10 Minutes
Cheers with drinks, gifts or other fun groomsmen photos: 5 Minutes
Individual groom portraits. groom with groomsmen individually and all together, groom with close family: 10 Minutes
1:30 pm to 2 pm: Bride Getting Dressed
Now it's time to get into that beautiful dress! You can have your mom help you into your dress while your bridesmaids are getting dressed themselves, and then do a first look with your bridesmaids, or vice versa! Or, your bridesmaids and mom can be getting dressed while you put on your garter, and we can do a sexy boudoir photo for the groom, if you'd like!
Bridesmaids / mom get dressed while you put on garter for sexy photo for groom: 5 Minutes
Mom and/or bridesmaids help you into your dress: 10-15 Minutes
First look with bridesmaids (if Mom helped you into the dress), or first look with Mom (if bridesmaids helped you into the dress): 5 Minutes
Mom / bridesmaids help you with shoes / jewelry / veil / bouquet: 10 Minutes
1:30 pm to 2 pm: Bridal Portraits
Now that you are all dressed, we can take some beautiful portraits with you holding your bouquet in that gorgeous window light. We'll also take portraits with you and your bridesmaids, all together and individually, as well as your mom and any other close family, if you allow time for this bridal portraits portion of the day. Bridal portraits take longer than groom portraits because we'll need to place your dress and veil just right between each photo.
Individual Bridal Portraits: 15 Minutes
Bridal Party Portraits: 10 Minutes
Bride w/Family Portraits: 5 Minutes
2:30 to 3 pm: First Looks
First looks with the bride and father and the groom and mother (or other close family if those aren't present) are amazing, emotional, intimate moments! You may also want to do a first look with bride and groom in order to get more couples' and wedding party photos. Or, if you want to wait to see each other until the ceremony, this is a great time to exchange gifts and/or read notes from each other around a door, building or tree, so you can't see each other, but can still have a special moment together before the ceremony, if you'd like.
Photojournalism Tip #4: DON'T call these "First Looks" if you want as natural as reactions and as authentic as a moment as possible - or don't even tell the person if you can manage that! Using the words "First Look" makes the person feel like they are being put on stage, and getting an authentic reaction is nearly impossible. Rather, let it be a complete surprise!
First look with Groom and Mother: 5-10 Minutes
First look with Bride and Father: 5-10 Minutes
First look with Bride and Groom: 10-15 Minutes
3 pm to 3:30 pm: Couples' and Wedding Party Portraits
If you do opt to see each other before the ceremony, you can then have some nice couple's portraits done outdoors, followed by some fun, full wedding party portraits.
Photojournalism Tip #6: Find some examples on Pinterest if you'd like to re-enact any specific poses; otherwise, with wedding photojournalism, you can expect a candid walk and simply interacting each other in fun and loving ways. Clients are in charge of how their day unfolds, so how your portrait sessions go is completely up to you!
Couple's Portraits: 15-20 Minutes
Wedding Party Portraits: 10-15 Minutes
3:30 pm to 4 pm: Pre-Ceremony Details & Guests Arriving
Now it's time to allow your photographer to set the scene for your gallery with all of your ceremony details, guests arriving, etc, and to let your videographer (where applicable) set up for the ceremony. Here we go!
Ceremony site / church / venue, decorations, ceremony program, floral arrangements, altar backdrop: 15 Minutes
Guests arriving / signing guest book, seated guests: 10 Minutes
Grandparents / mothers being escorted down the aisle to their seats: 5 Minutes
4 pm to 4:30 pm: Ceremony
If you are having a religious ceremony (Catholic, Muslim, etc), your ceremony will be longer than 30 minutes; less for secular American or traditional Christian weddings.
Photojournalism Tip #7: To get guests to arrive on time, put 30 minutes early on your wedding invitations for your ceremony time!
After your ceremony, your officiant may have your witnesses sign your marriage certificate, so that will usually take place in an adjacent room or a location just out of view of guests, just before family photos (ask your officiant where he or she would like you to go after your ceremony exit). You'll want your photographer there for that, so you definitely need someone keeping your family together while your photographer captures your certificate signing, before we head back over to the ceremony site for the family formals.
Photojournalism Tip #8: Kiss for five whole seconds - then kiss again! This give your photographer time to capture your kiss both with a wide angle and close-up!
Ceremony: 20 Minutes
Certificate-signing: 10 Minutes
4:30 pm to 5 pm: Family Formals / Cocktails
Your other guests can go enjoy cocktails before the reception opens, but for family - it's portrait time! While everyone wants portraits with the bride and groom on this most special day, this part of the day can actually be the most difficult and chaotic, without thorough planning and strong coordination. Designate a "family portraits coordinator" - someone (or two people) who knows your families the best and has a strong, authoritative personality whom your family members respect and will listen to, and have the officiant announce for family to stay after the ceremony for portraits. But, with this announcement and with the right family portraits coordinator, this part of the day can go smoothly and quickly so that everyone can continue to enjoy themselves!
Photojournalism Tips #9-13:
- Give a list of your desired family portraits to your designated family portraits coordinator. For your list, start with the largest group on one side and pull members away to create smaller groups, then do the same with the other side.
- Have the family coordinator gather and keep your family together at the ceremony site, and make sure family members don't leave after one photo if they will be in multiple photos. They could even line up the next group and have them ready to go during each portrait.
- We will need approximately two-to-three minutes per photo to get everyone into position and to capture a professional portrait with lighting, angles and composition, so keep your lists to a size that can be accomplished in the given time.
- Have your family coordinator instruct your other family members who are waiting not to pull out their cell phones and distract subjects (refer to your contract restricting cell phone and guest camera use during the formal photography time). Your photographer needs your family members looking at the right camera so these photos can be done quickly and the rest of the timeline will occur on time. Your family will have plenty of opportunities at the reception to get their own cell phone photos with you!
Family Portraits: 30 Minutes (with 10 to 15 portraits; longer with more)
5 pm to 5:30 pm: Wedding Party and Couple's Portraits / Cocktails
Now your family can go enjoy cocktail hour if they aren't also in your wedding party! If you didn't do a couple's first look, we'll do wedding party portraits here, followed by couple's portraits. If you had a couple's first look and got your wedding party photos done all ready, we can do one formal wedding party photo at the altar before more couple's portraits here.
Photojournalism Tip #14: You can add a separate location between the ceremony and reception if you'd like for your bride and groom portraits; this is a common choice for many couples.
Wedding Party Portraits: 5-10 Minutes (or more)
Couple's Portraits: 20-25 Minutes (or more)
5:30 pm to 6 pm: Reception Details / Guests Enter Reception
Blocking 30 minutes here allows for travel between sites, so with no travel, it may be 5 minutes for reception details and 10 minutes for guests to be seated instead of 15 minutes each.
Photojournalism Tip #15: If you allowing your photographer some time before guests enter the reception area to capture those details that you worked so hard on that pull your theme together and help make your day all about the two of you, you can also do a reception first look yourselves if you'd like!
Reception site / venue, decorations, centerpieces, table settings, couple’s table, favors, etc: 15 Minutes
Guests enter the reception to be seated: 15 Minutes
6 pm to 6:15 pm: Grand Entrances and Blessing / Welcome Message
Time to make your grand entrances and start the party! Have fun as you are all announced and enter! Then, after you're seated, it's nice to have someone to kick off dinner with a special blessing or welcome message.
Grand Entrances: 10 Minutes
Blessing / Welcome Message: 5 Minutes
6:15 pm to 6:45 pm: Couple and Photographer Eat Dinner
It's a long day - time to eat!
Photojournalism Tip #16: For any wedding over 5 hours, your photographer not only needs to eat, but they should eat at the same time as the bride and groom in order to be back on the floor by the time you are finished eating. Please share the meal period contract terms with your wedding day coordinator and/or catering / venue staff so this can go smoothly!
6:45 pm to 7:00 pm - Couple's Golden Hour Photos
While you're completely in charge of your day, I do highly recommend getting golden hour couples' photos! These will be the best photos of the day - but when golden hour lands in your particular timeline will depend on what time the sun sets on your special day.
Photojournalism Tip #17: You can Google your sunset ("sunset on October 10, 2020 in Camino, CA," for example) to find out when the sun will go down. The ideal time for golden hour photos is about 30 minute prior to sunset, just to be sure the sun doesn't completely disappear behind any tall buildings, mountains or trees before you get out there. For a fall, winter, or spring sunset, it may even coincide with your after-ceremony couple's portraits, if planned accordingly.
7:00 pm to 7:30 pm - Couple Visits with Guests
After dinner comes the opportunity to finally visit with and greet all of your guests, if you'd like!
Photojournalism Tip #18: If you plan to go to each table and have that captured, and to possibly get a portrait with each table, plan to spend approximately 3-5 minutes per table so that you don't feel rushed, and schedule / extend your dinner time accordingly, so you don't miss anyone. (You can also have your guests come to your sweetheart table, announced by your DJ in the same order they were announced for getting their food, if you'd like to save your feet!)
7:30 pm to 7:50 pm - Toasts
After champagne is poured, everyone is ready to celebrate you with some toasts! Maid of honor, best man, mother of the bride, and father of the groom (or both dads!) are popular choices for toasters - plus anyone else you'd like to hear from. Some couples also offer an open mic for any one who would like to say a few words; just be sure to include extra time if you opt for this.
7:50 pm to 8 pm - First Dances
The couple's first dance, bride and father dance, and groom and mother dance often occur after toasts - but you can certainly mix it up if you want to! Some couples choose to have their first dance right after their grand entrance, for example, when all eyes are on them. Or, some couples have their guests stand and circle the dance floor (even with sparklers for outdoor weddings!) for a cool experience and great photos. Your DJ will largely be in charge of your Reception timeline, so talk to him or her about ideas! And if you don't want guests watching you, you could always cut cake before your first dances so guests are distracted! ;)
8:00 pm to 8:10 pm: Cake-Cutting
Cutting the cake or starting the dessert time together (if you are having an alternative to cake) signals to your guests that all of the main events have occurred and the night will be wrapping up soon. It's also nice to enjoy some dessert after dinner!
8:10 pm to 8:20 pm: Bouquet / Garter Tosses
Photojournalism Tip #19: If you decide to follow this tradition (many couples these days opt out, and that's okay), do a "fake toss" of the bouquet first (pretend to toss it the first time, then toss for real). As for the groom, have him put a dinner napkin in his pocket before his approach / garter retrieval - and then toss the dinner napkin first for his fake-out! This helps your photographer be ready to capture the actual catches after having the opportunity to focus on the bride and groom first!
8:20 pm to 9:45 pm: Open Dancing & Couple's Night Session
Now it's time for everyone to get up and party! Or, your DJ may have you play the Shoe Game first, or he or she may have other fun ideas to entertain and involve your guests at this time. The Money Dance, the Anniversary Game - whatever you decide to do, it's time to get your guests on their feet and having a blast!
If you want a breather and some fresh air, you can also go outside for another intimate moment together and a few more portraits.
9:45 pm to 10 pm: Grand Exit
You did it! It's official! What a day! It really is the BEST DAY EVER! Time to exit in style. Have the guests line up and light those sparklers!
Photojournalism Tip #20: If you are doing a sparkler exit, be sure to get wedding sparklers and not 4th of July sparklers, which burn out too quickly and create too much smoke. Can't have sparklers at your venue? Do glow sticks / light-up wands / balloons / bubbles instead! Also - be sure to stop and kiss half-way down!
Another Sample Timeline - with Two Photographers
Here's another "just-the-basics" sample timeline, with two photographers this time, on an 8-hour wedding day, with a 4 pm ceremony time and a Couple's First Look:
12:30 pm to 1 pm - Final Bridal hair/make-up and Details - Both Photographers
1 pm to 1:30 pm - Ceremony venue details - Second Shooter
1 pm to 1:30 pm - Fun Bridal party robes photos - Lead Photographer
1:30 pm to 2 pm - Groom details and Groom getting ready - Second Shooter
1:30 pm to 2 pm - Bride gets dressed - Lead Photographer
2 pm to 2:30 pm - Bridal portraits - Lead Photographer
2 pm to 2:30 pm - Groom portraits - Second Shooter
2:30 pm to 3 pm - First Look and Couple's Portraits - Both Photographers
3 pm to 3:30 pm - Wedding Party Portraits - Both Photographers
3:30 pm to 4 pm - Guests arriving to Ceremony - Both Photographers
4 pm to 4:30 pm - Ceremony - Both Photographers
4:30 to 5:15 pm - Cocktail "Hour"and Reception Details - Second Shooter
4:30 pm to 5:15 pm - Family Formals - Lead Photographer
5:15 to 6 pm - Guests are seated, Wedding party lines up, Photographers take their places
6 pm Grand Entrance - Both Photographers
6:15 pm Dinner - Couple and Both Photographers
6:45 pm - Couple Visits with Guests and Guest Table Photos - Both Photographers (for the rest of the evening)
7:15 pm - Toasts
7:35 pm - First Dances
7:45 pm - Cake-Cutting
7:50 pm - Bouquet / Garter Tosses
8 pm - Open Dancing
8:30 pm - Photography Ends
Notice that I didn't include a sunset sneak-away session; you might sneak that in any time after the ceremony until the end of your photography coverage, depending on what time sunset is on your day. Sunset photos are the best, in my opinion, so just be sure to Google what time sunset is on your day and plan to be shooting some couple's portraits at that time. :)