While I never take life too seriously - it's meant to be enjoyed - when it comes to your wedding day, I am serious about providing you the most amazing wedding gallery possible. To that end, I advise hiring a wedding day coordinator to keep things running smoothly, if it's within your budget. One of the reasons I like to keep my own wedding prices low is to allow my budget-focused clients to be able to afford other vendors they will most definitely need. Here are some 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:
As a wedding photojournalist and lifestyle photographer, I do the least bit of guiding possible in order to capture the most authentic moments and emotions of the day. So, while I'm not a wedding day coordinator myself, I've also created a photography-based timeline here to get you started, including all of the moments that might typically occur during each portion of the day, if time is allowed. This timeline has a 4 pm ceremony on a 10-hour wedding day. But, you can remove sections and replace times to fit your own day, if your day will be shorter, or if you'll have a different ceremony time. You can decide what you want to include on your own special day, based on your budget. (To view and book one of my 10-hour packages, go here!)
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 no later than 30 minutes after your photographer arrives. This is very important! If you don't time this right, the rest of the day will be off, or, you will have to sacrifice moments later that you had hoped to occur. To be safe, you can schedule hair and make-up to be finished before your photographer arrives, and we can do some "mock shots" for final hair / make-up. From my experience, hair and make-up is rarely done "on time" - more often than not, it simply takes longer than everyone expects!
(Tip: 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. Only include items in that area that you want photographed, so that your photographer doesn't have to spend your photography time cleaning the room.)
Here are some photos I like to take if I do have 30 minutes here, in addition to all the other candid moments that will occur (I capture around 1,000 photos per hour photo-journalistically!):
Wedding rings, invitations, shoes, jewelry, perfume, veil, bouquet & other accessories: 15 Minutes
Wedding dress hanging up: 10 Minutes
Bride getting final makeup / hair done: 5 Minutes
12:30 pm to 1 pm: Fun Bridal Party Photos
Now that hair and make-up is complete and details are captured, it's a great time to have some fun with your bridesmaids! These ladies are here with you for a reason - they help make your day even more special - so have some fun with them!
(Tip: Be sure your bridesmaids are all wearing their bridesmaids' robes before your photographer arrives, if you are incorporating this portion into your day.)
Bride and bridesmaids all together / hairstyle close-ups / names on back of robes: 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: 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.
Individual Bridal Portraits: 15 Minutes
Bridal Party Portraits: 10 Minutes
Bride w/Family Portraits: 5 Minutes
2 pm to 2:30 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 belt, shoes, tie, cuff links, jacket and boutonniere, so those details can be captured separately before the groom finishes getting ready. We don't need to spend as much time with the groom as we do the bride - everything just happens fast with the guys, as long as they are almost ready to go!
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
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 your want to wait to see each other before the ceremony, this is also 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.
First look with Groom and Mother: 10 Minutes
First look with Bride and Father: 10 Minutes
First look with Bride and Groom: 10 Minutes
3 pm to 3:30 pm: Couples' and Wedding Party Portraits
If you do opt for the first look with the bride and groom, you can then have some nice couple's portraits done in open shade, followed by some fun, full wedding party portraits. This ensures that you can get plenty of wedding party photos in, and besides, at this time of the day you all are fresh and looking your best (hint: find some fun wedding party photos to share with me on Pinterest, or check out my boards)! The formal portrait session is tight after the ceremony; it can take a lot of time to do family formals, especially with a long list of family members, so that's one reason many couples go for the couples' first look and couples' / wedding party portraits before the ceremony.
Couple's Portraits: 20 Minutes
Wedding Party Portraits: 10 Minutes
3:30 pm to 4 pm: Pre-Ceremony Details & Guests Arriving
Now it's time to hide away - and maybe have another drink! - and allow your photographer to set the scene for your gallery with all of your ceremony details, guests arriving, etc. Mothers and grandparents can be escorted to their seats before you all line up for the ceremony procession. 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
This is it! 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.
(Tips: Put your ceremony time 30 minutes early on your wedding invitations to ensure that your guests arrive on time! Also, be sure to have your officiant announce for your family members to stay at the ceremony site, so it will be easier to line every body up for portraits.)
After your ceremony, your officiant will also 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. Designate a "family portraits coordinator" - someone who knows your families and has a strong, authoritative personality whom your family members respect and will listen to.
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. But, with the right family portraits coordinator, it can go smoothly and quickly so that everyone can continue to enjoy themselves.
(Note: I will not suggest family groupings for you - you have to know what photos you want, since I won't know your families! See more tips below:)
- Give a list of all of your desired family portraits to a "family portraits coordinator" (not the photographer!) with a strong, authoritative personality. For your list, start with the largest group on one side and pull members away to create smaller groups.
- Have the 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.
- Understand that we will need approximately two minutes per portrait to get everyone into position, so keep your list to a size that can be accomplished in the given time.
- Have your coordinator instruct your other family members who are waiting not to pull out their cell phones to take pictures and distract subjects (be sure to read your contract restricting cell phone and guest camera use during the formal photography time). Your photographer needs your family members looking at the right place so these photos can be done quickly! Your family will have plenty of opportunities at the reception to get their own cell phone photos with you.
- Don't forget to smile!
Family Portraits: 30 Minutes (with 15 portraits, but 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 your wedding party portraits here, followed by your 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 alter before more couple's portraits here.
Wedding Party Portraits: 5-10 Minutes
Couple's Portraits: 20-25 Minutes
5:30 pm to 6 pm: Reception Details / Guests Enter Reception
You may have to add time throughout the day for travel between locations, or you may want to extend certain portions of the day (like bride and groom portraits). One wedding timeline doesn't fit all - your timeline is completely up to you!
Whatever your timeline looks like, be sure to have your coordinator allow your photographer some time before your guests enter the reception area to capture those reception details you picked out and worked so hard on, if you want those captured before your guests enter the space. Blocking 30 minutes here does allow for travel between sites, so it may be 5 minutes for reception details and 10 minutes for guests to be seated instead of 15 minutes each - allowing more time is safer than not having enough!
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 Welcome Prayer / 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 prayer or welcome message.
Grand Entrances: 10 Minutes
Welcome Prayer / Message: 5 Minutes
6:15 pm to 6:45 pm: Couple and Photographer Eat Dinner
It's a long day - time to eat!
(Tip: It's a long day for your photographer as well, and they need to eat, too! Not only that, but your photographer needs to eat at the very same time as the bride and groom, so we can 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; sometimes vendors try to prevent the photographer from eating at this time because they don't understand how this works!)
6:45 pm to 7:00 pm - Couple's Golden Hour Photos
Whether you had a couple's first look followed by couple's portraits, or not - but especially, if not - I 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. 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
This is an opportunity to capture all of your guests' smiling faces as they finally get to congratulate you! Plan to spend approximately 3-5 minutes per table so that you don't feel rushed, and schedule / extend your dinner time accordingly.
7:30 pm to 7:50 pm - Toasts
If you had your golden hour session after dinner, then when you come back, with the right coordination, champagne will be poured, and everyone will be ready to celebrate you with some toasts! Father of the bride, mother of the groom, maid of honor, and best man are the popular choices for toasters (or roasters? You never know!) - 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. Again - it's your day, and it's up to you!
8 pm to 8:30 pm: Open Dancing
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 point is, it's definitely time for everyone to have a blast!
8:30 pm to 8:35 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 all that champagne and dancing!
8:35 pm to 8:45 pm: Dessert Service and Bouquet / Garter Tosses
While most of your guests enjoy dessert, your single ladies and single men can be singled out for some fun. If you decide to follow this tradition (many couples these days opt out, and that's okay), be sure to do a "fake toss" of the bouquet first (pretend to toss it the first time, then toss for real). This makes for great photos! 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!
8:45 pm to 9:45 pm: Open Dancing and Couple's Night Session
More drinking, more dancing,and more fun! If you want a breather and some fresh air, we can go outside for a few night-time couple's portraits. Can't have too many photos of you two on your most special day, right?
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!
(Tip: 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!)
Final Thought: Plan, Plan, Plan . . . then Have Someone Implement It!
No matter what you decide for your timeline - remember, it's your day - have someone in charge of implementing it, making sure people are where they need to be, doing what they need to be doing, and when. If you don't hire (or if your venue doesn't provide) an official wedding day coordinator, you could task a willing, authoritative family member or friend for the job! Be sure to provide your photographer with the name and phone number of both your wedding day coordinator and your family portraits coordinator so that we can communicate on your special day. If you're my wedding client, I'll send you a fillable form where you can enter those details if desired (you can view it here).
Then, you just relax and enjoy the day and let me provide you with the wedding gallery of your dreams!