WTS Entry 1: Thinking About Your Timeline

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 Welcome to the first entry in the Evan Godwin Photography Wedding Tip Series (WTS). This series of 10 blog posts, published every Friday for the next 10 weeks, will provide a list of helpful tips to consider when planning your wedding. With 400+ weddings worth of first-hand experience, these entries should help the planner-less bride (or even a few with planners) wade through the massive amounts of brain-frying information on the internet to focus on the most important things to consider when working with their wedding photographer.

So to kick things off, I felt it only appropriate to address one of the most integral parts of the wedding day: the photography timeline.

Let’s not be mistaken, the photography timeline is more than likely not the same thing as your wedding day timeline. To be quite frank, good photographers don’t necessarily need to see your entire day-of timeline. A competent photographer will communicate with your DJ (and visa-versa) throughout the reception to get the low down on when the important events are going to happen and will work with you to develop the pre-reception timeline. Most reception timelines, unlike pre-reception timelines, are relatively floating due to the variable nature of receptions in general.

What we (photographers) are most concerned about is what time we are taking what photos, and what time we need to make sure you are where you need to be. Some questions to consider:

Are you getting ready at the same site as the ceremony?

Is your ceremony/reception in the same place?

If not, how far away are these locations?

What photos would you like to do before the ceremony?

Are you seeing each other (“First Look” post coming soon) before the ceremony?

If not, did have you accounted for a cocktail hour after the ceremony?

How many family photo combinations do you want to take?

Will we still need to take bride & groom portraits after the ceremony?

If push comes to shove, are you more concerned with photos or getting to your reception?

What time do you want to be at your reception?

Is this realistic after considering what photos are left to take between the ceremony and reception?

Are you wanting coverage of your exit?

As you can see here, these questions mostly center around the pre-reception portion of your day. A good rule of thumb, especially if you do not have a planner, is to consult your photographer on everything leading up to the reception and allow for the DJ to flush out the reception timeline with you. Once a photographer gets to the reception, at least for me, we are pretty hands-off. The DJ and venue coordinator/planner will dictate or announce when dinner is served, what time you start your dances and when everyone is lining up for the exit.

Below you will find 3 options for pre-reception timelines, ranging from “Simple” to “Complicated.” I will be using a 30-minute ceremony with a 6pm start time and an average amount of family photos. If we are considering multiple locations, a 15-minute commute time is also assumed. These timelines account for realistic circumstances, such as ushering everyone from one place to another, time to bustle a dress post-ceremony, etc. It’s very easy to review these and feel you can cut 15 minutes here or there, however these are presented having worked countless “shortcut” timelines, and its the finished product that suffers from cutting corners and not providing ample timing.

Timeline: Simple (No stress)

(Getting ready, ceremony, reception all at same place with the First Look and family photos before ceremony)

This timeline is more front-loaded, however it provides the bride and groom for a seamless transition from ceremony to reception. A cocktail hour will not be necessary since all portraits will be done before the ceremony and the bride and groom can join their guests immediately.

2:30pm Getting ready, details

3:45pm Bride in dress and doing final touches, groom dressed and ready for First Look

4:00pm First Look photos, followed by bride/groom portraits, wedding party photos (1 hour)

(wedding party finished and is dismissed, family ready for portraits with bride/groom)

5:00pm Family portraits begin (30 minutes)

5:30pm Guests arrive, pre-ceremony photos complete

6:00pm Ceremony start time

6:30pm Ceremony end time

(wedding party recesses, guests move to reception area, bride gets bustled and wedding party lines up for reception)

7:00pm Wedding party lined up, grand entrance into reception begins

Keep in mind that the key to this timeline is ensuring that the bride and groom are ready to start their First Look on time. What does this mean? If hair and makeup take 15 minutes longer than expected and your mom is learning how to tie up your dress the day of your wedding, not all of the portraits will not be completed pre-ceremony.


Timeline: Moderate (Average Stress)

(Getting ready, ceremony at same place, reception at different place, First Look before, family photos after ceremony)

This timeline is split, with some portraits before the ceremony and some after. A cocktail hour may be recommended, depending on the amount of family portraits you are wanting to take and cooperation of family post-ceremony. One thing to always keep in mind: after the wedding party recesses, it is realistically about 15 minutes before portraits begins due to guest being shuffled out of the ceremony site and regrouping all family members needed for portraits. 

3:00pm Getting ready, details

4:15pm Bride in dress and doing final touches, groom dressed and ready for First Look

4:30pm First Look photos, followed by bride/groom portraits, wedding party photos (1 hour)

5:30pm Guests arrive, pre-ceremony photos complete

6:00pm Ceremony start time

6:30pm Ceremony end time

6:45pm Family portraits begin (30 minutes)

7:15pm Bride gets bustled, bride, groom and wedding party leaves for reception venue

7:45pm Wedding party lined up, grand entrance into reception begins


Timeline: Complicated (Pretty Damn Stressful)

(Getting ready, ceremony, reception all at different places, no First Look or family photos before ceremony)

This timeline is backloaded, with the majority of portraits taking place after the ceremony. A cocktail hour would be highly recommended to keep the guests occupied while taking portraits. One thing to always keep in mind: an appropriate amount of bride/groom and wedding party portrait time should be budgeted here, and the couple that chooses this rout needs to be comfortable being away from their reception and guests for portraits. The last situation your photographer wants to be in is with a couple who wants to rush through bride & groom portraits because their ceremony started late, they opted to do the bulk of their portraits post-ceremony and they don’t want to keep their guests waiting. Plain and simple: this is a photographer’s nightmare. 

2:30pm Getting ready, details

3:45pm Bride in dress, finishing touches

4:00pm Leave for ceremony venue

4:30pm Bride/bridesmaid portraits (30 minutes)

5:00pm Groom/groomsmen portraits (30 minutes)

5:30pm Guests arrive, pre-ceremony photos complete

6:00pm Ceremony start time

6:30pm Ceremony end time

6:45pm Family portraits begin (30 minutes)

7:15pm Full wedding party portraits- now including bride/groom together (20 minutes)

7:35pm Bride & groom portraits (25 minutes)

8:00pm Bride gets bustled, bride, groom and wedding party leaves for reception venue

8:30pm Wedding party lined up, grand entrance into reception begins

You will notice that in none of the timelines is it scheduled to take family portraits both before and after the ceremony. Scheduling it as such alleviates the amount of time that is necessary to accomplish said portraits, and lessens the amount of times family members need to be assembled for photos. It is significantly easier, after the bride and groom have seen each other), to photograph bride/groom/bride’s parents, having the groom step out and photographing bride/bride’s parents than it is to photograph the bride and her family before the ceremony, ushering the bride out, assembling the groom and groom’s family for portraits and then doing it all over again post-ceremony to get the same photos with the bride AND groom now present. The fewer moments there are for logistical hangups, the easier the wedding day will flow, the happier family, guests and bride/groom will be and the fewer times “it’s the photographer’s fault” for taking so long.

When it comes to making sure you have photography coverage of your exit, plan on scheduling the last open dance (open to all guests) 15 to 20 minutes prior to your planned exit time. It takes much longer than couples anticipate to have all of their guests shuffle outside and line up for the send off of the bride and groom. With everyone under the sun wanting to bid their goodbyes and best wishes to the couple, planning a last dance at 10:55pm for your 11:00pm exit is not recommended if your photography coverage ends at 11:00pm.

If you are working with your photographer on planning your timeline and see that you aren’t able to get everything covered with the amount of coverage you originally budgeted for, do not be afraid to add more time. The marginal return on adding coverage to get what you are really looking for is so much higher as you look back on your images years down the road than the short-term cost of adding it to your budget at the time of making your final wedding decisions. While everyone’s priorities are different, that extra 2 hours of wedding day coverage will pay richer long-term dividends over the upgraded floral arrangements for guest tables.

Even with all of these options, every wedding is different. These are not hard-and-fast rules to timelines, nor is it required that your photographer uses these templates. This is meant as a guideline for couples to understand more of what to expect from their wedding day, rather than making inexperienced assumptions. It’s your photographers job to do 2 things on a wedding day: create you memorable, lasting images & make the day-of photography experience as stress-free as possible. No matter how experienced your photographer, both of those things can only be achieved through proper planning between said photographer and their couple.

What will next week’s WTS entry be? We’re going to break down the pros and cons of the “First Look”. Is it a trendy fad or a logistical dream? Stay tuned!