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Wedding Photography Timeline – Wedding vs First Look Timeline

Choosing the Best Wedding Photography Timeline

So as a photographer of eight years, I’ve seen all types of different wedding days. And generally, a question I get from my couples and also from a bunch of photographers is how do you write timelines for wedding days? So if you’re a couple and you’re planning your  wedding, this will help you get an idea of how photographers will generally plan out their wedding days. And if you’re a photographer, this will help you get an idea of how to actually write timelines for your couples. 

Now, the main thing to keep in mind is that there are two types of main wedding days in my opinion. You have your traditional days and your non-traditional first look days. A traditional day is when the bride and groom do not see each other before the ceremony, whereas your first look days are when the couple actually sees each other before the ceremony happens. Let’s break down each of these days and how I generally handle them.

Starting out with our traditional day, I actually like to start out with the groom. Now, this is something very different from most photographers, and let me tell you why. Generally, photographers will hire a second photographer and send the second photographer to get the groom and groomsmen photos. Personally, I am not a big fan of that. As a wedding photographer, I want you to get the best of my photos so I do both the bride and groom’s photos, myself, not send my second photographer to do those photos.

Because of this, I have to adjust my days just a little bit, but again, having me and the second photographer do both the bride and groom gives me really awesome photos and also great alternate angles to those photos. So again, you’re getting the best of me and also some really cool alternate photos from my second photographer. 

So we start out with the groom. Generally, it takes men like two minutes to get ready, so starting with the groom actually saves you a lot of time. Generally as well, I tell my grooms, go ahead and get dressed, we’re taking a couple of photos, 15 minutes max, and then once we’re done, you’re pretty much off the hook until the ceremony so they can undress and then get back dressed again. So don’t worry about getting in the groom’s way on the wedding day. Get the photos real quick and then let him chill into the ceremony.

the groom

Now, depending on the day and the area we’re in as well, if I have the time for it, I’ll also grab the groomsmen photos at this time. As a wedding photographer, anything you can do early is going to help you out in the long run. So go ahead and knock these photos out. For  groomsmen photos, I’m getting nice traditional group shots, and then also solos of each groomsman with to the groom. For the groom’s photos, I’ll generally allot about 30 minutes to an hour max, only if I’m doing the full groomsmen photos as well. After we finish up with the groom, I head over to the bride.

The bride getting ready is gonna take a little bit longer. This is why I go ahead and get the groom out of the way, which usually goes faster than I think. And then I’ll head over to the bride. This usually take about an hour to an hour and a half. That’s how much time I allot for that.

For your bride, I’m taking photos of the details, a nice flat lay, her getting her makeup on, her putting her dress on, and then depending on the day again, and the location, I’ll also get the bridesmaids photos. Same thing with the groomsmen.

I’ll get the full group shots and then also solos of the bride with each of her bridesmaid. So now we’ve gotten the start of the day done. We’ve done the groom, groomsmen, bride, and bridesmaids. And now we get to these ceremony.

Typically, it has been two to two and a half hours max, maybe three hours before the  ceremony that I’ve done all these getting ready photos. So if you’re wondering how much time you should have before your ceremony, three hours max, usually more like two, two and a half, depending on if there’s a lot of travel between locations and things of that  sort.

Also keep in mind, while I keep my second photographer with me for the getting ready  photos, if you’re getting ready in locations that are very far from each other, I will do the traditional way of having my second photographer go and take the groomsmen photos as well.


So we have our ceremony. Ceremony is finished. Now, with a traditional day, this part of the day is probably the hardest for photographers if you’re not ready for it. But what happens is you haven’t taken any couple portraits yet, you haven’t taken any family photos yet, so immediately, immediately, immediately after the ceremony, start doing family photos. The biggest tip I can give you is to make sure you have an actual list for all the family photo combinations you want to have, because you need family photos to go as quickly as  possible. Because if they take long, you’re losing time from your couple portraits. So immediately after the ceremony, we go ahead and we do family photos, we knock those out, and then we do our couple portraits.

Now, this is why I did the groomsmen and bridesmaids photos beforehand because I want the most time I can get with my couple. If you weren’t able to do your bridesmaids and groomsmen photos beforehand, what happens now is during the cocktail hour, you’re basically trying to do family photos, the whole bridal party, and also couple portraits. This is probably one of the worst things about traditional days, and this is why I like first look days because you don’t deal with smashing everything in, in one hour.

Also for all the couples, if you’re looking forward to enjoying your cocktail hour, a traditional day is not gonna give that to you because basically you’re using the whole hour of the cocktail hour to take photos, and you totally miss out on the cocktail hour. So that’s something to think about while you’re planning out your wedding day.

After we finished up the family, bridal party, and couple portraits, now we’re onto the reception. Now, as far as the reception goes, me as a photographer, I don’t write a timeline for that because there’s the caterers, there’s the planners, there’s the DJ, there’s a lot of things happening at that point that I don’t have control over, but at the start of the day, that’s all the photographer’s time. So that’s what a traditional day looks like.

I start out with the groom, then I do the groomsmen, go over to the bride, do the bridesmaids, we hit the ceremony, and then we do family, possible bridal party, and couple portraits all before we get to the reception.

coctaill hour

Now, let’s move over to a non-traditional day or a first look day, which is hands down my favorite types of days because they give you so much flexibility. If you’re a couple watching this, really consider doing a first look because there’s so many advantages to your day and it will make it smoother. And it’s also super helpful if you might be having rain on that day. So again, for a first look day, it’s about the same but let’s talk about some of the differences as we go through. So again, I start out with the groom.

I go ahead and get his getting ready photos. I do not do the groomsmen photos now because I’ll be doing that during our first look. So this is literally like 10 to 15 minutes and that’s it. After that, I head over to the bride, do all of her details, and do her getting ready as well. Same thing, this won’t take as long either. I would allot maybe 30 minutes, 45 minutes, hour max because again, we’re not taking the bridesmaids photo at this time either, just the bride getting ready.

Now, a quick tip, when you’re getting your bride ready, make sure you tell either her mother or her maid of honor or whoever’s gonna get her in her dress to be dressed before her. This way, when you’re taking photos of her getting into her dress, you have these nice elegant photos with every wearing dresses, rather than like someone who’s half dressed and she’s getting in her dress. It just doesn’t look good. 

So the groom’s ready, the bride’s ready, and this is where we do the first look. So generally, a first look, again, is where the couple is seeing each other before the ceremony. This can be a nice intimate moment for couples. If you have a groom who doesn’t like to be emotional in front of his family, this is a great way for her to see all of his emotion in private, because it’s pretty much just them. Make sure when you do your first look as well, get everyone out of the way.

You do your first look, they see each other, everyone gets in their feels, they have a great time, and then immediately start doing some couple portraits. Now, the reason this is a huge advantage is because this gives us multiple times throughout the day that we’re taking couple portraits. And now we’re not smashing everything into the cocktail hour, which gives the couple the time to actually enjoy their cocktail hour, at least 30 minutes.

wedding portrait

So we start with their portraits, couple quick, maybe 10, 15 minute portrait session. And then after that, since we’re still before the ceremony, I go ahead and slide in my bridal party  portraits at this time. So we’re doing the groomsmen, the bridesmaids, and also a huge group shot. Also, if you have the time for it as well, you can do immediate family photos at this time also. Again, since we’re doing a first look and we have all this time before the ceremony, you’re able to fit in so many more photos, which gives your couple the time to actually enjoy their cocktail hour, and now you’re not rushing within one hour to get all the photos in. So again, couples, if you want your cocktail hour, do a first look. Photographers, if you want the maximum amount of time and flexibility, do a first look.

So now, we’ve knocked out the bridal party and the immediate family photos, and it’s time for the ceremony. After the ceremony now, now we’re not strapped to get so many photos. Generally, what I do is if I did family photos before, maybe we might do a couple more family photos but usually we’ve done everything we needed. So what I’ll do is get another maybe 15 minutes of portraits with the couple. We have some portraits from when we did the first look. Now, we’re getting a little bit more at the cocktail hour. Because I’m only using 15 minutes, I let them go and have a fun time at their cocktail hour. Hands down the best, because not only as a photographer do I get like a five second break, and I can go around and take some pictures of the cocktail hour and maybe get to the reception a little bit early and take the reception photos as well of the whole area, I actually get to let my couple go and have fun.

Like, that’s the point of a wedding day is to hang out with your guests, not to be running  around for 50 years, taking photos. So seriously, seriously, consider a first look day if you’re thinking about it. Another big tip for first look days too is if you have a day where it might be raining, so it’s not like straight on downpour all day but it’s off and on rain, a first look day enables you to actually pick and choose when you take your photos.

So maybe you do your first look, you took some portraits, and then it starts raining. Well, what happens is when you get to cocktail hour now, you’re not freaking out like, oh no, it’s raining. And you can actually be like, well we took portraits earlier so how about we just wait till it stops raining. We’ll still have light, we’ll go out later. I have so many stories of weddings like that, where it pretty much rained all day. We had to do the group shots all inside. We did the first look photos pretty much inside. We had to go under a tree so it wasn’t raining so hard. But then what happened later during the cocktail hour, it cleared up so we were able to go out on the beach and take photos, and it was super nice. So again, first look days give you flexibility.

And so now my couple is chilling at the cocktail hour, they’re having a great time. I’m able to go take the reception room photos, and then we’re right on to the reception. So that’s a quick look at different types of timelines for wedding days. Again, as a couple, I hope this helped  you out to know more about how you should plan out your wedding day. Again, your planner will help you out with that, and your photographer also should be helping you out with that.

And photographers, I hope this gave you some insights at how you can write timelines for your couples. I do this for every single one of my weddings. I never let the wedding go just along without me writing a timeline. I want to be a part of the planning to make sure I’m getting all the beautiful photos that I need for my couple.

John Branch