Planning Your Wedding Day Timeline


I’ve been a wedding photographer for over twelve years and have photographed hundreds of wedding celebrations and elopements. My most frequently asked question? “What time should we start pictures?”

It’s a big question!  The coordination and timing of a complex event like a wedding can be overwhelming! For most couples, photos are of utmost importance they want to ensure that we have ample time to capture all of those Pinterest-worthy moments and portraits. I work with all of my clients and their planners, to create a customized photography timeline, but read on to learn about how we pull it all together.

First a few ground rules:

1.  I really, really recommend hiring an experienced and professional planner.  They’ll deal with all the logistics on your wedding day, so you (or your families) don’t have to.

2. Plan for delays. Even the best-laid plans will encounter a few hiccups throughout the day. And, it’s impossible to dictate all the many things beyond your control on your wedding day. Weather. Failed transportation. Ripped dresses.  Forgotten rings.  I’ve seen it all happen, but it doesn’t have to ruin your day. Not in the least!

3. Plan in advance so you can enjoy your day. But when the day comes, let it all go. Your emotions will come through in your photos, so try not to stress and leave it up to the professionals you hired to make sure the day runs as smoothly as possible.  Your job is to get married and have the time of your life!

So, let’s start from square one.

This time of day is perhaps my favorite. I love the anticipation as the couple preps for one of the biggest days of their lives. It’s so important, I wrote a separate blog post dedicated to divulging every single piece of advice I could muster! If this time is important to you too, it’s crucial to allow adequate time. I recommend 60-90 minutes. I always make sure to arrive well before our scheduled start time, and when the start time comes, we’ve already scouted locations, found the best lighting, and we’re ready to shoot.

We typically start with detail shots- and it takes time to stage all those shots of your meticulously planned details. We get shots of the dress, the shoes, the jewelry and every other detail. We get scene-setting shots of the exterior and the location. We aim to capture details of everything to really set the scene for your day. After and/or while we’re capturing details, my second shooter and I typically split off- her to capture your spouse-to-be prepping, while I stay to document the bride. When possible, I recommend that the bridesmaids and mothers dress before you so they’re looking polished and pretty for photos of you getting into your dress.

If we have a few minutes to spare before the first look- I love to capture a few portraits of the bride, freshly made up!

Wedding Day Timeline Planning by Laura Ivanova PhotographyWedding Day Timeline Planning by Laura Ivanova Photography

In planning your timeline, we’ll discuss when we’re going capture the portrait photos. For many couples, we do this before the ceremony.  Often times, it just makes sense logistically.  Some couples want to enjoy their cocktail hour.  Some want to calm pre-ceremony jitters. Whatever the reasoning, if you opt to see each other before the ceremony, we’ll set up a special “first look.”  Prior to your wedding day, we’ll discuss the perfect location and my team will set this up in a way that allows us to capture your emotions and reactions at that exact moment. After clicking away, we can slip away for a few moments, so the two of you can share private time together- perhaps one of the few opportunities on your wedding day.

Wedding Day Timeline Planning by Laura Ivanova PhotographyWedding Day Timeline Planning by Laura Ivanova Photography

This is another favorite time of day for me. Portraits are the best, and I aim to keep them lighthearted and fun. I’d rather see you interacting with each other vs forcing posed smiles. But, I’ll still guide you every step of the way. An hour is ideal for portraits for the two of you. This allows for time to walk (or drive) to different locations and allows for lots of variety.  Brides, you may find it helpful to have one friend with to help with your dress, carry your lipstick and make sure you’re looking your best.  However, I wouldn’t recommend having too many people around.  It’s typically easier to relax and feel comfortable in front of the camera without a lot of spectators.

Wedding Day Timeline Planning by Laura Ivanova PhotographyWedding Day Timeline by Hawaii Photographer, Laura IvanovaWedding Day Timeline by Hawaii Photographer, Laura IvanovaWedding Day Timeline by Hawaii Photographer, Laura IvanovaWedding Day Timeline by Hawaii Photographer, Laura IvanovaHawaii Wedding Photography by Laura IvanovaDestination Wedding Photography by Laura IvanovaOahu Wedding Photography by Laura IvanovaPlanning Your Wedding Day Timeline by Laura Ivanova

I recommend 30 minutes for each the bridal party and the families. Perhaps more for larger bridal parties (6+ bridesmaids and 6+ groomsmen) or larger families involving step families and lots of different combinations of people. Shot lists can stifle creativity, but for this portion of the day, I always develop a specific list with my clients. I want to ensure we capture all the important people. My assistant helps with organizing and arranging so this portion of the day flows as smoothly as possible. While I capture the portraits, my second shooter watches for fun, candid moments happening on the sidelines. Again, we try to keep things lighthearted and fun- we don’t want this to be an hour of torture, but rather a way to document all the people you love most in the world! We discuss locations and logistics prior to your wedding day, and have a backup plan in case of inclement weather.  Once we determine a specific start time, if you’re worried about your attendants or families being late, tell them to be at the designated location 15 minutes prior to the actual start time- with bouquets and bouts already pinned.

Planning Your Wedding Day Timeline by Laura IvanovaPlanning Your Wedding Day Timeline by Laura Ivanova

The highlight of the day. I recommend finishing photos a minimum of 30 minutes prior to your ceremony start time, so you have time to rest and relax as your guests begin to arrive. This is a great time to drink water, have a snack, freshen up your makeup, and just take in the moment. Ceremony length can vary greatly, so be sure to discuss timing with your officiant and/or planner.

After the ceremony, don’t forget to factor in the receiving line, if applicable. Receiving lines seem to be becoming less and less common, but should you (and your parents) opt to have one, plan 20-40 minutes. Whether or not you have a receiving line, remember that it takes time to pack up and depart. Allow at least 10-20 minutes for gathering belongings and boarding transportation, if applicable.

Calhoun Beach Club Wedding by Laura IvanovaCalhoun Beach Club Wedding by Laura IvanovaSummer outdoor wedding ceremony by Laura IvanovaWedding ceremony details by Laura IvanovaOutdoor Wedding Ceremony by Laura IvanovaOutdoor wedding by Laura Ivanova

Remember those two hours of portraits we discussed (1 hour with the couple, 30 minutes with the bridal party, 30 minutes with the families)? For timing/location/logistical/sentimental purposes, some couples opt to do a portion of their photos after the ceremony (in which case, less time is needed before the ceremony). Some couples don’t want to see each other prior to the ceremony. Some couples want to stop by a special location en route to the reception. There are varying reasons, but post-ceremony is always a fun time to capture photos. The pressure is off and the mood is celebratory.

Logistics of this time of day vary greatly. Some couples host the ceremony and reception in one location. Some involve travel. Between myself and my second shooter, we make sure that we’re covering all your guests at cocktail hour and getting the beautiful detail shots of your reception setup (preferably before the guests arrive).  During this time, we may also ask for your rings or get any details shots we may not have had time for in the morning.  Relax and enjoy a specialty cocktail!

Calhoun Beach Club Wedding by Laura IvanovaWhite Floral Bouquet by Film Photographer, Laura IvanovaWhite wedding details by Laura IvanovaWhite wedding details by Laura IvanovaCapri, Italy Wedding Photography by Laura IvanovaFloral & Fruit tablescape by Laura IvanovaWedding details by Laura Ivanova

We make sure to capture all the candid and emotional moments during your reception. Check with your venue coordinator and planner for specific timing. After dinner and dessert, we recommend 30-60 minutes of dance coverage, as we want to be sure to capture the important first dances, and some of your guests dancing as well. Dances typically start about 1.5 hours after the first course is served- more if space must be cleared for a dance floor.

Black and white film photography by Laura IvanovaBlack and white film photography by Laura IvanovaBlack and white film photography by Laura Ivanova

When possible, we love to sneak out with the couple for 10-15 minutes of sunset photos. It’s such a beautiful time of day and we love to utilize the gorgeous lighting.

Sunset couples portraits by film photographer, Laura Ivanova

How does this translate into a timeline? Here’s an example. Email me to discuss your specific wedding day.

12:00 or 12:30 getting ready
1:30 first look and couple photos
2:30 bridal party photos
3:00 family photos
3:30 rest and relax while my team and I prep for the ceremony
4:00 ceremony
4:30 ceremony ends
4:45 transport to reception
5:00 cocktails
6:30 dinner
8:00 first dance
8:30 or 9:00 photography coverage ends