‘How Long Should My Wedding Photos Take?’
This is the question I always get asked by couples taking a first stab at their wedding day schedule. While no one wants their photography to take all day, photographing certain groups of people does take a certain amount of time. And in general, the longer the amount of time allotted the better the photos. In today’s blog post I unravel the mysteries of what goes into planning the schedule for your big day with a few wedding photography timeline tips.
An Ideal Wedding Photography Timeline
Let’s first start off with a list of how long it takes to photograph certain things during a wedding:
‘Getting Ready’ photos: 30 minutes to 3 hours Examples of these photos include the bride getting her makeup done, slipping into her dress, and having her father see her in her wedding dress for the first time. I normally arrive when the bride (or groom!) has just finished having her hair done and is starting on makeup application. During this time I take photos of any wedding day ‘getting ready’ details including the dress or suit, shoes, invitations, and any special jewelry or gifts.
‘First Look photos: 15 minutes This is when the couple sees each other for the first time in their wedding outfits prior to walking down the aisle.
Couple portraits: 40 minutes Photos of the couple alone
Bridal party portraits: 20 to 30 minutes Photos of the bridal party with the couple
Family portraits: 30 minutes Group photos of the family
Ceremony details and guests arriving: 15 minutes
Reception details: 15 minutes
Ceremony: 30 minutes to an hour
Reception: 4 hours
How to Create a Wedding Photography Timeline
When I am creating a wedding photography timeline, I always start with the time of the ceremony and then work backwards to schedule each photography segment. That is to say, if the ceremony starts at 3:00 p.m., then I allow for a fifteen-minute period of rest, preceded by thirty minutes for the family portraits, etc. I do this until I get to the getting ready photos to determine my arrival time. As case in point, the ceremony for Allia and Denton’s wedding was set to begin at 3:00 p.m. Their wedding had approximately 30 guests and no bridal party and we took photos of the couple at a nearby park. Their ideal wedding timeline would look like this:
11:35 a.m. – Photographer arrives; ‘getting ready’ photos begin
1:35 p.m. – Drive from venue to the park
1:50 p.m. – Bride and groom portraits
2:30 p.m. – Drive from park to ceremony venue
2:45 p.m. – Moment of rest; photos of guests arriving and ceremony details
3:00 p.m. – Ceremony begins
3:30 p.m. – Cocktail hour begins
4:30 p.m. – Reception begins
8:30 p.m. – Photography ends
The Order of Photos on Your Wedding Day:
What Comes After the ‘First Look’
For a wedding where the couple will see each other prior to walking down the aisle, the order of photos is as follows:
- Getting ready
- First look
- Couple portraits
- Bridal party portraits
- Family portraits
- Cocktail hour
I take photos in this order so that the couple will have time alone before the chaos of the wedding day begins. The best images are created when you can simply concentrate on one another without having to think about your mother or arriving guests. It’s just you and your beloved…plus me and my camera tagging along.
As the wedding day continues and stress starts to mount, I find that scheduling supportive friends with the bridal party portraits is another way to keep the couple at ease before the walk down the aisle. Finally, it’s time for the family portraits and that’s when the fun really begins.
In case you’re curious, I don’t ever take my couples away from their reception unless they specifically request sunset shots. These photos are lovely, but it is your day to enjoy your time with family and friends. If you need a break from the excitement, then I am more than happy to oblige, but I never insist on kidnapping couples for just this reason.
A Traditional Wedding Photography Timeline:
No Peeking Before the Ceremony
The advantage of a couple seeing each other before they walk down the aisle is so that they can get all of their photos out of the way before the party begins. But if you are a stickler for tradition (and about 40% of my weddings are) and don’t want to see each other before you walk down the aisle, then the schedule for photos is as follows:
- Getting ready
- Photos of the bride alone and the bride with her family and/or bridal party
- Photos of the groom alone and the groom with his family and/or bridal party
- Family portraits of the entire family with the bride and groom
- Bridal party portraits of the entire bridal party with the bride and groom
- Couple portraits
- Cocktail hour
The unfortunate drawback to this schedule is that your portrait time will eat into your cocktail hour. You can get around this by simply scheduling a buffer of time in between your ceremony and your cocktail hour, however, this tends to be a bummer for guests as they don’t have any thing to do until the cocktail hour begins. My suggestion is that if you are going to schedule a period of time in between your ceremony and cocktail hour then also have a meeting place and activity (or open bar) for your guests.
Things to Consider When Creating a
Wedding Photography Timeline
When you schedule your portraits matters. The hour or two prior to sunset – ‘golden hour’ – offers the best soft, natural light for portraits. Planning your wedding so that your family, bridal party, and couple portraits can take place during this time is ideal. Conversely, taking photos at high noon is the worst time of day to be photographed. With the sun high overhead you run the risk of having everyone in your photos show dark circles under their eyes and the harshness of the bright light is never flattering.
Bride AND groom getting ready photos. For the question of how to schedule photos of both the bride and the groom getting ready, time is the answer. I normally start with the groom and get photos of him putting on his cufflinks, jacket, tie, etc. well ahead of when the wedding begins. Once these photos are taken, the groom (and groomsmen) can take off their jackets and just relax before the ceremony. I then move back to the bride and take photos of her getting ready and accompany her to the ceremony location. Of course, an alternative to the groom getting ready first schedule is to start with the bride and then end with the groom getting ready and go with him to the ceremony location. In general, it is easier for the groom to get ready first then it is for the bride to make a hair and makeup appointment at the crack of dawn.
In terms of location, it is most convenient if the bride and groom are getting ready near to one another. I have had many weddings where the bride and groom were getting ready in the same hotel room and I moved between rooms depending upon which person was more ready for the camera at that moment.
If this seems too complicated and you are getting ready in two different locations but definitely want photos of both sides getting ready then you can always consider adding on a second photographer.
The bridesmaids should be ready BEFORE the bride. Everyone loves photos of the bridesmaids twittering around the bride as she slips into her gorgeous wedding dress. That shot can be ruined (or enhanced with glorious ‘realness,’ depending on your attitude) if the bridesmaids are still wearing sweatpants and have curlers in their hair. If you want your getting ready photos to be on point, then make a point of getting your girls ready before you jump into your dress. (Though personally, I love getting ready photos where everyone is keeping it real.)
Have your flowers arrive early. Make sure your flowers are delivered well before the ceremony so that your bridal party and family portraits will include your bouquets and boutonnieres.
Size matters for bridal party and family portrait time. The amount of time I have listed for family and bridal party portraits is entirely dependent upon the size of your bridal party and the number of family members who will be photographed. If you have a large family or five or more people on each side of your bridal party, then factor in more time. Likewise, if your family is small or if you only have a tiny bridal party then you can cut the time as needed.
Assign a ‘wrangler.’ For large family portrait sessions, I always recommend that a couple designate a friend or family member as a ‘wrangler’ to help speed the process along. Ideally you would select someone who knows each group and can identify the main players and get them ready to jump in front of the camera.
Yield to traffic. Always consider transportation time and traffic when you are moving from the getting ready location or the location of your couple portraits to the ceremony or reception. Allow plenty of time and take a look at a city calendar so that things like the New York Marathon and parades don’t, well, rain on your parade.
Have your transportation planned well in advance. Save time by knowing how you will get from point A to point B. Uber and Lyft seem to be the most popular choices nowadays, but remember that if you are getting married in a remote corner of the world that it takes much longer to call a car service than it does in the city. Have a backup in mind in order to get to the church on time.
More time = less stress. When in doubt, always add more time to your schedule. Your photos will last forever, and having enough time to photograph you at your best without feeling rushed is essential. In particular, the more time you allot for your personal portraits – that is, the photos of the bride and groom – the better the images. As with all portrait shoots, everyone takes a bit of time to get warmed up in front of the camera. If this is the first time you have had your photo taken or the first time working with your photographer, then you need to give yourself enough time to get comfortable in front of the lens. Consider also that you will more than likely be stressed and nervous since it is your wedding day. Give yourself the gift of time, and your photos will look great as a result.
Schedule your group photos early. If you want any special group photos taken, it is best to schedule these during your cocktail hour or at the beginning of your reception to make sure everyone is present and, dare I say, sober.
The bottom line is that the ideal wedding photography timeline has enough time built in so that the couple (and photographer) doesn’t feel rushed. You want to be able to ease into your big day, rather than feel like you were running a sprint down the aisle. Give yourself enough time and in turn you will look relaxed in your photos. If you would like some additional information, check out my article ‘When Should My Wedding Photographer Arrive’ and ‘What to Have Ready When the Wedding Photographer Arrives.’
A shining example of this is Allia and Denton’s beautiful wedding in Jamaica, Queens. I had the pleasure of photographing these two last year. Their intimate wedding is a wonderful example of how you can plan a stunning wedding all on your own with a little creativity and lots of Etsy sleuthing. I need to give a huge shout out to the bride’s mother, Lynn, who designed not only all the flowers but also the centerpieces and guest favors. Enjoy the photos, and give me a call if you need a hand with scheduling your own wedding photography timeline.
Ceremony and reception venue: Occasions Banquet and Catering Hall
Wedding dress and veil: David’s Bridal
Cake: Deborah at City Sweets
Flowers and centerpieces: Lynn Rahman, @KittyLongTail on Instagram
Cake topper, custom forks, and serving set: Etsy
If you would like to see more images from my wedding photojournalism portfolio, then please visit my website – www.KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com