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  • Writer's picture Becka Mckiness

Wedding Day Timeline

Updated: May 2

Figuring out your wedding day timeline can be a daunting task. Chances are you never have had to plan a giant event before! Most people haven't. Don't worry! By the end of this blog post you will be able to figure out your timeline and be able to relax and enjoy your day! I also include a lot of important tips to make sure we stay on track!



First Look

Whether or not you are having a first look will be one of the first things that will impact your timeline. A first look is when the couple gets to see each other before the ceremony. There are a few advantages of a first look. One being you will actually get to spend time with your partner on your wedding day. The day goes by so fast. With a first look you will get a private moment to see each other and then you get to spend the whole day together. You can also complete most of the formal portraits before the ceremony. Why is this important?


  • You can use natural light. If you have a ceremony after 3:30pm in the fall or winter we might not be able to get ANY photos of you two together outside due to the sun setting early. The lack of light also impacts indoor photos since we will not be able to use any sort of natural light from windows. Make sure to check what time sunset is for your date. 30-40 minutes before sunset is often dark and produces a different look. (not ideal for large group photos)


  • You can relax and enjoy your cocktail hour with family and friends. If you do not have a first look we will have to capture all of your family, couple, and wedding party photos during cocktail hour. An hour is not a lot of time for all of those shots. If you have a big family or a big wedding party you will want to consider a first look.


  • If there is no second shooter I will not be able to capture reception venue decorations or cocktail hour which includes some photos of guests. Typically the venue is not completely ready until cocktail hour. During that time I will be shooting family, wedding party, and couple photos so I will not have time to capture any of cocktail hour. If I have a second shooter I will have them capture that while I am doing formal photos.


Again, you are able to spend some time together as a couple on your wedding day. If you have a first look you can take a moment to be together, away from everyone else. For some couples it really helps them calm their nerves. Once the ceremony starts you tend to be pulled in all different directions. Having the first look also ensures we are able to beautifully capture that moment when your partner sees you for the first time.

Some couples decide to read a note or even their vows to each other. I highly suggest this, especially if you have a videographer.


What if I don't want a first look?

A first look isn't for everyone. Just make sure to plan accordingly. I suggest having the ceremony start in the early afternoon and having a break before the cocktail hour. This is typically done with church ceremonies. Why is this important?


  • You can enjoy your cocktail hour. If we have a gap of time we will be able to get all of your formal photos done before the reception. So when you arrive you can relax and enjoy.

  • We can spend more time on formal photos without being so rushed.

  • I can capture your cocktail hour and reception venue decorations

You could also have an extended cocktail hour. This will help give us some more time. In addition I could also shoot your bridal party and groomsmen photos separately before the ceremony. Just make sure to plan your timeline accordingly. You might want to consider the locations you each will be getting ready at. If it is not an ideal location you might want to have those photos done with the rest of the formal photos.


If you decide to wait until the ceremony you can stage some beautiful "anticipation photos." This is when you do not see your partner but you capture that moment of anticipation. For example standing back to back or holding hands behind a door.


Are there multiple locations?

Are you getting ready at a different location than the ceremony? Is the ceremony a different location than the reception? Are there alternate locations to take formal photos? Make sure you plan for how long the commute is and add that to your timeline. I highly recommend leaving a cushion of time for traffic.


30 Minutes Before The Ceremony

I always plan to end portrait coverage 30 minutes before the ceremony. That way you have a moment to relax and refresh before the ceremony. It also ensures you are "hidden" from guests. If you have a first look you get to hang out with your partner and wedding party.


How long do formal photos take?

Typically this is what I capture for all of the formal images.

  • First look (if applicable)

  • Bride by herself

  • Groom by himself

  • Bride and groom

  • Bride and bridesmaids

  • Bride and each bridesmaid

  • Groom and groomsmen

  • Groom with each groomsmen

  • Bride and groom with full wedding party

  • Immediate family photos


The amount of time these images take depends on if there is a second shooter. If there is a second shooter we can split up and save time. Typically my second shooter goes with the groomsmen and I go with the bridesmaids. At that time we will capture the individual wedding party photos and the individual photos of the bride/groom.

I typically like to reserve at least 2-3 hours for wedding and couple portraits and 30-45 minutes for family portraits. Every wedding is different. Some factors that can alter the amount of time allotted for formal portraits might be - if there are multiple locations, a large wedding party or no wedding party, a long or short family photo list, a second shooter ect. If there is no wedding party we will not need as much time.





What time should I get ready?

So now based on if you would like a first look you should have an idea of your ceremony start time. You now know generally how long is needed for formal photos. This should help give you an idea of when you plan to be completely finished with getting ready. The actual start time for you to get ready will most likely depend on how long hair and makeup takes and for family and wedding party to arrive. Make sure to NOT go last for hair and makeup. If things run late (which they often do) we can start capturing you getting into your dress while the rest of the wedding party finishes up. Your hair and makeup artist will be able to provide touchups before they leave.


Ideally I would like 1.5- 2 hours for full bride getting ready coverage, and around an hour for the groom. Full getting ready shots includes detail shots (dress, tie, shoes, cufflinks, jewelry, ect), getting dressed, window portraits, and candids. Depending on the timeline we can potentially add a first look with a parent. Some couples just want a little bit of getting ready. In that case I would not capture shots of the details and most likely start when you are already dressed and ready. We would then stage some getting ready shots when I arrive. The amount of time spent on getting ready can vary depending on what you would like captured. If there is no second shooter and you are getting ready at separate locations I may need extra time. I typically arrive when hair and makeup is almost done for the bride. You will want to have at least 1 hour from after hair and makeup is done for getting ready and photos. This includes everyone getting dressed, putting on jewelry and shoes, and all of the photo coverage of doing so. For the groom I arrive after him and his groomsmen have their pants and shirts on. I will capture putting on shoes, tie, cufflink, ect. If we are trying to save time in the timeline I can also capture this after everyone is completely dressed.


Pro Tip! Make sure to coordinate bouquets and boutonnières to arrive at the getting ready location. Make sure to let any family members know to plan to be dressed and ready around the same time you will be getting dressed.

Please make sure to steam the dress the night before the wedding. It is shocking how long things like this can take and set the timeline back.

What happens after cocktail hour?

It's time to party!! Typically you will start with "intros." This is when you and your partner, parents, and wedding party, enter the reception area with all of your guests cheering you on. You can add your own flair or special dance moves to this part. This only takes a few minutes (depending on how large your wedding party is.)


Right after you will most likely go straight into cake cutting. This will only take a few minutes, so enjoy every moment of it.


Next will be either speeches or dinner. This will most likely be determined on if you have a plated dinner or buffet. If you have a buffet you will most likely go right into speeches after the cake cutting. This way guests are not walking around during the speeches. If it is a plated meal you might have speeches throughout the dinner course. The time this takes varies on how many speeches there are, how long they are, and if it happens during dinner or at a separate time. During dinner we can potentially sneak out for some sunset photos while guests are finishing their meal.


Typically after dinner you will have your first dances. After that the dance floor will be open for guests. Your D.J/band will set up the time for a bouquet/garter toss (if applicable) I typically only need 30min-1 hour to capture the open dance floor.


Most Importantly....

Enjoy yourself and be in the moment. By having a timeline to follow you will spend less time stressing and more time focusing on your vows and dance moves!



If you have any questions at all regarding your wedding please feel free to reach out to me at Composedandexposedphoto@gmail.com or call/text 630 200 0111. You can view more blog posts, galleries, reviews, and more here composedandexposedphoto.com

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