Since wedding season is about to kick back up, I’ve been in full planning mode with my brides! Two months before their wedding day, I come alongside each Rachael Leigh Bride to create a custom timeline that ensures that it goes exactly according to plan and that guarantees that they’ll get the best photographs in their final gallery! This process has been exclusive to my brides, until now! Today I’m sharing the timing structure I use to craft each and every wedding timeline! From the start of the photography portion of the day until the end, we structure everything according to a set plan and it is the secret to how we are able to accomplish so much in a short amount of time! If you’ve ever scrolled through any of my wedding blog posts and wondered how we were able to get so many pictures and capture so many moments, THIS IS HOW!
You’ll find a list of all portions of a wedding day below and the exact amount of time we allot for each. Feel free to use this as a guide when making your very own custom timeline for your day. I hope it helps answer a lot of your questions! And I can almost guarantee that your photographer will thank you for thinking of what they need and what they’re looking for!
Bridal Details – 40-45 minutes
Each bride puts so much love and intention into her bridal details. She may include an heirloom from her grandma or she got to have her dream pair of shoes. These are the small things that usually only the bride sees and knows. So, it’s an important part of the story. I love having some time to shoot the dress, shoes, jewelry, invitations, etc. because it’s a part of the day that not everyone sees or notices. These shots tell a grander story of the day. And they also allow me to get warmed up for the rest of the big day. I normally like to allow at least 45 minutes for this part of the day. While I’m shooting details, I’m also capturing some shots of the bride and her girls getting ready! If the groom is getting ready nearby, MD will begin photographing the boys close to 40 minutes before the first look since it always takes them less time to get dressed!
Bridal Prep – 25-30 minutes
After the details have been photographed and everyone is ready, it’s time for the bride to get into her dress! This is a huge moment! I typically ask the mother of the bride and all of the bridesmaids to be dressed by the time the bride is ready to get into her dress. Why? Because I’ve found when the bride is surrounded by the ladies that love her most and their attention is solely on her, the stress diminishes, she can just breath and take in every moment as it comes rather than rushing around to ensure everything and everyone is ready. This also guarantees that everyone will look nice in those images. After the bride is in her gown, she can put on her jewelry, veil, shoes, etc. and I will shoot some additional bridal portraits!
First Look – 15 minutes
This is one of my favorite parts of the wedding day! Why? Because the groom gets to see his girl as she walks toward him and then can immediately take it all in and tell her how beautiful she is. They can embrace, freely express what they’re feeling and just soak everything in for that moment without any onlookers and without fanfare. Just the two of them. I will find the perfect location for my couple’s First Look prior to the getting ready portion of the day! You don’t have to worry about that one bit! I will make sure the location is private and as secluded as possible.
Bride & Groom Portraits – 30 minutes
After the bride and groom take their time with the First Look, I will begin taking a few portraits of the two of them while the initial excitement is still present! Just imagine what those will look like! The fresh tears and joy still mingling from the First Look will then spill over into those portraits! Gah! It just makes me so excited! I will find the locations for these shots as well! Remember, the LIGHT determines where we shoot and so I can’t decide on portrait locations until the day-of. As we shoot these portraits, the bridal party can start making their way to us for Bridal Party portraits!
Bridal Party Portraits – 30 – 40 minutes
Now it’s time for Bridal Party shots! The bride and groom get to go from that time alone to now spending time with their best friends! It’s such a great transition and when everyone gets together the excitement and joy just multiply! One thing to note, I buffer in extra time throughout the day just in case we have some unexpected things that hold us up! One way to make sure we stay on schedule for bridal party portraits is to have someone ready to put the boutonnieres on the guys BEFORE they arrive for portraits. During Bridal Party portraits, I will make sure to take some great shots of the guys and girls both separately AND together! After bridal party portraits are finished, the bride will go into hiding so that early guests don’t sneak a peek, and the ushers will begin their duties.
Untouched Reception Details – 20 minutes
If the reception is in the same location as the ceremony, I will use this time to set up my reception lighting and shoot the reception decor UNTOUCHED. If the ceremony and reception are in different locations, I recommend having a cocktail hour outside of the main reception area if possible so that I can grab some great shots of your reception before the night begins and guests start laying down purses and coats on their seats! Why is this important? It’s another way that I tell the story of the entire day. You’ve put so much hard work into every little element that surrounds your day. From the centerpieces to the cake table, each thing was thought out and styled perfectly. My favorite way to honor your hard work is by ensuring that I have at least a few minutes to capture it all! I try to get a shot of the entire room as a whole and then capture each little detail! You may not think of these pictures at first, but trust me, you’ll thank me later!
Ceremony – typically 30 minutes
It’s time to get married!! Most ceremonies are typically 30 minutes long. If your ceremony is longer than 30 mins, we’ll just make adjustments to the timeline! Enjoy these moments! Your ceremony will pass by so quickly!
Family Portraits – 30 minutes
Family formals normally take place immediately following the ceremony. It’s best to save all of the family formals until after the ceremony because ALL family members will be present at that time. One way to make sure that this goes smoothly is to inform the family members who are set to be in the photos. If they know ahead of time that they’re expected to linger after the ceremony, then we won’t have to go off looking for one person to be in a photo!
We’ll need about 30 minutes for family formals and I will send a questionnaire before the wedding where you can list out the shots that you want. I do recommend shooting these portraits outdoors if possible so that they resemble more natural family portraits, especially if the ceremony location is dark! It also saves us time because if we have them inside and it is dark, I’ll have to take an extra few minutes to set up off camera lighting to make the location the best for photos. Outdoor and natural light is always my favorite!
Just Married Portraits – 15-20 minutes
After your ceremony and family portraits, my favorite thing is to sneak away with the bride and groom and grab some extra portraits! I call them “Just Married Portraits”! The excitement of being officially husband and wife makes these extra special! Also, these guarantee that you’ll get a minute to yourselves after your ceremony and before the reception begins! 7:00pm is the BEST time of day for portraits in the late spring, summer and early fall! This is when the sun is glowy and golden. Another alternative to these would be sunset portraits! So, if the gap between the ceremony and reception isn’t right for that golden light, we can always sneak out of your reception for 10 minutes and capture them then! Or both works, too! The more portrait time you have, the bigger your gallery will be!
Let’s celebrate! This is when the bridal party lines up for introductions and the party begins!! And before you officially enter, I always buffer in time for the bride to bustle her dress and touch up her makeup, if needed. By this part of the day, my timeline isn’t so strict. I work off of the natural light and so after the sun is set, my portrait time is over and I begin focusing on the reception events!
I include 8 hours of coverage for every wedding so that I can be present for the main events of the reception and about an hour of dancing! Remember, my main goal is to tell the entire story of your wedding day! And 8hrs of coverage is the best way to do that! If you’re interested in having your exit photographed, there are multiple options for this! You can either add additional coverage or plan a faux exit with just your bridal party and immediate family! This has worked for me multiple times and the party never stops! Just be sure that whoever is involved in this knows ahead of time that they need to be there! Email me about this if you’re interested in learning more!
- DETAILS & PREP : 1.5 HOURS
- FIRST LOOK & PORTRAITS : 30-40 MINS
- BRIDAL PARTY : 30-40 MINS
- FAMILY FORMALS: 30 MINS
- EXTRA PORTRAIT TIME : AS MUCH TIME AS YOU’LL GIVE ME!