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I had a friend that once said to a fellow Bride, “If you ever want to know how to schedule your wedding day then you should just ask a photographer, they know how much time you need for everything.” I had to agree because your photographer goes through the same exact timelines multiple times a year. Today I’d love to give you some beneficial tips as well as a timeline example I use for all of my couples to plan from.

Tip #1: Getting Ready

If you have multiple Bridesmaids getting ready together then hire multiple people to do hair and make-up at the same time. This eliminates all the waiting time. If the Bride has one person working on their hair and make-up the whole time it’ll keep the other bridesmaids from delaying your timeline.

Tip #2: Bridal Details

Schedule your photographer to show up just before your make-up is applied. This will give them time to grab some Bridal detail shots. No one wants photos of them without make-up right? If all of your Bridal details are ready and in one place it helps the photographer get right to work and use less of the timeline. When I arrive to weddings I’ve had Brides with a box of stuff ready to go which gets me excited because then I have more time to work out pretty detail images.

Tip #3: Less is More

I’ve had many couples in the past that schedule their day with one thing after another. Giving yourself plenty of time with little to do will really help you enjoy your day. This means less time feeling anxious about when needs to be done and what happening next. Which brings me to my next tip

Tip #4: Consider a First Look

I have several pages in my Bridal Guide about why I love first looks and why couples do to. If you could imagine for a moment, what it would be like spending private moments together without everyone around, just the two of you. I’ll grab some images of you when you first see one another, the reactions, but then you’ll get to enjoy moments soaking in your day and reflect on why you both are starting a marriage. In addition to alone time this will give you the opportunity to get multiple portraits of just the two of you immediately after. You know the images you’ll want to hang on the walls in your home and place in your wedding album.

Tip #5: Family Formals

I can tell you that this might be one of the most stressful parts of the whole day. The main reason that is, is because most of it is spent rounding up family members who have wandered off. I suggest limiting family formals to 15 or less groupings. I also love it when a family member helps me by rounding up the groupings since I have no Idea who most of them are. If family formals are very important to you then you’ll want to make sure to clearly communicate to your family where they need to be and when so that they are ready to go quickly.

HERE IS THE LIST OF MY STANDARD FAMILY FORMALS:

B&G with Bride’s Immediate Family  

B&G with Bride’s Parents

B&G with Bride’s Siblings

Bride with her Parents

Bride with Mom, Bride with Dad

B&G with Bride’s Grandparents

B&G with both sets of Parents

B&G with Groom’s Immediate Family  

B&G with Groom’s Parents

B&G with Groom’s Siblings

Groom with his Parents

Groom with Mom, Groom with Dad

B&G with Groom’s Grandparents

Tip #6: Controlled Exit

If you don’t have a lot of time for your photography you should consider a “Controlled Exit”! This is more common than you may think. Instead of saving your exit until the very end, you can plan one with just the members of your bridal party and a few family members right before reception introductions! This allows me to have more control over these shots and the party NEVER has to stop! Not to mention jackets, ties, boutonnières, and bouquets will all still be intact. In most cases, no one even notices it’s happening because they will all be in the reception area.  Plus then you can still have beautiful light. 

Tip #7: The Reception

Keep all the top activities at the top of your activities list. I always say that if you’re going to do cake cutting then to do this as soon as possible. I know from experience that Grandma always loves this sweet tradition. Keeping these at the beginning of the reception allows guests who aren’t able to party the night away to experience it too. One of the most beautiful receptions I attended was when the Bride and Groom were announced they walked in, did their first dance, and had their cake right before dinner. (Who doesn’t love dessert first?) It was so fun to see all the guests standing around them during their first dance instead of them sitting at their tables, eating dessert and scrolling through their phones.

HERE IS MY SAMPLE TIMELINES FOR A WEDDING BASED OFF 8 HOURS OF COVERAGE

I know this isn’t the most exciting aspect of the wedding day, but this is the one thing that can make or break your photography! This example will outline an ideal wedding day working off of a 6pm ceremony time frame and involves a first look. 90% of my couples choose to do a first look, and you can read more about that option in my Bridal guide upon booking! Remember that all wedding days are different, and your timeline may differ due to travel times and unique situations.

2:30-3:15 BRIDAL DETAILS: Every bride loves having those beautiful shots of her bridal details. It’s an important part of the story and I love having some time to shoot the dress, shoes, jewelry, invitations, etc. These shots 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, my assistant will begin photographing the boys close to 40 minutes before the first look since it always takes them less time to get dressed!

3:15-3:45 BRIDAL PREP: After the details have been photographed, it’s time for the bride to get into her dress! This is a big moment! I usually 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. This ensures 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!

4:00 FIRST LOOK: This is one of my favorite parts of the wedding day! I will find the perfect location for my couple’s First Look prior to the getting ready portion of the day! Don’t stress about that one bit! I will make sure the location is private and as secluded as possible.

4:15-4:45 PORTRAITS: After the bride and groom take their time with the First Look, I will begin taking a few romantic portraits of the two of them while the initial excitement is still present! 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!

4:50-5:20 BRIDAL PARTY PORTRAITS: Now it’s time for Bridal Party shots! 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 put the boutonnieres on the guys BEFORE they arrive for portraits. During Bridal Party portraits, my assistant and I will make sure to take some great shots of the guys and girls both separately AND together! After bridal party portraits are complete, the bride will go into hiding so that early guests don’t sneak a peek and the ushers will begin their duties.

5:30-5:50 RECEPTION DETAILS: If the reception is in the same location as the ceremony, I will use this time to 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!

6:00-6:30 CEREMONY: It’s time to get married!! Most ceremonies are 30 minutes long. If your ceremony is longer than 30 mins, we’ll make adjustments to the timeline! Cherish these moments! Your ceremony will pass by so quickly!

6:40-7:10 FAMILY PORTRAITS: 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. 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 recommend shooting portraits outdoors if possible so that they resemble more natural family portraits, especially if the ceremony location is dark!

7:15-7:30 JUST MARRIED PORTRAITS: 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. I love having a few extra minutes with the bride and groom to take a few “Just Married” portraits right after family formals!

7:30 RECEPTION BEGINS: This is when the bridal party lines up for introductions and the party begins!! By this part of the day, my timeline isn’t as 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!

10:30 THE EXIT: I include 8 hours of coverage so that I can be present for the main events of the reception and about an hour of dancing! If you’re interested in having your exit photographed, there are several options for this! You can either add additional coverage or plan a faux exit with just your bridal party! I’ve had GREAT success with this and the party never stops! Email me about this if you’re interested in learning more!

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Hi I'm Kara. WEST MICHIGAN PHOTOGRAPHER, WIFE, AND MOM OF TWO. I STRIVE TO TEACH MORE ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHY AND HOW TO GET THE BEST FROM YOUR IMAGES. I'M SO GLAD YOU'RE HERE!

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