I am not going to lie, planning the timeline for your wedding day, ensuring that everyone is where they are supposed to be, and that there are no major issues, is a ton of work. To really nail it down, it takes a lot of planning, and the ability to find the right people to help do the job! That being said, from my experience as a groom, and a photographer, I am going to share my ideal situation in terms of planning the events of the day, as well as my opinion as to why I suggest certain events at certain spots. Thus, while I am putting these rough times and sequence of events out there, it is by no means a perfect schedule for everyone and every situation. Instead, it is here to help give you some food for thought when thinking about this stressful task!
Now – in the words of Dave Damishek – LET IT BEGIN!!!!
- 6-8am bridal party prep begins
- 10am bride prep (Photographer arrives)
- 11am groom prep
- 1pm ceremony
- 1:30 receiving line
- 2:00: family photos
- 2:30: wedding party photos
- 3:00: couple photos
- 5:00: cocktail hour
- 6:00 reception/grand entrance/first dance
- 6:30: grace/dinner (sprinkle speeches in throughout dinner)
- 7:30: parent dances dance
- 8:00: guarder toss/ bouquet toss and cake cutting
While some people may want to capture every moment of their wedding day – which is totally understandable! – I would still recommend having your photographer show up for around 10am, once the girls have gotten most of their makeup on, and have started to work on their hair. The reason for this is due to the fact that the ladies are likely not going to want to have a ton of photos without their makeup as it is going to look odd compared to the photos throughout the rest of the day. This being said, at 10am, I am given a bit of time to have a few conversations with the bride, her parents and the bridal party while also starting to grab a couple shots of the girls and the bridal details (shoes, jewelry, dress, etc). I find it is a perfect icebreaker as I have usually only met the bride at this point as I can get to know everyone and listen in on the telling of stories and get a sense of the personalities in the room for the photos later on. Once the makeup and hair is done for the girls I spend 20 minutes grabbing some shots of them in their morning attire hanging out with the bride, which is then followed by the big moment of putting on the dress before heading out to the wedding ceremony location.
For the groom prep, depending on the travel time needed to the ceremony location, my second shooter will arrive at the location for 10:30-11:00 am so that they can get a few detail shots of the men’s clothing, and jewelry and any other important items. Since the guys don’t usually get makeup done, they will spending the 30ish minutes getting ready and then do some individual portraits before also departing for the ceremony.
Ceremony and the photoshoot
I like to arrive at the ceremony about 30 minutes prior – especially if it is an indoor location – so that I can see how the light is acting and set up my equipment appropriately! This is also a good time to meet the officiant, so that I can ensure that I understand their rules for the ceremony. I find that most officiants are fairly laid back when it comes to the ceremony, but the odd time if a ceremony is at a Catholic Church, they may have different rules as to what a photographer can and cannot do, thus I always check so as to not be a disturbance to anyone during such an important moment!
During the ceremony, my favourite shot to get is the Groom’s reaction to the bride, and thus I usually position myself near the back of the seating area so that I can get my shot, while my second shooter will be at the front in order to get shots of the bride walking down the isle.
If do have a second shooter with me for the wedding, I will often have them reverse mirror my position so that we are never capturing similar shots of each moment. For example, if I am at the front in the middle, I will have them sit at one of the sides of the location and near the back so that they are getting a completely different perspective. At the same time, if I move to the back of the location, they will automatically move to the front. Prior to the ceremony, I will send them to either the bride or groom’s side so that we can reduce foot traffic of switching sides during the ceremony.
I like to the the family photos first because everyone is likely already at the location, they have not started to drink yet and once we get the photos completed, they do not have to worry about anything other than socializing and having a good time! That being said, this is probably the most hectic time during the day for me as it involves a lot of corralling of people from both families. Often times, I will try to start small on either the bride or groom’s family, add in people as I get the shots I need until we have gotten the entire family, at which point I will do the same thing for the other family.
One of the biggest asks I have of my couple on the day of is that if they want to put together a shot list that includes the family members that they want to have photos with on the day of, to give me a family member or someone who will know these people. I ask this because I want to make sure that I can focus on taking the photos and getting the lighting the best it can be instead of tracking down someone who I have never met and ensures that I am able to include everyone the bride and groom wish to have included.
Wedding Party Photos
Similar to the family photos, I want to ensure that the wedding party has a good time as well! But they are usually a smaller group, so they are second on my list after family photos.
For this group I will often start out doing individual portraits of each person, and then having an individual photo with the bride/groom. Once these are done, I like to grab group shots of both the bridal and groom’s party separately, before combining for the big group photos! Usually this doesn’t take more than 30-40 minutes, which means that if the bridal party has the option to head to the reception, they can do so while the couple and I have a fun adventure together!
Probably my favourite part of the day is when I get to have out with the bride and groom alone! During this time, I like to start by giving the couple as much space as possible so that I can give them some alone time for their first time as a married couple!!! With the help of one of my longer lenses, I find that I am able to capture some really awesome, raw, organic reactions and moments between the couple. From here, I will then start to work through some poses that I have often planned out the previous few days, or work with the couple on posing for whatever they have requested on the shot list.
Here I use my second shooter to help with lighting. I find that I have been incorporating more off-camera flash to the outdoor sessions to achieve a specific look, so they are help for that, while also providing input on specific locations in the area that we should hit up. This helps me focus on getting my couple into strong poses and set them up for moment that I can capture!
For this session I ask the couple to plan a minimum of 45 minutes, but I am not going to complain if there is 90+ minutes! Realistically the more time we have, the more poses we can do and potentially the more locations as well! That being said, I try to always be aware of how the bride and groom are feeling and cutting the session off when I feel the energy dip as I want the bride and groom to love their entire wedding day and not get tired out by me!
By the time we get to the cocktail hour, I find that my couples are a little photoed out – which is totally fair! Thus, during this time I try hit up the reception hall so that I can get some detail shots of the tables and decor, and once I have captured these, I make sure that my lighting is set up to help properly light the grand entrance, the head table, the podium for speeches, and dance floor.
If I have a second shooter, I will likely have them help with the detail shots and lighting setup, but also get them to hit the cocktail hour to help get some shots of the guests mingling and having a good time.
The reception usually starts off with the bride and groom being introduced for the first time as a married couple – I know super exciting, although I was super, duper nervous about walking into a large venue of people on my wedding day!!! For us, at this point we walked in and went straight into our first dance because we felt that we were already standing, and it felt great to get that out of the way so that we could relax a bit during dinner and the speeches. Although, as a photographer, I have seen couples walk in and cut the cake, or go straight into speeches as well.
During dinner, people usually are not the happiest about having themselves photographed while enjoying their food, thus I tend to focus on getting some awesome ring shots utilizing some of the decorations or a few of the venue’s unique features, after which I try to get in a few bites of food myself and network a bit with the other vendors. I will mention here that in terms of what I capture, I do not usually take pictures of the food during the night – other than the cake – as the food is less about capturing and more about eating, YUM! But, if there is something about the food that is important to you, please let me know and I will do my best to capture a few frames of it before it is devoured.
Speeches and Parent Dances
For the speeches at my own wedding, we had people speak in between courses at dinner, as we didn’t want them to take too much time or totally disrupt the flow of the evening. This being said, I know that a number of people like to have to get dinner out of the way so that the bar able to reopen and people can solely focus on what is being said.
As for the parent dances, these are the final steps before everyone hitting the dance floor and are a time that I love to use to experiment in order to capture some of the fun moments! These dances have always come after dinner and usually once speeches are completed.
Oh yea, time to hit the dance floor! This is probably the least stressful part as there are no major moments to capture, it is all about getting photos of people having a good time! For this, I tend to put down my 2nd camera and throw on my 45mm lens so that I can get a slightly less wide angle shot of people. It is also here that I am able to have a little fun with lighting as I can experiment with some gels, and the type/style of lighting I want to create. The only thing I try to be careful of is to not capture people that are too drunk, which is why I usually only stay to 10pm at the latest, as I find that after this people start to feel the effects of all the shots at the bar!
Guarder/Bouquet tosses and cake cutting
Usually these events are held until the end of the night. I must admit that I have seen less grooms doing the guarder toss at night, but the single ladies always know what to do when Beyonce comes on the speakers!
In terms of timing, I am trowing these at the end of the article because you can sprinkle them into the night wherever you want and I have found that my couples usually have looser plans for these events as they are fun, relaxed on only take 5 minutes to set up.
As for the cake cutting, this tends to be a low key event with the couple often trying to just quickly get a couple of images of them cutting their wedding cake before I depart for the evening.
Anyways, I hope this helps give you some insights as to what I am thinking and looking for at certain parts of the day, and if you want to do something differently I am totally down to help capture whatever you want YOUR WEDDING to be!
I also wanted to mention here that I did not talk about a first look, and the reason for this is that when you have a 1pm wedding, I do find it a bit harder – although totally doable! – to fit this in. Instead, I find that first looks are often done on wedding days where the ceremony is between 3-6pm.
Lastly, if you think that something should be done at a different time, comment below! I would love to hear what other brides/photographers have done/seen!!!