Wedding Day Timelines - What to consider and how to plan your day around photography!

What is the one thing you should always discuss with your photographer, before planning?

Your wedding day timeline!

A well-planned timeline will help your day flow smoothly for when things run behind (as they inevitably do!) so you wont be rushed. It also helps you plan your day around photography, rather than photography around your day.

bride and bridesmaids laughing while walking

I was a destination wedding photographer before opening up my new studio as an Asheville wedding photographer.  That gives me a very large idea of how light works, and when are the best times for photos.  I have helped every couple I work with on their wedding day timeline, so that they can speak with their planners about their day. There is a huge difference in timelines depending on your wedding season, so lets talk about all the seasons, since I work pretty much year round in multiple markets like Asheville, Key West, Miami, New York and Washington DC.

What to Consider When Creating Your Timeline

  1. What time is the sunset on your wedding day?
  2. Do you want a first look?
  3. Does your venue have flexibility in your ceremony start time?

The last question is if you’re getting married and having the reception at the same venue – in fact, the timelines below are specifically for that type of venue, as most of my couples weddings that I photograph take place at the same venue as their reception.

How Much Time Do We Need On Wedding Day

Before going over each season, I like to establish general guidelines for how long things take on the wedding day. Depending on if you’re having a first look and if there’s travel involved, I sometimes start up to 5 hours before the ceremony.  Every wedding is different, so thats why we spend the time discussing you as a couple first, so that I know what we need for wedding day!

  • 1 hours for details and getting ready: When I arrive on-site, the bride is typically in final getting ready stages of hair and makeup, and I spend that time photographing the invitations, shoes, jewelry, and anything else important to the couple!  I always ask the bride to place those details somewhere clean and non cluttered.  If we move the dress we get one of your girls to help us.  I dont touch the dress, I dont move it, because I am not part of the storyline.
  • 30 minutes for getting dressed: We all know that every dress is different.  Some take no time to put on, others take some time.  This also allows you to use the restroom before the events kick off.
  • 30 minutes for first look: if this is taking place on a site other than the getting-ready location, we add extra time for travel!  We dont want to rush
  • 15 minutes for family photos: this is for family photos on each side of the family. For instance, the bride with just her parents, the groom with just his parents, etc.
  • 30 minutes for combined family portraits: these can take place before or after the ceremony depending on if the couple has had a first look.
  • 30 minutes for bridal party portraits: these sometimes also take place before the ceremony with a first look.
  • 20 minutes for sunset portraits: a must on your wedding day! I like to do these about 10 mins prior to sunset, and stay for the after glow and blue hour which is about 15 mins after. Depending on the season, sometimes this is during cocktail hour, and for summer weddings, during the dance portion of the reception!
  • Travel time: if everything is in one location, this makes things the easiet! If you’re going to 2-3 locations on your wedding day, it’s critical you note this time on your info forms I send, but also in our meetings. We also need to have transportation lined up, so people will get where they’re going! I do not transport guests or the couple due to insurance restrictions and guidelines.

 

Many times when things run behind on a wedding day, it’s because people weren’t sure where they needed to be or how they were supposed to get to their destination.  Its also because they never discussed this with their photographer and planner.  If every moment is important, then make sure to discuss this in our meetings.

bride and groom first look

The First Look

Ah, the first look! You’ve likely heard of the first look by now, where the couple see each other before the ceremony. This is a highly personal decision, and I will say that I am not a fan of them.  Regardless there are a few situations where they help with the timeline.

You want a lot of couples photos,and a variety of locations on your wedding day. 

If you look at my guidelines for portraits, you will see many times that seem like a lot of time. Without a first look, all those portraits need to be squeezed into cocktail hour and after the ceremony. If you want multiple locations that are off-site for your portraits then a first look is a must.  

The Sun Sets at Different Times of the Year. 

When a couple gets married in the summer, the sun can set at 8:00 PM or later. This means you get “bonus” extra time where I can take them you out during dinner for another 20 minutes and get some gorgeous sunset portraits. Having extra time in the evening helps to not only get beautiful sunset images, but it’s there in case portraits during cocktail hour took longer than anticipated.  This off course depends on your group.  Attentive groups take no time, but when we start looking for people who wandered off things get short, QUICK!

What To Do If You Don’t Want a First Look But You Also Want Couples Portrait Variety

Consider a summer wedding date! In the spring and summer, most ceremony times are set between 5-6pm. This means you’ll have 2-3 hours of post-ceremony sunlight, which translates to more time for gorgeous images at your wedding venue.  Its also when the light is at its BEST!!!! 99% of the time first looks are when the light is the harshest, so you dont have the opportunity to get those intimate portraits.  Instead you sweat your ass off!

What To Do If You Want Your Ceremony at Sunset

Ceremony sunsets are absolutely gorgeous! The light is soft and typically “wraps” around the couple in an extremely flattering and romantic way!  I have photographed many at sunset, and although tough timeline wise, they are magical!

If you want sunset ceremony images, then I definitely recommend a first look so you can get important portraits completed prior to the ceremony. Otherwise every image after the ceremony is going to involve flash, and no sunlight. There’s always residual light after the sun goes past the horizon, but it doesn’t last long! Its also not ideal for photos.

bride and groom at sunset on mountain top

You Want to Create Your Own Timeline

Feel free to take a look at the timelines below! However, I do have a few quick shortcuts to creating your own timeline. The estimates below are based on weddings where everything is taking place at one location.

For me, the ideal ceremony time is an hour and a half to two hours before sunset. As I mentioned previously, a lot of spring and summer weddings have a ceremony time of 5:00, regardless of sunset time. Sometimes its dependant on the venues guidelines, so this tip may be more applicable to fall and winter weddings. This is why its important to include your photographer in all of these discussions

If you’re having a first look, your pre-ceremony photography coverage should start 4 hours before your ceremony.

Without a first look, your pre-ceremony photography coverage should start 3 hours before your ceremony.

Fall Wedding Timelines

For a fall wedding, we’ll be using a date of October 18th and the time the sun sets in Asheville where I am currently working, on this day, at 6:51 PM.

Positives for a Fall Wedding

  • Fall color! A gorgeous time of year to get married! I think its my favorite!

 

Negatives for a Fall Wedding

  • Sunset time could be a factor depending on how late in the fall your wedding date falls.  So know that, embrace it, and update your timeline to reflect that.  Remember its YOUR wedding, not the venues.

Fall Wedding Timeline Without a First Look

6:51 PM sunset

Ideal ceremony time – 5:00 PM

2:00: Details and getting ready

3:00: Get dressed

3:30: Individual family photos

4:00: Bridal party photos

4:30: Pre-ceremony portraits conclude / photograph ceremony site and guests entering

5:00: Ceremony (30 minutes)

5:30 – 5:50: Family portraits

5:50 – 6:10: Bridal party portraits

6:10 – 6:30: Married couple portraits

6:35: Grand entrance into reception

6:45-7:10: Sunset Portraits

Fall Wedding Timeline With a First Look

6:51 PM sunset

Ideal ceremony time – 5:00 PM

1:00: Details and getting ready

2:00: Get dressed

2:30: First look

3:15: Individual family photos, followed by combined family photos

3:45: Bridal party photos

4:15: Pre-ceremony portraits conclude / photograph ceremony site and guests entering

5:00: Ceremony (30 minutes)

5:30 – 6:00: Any additional family portraits / bridal party portraits the couple wants

6:00 – 6:20: Married couple portraits

6:25: Grand entrance into reception

6:45-7:10: Sunset Portraits

Winter Wedding Timelines

For a winter wedding, we’ll be using a date of January 15th and the time the sun sets in Asheville on this day, 5:41 PM.

Positives for a Winter Wedding 

  • This is the “off-season” for many venues and you may be able to secure a discounted rate for your event.  Just dont ask your photographer for a discounted rate.  We hate that!
  • I find winter light to be very pretty but can also be tricky! 

 

Negatives for a Winter Wedding

  • The sun sets very early, so you should definitely work with a venue that can accommodate an early afternoon ceremony
  • It’s at a lower angle and softer compared to summer light.  Sometimes the light will have more of a blue hue vs the warm summer light.

Winter Wedding Timeline Without a First Look

5:41 PM sunset

Ideal ceremony time – 3:30 PM

12:30: Details and getting ready

1:30: Get dressed

2:00: Individual family photos

2:30: Bridal party photos

3:00: Pre-ceremony portraits conclude / photograph ceremony site and guests entering

3:30: Ceremony (30 minutes)

4:00 – 4:20: Family portraits

4:20 – 4:40: Bridal party portraits

4:40 – 5:00: Married couple portraits

5:15: Grand entrance into reception

Winter Wedding Timeline With a First Look

5:41 PM sunset

Ideal ceremony time – 3:30 PM

11:30: Details and getting ready

12:30: Get dressed

1:00: First look

1:45: Individual family photos, followed by combined family photos

2:30: Bridal party photos

3:00: Pre-ceremony portraits conclude / photograph ceremony site and guests entering

3:30: Ceremony (30 minutes)

4:00 – 4:30: Any additional family portraits / bridal party portraits the couple wants

4:30 – 5:00: Married couple portraits

5:15: Grand entrance into reception

Spring Wedding Timelines

For a spring wedding, we’ll be using a date of April 10th (my birthday) and the time the sun sets in Asheville on this day, 7:59 PM.

Positives for a Spring Wedding

  • You’re just starting to see spring blooms and color! A very pretty time of the year.
  • Sunset is later and always much warmer in hue.
  • Its my birth season!

 

Negatives for a Spring Wedding

  • Depending on the time of the year and your region of the country, weather can be unpredictable.  Who are we joking…its 2022 now…weather at ALL TIMES is unpredictable.

Spring Wedding Timeline Without a First Look

7:59 PM sunset

Ideal ceremony time – 5:30 PM

2:00: Details and getting ready

3:00: Get dressed

3:30: Individual family photos

4:00: Bridal party photos

4:30: Pre-ceremony portraits conclude / photograph ceremony site and guests entering

5:30: Ceremony (30 minutes)

6:00 – 6:45: Family portraits, Bridal party portraits

7:05: Grand entrance into reception

7:45 – 8:15: Married couple portraits

Spring Wedding Timeline With a First Look

7:59 PM sunset

Ideal ceremony time – 5:00 PM

1:00: Details and getting ready

2:00: Get dressed

3:15: First look

3:45: Individual family photos, followed by combined family photos

4:00: Bridal party photos

4:15: Pre-ceremony portraits conclude / photograph ceremony site and guests entering

5:00: Ceremony (30 minutes)

5:30 – 6:00: Any additional family portraits / bridal party portraits the couple wants

6:00 – 6:45: Married couple portraits

7:00: Grand entrance into reception

Summer Wedding Timelines

For a summer wedding, we’ll be using a date of July 4th (Merica!) and the time the sun sets in Asheville on this day, 8:49 PM.

Positives for a Summer Wedding

  • Many venues have a 5:00/6:00 ceremony start time in the spring and summer. This means you usually get “bonus” portrait time during your reception when there’s still light outside!
  • If you want to spend cocktail hour with your guests, this is the best time of year for your wedding. After the ceremony I usually take any remaining family portraits and additional bridal party photos the couple wants before they head to cocktail hour.

 

Negatives for a Summer Wedding

  • It can be a very hot time of the year. For the east coast, August and September are the hottest months of the year. Be prepared for high humidity and high feels like temps.  Shade and fans are a must for these events!

Summer Wedding Timeline Without a First Look

8:49 PM sunset

Likely ceremony time – 5:00 PM

2:00: Details and getting ready

3:00: Get dressed

3:30: Individual family photos

4:00: Bridal party photos

4:30: Pre-ceremony portraits conclude / photograph ceremony site and guests entering

5:00: Ceremony (30 minutes)

5:30 – 5:50: Family portraits

5:50 – 6:10: Bridal party portraits

6:10 – 6:45: Married couple portraits

7:00: Grand entrance into reception

8:30-9:05: Sunset portraits with married couple

Summer Wedding Timeline With a First Look

8:49 PM sunset

Likely ceremony time – 5:00 PM

1:00: Details and getting ready

2:00: Get dressed

2:30: First look

3:15: Individual family photos, followed by combined family photos

4:00: Bridal party photos

4:30: Pre-ceremony portraits conclude / photograph ceremony site and guests entering

5:00: Ceremony (30 minutes)

5:30 – 6:00: Any additional family portraits / bridal party portraits the couple wants

6:00 – 6:45: Married couple portraits

7:00: Grand entrance into reception

8:30-9:05: Sunset portraits with married couple

Reception Timeline

Each couple has a different approach to their celebration of events! One important note when planning reception events is what time your photography coverage concludes, especially if you have hired me for hourly only.  I offer hourly, 8 hours, and full day.  If you have me for the full day, you can skip this section, because I stay through the very end of the reception. 

If you have a scheduled photography end time due to your collection, you should plan to have your last major reception event 30 minutes before your photographer leaves. This leaves a bit of a buffer just in case things run a bit behind.  This is very important for sparkler exits, fireworks, classic car exits, etc.

8 hours is a typical wedding photography collection for the couples I work with.  Destination couples generally are the full day, and smaller weddings under 50 guests are about 6 hours; below is a typical 8 hour wedding day timeline during the summer.

Summer Wedding Timeline Guide with 8pm Sunset

8:00 PM sunset

Likely ceremony time – 6:00 PM

2:00: Details and getting ready

3:00: Get dressed

3:30: First look

4:15: Individual family photos, followed by combined family photos

5:00: Bridal party photos

5:30: Pre-ceremony portraits conclude / photograph ceremony site and guests entering

6:00: Ceremony (30 minutes)

6:30 – 7:00: Any additional family portraits / bridal party portraits the couple wants

7:35: Grand entrance into reception

7:40: Couples’ first dance

7:50 – 8:10: Married couple portraits

8:00: Dinner + toasts

8:45:: Father/daughter and mother/son dance, dancefloor opens

10:00: Photography concludes

wedding guests taking shots at reception

I like to be helpful with my couples while you plan your wedding! Always speak with your photographer before making suggestions or planning with your wedding planner.  Each couple has an individual approach to their day, and so does every wedding photographer.

Looking For More Wedding Planning Resources?

See the links below for more helpful tools as you plan your wedding day!

12 North Carolina Mountain Wedding Venues

Perfect AirBnb’s for a NC Elopement

Wedding Planners to work with in Asheville, NC

Downtown Asheville Wedding Venues

Destination Weddings in the Florida Keys

Professional Wedding Photography in Asheville NC and  in the Florida Keys

Are you looking for a photographer to document your epic wedding day? I’d love to talk to you more about my documentary style and approach to wedding photography. Whether you are getting married in Western North Caroloina or somewhere like Key West, let’s talk! I’d love to talk to you more about my documentary style and approach to wedding photography.

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