How to create the perfect timeline for your wedding day!

Planning your wedding day timeline with your photographer is crucial for capturing those magical moments. As an experienced wedding photographer in Asheville, I’ve seen firsthand how poor planning can impact the quality of wedding photos. By discussing and coordinating your day with your photographer, you can ensure that each moment is perfectly timed for the best light and settings, whether it’s the golden hour at Craggy Gardens or family portraits in a well-lit area. This collaboration not only helps in creating stunning images but also ensures a seamless, stress-free celebration where every precious memory is beautifully documented.

A stunning Asheville elopement captured in breathtaking photography, featuring a bride and groom toasting with a bottle of wine on top of a mountain.

Having started my journey as a destination wedding photographer, I bring a wealth of experience and knowledge about light and its impact on capturing beautiful moments. My expertise allows me to work seamlessly with all seasons, ensuring your day’s timeline runs smoothly whether it’s a fall wedding or a spring celebration. Each season has its unique magic, and I know how to capture it perfectly. From winter weddings in Miami to spring cherry blossom ceremonies in Washington DC, I guide every couple in planning the best times for photos based on location, lighting, and style, ensuring your special day is documented in the most stunning way possible.

I believe in building a relationship with my clients, which is why I take the time to listen to your needs and help you manage your expectations. From an intimate rustic wedding in Asheville to a grandiose wedding in New York, I want to capture the essence of the day for you to cherish forever.

wedding reception on the beach at newport beach house in newport rhode island

What to consider when creating your wedding photography timeline!

What time is the sunset on your wedding day?

Do you want a first look?

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.

couple dancing in each others faces surrounded by friends at a wedding in asheville nc

How much time do we need on wedding day for photos!

Before diving into the specifics of each season, I like to outline general guidelines for how long things take on your wedding day. Depending on whether you’re having a first look and if there’s travel involved, I sometimes start up to 5 hours before the ceremony to ensure we capture everything beautifully.

  • 1-4 hours for details and getting ready: I typically arrive an hour after hair and makeup begin. During this time, I capture invitations, shoes, jewelry, and other important details. I always ask the bride to place these items in a clean, uncluttered area. If the dress needs moving, one of your bridesmaids will help, maintaining the authenticity of the moment.

  • 30 minutes for getting dressed: Every dress is different, and this time also allows for a restroom break before events kick off.

  • 30 minutes for first look: If this occurs at a separate location, we add extra travel time to avoid rushing.

  • 15 minutes for family photos: This covers individual family portraits with parents, etc.

  • 30 minutes for combined family portraits: These can be done before or after the ceremony, depending on whether you had a first look.

  • 10 minutes for bridal party portraits: Often done before the ceremony if there’s a first look.

  • 25-30 minutes for sunset portraits: A must-have! I schedule these around 10 minutes before sunset to capture the golden hour and the afterglow.

  • Travel time: If everything is in one location, it’s much easier. If not, we need to account for travel time and ensure transportation is arranged.

When things run behind on a wedding day, it’s often due to unclear logistics or lack of discussion with your photographer and planner. To make sure every moment is captured beautifully, we’ll discuss all these details in our meetings.

Asheville wedding photographer Michael Freas captures a bride and groom standing in front of a cross at sunrise at Pretty Place wedding venue.

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 if we dont want a first look?

Consider a summer wedding date! In the spring and summer, most cerem ony 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!

Sunset Wedding Ceremonies

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.

A stunning bride and groom captured by an Asheville wedding photographer on a mountain peak at sunset.

What if I want to create my own timeline to give to my wedding planner/venue?

Feel free to explore the timelines below, but here are some quick shortcuts for creating your own wedding day schedule, especially if everything is happening at one location. Ideally, the ceremony should be an hour and a half to two hours before sunset, which works perfectly for fall and winter weddings but might need adjustment for spring and summer. Including your photographer in these discussions ensures everything is timed perfectly. If you’re having a first look, start pre-ceremony photography 4 hours before; without a first look, start 3 hours prior. Each couple’s timeline is unique, and it’s crucial to consider when your photography coverage ends, especially if it’s hourly. Plan the last major reception event 30 minutes before your photographer leaves to allow a buffer for delays. For full-day coverage, I’m there from start to finish, capturing every moment over 10-14 hours. Smaller weddings under 50 guests typically require about 8 hours. 

Sample 8 Hour Timeline With A First Look

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

FALL WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY TIMELINES

Fall weddings in Asheville, NC are undeniably enchanting. With breathtaking fall foliage and crisp, cool air, it’s the perfect time to celebrate your big day. The golden hues of leaves turning yellow, orange, and red offer a stunning backdrop for photography. If you’re planning a fall wedding in Asheville, consider that sunset times might affect your schedule, but an early evening ceremony can be magical. Known for its picturesque mountain views, Asheville’s October temperatures range from the mid-50s to low 70s, providing comfortable weather all day. Asheville offers diverse venues, from luxurious resorts to intimate retreats, historical mansions to verdant wineries. The thriving local food culture means you’ll find excellent catering options with farm-to-table menus. With thoughtful planning, a fall wedding in Asheville promises to be memorable, magical, and a true reflection of your love story.

Fall Wedding Photography 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 Photography 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

wedding couple throwing hands up in the air in celebration after just being married at twickenham house

WINTER WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY 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 Photography 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 Photography 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

wedding couple embracing with sun flare in asheville nc

SPRING WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY 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 Photography 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 Photography 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

wedding couple standing on dock in wilmington nc at sunset with the sun setting directly behind them

SUMMER WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY 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 Photography 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 Photography 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

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!

North Carolina Mountain Wedding Venues

Wedding Planners to work with in Asheville, NC

Downtown Asheville Wedding Venues

Destination Weddings in the Florida Keys