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Wedding Photography Timeline | Tips | Courtland Photography

Planning your wedding timeline can be a daunting task, especially if you don’t have a wedding planner to help you along the way. Luckily I have your back!

I’d like to share some tips and insights I’ve gathered over the years that will help plan your wedding timeline efficiently so you can actually enjoy your big day. 

Like most things, weddings can come in all different shapes and sizes. Creating a “one size fits all” wedding timeline is close to impossible, but there are a few basic standards that I can recommend in order to have your big day run smoothly and not feel rushed. After all, your wedding is supposed to be a cause for celebration and not stress!

Getting Ready: 1-2 hours

First on your wedding photography timeline is the getting ready portion. This is one of my favorite parts of the day. Photographing the transition of the couple is important when telling the whole story. During this time I normally photograph:

  • Bride’s details such as dress, shoes, jewelry, rings, etc. (It helps if these items are in one consolidated area prior to my arrival.)
  • Groom’s details such as suit, shoes, cuff links, groomsmen gifts, etc.
  • Photos of the venue.
  • Individual portraits of bride and groom.
  • Groomsmen and bridesmaids portraits.
  • Possible fist-look.

First-look

What is a “first-look”? Traditionally, the couple is separated until the ceremony begins, where they see each other for the first time once the bride walks down the aisle. 60% of couples choose this option. Today the remaining 40% of couples choose to do a first-look where the bride sneaks up and reveals herself to her groom before the ceremony begins, normally just between themselves and the photographer/videographer. More couples are including this trend in their timeline with each passing year.

It’s common for emotions and butterflies to run high during a wedding, and the first-look definitely helps relieve some of those butterflies. It drops your guard down a bit and suddenly we’re having fun before your guests see you.

Don’t get me wrong, I love capturing the reaction of a groom when he lays eyes on his bride walking down the aisle. The emotions are seen by everyone at the wedding which makes for some great moments.

However, there is a large advantage for those who choose to do a first-look.

Doing a first-look before the ceremony starts allows the bride and groom more time to enjoy their day because we get the romantic photos and wedding party photos, (and sometimes family photos) completed before the majority of the guests arrive. With those photos completed, you can actually enjoy some of your cocktail hour and wind down a bit. This allows more time to talk to guests and grab a drink before the reception starts, which allows more time to eat, dance, and have fun during your big day!

If you still would like to wait until you walk down the aisle, a popular trend is to do a first-look with the Father of the bride. It’s a sure way to capture some great moments of your wedding.

You can also opt to do a first-touch instead of a first-look. Couples hold hands, say a prayer or read a love letter to each other, and then wait until the ceremony to set eyes on each other.

Ceremony: 20-60 minutes

Next on your timeline is the ceremony. Most ceremonies that I’ve photographed last around 20-30 minutes, which is the perfect amount of time in my opinion. Some have lasted 5 minutes, while others have lasted over an hour. There’s no wrong or right answer when it comes to length of your ceremony.

A typical ceremony looks like this:

  • Words of welcome from the officiant. (Click here for tips on choosing the right officiant)
  • A brief story on the couple’s journey together.
  • Reading vows. (Need help writing your vows? Click here)
  • A ring exchange.
  • Final pronouncement sealed with a first kiss as a married couple. It seems silly, but practice this kiss before hand and make it at least 3 seconds long to ensure we capture your first kiss. 

Non-traditional ideas

  • Groom escorted down the aisle by mother and father.
  • Couple smashed a watermelon carved like a zombie head. (Instead of breaking glass…Mazel Tov!)
  • Have your ceremony inside a brewery.
  • Mixing sand together, or lighting a unity candle.
  • Sealing your vows into a box with a nice bottle of wine. (You open it 1, 5, 10, and 15 years from now, re-read your vows and enjoy your wine.)

If you’d like some tips on avoiding some common mistakes during a ceremony, click here.

Cocktail hour: 60-90 minutes

This portion of the wedding timeline is often over-looked. After the ceremony is when couple’s portraits normally takes place. However, if you’re planning on taking sunset photos after the ceremony then you need to plan accordingly.

Keep in mind, after the ceremony is finished, next is the cocktail hour, family photos, wedding party photos, and couple’s portraits. Whew! That’s a lot to squeeze into a cocktail hour, especially if you want extended family members. For this reason, I like to recommend extending cocktail hour to 90 minutes if possible.

It allows more time for photos and feels less stressful, but keep in mind if your cocktail hour is over 90 minutes your hungry wedding guests are likely to get a bit eager for the reception to begin.

If there’s no room to extend cocktail hour, you could always plan on having me shoot the wedding party and immediate family photos before the actual ceremony. This option helps free up a lot of time, specially if you’re planning on doing a first-look.

Reception: 2-4 hours

Last on your timeline is the reception. This is typically the longest part of a wedding day. There’s no right or wrong order to place the moments listed below:

  • Lunch/dinner.
  • Toasts with VIPs and other guests.
  • First dance between newly weds.
  • Mother son/ father daughter dances.
  • Cake cutting.
  • Dancing.
  • A send-off.

Remember, this is your day and you don’t have to include all of these events if you don’t want to. You can even add more. Some non-traditional moments I’ve seen my couples squeeze in are:

  • Flip cup contest instead of first dance.
  • Generation dance. (DJ get’s all the married couples on the dance floor, then says “if you’ve been married for one day, please exit the dance floor.” Then you would step down. “If you’ve been married for 5 years/ 10 years/ 20 years/ 50 years, etc…” The oldest married couple is the last remaining on the dance floor, and everyone celebrates their long lasting marriage. It’s always a hit!)
  • Mother son/ father dances together instead of separately. (A good choice for people who get nervous in the spotlight.)
  • Guess who touch game. (The bride/ groom is seated and blindfolded, and various wedding guests go up and shake his hand. The groom has to guess which is his bride/ groom without looking.
  • Bouquet/ garter toss. (All the single ladies/ fellas try and catch the bouquet/ garter.)
  • A small train ride with the wedding party.

That’s it! I hope this has given you some insight and ideas that you can implement while planning your wedding. Remember, this day is about you two and no one else. Make it fun and make it special to YOU!

Feel free to share this article with your engaged friends, or anyone involved in the planning process.

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