Philadelphia Wedding at Vie by Cescaphe

Perfect Wedding Day Timeline

Figuring out the perfect timeline for your wedding day can seem like a daunting task at first.  It can become a bit easier though when you break down each part of the day and decide what’s really important to the two of you!  Keep in mind, this is by no means “perfect”.  This article is just meant to help you gauge what you’d like to accomplish photo wise on your day and how long that might take.  If you’re working with me, we will dive into all the details long before the wedding day itself!


Truly Photojournalistic Wedding Photography Takes Time

Truly real and photojournalistic wedding photography in Philadelphia

Before we jump into timing, I want to emphasize that moments like this don’t just happen.  A composition is found.  Important layers and people (or animals in this case) are accounted for.  Then it’s a waiting game for that perfect moment.  The photo above took 12 minutes to capture.  It’s real and genuine photos like these that most couples book me for though.  So, if that includes the two of you, I can’t stress enough how important it is to leave as much time as possible for us to just be present at your day vs working down a shot list.


***When I say “just be present”, I mean time during the day where everyone is behaving like they would if you didn’t have a photographer there :).  The more time during the day like this, the more likely you are to have some truly epic moments captured.  I really can’t emphasize this enough.  For example, if you have me for 8 hours and we are spending 5 hours doing formal photos, portraits, details, and traveling, you will obviously have less of the moments I’m known for than a couple who is only spending 2 hours on those things.  And honestly, a laid back day, with epic photos, where you’re spending most of it just living your best lives and not being directed around by me sounds pretty sweet :).

Getting Ready

This is a part of the day where my coverage will vary a lot from a typical wedding photographer.  There won’t be any fake make-up applications, staged hair spray photos, or perfectly framed window photos of you and your best friend pretending to have a perfect moment.  Instead, I will just be present, as if there was no photographer there and the results of that will be the true story of your wedding day.  Photos of how it really went down, along with all the fun, crazy, and emotional moments in between!  When it comes to figuring out your timeline for hair and makeup for this part of the day, just make sure you’re ready for your ceremony or first look.  No need to worry about a photo schedule here.  Simple as that.

We can do robe photos, Pinterest style details setups, and/or anything else you would like.  You hired me, so I’ll do whatever you want!  Keep in mind though, elaborate detail setups typically require time to be added if you don’t want to take away from the photojournalistic coverage of your day.  You can read more about my approach for wedding day details below.  They are always captured, just in a very real way unless otherwise requested.

Typically, for wedding prep, I recommend at least 1 hour of us being able to be present and document your story before you have to leave for the first look or ceremony.  1.5-2 hours is more ideal though.  If you want stagnant details along with my standard photojournalistic style, at least 1.5hrs is almost a necessity.

Less is More – Why you shouldn’t add formal photos to the getting ready part of the day

Some couples want to do some of their wedding party photos and/or family formals during this time.  I generally recommend against this, unless we really have our backs up against the wall with timing.  We will still have to do those later with you two together, so this would cost you 20-30 minutes of photojournalistic coverage, to save you 5 minutes later in the day.  Not a great tradeoff for most couples.

Perfect Wedding Day Timeline – First Look

First look during a wedding at Inn at Fernbrook Farms in New Jersey.

Your perfect timeline may or may not include a first look.  I personally, do not fall in with the masses that say a first look is an absolute necessity if you are going straight from ceremony to cocktail hour.  My thought process is that this is your day.  If it’s important that you two don’t see each other until the ceremony, then don’t see each other until the ceremony.  This does mean less time for posed portraits, but on the flip side, it means more time for photojournalistic coverage.  So if posed portraits aren’t a priority for you two, a first look may not be “required” like a lot of websites, photographers, family, and friends, may make it seem.

If you are going to do all your posed photos during cocktail hour, you can ignore almost everything below.  We will dive into how much you can accomplish in that timeframe during a phone consult.  If that is your plan, I do recommend an hour and a half for cocktail hour if possible and/or you were hoping to get to some of your cocktail hour.

If we are doing a first look, I typically allot 15 minutes for a first look, not accounting for travel times.  This will be the first time you two see each other on your wedding day so you really don’t want to rush through the moment.  From here we typically roll right into couple portraits or formal wedding party/family photos.

Perfect Wedding Day Timeline – Couple Portraits

LGBTQ Wedding Philadelphia

For couples that I work with, the importance of “posed” portraits vary greatly.  Some days we will be doing three locations and spending 3 hours on all their posed photos.  Some days we will spend 10 minutes on these and do just a couple traditional photos.  Most wedding days fall somewhere in between.

A good way to think about these is that for every 30 minutes you allot for posed photos of you two, you’ll receive around 20-30 fully edited portraits.  That doesn’t account for any travel times and/or location changes.  You can think about this as, “how long do you want to spend with your significant other doing posed portraits?” and “how many posed portraits do we want to have to pick from for an album?”.  If these two items align then perfect!  If not, we will dive into it more on our final call and I can help you figure out timing :).

Locations, Locations, Locations

Let’s talk about multiple locations while we are here.  Unless you two have a location that means the world to you and you NEED to have photos there, I recommend keeping locations to a minimum.  Changing locations is one of the biggest time drains on any wedding day.  It’s not just the drive times, but the getting stuff ready to go, walking to the transportation, loading up, unloading, walking to the location for the photos, and then walking back to the transportation.  You can see how a 10 minute drive could quickly turn into 30, or even 45/60+ minutes.  Also, if you have the wedding party or family involved in these location changes, there will inevitably be a need for a bathroom stop, or groomsmen’s who will dip into a bar for a “quick” shot.

Backgrounds aren’t super important for portraits of you two, unless it carries a significant meaning to you.  It’s more about light and interesting lines.  This picture was taken at a loading dock in an alley, right next to a dumpster.

Sunset Couple Portraits

If posed couple photos fall on the “important-very important” range for you two and you are doing a first look, one of my favorite things to do is split that time up.  If we are doing a first look during from April-October the sun is typically very harsh around the time your first look would happen, mid afternoon.  Luckily, sunset generally happens around cocktail hour or early on in the reception.  A perfect time to step outside for some environmental style portraits where we aren’t trying to hide the harsh sun.

Doing a separate sunset session on your wedding day allows us to shorten up the time needed to do portraits earlier in the day.  Which you guessed it, leaves more time for me to just be present on your day and capture truly candid moments for you both!  I can also set up for sunset portraits while you are mingling with guests which helps save time as well.  If you want to do sunset portraits, it’s VERY IMPORTANT to communicate this to the venue and caterer.  This can affect the way they schedule your formalities and/or dinner service.  Timing wise, we would ideally go outside 20-30 minutes before sunset and return at the listed sunset time for that day.

If your wedding is in the city itself, this may not apply to you.  Lighting in the city can still be interesting or better at 2pm in the afternoon because of all the skyscrapers and tall buildings.  Sunset in the city is also typically flat and just shaded as the buildings block the soft sunset light.  There are a few venues in Philadelphia though where you’d want to still consider doing sunset portraits;  Waterworks, The Free Library, The Loews, Moshulu, or any similar wedding venue with easy access to a waterfront or rooftop.

Perfect Wedding Day Timeline – Wedding Party Photos

Bridesmaids portrait taken at city hall Philadelphia

This is another set of photos that vary greatly from couple to couple.  Generally speaking, 30 minutes is a good amount of time to allot for posed wedding party photos.  Some couples won’t need all 30 minutes but the extra time can roll over to your “down time”, which we will dive into in a bit.  This timing easily covers the standard sets which include the entire wedding party, a photo of you with your side of the party, and a photo of your spouse with their side of the party.

Can’t Get Enough Wedding Party Photos?

If these photos fall into the extremely important category for you two and you want to do a lot of different combinations, or get into more of the vogue style fashion setups, we will need 30-60 minutes depending on how elaborate and how many we plan on doing.  If you fall into this category, it’s probably safe to plan for 45 minutes but be aware that when we talk I may tell you we need more time if we are getting into a lot of lighting and/or groupings.

Perfect Wedding Day Timeline – Family Formal Photos

The most important and time saving thing you can do on your wedding day is to make sure the people who are in these photos, know that they are in these photos!

Generally, this will take 15-30 minutes for immediate family, depending on size and combinations.  If we are just doing immediate family (being parents, siblings with spouses, and grandparents).  Just schedule 30 minutes if you can.  That is more than enough time for that amount of people.  If you’re family formal list is going to include a lot of extended family, you can start putting together a list of the groupings you’d like and we can either talk about it on our final call or you can email it to me and I can let you know rough timing sooner if needed.  A safe estimate to use while creating your family formal list is 2 minutes/photo.

Although my coverage is truly photojournalistic, as you two walk around greeting your guests myself or the 2nd photographer will always be in your general vicinity (only exception when we eat).  We will just be taking candids of you talking to your guests BUT, if you’d like to have look at the camera and smile photos with anyone, all you have to do is ask and we will take as many as you’d like!  So this is good because you can grab more “formal” style photos as you walk around and say hi to folks if you don’t want to spend an hour doing family formals earlier in the day.

Alone Time and Down Time

Greek wedding at St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Philadelphia

This section gets (5) very different photos because this is one of my favorite parts of the day!

Making Time for Yourselves

Let’s start with “alone time”.  This would be any time that you two have, you guessed it, alone.  Some of the photos past couples cherish the most have come from this time.  A good example of this time, would be the first few minutes after the ceremony where you might be given a room to yourself or walk off alone.  Or a moment where you two leave your reception to just take a break and go on a short walk.  This time together is very precious on a wedding day where everyone wants your attention.  Because of that, any alone time can be a very intimate and a memorable moment from your wedding day.  The question is, would you like that moment captured?  Extremely unobtrusively and fly on the wall style of course :).  We will also cover this in more detail when we talk.

Making Time for your VIP’s

Next, let’s discuss “down time”.  In a perfect timeline there is 100% going to be some downtime.  If you are doing a first look, this would happen right before the ceremony.  Some of the best photojournalistic photos I have captured come from this part of the day.  It’s not you two separate anymore, it’s you two together with only your family and wedding party around.  This can be as little or as much time as you want.  But I usually recommend scheduling at least 30 minutes, more doesn’t hurt.  Scheduling this will also help keep you out of sight of your guests who will be arriving around that time.

If you are doing a more traditional day with a church ceremony, portraits, and then cocktail hour some time later.  This would be the time between when we wrap up posed photos and when your cocktail hour starts, not accounting for travel time.  I still recommend some time set aside here if you can spare it.  Most couples need that recharge time anyway.

If you have a wedding party, or family, that typically runs late.  Schedule more down time on top of the portrait timeline.  If they are late and portraits run behind, we just use up some of the extra downtime.  If they are on time, you get some more epic candid photos.  Win, win.

Perfect Wedding Day Timeline – The Party

Of course I will work with you on the schedule to make sure we are there for the important formalities of your reception, formal dances, toasts, etc.  But when it comes to figuring out your timeline for photography, the decision will have to be made about how much of the party do you want documented.  Typical coverage ends around the time of cake cutting and/or when desserts are served.  For a more generalized timing, 1-1.5hrs before the reception ends is typical.  Assuming a 4 hour reception party.  Most of the party photos that go into your album will have been captured by that point.

Want coverage all the way till the end of the night for a big last song celebration?  Or coverage for an after party?  No problem, but you will most likely need to add time for that if you don’t want to sacrifice the photojournalistic coverage from earlier in the day.

Nighttime Couple Portraits

Nighttime portraits are another option to spread out your posed portrait time a bit.  Some venues and locations lend themselves better to this than others, as ambient light always helps with the ambiance.  You don’t need to worry about these portraits too much while finalizing your timeline, they can be done at any point in the night.  It’s good to think about wether or not you want to do these though and we can discuss them more in the future.

Wedding Day Details

A question I get asked a lot is if I take detail photos?  100% I do!  I don’t post them on social media or market them because I want to work exclusively with couples who truly value real moments and wedding photojournalism.

Venue decor and reception details are captured at every wedding.  As far as jewelry, shoes, bouquet, cufflinks, etc. I will talk to you two about those as we get closer to the day.  I then work very hard to capture the details that are important to you in real moments, as you use them.  It could be you showing your family heirloom off to a friend or a photo of your ring while you’re petting a horse.  I personally find that when a detail is incorporated into an actual moment from your wedding day, it carries more meaning then if it’s just sitting on a table.  If you would like stagnant detail style photos as shown below, it’s not a problem, but we should definitely make sure we account for that time where I’ll be out of the room and away from the moments you’re probably hiring me to capture.  Stagnant detail photos typically remove me from the room for about 15-20 minutes.


Perfect Wedding Day Timeline in Summary

There is a lot that goes into figuring out your perfect timeline.  And no two timelines are alike.  This article is meant to provide you with information to help you two make more informed choices about your timeline.  As always, for couples I’m working with, we can jump on a call at anytime and cover this in way more detail if you need to!