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!


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 me to just be present at your day.  When I say present, I mean time during the day where everyone is behaving like they would if you didn’t have a photographer there.

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 this part of the day, just make sure you’re ready for your ceremony or first look.   Simple as that.

We can do robe photos, Pinterest style details setups, and individual portraits of you two at this time.  You hired me, so I’ll do whatever you want!  Keep in mind, elaborate detail setups and individual portraits typically require time to be added if you don’t want to take away from the photojournalistic coverage of your day.

Less is More – Why you shouldn’t add formal photos to this 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 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.

However, If you don’t have a break between the ceremony and cocktail hour AND you want to attend your cocktail hour or posed portraits are very important.  Then a first look is for you!  I typically allot 15-20 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.

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 10-15 fully edited portraits.  That doesn’t account for any travel times and/or location changes.

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 sucks on any wedding timeline.  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 if you have the wedding party or family involved whom will inevitably need a bathroom stop, or groomsmen’s who will dip into a bar for a “quick” shot.  AND that doesn’t even take into account how much time we spend taking photos at that location.

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 the spring, summer, or fall months, the sun is typically very harsh around the time your first look would happen.  Luckily, sunset generally happens around cocktail hour or early on in the reception.  A perfect time to step outside for 10-15 minutes to take 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 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 can also be flat 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, 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 covers the standard sets which include the entire wedding party, a photo of each separate grouping, and sometimes individuals depending on how big your wedding party is.

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 45-60+ minutes for these.

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.  Immediate family being parents, siblings and spouses, and grandparents.  Just schedule 30 minutes if you can.  For each aunt, uncle, cousin, godparent photo, you can add 5 minutes to that timing.

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.  We will talk about wether or not you’re ok with me documenting this as your day gets closer.  But some of the photos past couples cherish the most have come from this time.  Typically this would be the first few minutes after the ceremony.  I can’t recommend enough to find a way to incorporate time for just you two, as soon as you walk out of your ceremony.  The rest of the day will be full of people vying for your attention.  So take some time to yourselves and enjoy the moment!

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 at least 30 minutes here.

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 we will be there for the important formalities of your reception, formal dances, toasts, etc.  But when it comes down 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.  Most of the party photos that go in to 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 in great details as we get closer to the day.  I then work very hard to capture the details that are important to you in real moments.  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 want standard Pinterest style details of the items you’ll be wearing, that isn’t a problem.  It does generally require some extra time if you don’t want to sacrifice photojournalistic coverage though.

Adventure Sessions

These sessions are a GREAT way to save a lot of time on the actual wedding day.  We can keep the posed portraits of you two to a minimum because there are more epic portraits to follow at a future date.  There will be a page coming with more about adventure sessions in the future.  If you have any questions about them now though, feel free to reach out!

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 and cover this in way more detail if you need to!