“I have never done this before! How do I even start?”
As wedding photographers, this is without a doubt the question we hear the most. If you have never helped plan a wedding before, or you have never even been in a wedding before, trying to write out a time line for the entire day is overwhelming. There are so many details!
Matthew and I get it. We do. After photographing and assisting on more then 300 combined weddings.... We understand. Our goal is to make this as simple and easy as possible, so you can get back to focusing on the fun stuff.
Below, you will find our top five tips for planning out your day, along with a copy of our wedding time line planning sheet; this simple worksheet will break down each part of the day into manageable steps, and is the perfect starting point. (We even have two sample time lines to help you get started!)
So grab a cup of cocoa, print out the worksheet, and let's get started!
Tip 1: The First Look
A First Look is the photographer term for a couple seeing each other before the wedding. Sometimes, the couple grabs some balloons, travel to their favorite spot, and have an epic moment in a garden. Sometimes, the groom stands in the aisle of the church, the bride walks up behind, and he turns around and gets to enjoy the moment without all the distractions.
Having a first look allows you the opportunity to have almost all of your couple, family, and bridal party photos done before the ceremony begins. It is typically less rushed, you have more time for fun and unique photos, and everyone still looks their best. As a bonus, it reduces the time needed between the ceremony and the reception, allowing you to spend more time with your guests and maybe even get a snack at your cocktail hour!
However, never feel that you need to do a first look. You absolutely do not. You might prefer to save the surprise and anticipation for the moment when you first walk down the aisle. Or your fiance might prefer to keep with tradition. In either case, please make certain that if you are (or are not) doing a First Look it is because the two of you have chosen it together; not to please other people.
(Fun fact: Of the 22 grooms that did a first look this past year, every one of them cried when he saw his bride walking down the aisle during the ceremony. Of the 15 that did not do a First Look, only one cried. )
Tip 2: We're late!
When planning out the day, there are actually a few things about the ceremony that you will want to keep in mind. Guests typically start showing up on site half an hour before the time listed on the invitation. If you want the guests to a) not see you and b) take their seats, the bridal party should be out of sight at least 30 minutes beforehand.
For every 100 guests, typically at least five of them are running a few minutes late. (Especially at weddings in out of the way locations.) Starting a few minutes behind schedule is actually a good thing! It allows guests to make the mad dash from the parking lot and find their seat before the bridal party lines up. If you will have music playing before the processional starts, make sure you have an extra song or two ready to go, just in case people are still being seated. (If you have a professional DJ, no worries! He will have this covered.)
Tip 3: Hair and Makeup
When do weddings start running late? At the salon. When you book the appointments, show the stylist the look you are trying to achieve and get her estimate on how long it will take to do. (i.e. Curled hair with an updo. Airbrushing. Contouring. False eyelashes. Covering up suntan lines. Bridesmaid decides she does want makeup after all. These things can add on a significant amount of time if the stylists were not anticipating them. Bridesmaid not sure if she wants false eyelashes? Include them in her time slot.)
Always do a hair and makeup trial before the big day; your hair and makeup session will go so much faster! Be sure to wear a white shirt (if your dress will be white) to your trial to give you a better idea of how the look will go together. Have your photo taken in several different lighting situations to make sure you like how it photographs. If you can, try and arrange the trial the same day as your engagement session, so that you can see how the makeup will appear in your professional images and adjust accordingly. Remember to bring photos of your hair and makeup trial with you on your wedding day.
Tip 4: Family Photos
Ahhh... family photos. Everyone loves having them, but on the day of your friends and family would rather head to cocktail hour. The key to getting these photos done quickly is to get everyone in the room, and keep them there. ;)
An experienced photographer needs 2-3 minutes per group photo. As most families average around 10 photographs, it will take about half an hour in total.
Tip 5: Sunset
We always strongly recommend sneaking away from the reception for a mini set of couple portraits. Not only is the lighting around sunset gorgeous, you are in a totally different space emotionally. The stress is over. The party is going strong. Your guests are having a great time. And you can just enjoy those moments of finally being married.
Is the sun setting during dinner, or the weather isn't cooperating? Some of the most romantic photographs are taken after dark or in the rain. Ask your photographer if they have off camera lighting, grab your veil, and create something outstanding.
I know, I know. Enough tips already! Let's see the time lines. ;) Check them out below!
Timeline without a First Look:
12:00 - bride, bridesmaids, and family finish hair and makeup, eat lunch
12:30 - groom, his family, and groomsmen get dressed
1:00 - girls get dressed, groom's family + groomsmen start their photos
1:45 - bride's family + bridesmaids photos
2:30 - guests arrive, bridal party out of sight
3:00 - ceremony
3:30 - receiving line
4:00 - bubble exit, sign marriage license
4:15 - start family photos; bride's family, groom's family, then bridal party, and then the couple
5:00 - bridal party photos on location
6:00 - enter reception
Timeline With a First Look
11:30 - girls finished hair and makeup, eat lunch
12:00 - girls get dressed
1:00 - first look, bride and groom photos
1:45 - arrive at site, do family photos
2:30 - guests arrive
3:00 - ceremony
3:30 - receiving line / release the pews
4:00 - couple of quick photos (missing family from earlier, a couple of the two of you)
4:30 – sign marriage license, then head to the reception hall
5:00 - join your guests at cocktail hour
6:00 - enter reception
“Ok. I have that so far. But how do I know I scheduled enough time?”
An experienced professional photographer will typically sit down with you before the wedding day, to walk through your vision of the day and all of the moments you want captured. They will look at the timeline, and help you adjust it to fit in everything you need.
Remember, too, that your wedding vendors have been to dozens – hundreds – of weddings. We are here to help you. If you ever have any questions about how much time things will take or when something needs to happen by, never hesitate to ask.
We are Matthew & Jaclyn Hubbard; a husband and wife photography team in Southern Illinois. After years in the industry, we have narrowed our focus to elusively shooting couples. We love documenting each stage of a couple's walk together, from boyfriend/girlfriend, to the surprise proposal, engagement photos, the wedding day, and beyond.
Matthew and I met at Brooks Institute of Photography, an award winning photography school based in Santa Barbara, CA. We married two years later, on March 1, 2008.
The last few years have given us three absolutely adorable children; Nathan (6) is our little professor, Kaelyn (4) has a grin that can light up any room, and Alicia (2) is the most stubborn charmer you have ever seen. When we are not doing photography, you can usually find us kicking a soccer ball around the yard, making play-doh snakes, reading "Where the Wild Things Are," or heading to the local farmers market.
Now, when we look back at our wedding day photos, it is so strange to think that there were only two of us. It is hard to remember what life was like before the kiddos! But now, we get to share them with our children, and they LOVE looking through them. "Look! I found Grandpa!" "Aunt Nini looks pretty!" "I like the cake! Can I have a cake like that?"
Flipping through an album with our children reminds us of how quickly your wedding day becomes a collection of photographs, how important our job really is, and it helps us love it even more.