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How to Build Your Wedding Timeline

One of the questions I get asked the most as a photographer is "how much time should we leave for [family photos, first look, portraits, etc...]" It can be daunting trying to build your timelines when you really don't know how photographers put together some of those incredible images. Because sometimes the simplest looking photos take the longest to create! So based on my experience here are my recommendations on how to build your wedding timeline:

Makeup & Hair - 2+ hours

Getting ready can look different for everyone, but if you plan on having a professional make up and hair artist for you or your wedding party then plan for even more time! So chat it over with your HMUA (hair & makeup artist) and see what you might need to start at. An entire wedding party might mean getting ready at 9am, while if it's just you or your partner then allowing an hour or two may be plenty.

Detail Photos - 1 hour

You've put tons of hours and planning into picking out your venue, color schemes, florals, table spreads and everything that went into bringing your wedding vision to life. As a photographer we often have to run across different parts of the venue, grabbing details, dresses, rings or visiting separate getting ready suites. So having ample time for the back and forth throughout a venue will help out your photographer so much!

First Look - 15 minutes

After finishing off the detail shots around the venue I'll have a pretty good idea of the best spot for you both to share a private first look! The first look is an opportunity for you to see your partner in their wedding attire for the first time, rather than waiting for the ceremony.

First look with bride and groom on Washington beach

Couples Session - 20 minutes

Following the First Look is the perfect opportunity to jump into a couples session. This is when we hit some of the most beautiful parts of your venue and create those artistic and sentimental moments with just the two of you. The more time we set aside for this means the more creative we can get!

Bride and groom with wild flower bouquet on Orcas Island
C + Z set aside 45 minutes to travel around Orcas Island for photos before their ceremony

Wedding Party - 30 minutes

For those who have a gaggle of chosen friends you nominated for the honorary role of "wedding party", then we will need this extra time to have some fun creating group photos. We'll take a variety of groupings so you have tons of photos with your closest friends.

Friends+Family - 20 minutes

These portraits usually happen right before the ceremony if it's only immediate family or after the ceremony when all your extended family is in the same place! I recommend doing them outside since some reception spaces can get a little dark.

group of friends at a wedding throwing hands up in celebration

Moment Alone with Party - 15 minutes

I highly recommend allowing for a few moments before the ceremony for you, your partner and your wedding party to just chill! The morning moments before the ceremony can feel busy, so incorporating time without photography or vendors can give you a real quiet moment together.

Ceremony - 20 to 45 minutes

Ceremonies look different for every couple, especially if you're incorporating vows, religious ceremonies or other sentimental moments. Some folks like to include hand fastening, ring warmings, flower exchanges and so on!

Two men queer couple first kiss on Salty's at Alki in Seattle with water and city skyline behind

* Transportation time: If the ceremony and reception are in different locations, it's important to factor in travel time to and from each location.

Any additional cultural or religious ceremonies: Depending on your cultural or religious background, there may be additional ceremonies or traditions that need to be incorporated into the timeline. *

Wedding License Signing - 15 minutes

This is a quick and quiet moment for just you two, your officiant and your witnesses. Keeping it with as few people as possible will allow for some easy breathing after such a rush from the ceremony. For some weddings I do recommend signing your marriage license before the actual ceremony or even a few days before, especially if you're on a tight schedule and don't want to have to worry about completing it when emotions are so high.

Dinner - 35 minutes Eating

No Photography for 35 minutes (we don't need photos of folks with food in between their teeth) This usually starts with your "grand entrance" and maybe a welcome speech from the couple! This is when you can relax, laugh with friends, and start snacking.

Toasts & Speeches - 30 minutes

After dinner if you plan to have friends and family share some memories then usually around 3-5 people is recommend. 30 minutes or 5 minutes each.

First Dances - 20 minutes

Some couples skip this entirely or opt for just a couples dance rather than parents dances too. So depending on what your plan for the day is, leave around 5 minutes for each dance. Some couples will also let their DJ know to trim off long songs or more seamlessly fade songs into each other.

Sunset Portraits - 15+ minutes

Leaving a few minutes on your timeline to escape for the sunset could create some really magical moments! This doesn't work for every wedding since it's hard to predict the weather and sometimes it cuts right through dinner/dancing. But if time and weather permit then this is always a YES from me! If you skipped a first look then more time is recommended.

two brides queer couple sunset portraits in the California mountains with pine trees behind

Big Exits - 20 minutes

After an hour or two of dancing and mingling you may be looking to start wrapping up the evening! Sparklers, bubbles, get-away car...whatever you have planned make sure i'm there to capture it. Some venues have a time limit on how long your festivities can run for, ending somewhere around 10 or 11pm.

While this is a great place to start if you're feeling lost on how much time you'll need to set aside for the day, you should always consult your wedding planner or day-of coordinator as a final source. Based on my experience as a photographer this has typically been the amount of time needed to capture all of those sentimental moments without taking away from others. Every wedding is different and will have it's own unique quirks! So where some couples spend more time another might not - and that's ok!

If you've just started your wedding planning and need a little help from your photographer, then send an inquiry over! And if we're already working together you can reach out at anytime for advice on preparing your photography timeline.




Hello I'm Alesha! Your lgbtq+ wedding & elopement photographer based in Seattle, Washington. I'm here to bring a supportive, enthusiastic, and all around easy-going energy to your wedding day! Get to know me a little bit more to see if we're a good match.

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