Boston & New England Wedding Photographer Deborah Zoe

Boston & North Shore Wedding Photographer creating timeless imagery for classic New England weddings with a fine art approach.

How To Plan The Perfect Wedding Timeline


Today, in the first of the DZP Planning series for January, I am sharing my favorite tips on how to create the perfect wedding day timeline.

So how do you go about creating a timeline that gives you time with your guests, eliminates stress and allow you to truly enjoy the day? Two words : advanced planning. Creating the perfect wedding day timeline isn't hard work but it does require prior thought to ensure that everything throughout the day flows smoothly. 

If there was one thing I request again and again from my couples it is more time. In order to create images that are reflective of the day, that feel authentic, natural and reflective of my signature style, I need time. For example, if I only have 45 minutes on the day to photograph the family formals, couple portraits and images with the wedding party -- everyone will be stressed. I'll be forced to eliminate certain images and ultimately it creates a poor experience for you and your loved ones. 

So how much time do you need to plan for on the wedding day? Below I have shared an ideal wedding day timeline based on a couple choosing to have a First Look. This timeline does not account for travel time or unique scenarios and is based on 8 hours of coverage. Some weddings will be better suited for 9 or even 10 hours of coverage. Some couples will choose to forgo a First Look for a more traditional experience. In addition to the ideal timeline, use the timing tips shared at the bottom of this post to help you plan out your perfect wedding day timeline. 

Approximate Times

Details & Prep : 1.5 Hours
First Look & Portraits : 30-45 Minutes
Wedding Party : 30 Minutes
Family Portraits : 30 Minutes
*Extra Romantic Portraits : 15 Minutes or as much time as you’ll give me!


Ideal Wedding Day Timeline

Details 12:30pm - 1:30pm  
As you and your Bridesmaids get ready I will photograph all of the Bridal Details including your dress, bouquet, shoes etc. These details tell the story of your day are an integral part of your wedding portfolio, often setting the tone for your images.

Into The Dress 1:30pm - 2:00pm
I like to give you at least a half an hour to ensure you can enjoy a stress free moment with your favorite ladies. 30 minutes is especially needed for gowns with elaborate backs or buttons. Once your dress and jewelry are on, we’ll take a moment for a classic Bridal Portrait.

First Look 2:15pm - 2:30pm
It’s time to see each other for the first time on your wedding day! I will make sure we have space for you to enjoy this time together in a secluded area. This is a precious moment to share together before the rush of the day begins. 

Romantic Portraits 2:30pm - 3:00pm
Following the First Look I will photograph your couple portraits. We’ll take time to explore the venue, create romantic images and give you an opportunity to soak in all that this day represents.

Wedding Party 3:00pm - 3:30pm
Wedding Party Portraits will start with the Bride and her Bridesmaids, followed by the Groom and his Groomsmen and finishing with a large group portrait. I make sure to pad in extra time if Groomsmen are needed for usher duties as well.

Family Formals 3:30pm - 4:00pm  
To avoid confusion, I recommend photographing all family formals at the same time when all members will be present. If there are any elderly family members that cannot attend we will allot time at the cocktail hour or reception.

Bride & Groom into Hiding 4:00pm - 4:30pm

Ceremony 4:30pm - 5:00pm

Cocktail Hour 5:00pm - 6:00pm
My second photographer will capture the cocktail hour and candid shots with your guests. 

I will use this time to photograph your reception details untouched. I recommend hosting your cocktail hour and reception in different rooms to ensure your details are not disturbed by guests.

Reception Start 6:15pm
Introductions, First Dance 6:20pm

Blessing or Toasts 6:30pm

Romantic//Sunset Portraits 6:45pm
I love sneaking the couple away for a few “Just Married” portraits in the late day sunlight. This is especially beautiful during the spring and summer months when the sun sets later into the evening. 

Cake Cutting & Parent Dances//Dance floor Opens 7:00pm

Coverage Ends 8:00pm
Photography coverage will end about 1-2 hours before the last dance. 

Timing Tips

  • Know exactly how much time your photographer will need throughout the day to capture the day in their signature style. How much time do they need for portraits? How much time will they need as you get ready? It's important to talk with your photographer before the wedding day so you can give them everything they need to capture the day. DZP couples, we will work together 2 months before the wedding day to create the perfect timeline for your specific day
  • Padding in time throughout the day will ensure that if something runs late you will not have to sacrifice coverage elsewhere. An extra 10 minutes here and there throughout the day can make all the difference.
  • It is very important to take into account any travel that may occur throughout the day. Will there be traffic? Will your driver know the route? Is the route complicated? Does the time of year create more traffic than usual? Will someone be running late? All of these things can affect the timeline. You’ll need to factor in enough time for travel, traffic or unexpected delays to avoid unnecessary stress or delaying the timeline.
  • Share your timeline with family members and your Wedding Party before the wedding day to ensure they know exactly where to be and when on the day of the wedding. The more you can communicate ahead of the wedding day, the more smoothly the day will flow.
  • If taking portraits before the ceremony you will need to have your florals ready to be photographed. Ask your florist to have your bouquets and boutonnieres delivered to where you will be getting ready. We will ensure that the florals stay in water and are well taken care of.
  • Hair and makeup can often run late -- I highly recommend that the Bride has her hair and makeup done first. Additionally I recommend telling your beauty team a finish time of 30 minutes ahead of the actual timeline. Additionally, I suggest that your Mom and Bridesmaids be ready to be photographed when you put on your dress ensuring that they look their best and feel comfortable.
  • If you are choosing to exchange gifts, please wait to open your gift until a photographer is present to capture you opening the gift. You'll want to plan for this in your timeline so that you have enough time to enjoy opening your gift. 
  • Some will like to plan for a Father/Daughter First Look after getting into the dress. This will need to be accounted for the timeline -- you'll want to add in around 10-15 minutes for this special First Look.
  • It's important to coordinate with your creative team to ensure that everyone is on the same page. You don't want to plan for a reception start time only to find out that the band or venue had a different time planned. Additionally sharing the timeline with all of your vendors helps make sure that we can all work together cohesively throughout the day.
  • If you choose to forgo a First Look and are desiring natural lit portraits, you will want to consider the time of your Ceremony very carefully. In the early months of winter or later weeks of fall, the sun will set very early, limiting the amount of time for natural lit images. Consider moving your ceremony to an earlier start time to take advantage of the sunlight during day time hours. 
  • Additionally, if you forgo the First Look, I highly encourage you to extend your Cocktail Hour by 30 minutes to ensure enough time to capture portraits & reception details following the Ceremony.

I hope that this post has been helpful for you as you plan for the wedding day. For those who are married, what is the best piece of advice you can give a couple when planning their timeline? What worked well for you? What do you wish you did differently?