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Creating Your Wedding Day Timeline

When Spenser and I got married, I didn’t even know where to begin in planning our wedding day timeline. It was totally overwhelming to try and guess at how much time we needed for each part of the day! How early should I put my dress on? How long would our ceremony be? How much time would we need between the ceremony and reception? Should we do a first look?! Yes, these questions are personal and the answers will vary a little for each couple, but there are some overarching guidelines that all couples should know going in!

I want every Emi Rose Studio couple to have ZERO stress in figuring out what will work for their wedding. We’ll personalize your photography timeline to exactly what will best capture your story and your traditions, but since I’ve been to a few weddings (ahem, MANY weddings!) in this line of work, I’ve compiled some thoughts on the ideal wedding day timeline to help you start planning. Let’s work together to make your day as amazing and stress-free as possible!


Wedding Day Timeline Tips


The most important things to consider when planning your wedding day timeline are your traditions and your locations.

When I shoot a wedding, my mission is to capture the unique story of your love and the special traditions (old or new!) that make you who you are. Your timeline also needs to suit the traditions that you’ll be honoring on your wedding day! Do you need to factor in extra time for a long cathedral ceremony? Are you planning a traditional Indian wedding with days of prep and celebration? Is your idea of tradition celebrating your love of the outdoors with a mountainside elopement? In that case, you’ll want to consider travel time to and from the ceremony site!

Location is important for so many reasons. If your ceremony and reception are at two different venues, you’ll need to consider time for your guests to travel from one site to the next. Do you want your portraits taken at a separate location? We’ll need time for that too! Your location is going to determine the feeling of your photos, so choose something that speaks to you. Keep in mind that in order to get those warm and bright photos that we all love, we’ll need plenty of natural light. Look for a nice outdoor space like a local park, botanical garden, or meadow that we can explore for your photos!

Now, let’s walk through the day and talk about what you should think about to make each part your own!



3 to 4 hours

You’ll get started with hair and makeup pretty early in the day. I usually plan to start photographing around the time that your makeup artist arrives. You’ll likely have your hair done by then, and I can capture those glamorous getting-ready shots as you put the finishing touches on your makeup, and some candid shots of you and your girls having fun! Take this time to celebrate with your ladies. Plan a fun brunch with matching robes and mimosas (and preferably some throwback tunes that we can all jam to!).

Photographer’s Tip: Choose a getting-ready location with as much natural light as possible! This will keep you feeling bright and happy, and will give us the most flattering light for your getting ready photos.

I also like to use this time to take some bright and beautiful images of your wedding details! You’ve carefully selected each and every item, heirloom, and accessory for your wedding day, and I want to be sure to record all of those special details.

Photographer’s Tip: Gather details like jewelry, stationery, shoes, and accessories in a bag so that I can grab it and get started styling as soon as I arrive!


How to Create Your Wedding Day Timeline | Tips from a Photographer



30 minutes

Plan to put your dress on about three hours before your ceremony. I know it seems early, but it’s not! Something always runs behind on the wedding day, and being dressed and ready to go will help you feel on top of things and ready to roll.

Photographer’s Tip: Your bridesmaids should get dressed before you do – this way they’ll look coordinated and polished in photos when they’re helping you get into your gown!



1.5 hours

If you choose to do a first look, this should happen about two hours before the ceremony. Whether or not to do a first look is a personal decision, but I highly recommend it to my couples! The first look lets me capture the real emotions of you two seeing each other for the first time, where you can really express yourselves without the pressure of being in front of a crowd. Having a quiet, private first look lets you two fully appreciate the moment. Weddings go by fast, and spending a few quiet moments with your soon-to-be-spouse should be a priority.

After the first look, we’ll move right into your couple portraits! Schedule enough time so for this so that we can have some fun, stress-free time to devote to capturing those romantic images that you two will treasure forever! I love to create a natural experience full of romantic looks and candid moments, but we need time for that – rushed portraits result in stiffer poses and won’t let you be fully in the moment.


How to Create Your Wedding Day Timeline | Tips from a Photographer


If you choose not to do a first look:

A first look isn’t right for every couple. If you choose not to do a first look, just keep in mind that we’ll need to do your couple portraits and wedding party photos after your family portraits (between the ceremony and the reception). We can absolutely make that happen, but you’ll want to schedule in at least an hour and a half for all of these photos, and you’ll most likely not attend the cocktail hour!


How to Create Your Wedding Day Timeline | Tips from a Photographer



30 minutes

Reunite with your bridesmaids and groomsmen for some portraits with your favorites! We’ll move through wedding party photos pretty quickly, but I like to honor your relationships with the people who’ve made you who you are with some beautiful one-on-one and group photos.



15 minutes to 1 hour

You and your soon-to-be-spouse will go your separate ways to await the biggest moment of your lives! Head to your ceremony’s bridal area to touch up your hair and makeup, grab a snack, and get EXCITED!

The timeline for your ceremony will depend entirely on what kind of ceremony you have. These days you can really do whatever you’d like – have a friend officiate your wedding on a dock by the lake, or go all out royal wedding. Traditional Catholic weddings usually last around an hour, while casual backyard weddings can be as short as 15 minutes.

Photographer’s Tip: Ask your officiant to step to the side when you take your first kiss, so that when you feel like the only two people in the world, your photos look that way too. 




30 minutes

I love it when couples take a moment to celebrate right after the ceremony! Bring a bottle of champagne to pop together and toast to the best decision of your lives.

After the ceremony we’ll also do your family formal portraits. Make sure your family knows to stick around the ceremony location so that we can move quickly and get everyone over to cocktail hour!

Photographer’s Tip: Think about the family members that it will be most important to you to have formal portraits with! I usually recommend that we photograph combinations of grandparents, parents, and siblings, as well as your newly united families together.



1 hour for cocktail hour and 4 to 5 hours for the reception

CONGRATS! Now the party begins! Grab a cocktail, celebrate with your family and friends, and kick of married life with a bang!

Photographer’s Tip: I’ll take another round of detail photos before your reception gets underway, this time of the table settings, place cards, and centerpieces. Having some time during cocktail hour will let me capture these details untouched, before your guests enter the reception area!

I usually plan to stay until about an hour after the dance floor opens. That way, I can get some super fun shots of your friends and family getting their boogie on, but I leave before things get too sweaty and boozy (unless that’s what you’re into, in which case I’ll shut the venue down with you guys)!


How to Create Your Wedding Day Timeline | Tips from a Photographer


Brides, what are you finding most challenging about planning your wedding timeline? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll reply with some insider tips! Those of you who are already married – what tips or lessons learned would you share with new brides?


Emi Rose


Check out the Emi Rose Studio wedding gallery, or inquire about your wedding today!

Emi Rose Studio is a wedding photography studio located in Rochester, New York and shooting weddings throughout the Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley, on on a destination basis!

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The Guide

A lot of moving pieces go into planning a wedding day timeline and it can be hard to know where to begin. Grab this free guide to plan the perfect timeline for your day!