Building a Wedding Day Timeline

A solid timeline is going to ensure that everyone has a happier day - without one, we’re all running around without a plan. Who wants that?

I believe that part of a photographer’s job is to provide a clean, efficient timeline. Yes, we’re hired to take lovely photos, but if we can provide a realistic timeline for those photos, everyone wins.

Before you can sit down and really knock out a timeline for your clients, there are a lot of questions that need to be asked.

Key questions:

  • When is the ceremony? How long is it?

  • Is there a formal cocktail hour? (If so, do you want that covered by me, or do we need a second shooter?)

  • What time do you want to be announced into your reception?

  • Are we doing a first look? If so, are we doing group photos before the ceremony, or after?

  • If we aren’t doing a first look, do you want to do divided groups before the ceremony, or after?

Of course, a lot of other factors go into building a timeline: ceremony and reception in different places, large breaks in a day (usually during some religious/cultural weddings), etc. But for these examples, we’ll assume our clients are having their ceremony and reception all in one location, with a 10 hour booking.


Let’s look at an example with a first look, all posed photos before the ceremony, with a cocktail hour and a 4 hour reception.

EXAMPLE ONE (Client is “bride” and “groom”. Sunset time: 8:30pm.):

  • Ceremony time: 5pm (30 minutes)

  • Cocktail hour: Yes

  • Reception entry: 6:45

  • Reception Exit: 10:30

  • First look: Yes

  • Posed Before/After: Before


With that information, we know the following:

  • We are hired for 10 hours, and their exit is at 10:30. This puts our arrival time at 12:30.

  • They want a first look, and all posed photos done before 5:00. If this is before daylight savings, this means we are not shooting posed portraits in glowy golden hour. We should plan to bring lighting to accommodate harsh shadows, or plan to shoot this indoors — this depends on client’s preference.


When you start to compose this timeline, this is the very start of it:

12:30 - Arrive to venue.

1:00 -

2:00 -

3:00 -

4:00 -

5:00 - Ceremony begins!

5:30 - Ceremony ends, straight to cocktail hour coverage.

6:45 - Grand entrance to Reception

7:00 -

8:00 -

9:00 -

10:00 -

10:30 - Exit, and goodnight!


Now, answering some other questions, we can get a feel for what time will be needed for the pre-ceremony planning.

  • How big is the wedding party?

  • How big are the families?

  • Are there posed photos you want before everyone is in their wedding attire? (Most commonly in robes/pjs.)

  • Is everyone getting ready on-site together?

  • Is it equally important to have coverage of both parties getting ready? (While I would say yes, in my experience, most people don’t feel this is necessary. One person may want this more than the other, and if your package does not include a second photographer, it’s important to know how your time should be divided — or, great opportunity to upsell.)


Now let’s say we got the following answers:

  • Wedding party: 5 on each side

  • Family size: “pretty big”

  • Posed pre-attire: Yes

  • Everyone on-site: Yes

  • Coverage of both parties: “Not necessary, but cool if possible”


So we can plug in some more of the beginning of the day.

12:30 - Arrive to venue.

1:00 - Detail shots, Bride getting ready

2:00 - Posed photos of party in robes/pajamas

2:15 - Move to Groom’s suite, capture getting ready shots, into attire

2:45 - Move back to Bridal suite, into attire

3 :00- First look into Posed Newlywed Portraits

4:00 - Posed Wedding Party

4:15 - Posed Family

4:45 - Everyone into hiding // Photographing reception wide room shots

5:00 - Ceremony begins!

5:30 - Ceremony ends, straight to cocktail hour coverage // Photographing reception tablescapes

6:45 - Grand entrance to Reception

7:00 -

8:00 -

9:00 -

10:00 -

10:30 - Exit, and goodnight!

Now that the beginning of the day is set up, your clients can start to plan with their other vendors for their ready-times. For example, knowing that the bride needs to be photo-ready in robe at 2:00, her hair and makeup should be wrapped up by then, and all the bridesmaids needs to be ready by then as well. The groom in this situation also knows he needs to be in the suite to start getting ready no later than 2:15.

Next, we have the reception portion to fill out. Generally speaking, the flow is written up by a DJ or planner, so you might not have a lot of say here. But there are some questions left to ask!

  • Do you want to be pulled from the reception for any sunset/evening photos?

  • If guests start to leave earlier, do you plan on doing a “fake exit” for the photos? (I don’t recommend this because it frames the wedding as a production instead of, you know, a real day. If they lean yes to this concept, suggest calling it a “photo opportunity” as opposed to having a DJ announce a “fake exit”. “The bride and groom want to get a photo of everyone standing around them with sparklers! Please head outside.” — something like that.)

  • What timeline is already in place for the reception’s events?


In our example, let’s say our bride and groom said:

  • Sunset/evening photos: Yes

  • “Fake exit”: No

  • Reception events timeline: dinner at 7, toasts at 7:30, cake at 7:45, first dance at 8:15, into open dance floor. No bouquet/garter.


Cool. With that covered, we now have a general idea of the rest of the night. Let’s plug it all in!

12:30 - Arrive to venue.

1:00 - Detail shots, Bride getting ready

2:00 - Posed photos of party in robes/pajamas

2:15 - Move to Groom’s suite, capture getting ready shots, into attire

2:45 - Move back to Bridal suite, into attire

3 :00- First look into Posed Newlywed Portraits

4:00 - Posed Wedding Party

4:15 - Posed Family

4:45 - Everyone into hiding // Photographing reception wide room shots

5:00 - Ceremony begins!

5:30 - Ceremony ends, straight to cocktail hour coverage // Photographing reception tablescapes

6:45 - Grand entrance to Reception

7:00 - Dinner begins

7:30 - Toasts

7:45 - Cake cutting

8:15 - First dance, open dancing

8:20 - Sunset/Dusk photos

8:40 - Back to the dance floor

9:00 -

10:00 -

10:30 - Exit, and goodnight!

If our couple specifically said “sunset photos” and was NOT open to darker, duskier photos, we’d be in a pickle here. If that was the case, I would suggest taking them for sunset photos right after they finish dinner, moving Toasts to 7:45, Cake to 8:00, and First Dance to 8:30, OR moving Cake after some dancing happened. But in this example, let’s say our couple was flexible.

And that’s it! That’s a full timeline for this example — but let’s do another with different circumstances.


EXAMPLE TWO (Client is “bride 1” and “bride 2”. Sunset time: 5:30pm.):

  • Ceremony time: 1pm (15 minutes, short and sweet)

  • Cocktail hour: Yes

  • Reception entry: 2:30

  • Reception Exit: 6:00

  • First look: No

  • Posed Before/After: After

With that information, we know the following:

  • We are hired for 10 hours, and their exit is at 6:00. This puts our arrival time at 8:00.

  • No first look, all posed photos after, which means our posed photo window is from 1:15 - 2:30.

When you start to compose this timeline, this is the very start of it:

8:00 - Arrive to venue.

9:00 -

10:00 -

11:00 -

12:00 -

1:00 - Ceremony begins!

1:15 - Ceremony ends.

2:00 -

2:30 - Grand entrance to Reception

3:00 -

4:00 -

5:00 -

6:00 - Exit, and goodbye!




Again, same questions as before, with different answers:

  • Wedding party: 2 on each side

  • Family size: small

  • Posed pre-attire: No

  • Everyone on-site: Yes

  • Coverage of both parties: Yes


With that information, here’s how I would fill in the beginning of the day.

8:00 - Arrive to venue.

9:00 - Detail photos

10:00 - Bouncing between suites photographing both Brides getting ready.

11:30 - Bride B into attire

12:00 - Bride A into attire

12:30 - Everyone in hiding, wide room shots of Reception, tablescape shots if time permits.

1:00 - Ceremony begins!

1:15 - Ceremony ends, posed portraits begin with family.

1:30 - Posed portraits with wedding party.

1:45 - Posed newlywed portraits.

2:15 - Done with portraits, in position for grand entrance.

2:30 - Grand entrance to Reception

3:00 -

4:00 -

5:00 -

6:00 - Exit, and goodbye!

Pretty chill morning! When you have two Brides getting ready, it is important to know if they are both going to be in full hair and makeup, so you can stay on their schedules. Generally speaking, the key moments are towards the end of hair being done, and makeup shots once lashes/mascara is on.

And now we move to the reception portion with the same questions. In this example, our brides are said:

  • Sunset/evening photos: Yes, if possible

  • “Fake exit”: Yes, if needed

  • Reception events timeline: Lunch at 2:45, Toasts at 3:30, First Dance at 4:00 Cake at 5:00. They’ve also warned this is more of a mingle crowd than a dancing crowd.


Again, sounds like a really relaxing time. Here’s how the rest of the day should flow!

8:00 - Arrive to venue.

9:00 - Detail photos

10:00 - Bouncing between suites photographing both Brides getting ready.

11:30 - Bride B into attire

12:00 - Bride A into attire

12:30 - Everyone in hiding, wide room shots of Reception, tablescape shots if time permits.

1:00 - Ceremony begins!

1:15 - Ceremony ends, posed portraits begin with family.

1:30 - Posed portraits with wedding party.

1:45 - Posed newlywed portraits.

2:15 - Done with portraits, in position for grand entrance.

2:30 - Grand entrance to Reception

2:45 - Lunch is served

3:30 - Toasts

4:00 - First Dance

5:00 - Cake, immediately into QUICK posed Sunset Photos

5:20 - Back from photos, enjoy the reception!

6:00 - Exit, and goodbye!


It is important to get them back to their reception quickly after those photos — it’d the end of it, after all! If, by chance, guests have started to leave around 4:30, I would suggest moving the cake to 4:30, exit to 5:00, and then photos from 5:00-5:30. That does cut your day by 30 minutes, and the clients may or may not be cool with that. But you won’t know if this is even an option until the wedding day, so make sure everyone is on the same page to play it by ear.


Those are two examples of timelines with pretty different circumstances. Hopefully seeing this written out in blocks helps you understand how to most efficiently compose your next timeline!

Cortnie Davis
Photographing Sentimental Wedding Details

So much goes into planning a wedding, and the small details aren’t always so small.

Before the wedding, ask your couple what is important to them. Will there be items present that are particularly sentimental? I’ve had multiple cases where an item was passed down from generations, or from loved ones who have passed away. It is critical to make art from these pieces (unless the client does not feel it would be appropriate).


 

In this photo, this hand mirror was given to my client by her late mother. Her mother did the cross-stitching, so it was important to show that in the image. But not only that, the ring beside the bride’s was custom made from her mother’s wedding ring, so having everything together in one image was really beautiful.

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This shot was important to my bride because the rosary was gifted to her by her best friend who bought it while visiting the Vatican, and the jade pendant was worn by her grandfather in Vietnam. She kept both on her bouquet all day.


 

Not every important detail is an item, and not everything needs to be exact. This bride said butterflies reminded her of her late sister — and so much of her sister was present at their wedding. While, yes, this is technically not a butterfly (it’s actually a moth, or a Nymphalis californica), they had been present all weekend prepping the venue for the big day, and they brought the bride a lot of joy. It was important to capture a shot of one for her, as it was appropriate to the day.


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Both taken from the same wedding, the denim heart on the boutonniere was cut from the groom’s late father’s favorite jacket, and the tattoo is of the two men walking together in the woods, something they did often.


So before you just get focused on pretty things, ask about the details that are sentimental and meaningful to the couple. It may be something you can put into a ring shot, it may be on their body, it may be a part of nature. Whatever it is, document it with intention and love, and they will cherish those photos forever.

Cortnie Davis
6 Items You Need In Your Kit For Rainy Texas Days

Texas likes to play tricks on us. One minute the sun will be shining bright, and the next we’re all running indoors for cover. But don’t let a rainy day stop you from getting GORGEOUS photos! Here are some of my favorite items for rainy wedding days.

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1. A waterproof sleeve for your camera.

I’ve had clients determined to get photos in the rain - and who am I to tell them no? It is our job to get the photos our clients need, and this sleeve allows you to do just that. This one in particular has a drawstring, a hole for your viewfinder, and plenty of room for accessories. I keep one in my bag even on days where the forecast looks friendly - because you never really know!





2. A clear umbrella for some rainy-but-dry photos.

Everyone loves a good bubble umbrella. Sometimes we just want to be IN the rain but not be attacked BY the rain, you know? A clear bubble umbrella will keep your clients dry (at least shoulders-up!), and they photograph really sweetly.





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3. A hands-free umbrella for you, so you never miss a beat.

That’s right: hands-free umbrella. One of those very fashionable umbrella hats. I had the great idea to purchase one for a wedding last Fall, and while I looked wildly ridiculous, my clients and their guests thought it was hilarious, and it was seriously effective. Paired with the rain sleeve mentioned above, my camera was dry, I was dry, and I didn’t miss a single shot of their outdoor ceremony.




4. A pack of ponchos, in case you need to share.

Another item that stays in my bag, this one is a set of 5 long ponchos that will make sure you stay dry when you’re walking quickly from the venue to your car (but don’t have time to do more than throw a poncho over yourself and your gear). It also won’t hurt if you give one to a panicking bridesmaid - she may have to carry the bottom of her dress when she walks outside, but the rest of her will be dry!




5. Your handy-dandy MagMod.

Okay, this should be in a kit all the time, not just on rainy days, but it is a staple for indoor wedding scenarios. I swear by this product, with its ability to diffuse light (without dulling it) to make it look like you brought the much-missed sunshine indoors with you! You won’t be missing the sun too much when your MagMod’s rocking out the wedding with you!




6. Shoes that can handle the job - and a puddle or two.

Y’all, I cannot tell you the amount of times I have decided it was a day for suede flats…and then boom, puddles. (In fact, I am typing this while wearing wet shoes. I wish I was kidding, and I wish I’d have followed this advice here.) Get yourself some shoes that can stand up to rain and the puddles it leaves behind! On light-to-medium rain days, I throw on my Clark’s booties, but when the weather needs a bit more, I’m rocking black cowboy boots (when appropriate to do so). I’ve yet to commit to a pair of rain boots (my San Diegan heart can’t handle it), but when I do, I’ll share what works best for me.


So tell Texas-rain you’re the boss, and get out there and make beautiful photos happen. Or, stay inside and get the shots your clients are dreaming of, regardless of what the sun says. (And if it all comes down to it, run with that cliche that rain’s just good luck. Whatever gets the job done and makes them happy!)


Cortnie Davis
Good Graces - 4 Tips For Maintaining Good Relationships With Vendors

When it comes to styled shoots - or ANY shoot, for that matter - it is important to maintain a good relationship with all vendors involved. Here are some tips on keeping everyone happy, and ensuring they’ll be excited to work with you again!

  • Proper credit given on social media.

I’ve had so many conversations with my friendors (vendor-friends) about this - TAG ALL THE VENDORS! And be thorough, because one person being left out is awkward. On Instagram, tag them in the caption and again on the photo itself (and don’t layer your tags - space them out so people can read names when they tap the image).

Sometimes at weddings, it can be challenging to get all the contact info for each vendor. Try to get names from your clients beforehand, or reach out to a planner before posting to ensure you aren’t missing anyone. If you want to post quickly and can’t get the names, just don’t forget to go back and tag the minute you have the information!

  • Treat every vendor like a client.

At styled shoots, it is TRULY a collaboration, so don’t forget that. Ask your vendors what shots they would love to have, and get them! A cake may be all-over beautiful, but that baker may specifically have spent time learning that trendy technique and would appreciate some detailed photos of it. Your planner will want shots of everything, but ask if there is something in particular their portfolio can benefit from.

At weddings, this may be different - your CLIENT is your client. But every vendor was chosen for a reason, so take time to document everything you can. For the venue, get a wide shot of the layout of the room. For the florist, get clear photos of the arrangements, the bouquet/boutonniere, and not just a super zoomed in photo of a flower. For the DJ, get pictures of them working themselves OR of people dancing - they’re the reason the party is bumping! For the makeup artist, stay out of their light but do get some action shots - and if possible, get a beautiful portrait that showcases the makeup! A bride looking down at her shoulder shows off lashes like crazy.


  • Be timely with delivering images.

With styled shoots, everyone contributing is done when the shoot is over - except you. It is understandable if you have paying clients waiting on images, and those will always take priority, but don’t forget that other people poured their hearts and souls into creating something beautiful! Give everyone some images to share!

  • Communicate your expectations.

If you plan on getting the shoot published, make everyone on your team aware of this. Some sites won’t publish if an image from the shoot has been shared, so keep that in mind BEFORE shooting. It won’t be your planner’s fault for posting a photo and preventing you from getting published if you don’t communicate to everyone involved that that’s the intention.

Regardless of publication plans though, have a detailed timeline for the day so that everyone can be prepared to make the day flow as smoothly as possible. For example, I have a styled shoot coming up here in a few weeks, and this is what our timeline looks like (we do not have a planner for this shoot and therefore I’m doing a lot of set-up of table layouts and whatnot).

Day Before: Photographer picks up gown from Boutique. Photographer picks up Invitation Suite from Calligrapher.

9:00am - Venue opens. Photographer arrives, sets up vendor snacks.

9:30am - Hair and Makeup team arrives. Models arrive. Glam prep begins. Photographer sets up Tablescape Shots.

10:00am - Florist arrives, begins Chapel Install. Baker arrives, begins Cake Setup. Photographer begins Invitation Flat Lay Shots.

12:00pm - Florist completes Chapel Install, begins Outdoor Install. Baker completes Cake Setup, Baker free to leave. Photographer begins Room Shots, Cake Detail Shots and Floral Detail Shots.

1:00pm - Hair and Makeup complete Prep, Hair and Makeup free to leave. Photographer and Models begin Chapel Shots.

1:30pm - Wrap on Chapel Shots. Florist completes Outdoor Install, begins Chapel Transition into Reception Install. Photographer and Models begin Outdoor Shots.

2:00pm - Wrap on Outdoor Shots. Florist completes Reception Install. Photographer and Models begin Reception Shots.

3:00pm - Wrap on all photos, everyone free to leave.

With these four tips - giving proper credit, treating your vendors like clients, being timely with your turnaround, and communicating expectations - you’ll be sure to leave a lasting impression with your vendors, and ensure they’ll be referring you out and working with you more on future projects!

Cortnie Davis