Planning the Timing of Your Photography on Your Wedding Day
Many couples are overwhelmed with creating a schedule for their wedding day that allows a balance between spending time on preparations, greeting their guests and having their photos taken. It can be especially difficult for couples to figure out wedding photography packages based on hours.
This is a general guide to maximize time on the wedding day and to provide guidelines on how much time to allow for wedding photographs. Hindu ceremonies are quite a bit different (sometimes they are one to six days), so this guide is geared more towards Western ceremonies.
The times ranges provided below represents the experience and approach of our photography studio. Your photographer may have slightly different approach. The important thing to remember is for you to talk to YOUR photographer to make sure your wedding schedule allows for the pictures you want to get.
There are lots of emotional moments during the preparations – This image captures Rachel’s mother giving her a hug a minute or two after the dress was donned.
- 30 minutes to three hours – bridal hair & makeup
- 20-45 minutes – bride putting on the dress & veil
- 30-45 minutes – portraits of the girls together (bridal party, parents of the bride, etc.) after the dresses are on
- 30-45 minutes – capturing the groom and guys together (groomsmen, parents of the groom)
When planning preparations, brides should be aware that hair and makeup can sometimes run over time. If a stylist suggests one hour for hair and makeup, allow for two hours just in case things need to be adjusted or redone. The worst thing that will happen is the bride is ready a little early.
Hiring a photographer for preparations means couples will have the anticipation and excitement documented, plus it allows the photographer(s) to get warmed up for the day, understanding who is camera shy, who the key family members are, who is tricky to photograph, etc.
Most photographers will approach the preparations as a photojournalist, capturing candid moments as they unfold. Some may ask people to get ready in good light or to look towards the camera at certain times.
During the preparations the bride’s makeup and hair will be perfect so this is a great time to have some early portraits taken (and it means you won’t have to spend time on these portraits later).
If a couple only has a photographer for a limited period of time, it’s best to have hair and makeup completely finished and the dress ready to put on immediately upon the photographer’s arrival. It is also best for couples to maximize the time they spend in their wedding attire to ensure their preparation photos feature more than just everyone wearing jeans and t-shirts.
If couples allow extra time after the wedding attire is donned the photographer can take extra portraits while hair and makeup is still fresh.
Arriving at the Ceremony
- Bride – one to 30 minutes
- Groom – 30 minutes to one hour
Usually, the groom and groomsmen arrive at the ceremony first and will greet guests. The bride is usually the last to arrive. During this time the photographer(s) will usually do candid photography. Most grooms will have their boutonniere pinned during this time.
This couple told me they would be lighting a ceremonial candle, which allowed me to anticipate and position myself for the moment.
- 20 minutes to three hours
It is important for couples to speak with their ceremony official to find out if there are any rules or restrictions regarding photography. Some members of the clergy will not allow flash or will not allow any photography at all during the ceremony.
Most photographers will not interrupt the ceremony for any reason and will instead take pictures of moments as they happen. Couples should let their photographers know the general timing of the ceremony and should also discuss any surprises or unusual aspects of the ceremony.
I’ve personally seen the following surprises and it was helpful to know ahead of time so I could anticipate the shot:
- One couple gave rings to the bride’s children from another relationship.
- One groomsman had a toy ring in his pocket that was the size of a pop can. He gave it to the couple during the ring exchange instead of the actual ring, causing everyone to go into hysterical laughter.
- One groom pulled out a guitar and serenaded his bride during the ceremony.
Couples should also let the photographer know if they are releasing doves, ringing a bell, having a sand ceremony, lighting candles, having friends sing or perform, etc.
This Greek Orthodox wedding had lots of traditional touches and it was helpful to know the schedule to anticipate each ritual.
- 20-45 minutes – if there is a receiving line couples should allow 30 seconds to one minute per person in the line.
Some couples will skip post-ceremony greetings or a receiving line and will go straight to photos. If this is the case, they should plan an exit strategy and have their ceremony official tell guests that they will see the couple at the reception.
If post-ceremony greetings are covered, this is usually when emotions are at their highest and photographers will get lots of candid photos of teary guests greeting the couple.
Right after the ceremony is a great time for photographers to capture candid moments.
Emotions also run high right after the ceremony and I was able to capture this tearful moment when Janice’s father gave congratulations.
- 30 minutes to one hour
Allow approximately three to five minutes per family group (i.e., bride and groom with parents, grandparents, siblings, nieces and nephews).
Allow an extra two minutes for variations on each group (i.e. groom with mom, groom with dad, groom with mom and dad, groom with siblings, groom with each sibling, groom with grandparents, groom with each grandparent).
This can sometimes be the trickiest part of the day for the photographer and guests often get bored so couples should try to limit the time to under 30 minutes. It’s important for couples to have a list ready and to appoint someone who knows the faces in the crowd. If lots of combinations are needed, some photographers will offer to do the additional family groupings at the reception.
To help things run smoothly, family portrait participants should be informed about where/when the portraits will be taken so no one runs off to the bathroom or outside for a cigarette break. The couple should also tell the photographer if one of the participants has mobility issues.
Since the family portraits usually involve the highest number of participants, it is usually easier to have the location near the ceremony so guests don’t get lost, and to have the portraits in one location.
Some photographers will ask that no one else take portraits during this time. This ensures all eyes are looking at the photographer’s camera and not at Aunt June’s camera. Most wedding days are about family reunions and sometimes it’s the first time a certain group will have been together in years. That’s why photographers want no distractions so they can get the perfect picture with everyone looking at just one camera.
Unfortunately, it was hard to get the kids to look towards the camera and the children were distracted when another guest began taking pictures
Wedding Party Portraits
- 20 minutes to one hour
Most times, wedding parties will travel in the limo or carriage to each location with the couple; however, to allow time for the photographer to spend time with the couple alone it’s a good idea to limit the wedding party portraits to one or two locations. The wedding party sometimes gets a little bored and tired, so doing wedding party portraits first will allow them to head back to the limo or cocktail party to continue celebrating.
If a couple wants a mostly photojournalistic approach, then wedding party portraits can be limited to one of the whole group together (or none at all). This group portrait should take no more than five or ten minutes.
Wedding party photos usually include the bride & her girls, the groom & his guys. If it’s kept to one or two locations, the wedding party won’t get bored.
Portraits of the Couple Alone
- 20 minutes to three hours (our average is 45 minutes to one hour)
Unless couples want 100% photojournalism, the couple portraits are usually the most important time for photography. This session works best if the couple is alone with the photographer(s). Sometimes well-meaning guests will tease, heckle or call out to reposition the couple (or even simply run up to have a conversation with the couple). This often delays the time it takes to get these key photos.
While the new wave of photography is more in favor of creative portraits like those seen in magazines, parents will want at least one traditional, “look at the camera and smile” portrait. This portrait won’t take very long and it’s a good idea to get at least one to satisfy more traditional family members.
Sometimes I will ask couples if they would like to leave the reception for a few minutes for some additional evening or sunset portraits. This is good for couples who don’t have a lot of time between the ceremony & reception.
Reception Pre-Dinner Cocktails
- 20 minutes to one hour (usually this is done while the bride and groom are having their portraits taken)
Wedding Party Arrival
- 10 minutes
- One to two hours
Most photographers close to the same time as the couple eats to ensure they are ready to capture speeches (which sometime starts while the last guests are getting their meals).
- 15 minutes per speech
Sometimes speeches are done at the rehearsal dinner, but many happen at the reception. Couples should plan for at least 15 minutes per speech, even if instructions to the speech-makers were to keep the speech under five minutes. Often, guests can get a little tipsy or carried away and I’ve personally seen one speech last longer than 30 minutes with six others waiting in line to say their part.
- 10 to 20 minutes
- 10 minutes
- 10 minutes
- 10 minutes
In this case, the papparazi were welcome and made for a fun photo while the couple cut the cake.
- 15 to 30 minutes (people will often stop the couple on the way out the door to say goodbye, give hugs, etc.)
Remember this is a guideline and reflects what our photography studio has learned over the years. You should work closely with your wedding planner and photographer to make sure your schedule allows for the kinds of photos you want during the day. Communication is the key and will help reduce any misunderstandings and missed shots.
Good luck with your wedding planning! If you have any questions or comments, leave them in the comment box below.