colorado wedding timeline ideas

Sample Wedding Photography Timeline

I’m updating this blog post because a good wedding photography timeline can make or break the experience of a wedding day. As a wedding photographer, I don’t just want great photos I want my job to make the wedding day experience better. And the better experience the bride and groom have, the better the photos are.

It’s a win-win!

The sample wedding day timelines that I’ll share below are the same timelines that I’ve used for over a decade as a wedding photographer. Each wedding is slightly unique but my goal is a stress-free wedding day that results in awesome wedding photos. Let’s talk through the elements of a good timeline and why it’s important.

how long does wedding photography take

Why a Wedding Day Photography Timeline is Important

If you read our wedding advice post, 4 tips for dealing with the details, then you know that we believe ironing out the timeline will help save you some of that much-needed wedding planning energy. Once you think through the wedding photography timeline, things will start to fall into place. Everything isn’t one size fits all but there are some guidelines for making something that works for you and your ideal wedding day.

Having a good timeline will help the wedding day go smoothly while also ensuring that you capture all the pictures you want. Having breathing room in the right places will allow you to adapt when things don’t do to plan. And making sure the timeline aligns with the priorities of the bride and groom will keep the wedding party from standing around for no reason.

I’ll say it again, the goal is both great photos and an awesome experience. Therefore, the timeline should be a nice plan for a fun day and also ensure time for the important photos. As wedding photographers, we’ve seen our share of crazy days and unforeseen circumstances and learned that it’s best to have a plan but not get married to it.

Elements of a Good Wedding Photography Timeline

We always start with a sample timeline and then customize it for each and every wedding that we photograph. A few things that will have an impact on that customization include:

  • first look or no first look
  • a variety of portrait session lengths
  • locations
  • family and bridal party pictures
  • sunset

Some of these issues require a little bit of thought and we will try to cover them in subsequent posts. For now, we will cover them briefly before introducing you to the sample wedding photography timeline.

sample wedding photography timeline

first look

Doing a first look often provides more time for photos and an easier schedule without making your guests wait. However, we personally never like to push couples into something that might negatively impact their experience. For some couples, seeing each other walking down the aisle is an important moment.

Additionally, sometimes the light is better after the ceremony anyway. Essentially there are cases when one option is better or easier than the other. And it varies from wedding to wedding. Whatever you choose, both options can make for a memorable day and awesome photos.

I always find out if my couple is interested in a first look because that will impact the start time and when they need to get ready. The amount of time we have for a first look can vary as well and keep in mind that if you’re going somewhere you’ll need to account for travel time too.

If the couple is doing a first look they’ll need to be putting on the wedding dress earlier which means hair and make-up needs to be done sooner.

portrait session length

Many of our clients hire us because of our couples portraits. Having those epic sunset environmental shots is important to them and often end up as their favorite photos. Often they’ve chosen to travel somewhere beautiful for their wedding and they want that documented.

After seeing the results of the engagement shoot, our couples know that spending more time will allow us to explore, enjoy, and capture the area. Therefore, we always try for as much portrait session time as possible. Of course, sometimes it isn’t practical to shoot an hour of sunset portraits if that lines up with when 200 people will be waiting to eat dinner.

That’s one of the reasons I love doing engagement shoots with my couples. If we’ve already worked together then we’re able to be super-efficient with portraits. Often we even do two portrait sessions, one before the ceremony when there is less time pressure and one short one at sunset when there are colorful skies and beautiful light.


It can save time if there are beautiful locations on site. We always scout for great portrait locations near the wedding venue but we have also traveled off-site for portraits. Like the first look, this is another situation in which the result will vary based on what you envision for your wedding day.

When you’re building your timeline you need to know the distance between locations such as the wedding ceremony, wedding reception, and locations you’re shooting getting ready photos. It’s really helpful when the venue has a bridal suite for hair and make-up. If you are doing pre-ceremony photos near the ceremony site then you need to know when the wedding guests arrive.

Guests arriving at one location while you’re at a different location capturing some photos takes coordination. Additionally, if you plan to take immediate family photos at the ceremony site you’ll need to know where it is relative to the cocktail hour. Set expectations with your couples so they know whether or not to expect to be taking photos during the entire cocktail hour.

group pictures

Family photos and wedding party photos are the pictures that everyone wants but no one enjoys taking. Family photos are arguably the most important photos because they’re the ones that get printed by multiple family members. They may not be the most artistic or creative, but people are important even if family portraits and wedding party portraits feel old-fashioned and traditional.

We’re always trying to avoid tracking down a groomsman or uncle at the bar so that we can get through these photos as painlessly as possible. The most common timeframe for these photos is before or after the ceremony. We almost always shoot them right after the ceremony because it’s the best chance for the entire wedding party to be present and dressed.

Either way, the main challenge is having everyone gathered. If someone is late it holds up our ability to take photos and negatively impacts everyone’s experience. Another tip is that we always walk through a family picture list with our clients, advise them to keep it simple, and remind them to tell their families where to be. Then, we can be efficient as possible with these painful but important photos.


Sunset is our favorite time of day. The golden hour light is as romantic as the day we’re celebrating. Unfortunately, on a typical wedding day, sunset tends to happen during dinner.

It is still possible to fit in a few bridal portraits during this time. All it takes is a little teamwork and planning. For example, we’re often sneaking out during dinner while the guests are eating.

As I mentioned, one of the reasons we love doing engagement shoots is that on the wedding day, the bride and groom have already been in front of our cameras and are comfortable and know what to expect. When we can, we love to get as much time as possible for sunset portraits. When reality doesn’t make that possible we take what we can get and let the magic of the light make it happen!

And as I said before, if sunset doesn’t happen during the scheduled portrait session then we do two, one whenever it fits best in the schedule and one quick one at sunset.

set times

Find out any set times. Meaning is the ceremony at a set time, catering serves dinner at a set time, and does the reception have to be over at a certain time? Gathering that information will help you build the photography timeline.

Write down any set times and then work from there to build the timeline. We also like to know what time the sun goes behind a mountain because it might put the ceremony site in shade. And obviously sunset!

Other Parts of the Wedding Day

There are other aspects of the wedding day that aren’t necessarily going to appear in the sample timelines below but it’s important to be prepared for them for wedding photos.

The first dance, father-daughter dance, and mother-son dance are typically taking place right before the dance floor opens. However, some people like to do them after a grand entrance before dinner. Cake cutting also varies as some couples do it earlier to get all the formal events over with while others space it out.

how long does wedding photography take turnaround time wedding photography

sample wedding photography timelines

When you build your timeline you will likely work from the wedding ceremony start time outward. Meaning, often the wedding ceremony has a set time and you’ll build from that. If the ceremony starts at 3pm then you want to have pre-ceremony pictures done by 2:30 and so on.

wedding photography timeline with a first look

  • prep and details (~30-60 min)
  • groom/groomsmen getting ready pictures (~40+ min)
  • bride/bridesmaid getting ready pictures (~40+ min)
  • first look (~20+ min)
  • *bridal party pictures (~15 min)
  • *immediate family pictures (~15 min)
  • pre-ceremony buffer time (~30 min)
  • ceremony
  • remaining group pictures and extended family pictures (~15 min)
  • sunset portrait session (~10-30 min: move to whenever sunset is)
  • cocktail hour
  • dinner (it’s helpful to know buffet vs plated and how long it will take)
  • **reception (at least an hour for speeches, dances, formal events, and candids)

*Often we do all group photos after the ceremony for efficiency because someone is always late or missing and then everyone is standing around for an hour.

wedding photography timeline without a first look

  • prep and details (~30-60 min)
  • groom/groomsmen getting ready pictures (~40+ min)
  • bride/bridesmaid getting ready pictures (~40+ min)
  • pre-ceremony buffer time (~30 min)
  • ceremony
  • immediate and extended family pictures (~15 min)
  • bridal party pictures (~15 min)
  • sunset portrait session (~10-30 min: move to whenever sunset is)
  • cocktail hour
  • dinner (it’s helpful to know buffet vs plated and how long it will take)
  • **reception (at least an hour for speeches, dances, formal events, and candids)

If you know what time the reception ends and you know your couples’ priorities you can shoot more or less getting ready pictures. For example, if they want a grand exit photographed but they only booked 8 hours you might need to compress the timeline.

What’s next:

Stay tuned for more tips for photographers or wedding photography advice posts  such as engagement shoot planning. You might appreciate a few of our previous wedding advice posts:

FREE comprehensive e-guide: Prioritize your planning so your wedding is a memorable adventure.

As always, thanks for stopping by the Bergreen Blog. Be sure to check out more wedding photography advice on the blog. See what wedding planner Erica Sarrell Bull has to say about using the timeline to ensuring the ultimate guest experience. And don’t forget that timing isn’t always just about the day of. If you’re a wedding photographer we have tips on marketing, pricing, and more.

We are Marc and Brenda Bergreen, a husband and wife photography team specializing in outdoor weddings and other adventures. Capturing people in nature and the mountain lifestyle is a passion that became a dream that became a life.

We love sharing our unique style of adventure wedding photography for outdoorsy couples. We are based in Evergreen, CO and travel throughout the state as Colorado mountain wedding photographers. We also frequently travel to California and other wedding destinations to document your love in a variety of memorable settings.

Don’t hesitate to contact us and let us know how we can help! Be sure to follow us (weddings instagram & adventures instagram) and/or like us (facebook) to stay tuned.

In the meantime, remember to…

love adventurously bergreen photography

Similar Posts