It’s not that hard to scour the Internet to find sample wedding day timelines. In fact, it won’t take that much effort on your part at all. However, you may be hard pressed to find examples of sample wedding day timelines from real weddings. We get asked, rather often, questions like, “Since you do all day coverage on wedding days, what does that actually look like?” Or, “What does all day coverage even mean?” The easy answer to both questions is that we bust our asses from early in the morning until early the next morning, regularly photographing from before noon until after midnight because that’s how good wedding stories are made.

[Rewind: Putting Together a Wedding Day Timeline that Works]

So here’s a breakdown of a wedding day timeline from a real wedding; this one went down in March of 2016 in Scottsdale, Arizona, and had us photographing from 9:00 A.M. until 2:00 A.M. We also included a few images from the day that are relevant to the timeline.

9:00-11:00 A.M.: Early Morning Activity

We see ourselves as story tellers and that takes creativity and commitment on the part of both our couples and us. That means, to properly tell the story of a couple’s wedding day, we’re up early, meeting them as they have their morning coffee, hit up the salon, or head to the park for some morning yoga.

yoga with bridesmaids
80mm, ISO 800, f/16, 1/640 sec.
morning yoga
50mm, ISO 800, f/16, 1/640 sec.

11:00 A.M.-3:00 P.M.: Getting Ready/Details/Portraits

We reserve a good portion of the morning/early afternoon for photographing the couple and the wedding party as they get ready; their details, and any applicable pre-ceremony portraits (individual portraits of the couple, a first look, etc.). If there is a time when the couple can get behind/off schedule, this is that time. Ceremony start-times don’t tend to be too flexible, and we’ve found that ample getting-ready time ensures that the couple and wedding party are at the ceremony on time.

(Related: 3 Ideas to Inspire Creative Getting Ready Shots)

getting ready makeup
50mm, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/200 sec.
bride's shoes
24mm, ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/500 sec.
bridal portrait
24mm, ISO 320, f/4.5, 1/200 sec.
groom's details
50mm, ISO 200, f/7.1, 1/160 sec.

3:00-4:00 P.M.: Couple & Guests Arrive for Ceremony

Capturing every moment is key. If there’s a first look, we’re obviously getting that for sure, but if there isn’t, we like to photograph the couple where they’re at, whether the bride is hangin’ out in a getting-ready room at the ceremony site, or just chillin’ down the street at a bar while the groom is en route to/arriving at the ceremony. We also make it a point to photograph the guests as they mingle, pre-ceremony.

pre wedding shots
24mm, ISO 160, f/2.8, 1/200 sec.
guests at ceremony
24mm, ISO 2000, f/2.2, 1/200 sec.

4:00-5:00 P.M. : Ceremony

Is this too obvious? A little bit because this is the key moment, right? Photographing the ceremony is clearly not optional. Most ceremonies are about 30 minutes, but we recommend reserving an hour in case anyone is behind schedule.

100mm, IS0 400, f/6.3, 1/200 sec.
ceremony shot
24mm, ISO 2000, f/3.2, 1/200 sec.

5:00-5:30 P.M.: Marriage License & Family Portraits

Like the ceremony, signing the marriage license and family photos post-ceremony are very traditional things to photograph, but we find them very significant, and especially the family photos because this is often a rare moment where the entire family is together.

marriage license
50mm, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/200 sec.
family photo
24mm, ISO 200, f/4.5, 1/200 sec.

5:30-6:45 P.M.: Portraits En Route to Reception

Timing portraits around sunset is key for us, and if you’re aiming to get some images around sunset, you’ll want to flex this such that you’re ending your portraits of the couple about ten minutes after sunset. And it’s always legit if the couple takes this ride in a limo, and if they do, you better believe we’re going along for the ride!

limo driver
24mm, ISO 500, f/5, 1/200 sec.
wedding day portraits
50mm, ISO 100, f/5, 1/200 sec.

6:45-7:15 P.M.: Reception Details

Getting all the details truly matters because 5 (and for sure 10) years from the wedding day, it’s unlikely that the couple will remember what their cake and decor looked like. Undoubtedly, the couple spent some significant time planning/organizing/crafting their tablescapes, centerpieces, etcetera, so it’s important to get those elements documented.

wedding cake
50mm, ISO 100, f/4.5, 1/200 sec.

7:15-8:15 P.M.: Toasts/Dinner & Quickly Eat Something

Traditionally, the wedding photographers take a break during dinner. Our break is quick (10 minutes, if that). We don’t want to miss the toast or speeches, and while people tend to shy away if you attempt to photograph them while eating, we make it a point to go around and get some images of the dinner plates and at least one group shot of each of the tables while the guests are eating.

private residence venue
24mm, ISO 1000, f/8, 1/160 sec.
24mm, ISO 200, f/5, 1/160 sec.

8:15-8:30 P.M.: First Dance/Couple Dancing with Parents

Typically following dinner, the couple has a first dance, and the couple takes turns dancing with each other’s parents. Enough said there.

daddy daughter dance
50mm, ISO 1000, f/8, 1/160 sec.

8:30-9:00 P.M.: Cutting Cake/Reception SHENANIGANS

After the cake is cut, there’s usually some reception-related activities that go down that you don’t want to miss: tossing the bouquet, some kind of game, etc. And your couple isn’t going to want you to miss a moment!

cutting the cake
50mm, ISO 400, f/10, 1/160 sec.
reception speeches
24mm, ISO 1250, f/9, 1/160 sec.

9:00 P.M.-2:00 A.M.: Reception

Let the party begin. Who doesn’t love a good party? We sure do, and we’ll photograph it until the last song is sung and the last dance is danced. Heck, if the police show up due to a noise complaint, and the party moves into the guest house, we’re still down to photograph that too (insert winky-faced emoticon).

reception images
24mm, ISO 1600, f/16, 1/3 sec.
bride dancing
24mm, ISO 1250, f/13, 0.4 sec.
shutter drag
24mm, ISO 500, f/3.5, 0.5 sec.

2:00 A.M.-?: Last Shots of the Day/Night/Early A.M.

When you stay to the end and photograph every last moment, you’ll reap the rewards, and your couples will be stoked! So stay strong my friends. Make sure there’s coffee around somewhere, and get after it!

cigar smoke shot
24mm, ISO 500, f/7.1, 1/200 sec.
last shot of the night
45mm (Tilt), ISO 400, f/2.8, 1/200 sec.
last kiss
45mm (Tilt), ISO 400, f/2.8, 1/200 sec.

And In Conclusion . . .

That is, on average, how we roll. Of course, the times will flex based upon a variety of factors like how early people get up; the start time of the ceremony; when the sun sets; if a venue closes their doors at a certain time, and so on. And do we photograph shorter wedding days? Of course! Sometimes we start at noon, sometimes we end at midnight, but we do average at least 12 hours.

What are some of your best tips for wedding day timelines? Share some below, and include some of your favorite images! And, as always, feel free to continue the conversation (by sharing your images and/or thoughts) over at Facebook, on our every-growing SLR Lounge Photography Community page.

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