Once you have your ceremony time scheduled (this may be predetermined by the church/venue or up to you), you can start to plan the other parts of your day. The caterer will want to select a reasonable time to serve dinner somewhat based on your ceremony time as well, but it will be up to you to decide how much time you need between the ceremony and reception. And to determine that, we need to know if the you — the couple — want to see each other prior to your walk down the aisle. A “First Look” or “Reveal” is when the wedding couple choose to see each other before the ceremony. There are many reasons this is a good idea — it saves time between the ceremony and reception, it takes some pressure off the couple at the processional since they’ve already had a private moment together, and it also gives you overall more time together on your big day. A First Look is definitely not necessary, and I by no means would ever require anyone to do one. I’d say about 50 percent of my clients choose to see each other before the ceremony. If you checked out my previous post on “golden hour” and sunsets, you may have noticed how important it is to factor sunset time into your timeline as well. Even if you don’t want to or can’t sneak away from your reception for a few minutes, it’s important to check the sunset time for your date just so you know how much daylight you have to work with in general. If you’re planning a December wedding, chances are you will need to do a First Look because there may be no time for portraits after the ceremony. Be sure to talk with your venue(s), wedding planner, caterer, and possibly the DJ too to verify all the times work with each of them also. Below is a sample wedding timeline that I go over with potential clients at their consultation. I don’t often start photographing as early as 9am, but that is just a general guideline I put in to give you an idea of a full day. Typically, I start photographing around lunch time, depending on the client’s wedding collection and number of hours I am scheduled. Also, many Catholic churches have earlier ceremony times because they have to keep their Mass schedule for Saturday evenings. Family pictures don’t generally take as long as people think; it doesn’t make sense to have your extended family stick around waiting, so I like to get those groups rounded up quickly, then pare down the larger groups to smaller and smaller groups, and release the groups as they are finished. Sample Wedding Timeline - WITHOUT First Look or Reveal 9am - Hair appointments? 11am - Bride’s makeup ?12pm - Travel to church/lunch? 1pm - Bride gets dressed 1:15pm - Bride & Bridesmaid photos (some immediate family, optional) 1:45pm - Groom & Groomsmen photos (some immediate family, optional) 2:30pm - Getting ready candids/exchanging gifts/details photos by Holly 3pm - Ceremony 3:30pm - Getaway/receiving line ?3:45pm - Family pictures ?4pm - Wedding party photos at alternate location 4:30pm - Bride & groom portraits ?5:15pm - Arrive at reception site? 5:30pm - Announce wedding party? 5:45pm - Cut cake/start dinner? 6pm-7pm - Dinner? 7pm - Toasts? 7:15pm - First dances ?8pm - Bouquet/garter toss This timeline is just a general guideline and can definitely adjusted as needed and curated based on your own preferences and vendor needs. I am happy to help any of my clients completely customize their timeline as well! Happy planning!!
What’s “golden hour” you ask? It’s the hour just before the sun sets under the horizon, also known as a photographer’s favorite time of day & type of light. I usually will look up the exact sunset time before any session or wedding so I can plan the start time and know how much light I will have to work with as we near the end of the session. When I meet with my wedding clients, I provide them with two versions of a sample timeline — both with and without a First Look or Reveal. (Watch for another blog post coming soon about wedding day timelines!) With input from the reception venue and DJ, I will often help the couple finalize their timeline leading up to the wedding day. I also send out a questionnaire to my couples about 1-2 weeks before the wedding, and one of the questions on it is “What time is sunset?”
One of my favorite things on a wedding day is to sneak the couple outside for 5-10 minutes just *after* sunset to maximize the color of the sky and get some gorgeous sunset photos, both with off-camera flash (also another blog post!) and as silhouettes. These techniques work best if there is a good view of the horizon, or access to a rooftop or parking garage. If you are a fan of my sunset photos though, and this is something you *know* you want on your wedding day, you’ll definitely want to take location, sunset time, and reception timeline into consideration as you plan.
You can use this link to calculate sunset (or sunrise!) times for any date in the future for any zip code. This can be useful for other events too! I find a lot of times that my fall/winter clients don’t always take the sunset time into account when they decide on the ceremony start time and whether or not to do a First Look. It’s easy to forget that it gets dark so early from November through March. For my December weddings, I usually just count on it getting dark at 4:30 to be safe. On the flip side, for my late June/early July weddings, I typically plan for it to be light out until almost 9pm!
To wrap things up, my advice to wedding couples is to set your date, book your venue, email Holly about your photography (!), and then check the sunset time for your date. :D Priorities!! Happy wedding planning!!