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Planning your Wedding Day for Epic Photos

Helpful advice and guidance on creating a timeline for the best photos on your wedding day.

The best wedding photos are the ones that mean the most to you. That might be formal family photos, an emotional first look before the ceremony, or candid shots of your guests at cocktail hour. Whatever your priorities are, I’ll make them mine too. 

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I created this guide as a tool to help you and your partner plan your day to get timeless wedding photos that you’ll want to hang on your wall, or look back on and smile for years to come.

You don’t have to plan for everything on this list; it’s more to help you set aside time for the things that matter most to you two, and plan your day with those things in mind.

Great wedding photography is a collaboration between us: my goal is to help you understand how the lighting, space, and your wedding day timeline impact the overall outcome of your photos.


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Details.

It’s the little things!

Chances are you put a lot of thought into your wedding day details. Whether it’s your hand-written vows, custom invitations, your wedding date embroidered into your suit jacket, special cufflinks, or your grandmother’s necklace, it’s the little details that make your wedding day uniquely yours. We typically start the wedding day photography off with a bit of detail shots to get you warmed up to the camera and capture the big little details.

How long? 30-45 minutes 

Where? At your getting ready spot (see below) 

Be sure to:

  • Have all your details ready to go and in one place. Details might include: wedding and engagement rings, vow books, jewelry, shoes, cufflinks, your funky matching groomsmen socks, etc. 

  • Bring a full copy of your invitation suite: RSVP card, stamped (but not mailed) envelope, etc. to be photographed with your other details. 

  • Ask your florist to drop off bouquets and boutonnieres off at your respective getting ready locations! We’ll photograph them while they’re at their freshest, and maybe even get a few of mom pinning on your boutonniere during getting ready!

  • Bring a wooden hanger for your suit/dress (and bridesmaids dresses, etc.). Most dresses and suits come on dry cleaner style wire hangers, which take your gorgeous outfit down a notch.

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Getting Ready

The anticipation…

If you ask me, getting ready photos are some of the most important, and most intimate parts of wedding photography. You’re a bundle of nerves and excitement, and the people who love you most are surrounding you in one of the happiest, most emotional days of your life. Getting ready photos help tell the entire story of the day and set the tone for the entire wedding.

There’s a ton of emotion in the anticipation in marrying the love of your life, and this is a great time to capture those final moments before you step into your wedding dress, having a loved one help you with your tie, toasting your favorite beverage with your best pals, or reading a letter you exchanged with your partner.

We can also use this time to snap some individual portraits of each of you.

How long? 45-60 minutes 

Where? Your respective getting ready locations

Things to think about: 

  • Make sure both you and your partner have getting ready locations with plenty of natural window light! Consider an AirBnB or boutique hotel with more natural light and character than standard hotel rooms or venue bridal suites might offer. 

  • Try to choose a getting ready location that’s not too far from your venue. It’s no fun to waste precious time on commuting. 

  • Tidy up your space before I arrive. Stuff like empty water bottles, suitcases, and other clutter can end up in your photos! 

  • Tell your hair and makeup artists that you need to be done 30 minutes before you actually need them done to help us stay on time and not feel rushed from the start. Buffer time is your friend on wedding day. 

  • With two photographers, bride and groom getting ready photos can happen simultaneously! Yay!

 
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The First Look

It’s unforgettable.

A wedding day First Look is a moment before the ceremony where you and your partner will see each other all dressed up before you make things official. This is typically a more intimate moment without friends and family around, except for your official third wheel: me.

A First Look can help calm your wedding day nerves by giving you and your partner a private moment before you say I Do. It also frees up time later in the day by allowing you to get family or bridal party portraits out of the way so you can hang with your guests at cocktail hour. 

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How long? 15-30 minutes 

Where? Private, shaded outdoor location at your ceremony venue.

When? Prior to your ceremony, once you’re both completely ready

Things to look out for

  • Remember to add in time to transport to the venue or each other if you’re getting ready in separate places.

  • If you’ve always dreamed of waiting to see each other for the first time at the aisle, we can totally make that work! We’ll take all couples, bridal party, and formal family group photos post-ceremony during your cocktail hour.


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The Ceremony

This is it.

The moment we’ve all been waiting for. Get excited!

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A few things to think about

  • Lighting is everything! If possible, try to avoid harsh light or shadows on your faces. One tip for outdoor venues is to set up the location to have the sunlight directly on your officiant’s back or front. If you need help with positioning your ceremony for the best light, please let me know!

  • Don’t be shy with that first smooch, this is no time for a quick peck! You’re married now! Also, the longer the kiss, the more variety in photos you’ll have, so go in for a big one ;) 

  • At your rehearsal, remind your officiant to step aside before asking you two to kiss if you don’t want a third wheel in the background.

  • Plan to have microphones, cords, podiums, or other eyesores away from the center of the ceremony - they are tricky to crop or photoshop out. 

  • Consider a fun ceremony exit with biodegradable confetti or flowers. It makes for lovely photos! 

  • An “unplugged” ceremony. By asking your guests to put down their cell phones and cameras during your ceremony, it not only allows everyone to focus on your love and be present in the moment, but keeps you from having Uncle Bob’s iPad in between the photographer and your first kiss. Yes, this has happened before.

  • Also, I always tell my couples to leave a 5-10 minute buffer immediately after the ceremony for you and your new husband or wife to bask in your just-married-ness. Ceremonies can be super emotional, and it’s probably one of the last moments you’ll get alone together until after the party’s over. Soak it in!


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Ceremony and Reception Details

The personal touches that make the day yours.

Depending on your wedding plans, you might be put a lot of attention and energy into the little details of your ceremony and reception. You’ll choose decor, pick place settings, display family photos, and add your personal touches to the ceremony and reception locations.

Carving out a few minutes for me to document those little things before your guests arrive will make sure you get to see the fruits of your labor and help us include it as part of your wedding day story.

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How long? 15-30 minutes 

Where? Ceremony and reception sites.

Make it happen:

  • This works best when I can get 15-30 uninterrupted minutes before guests are allowed to enter the space. I recommend a 30 minute buffer for my couples to take a break, cool off, catch your breath. I’ll use that time to photograph any ceremony space details, but if your reception is in the same venue I can do both in the same time block.

  • Holding cocktail hour outside the reception venue is a great way to do this!

  • Clear communication with your day-of-coordinator or wedding planner is so key here to make those 30 minutes happen. Be sure to include it in your day-of plan!


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The Wedding Party

It wouldn’t be a party without your favorite people by your side.

Your wedding party are the people who mean the most to you in your life, and you’re sharing your big day with them! I follow the natural vibe and personality of your wedding party to determine the types of photos and poses we do, so everything feels super natural and not forced in any way. We’ll snap group portraits altogether, each partner’s groups separately, and each wedding party member individually (i.e. bride & bridesmaid). 

How long? 30-60 minutes depending on the size of your wedding parties

Where? Either the ceremony venue or the getting ready location

When? If doing a first look, before your ceremony; if not, immediately after family formals

Think about:

  • If you’re having a first look, you can get wedding party photos out of the way prior to your ceremony. 

  • Waiting until you walk down the aisle? We’ll split up wedding party photos to half before and half after your ceremony: before the ceremony, we’ll photograph each partner’s party separately, and spend 20-30 minutes photographing everyone all together after family group photos.

  • Bringing that biodegradable confetti or a bottle of champagne to add energy to your bridal party photos.

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Family Formals

It’s all one big happy family now!

About six weeks prior to your wedding day, we’ll talk about your family formals photo list:  a run-down of all of the family members you want to make sure we get a photograph with on your wedding day.

I recommend planning on taking family group photos immediately following your ceremony to ensure all family members have arrived, and are in one place! My second photographer will help call out names on the list, and make sure we make this time as efficient as possible so you can get back to your celebration. 

How long? 15-30+ minutes depending on how many combinations you’ve got planned

Where? Ceremony location

When? Immediately following your ceremony

Things to know

  • While it’s possible to get them done pre-ceremony, we’ll spend less time trying to find folks if they’re already all in one spot. 

  • Set aside about two minutes per combination. If you have 15 combinations, leave at least 30 minutes. 

  • Assign a specific family or bridal party member who’s familiar with most of the people on your list to help call out names or find that groomsman that wandered off. 

  • At your rehearsal dinner, remind your family members to stick around post-ceremony so they can be included in family portraits!

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Couples Portraits

Time to snuggle up with your new husband or wife.

It’s your wedding day, so we’ll leave as much time as you’d like in your timeline for your first official pictures as a married couple. My favorite times during a wedding day for couples portraits are after your first look, immediately after your wedding party and family formals post-ceremony, and right around sunset. If we don’t have time to do all three, let’s plan on 15 to 20 minutes right after the ceremony and 20 to 30 minutes at sunset. I promise, it’s worth the time away from the dance floor to get that golden light.

How long? 20-45 minutes 

Where? Outdoors at your reception venue

Making it happen

  • You’re gonna hear a lot about this when we do your engagement photos, but good light is what takes your portraits to the next level, and the best way to get good light is to shoot right before sunset. It’s called “golden hour” for a reason, and that reason is the good-good light that really gives the ambiance, radiance, and exceptional color you’ve probably come to love about many of my wedding portraits. 

  • If I could make any recommendation to my couples, it’s to make time for the two of you to be apart from your guests for a few minutes at several places across your wedding day. Part of this is selfish (I wanna take pics!) but part of it is to be present in this incredible moment. You and your partner have just made one of the most important commitments of your lives. Give yourself time to FEEL it (and let me get it on film!)

  • Even if the weather doesn’t cooperate, you’ll be amazed by the power of golden hour even when the clouds keep the sun away. There’s some really amazing things that can happen when most people would complain about the weather.

 
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Cocktail Hour & Reception

Cheers!

Cheers! It’s time to celebrate the newly-married couple! Your cocktail hour and reception is where we focus on getting photos of all of your guests, as well as documenting the things you’ve planned to share with them. From first dances to cake cuttings, we want to capture it all, and it’s important to have a good flow from event to event.

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How long? 1-1.5 hours

Where? Your reception venue

Some things to note:

  • Cocktail hour and/or your reception time is perfect for taking photos with your book club gal pals, high school buds, etc. If you send me a general list, I’ll remind you when it’s time to make it happen! You can also pull me or our 2nd photographer over at any time during the reception to capture additional friend or group photos. 

  • Lighting. Lighting. Lighting. Consider string lights, lit candles, natural window light or any other gorgeous mood lighting and general ambiance. While we’re on the subject of lighting, maybe ask your DJ to cool it with the club lights? We don’t want you to look purple in your first dance photos, now do we? ;)

  • We want to make time for everything that’s important to you two, but it’s also pretty important to schedule time for your guests to just be present. Putting too many events back to back to back leaves people in their chairs (or in the sun) for long periods of time. That means they’ll be more likely to retreat indoors, to the restroom, or to the bar as soon as there is a free moment. Careful planning can keep the evening flowing and let us capture every moment with your guests feeling present and excited.

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The Big Sendoff

Off into the world as one…

You’ve said your vows, you’ve danced your dances, you’ve said hi to everyone and somehow it’s already the end of the night! If you’re interested in a photogenic farewell to your wedding guests, it’s best to plan ahead.

Great send-off photos are always the product of careful organization and clear directions for your guests. Make sure you know what time you want to leave, and give your photographers time to round up attendees and instruct them on what to do to bid you a fond newlywed farewell.

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How long? 15-20 minutes

Where? The reception venue (and beyond)

How to pull it off:

  • While I love a good dramatic exit, it’s not always easy to round up a huge group of moderately tipsy people from a dance floor to play with fire while dressed in fancy clothes. I’ve had great experiences with ribbons and confetti for the grand depart, so consider your options! If you’ve got your heart set on sparkler photos, consider portraits of just the two of you (see photo to the left).

  • One easy way to make the best use of your coverage is to plan a staged exit about 20 minutes before your photography team leaves. We can make sure we get the images we want without racking up coverage of Uncle Bob’s latest rendition of his high school dance moves. Plus, since it’s your party, no one will mind if you come back for more!


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Final thoughts.

Whew - There’s a lot to think about here!

You’re working hard to make your wedding day a reality. Now’s the time to put in the effort, so you can enjoy your wedding day with your family and friends. When the big day comes, be sure to take a breath and take it all in. It’s so important to be present in the moment, because it will fly by - preparation will be worth it.

Also, don’t forget to feed me! Include me in your guest count, or check with your caterer to make sure there is vendor meal for me and my second photographer. Make sure they know to feed us as soon as you are, so we won’t miss a beat. If we eat after guests are served, we’ll most likely miss your toasts or first dances. 


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The key to great wedding photography is collaboration.

I want to take photos that tell your story the way you want to remember your wedding day.

To do that, we have to communicate, collaborate, and trust each other. I hope this resource helps you think through your priorities and make decisions about the story we want to tell. If you have anything specific you want me to include, let me know, and we’ll make it happen.

High Five! You’re going to have an awesome wedding day.

xoxo,

Megan