How to create a wedding day timeline

As a veteran wedding photographer, I would like to share my experience and insights to help couples in Monterey and San Francisco with their wedding timeline. 


Bellow, you will find the ideal time allotment, the ideal time of day, and the ideal location to photograph different aspects of the day. I use the word ideal here because this will give the most satisfactory results, like couples portraits at sunset that are warm en magical. But I do couples portraits during other times of the day all the time! The end results are still beautiful!


Every couple is unique, and so is every wedding, so there is no one-size-fits-all wedding timeline. So use this as a guide, but make your wedding day your own! 


Some of these times may seem long on paper but keep these three things in mind:

  • The day will fly by! 
  • Most weddings run slightly behind schedule.
  • I will make these photo sessions fun, and it won't seem like a long time at all, I promise! 

The details: like rings, shoes, and the dress.

Ideal Time Allotment – 30 minutes

Ideal Time of the Day – Morning or early afternoon

Ideal Location – Bridal Suite or Hotel Suite


Having at least 30 minutes for details ensures that I have plenty of time to get that perfect photo of the dress, rings, shoes, bouquets, and all the other details of the day. There are times when a hotel room is too crowded or simply unappealing; I have to take the dress down to the lobby or even outside. This can take some time, but it's well worth the additional work, as you can see from the results.

Delicate lace wedding dressing hanging on an antique dresser in the San Francisco bridal suite.

Preparation Time.

Ideal Time Allotment – 60 minutes

Ideal Time of the Day – Morning or early afternoon

Ideal Location – Bridal Suite or Hotel Suite


Having an hour of preparation is perfect for my style. During this time, I'm getting close-ups of the makeup and hair being applied as well as the candid moments of the bridesmaids and groomsmen get ready for the day. Keep in mind that these are some of the most emotional and fun times of the day, so you don't want to cut it short.

Bride having her make up and hair done for her Monterey wedding.

Ideally, I will be with you while my second shooter will be with your partner. While it doesn't take guys an hour to get dressed, there are still tons of great moments during this time between the groom, his family, and friends. At least 30 minutes for the groom and groomsmen are best.

Individual Portraits.

Ideal Time Allotment – 30 minutes

Ideal Time of the Day – Morning or Early Afternoon

Ideal Location – Bridal Suite, Hotel Suite, Venue Lobby, or Venue Garden


This is too often the time that gets cut short or just cut out completely. Right after prep is the best time for individual portraits of the bride and groom separately. Besides makeup and hair being completely fresh, the day hasn't gotten hectic yet, so we can take our time and get those perfect portraits. Keep in mind that the window lighting in most hotel rooms creates a unique look that can't be duplicated in any environment throughout the rest of the day.

Laughing bride with white rose bouquet outside Monterey hotel

First Look.

Ideal Time Allotment – 30 minutes

Ideal Time of the Day – Morning or Early Afternoon

Ideal Location – Venue Garden, Empty Venue Hallway (shaded areas with natural light)


The first look should be around 30 minutes. During this time, the bride and groom enjoy seeing each other for the first time on the wedding day. While the actual first look might only be 5-10 minutes, the rest of the time is spent on a few basic portraits of the bride and groom.

Groom anxiously waiting to see his bride for the first time at their wedding in Mendocino.

Wedding Party Photos.

Ideal Time Allotment – 30-60 minutes

Ideal Time of the Day – Morning or Afternoon

Ideal Location -Venue Lobby, Venue Garden, Beach, Park, Off-site Location


This greatly depends on the size of your wedding party. Wedding Party Photos should be around 30 minutes to 1 hour. During this time, I get a variety of shots in a variety of poses. We start off with the basic, classic photos focused on great expressions and lighting. Then we move into a set of fun and creative shots. Finally, I know how much your wedding party means to you, so I'm sure to get pictures with you and each one of your bridesmaids or groomsmen individually.

Bridal in party in rusty pink dresses tossing their flowers in the air at this Santa Cruz Wedding.

Immediate Family Photos.

Ideal Time Allotment – 30 minutes.

Ideal Time of the Day – Morning or Afternoon

Ideal Location -Venue Lobby, Venue Garden, Beach, Park, Off-site Location


It's important to have additional images with your parents, grandparents, and siblings beyond the basic formal (mentioned in the section below). Plan on 3 minutes per group on average. For example, if you have 10 groups, schedule in a 30-minute time slot. We all know how much weddings mean to the immediate family, and I want to make sure I'm capturing enough pictures with them.

Ceremony Details and Venue.

Ideal Time Allotment – 30 minutes

Ideal Location – Ceremony Site

Ideal Time of the Day – Morning or Afternoon


Please allow 30 minutes for the second shooter to take pictures of the ceremony site, completely set up with no guests or vendors in the area.

Before you have the guests seated, we must be there to capture the complete set up of your ceremony site so we can capture the scene at its best. 

Beautiful white and pink floral details at Monterey wedding ceremony.

Family Formals.

Ideal Time Allotment – 30-60 minutes

Ideal Time of the Day – Post Ceremony

Ideal Location – Ceremony Site


Formals should take around 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of your family and the number of guests. Plan on 3 minutes per group on average. For example, if you have 10 groups, schedule in a 30-minute time slot. Some couples have decided that they want a picture with all guests, while others have decided that they only want pictures with select VIPs to save time. I recommend something in between. I also recommend being very organized, with a list of groups and helpers from each side of the family to help round people up.

Bride and groom with their parents during family formals at their Santa Cruz Wedding.

Couples Session.

Ideal Time Allotment – 1 hour

Ideal Time of the Day – Late Afternoon Sunset

Ideal Location – Venue Garden, Beach, Hotel Lobby, Park


The Couple session should be around 1 hour and should ideally be during golden hour. This is the best time in terms of lighting. It also allows me to capture the awesome scenic shots with colorful skies. If your wedding is downtown or in an area with tall buildings, it's not as vital for me to have this specific time frame (although it still helps). However, if you booked your venue because of the spectacular view of the ocean, or the gorgeous vines in the winery, it's essential to follow this advice in your timeline.

Bride and groom kissing in an open field at sunset.

Reception Details and Venue.

Ideal Time Allotment – 30 minutes

Ideal Time of the Day – Early Evening

Ideal Location – Reception Site

Please allow 30 minutes to take pictures of the reception room, completely set up with no guests or vendors in the area.Like the ceremony details, this is the only opportunity to capture the beauty of the reception room before guest arrival.

Protea floral decor at outdoor wedding reception in scenic Napa Valley.

Additional Wedding Day Details


Reception First Look

Ideal Time Allotment – 10-15 minutes

Ideal Time of the Day – At the end of Cocktail Hour before doors open for guests

Ideal Location – Reception Site

This is when the reception space is revealed to the couple for the first time. It's an excellent opportunity to capture a genuine reaction, as well as a moment alone with the dance floor to practice your first dance, which also makes a great photo!


Table Shots

Table shots are when you go around visiting tables. There are two options for photography during this time. (1) You can take formal pictures with each of these tables or (2) I can simply focus on photojournalism, capturing the smiles and hugs as you mingle with each table. If you're planning on doing formal table shots, please keep in mind that these will take about 3-5 minutes per table. For example, 20 tables would require 60-100 minutes of time.