How to Plan the Perfect, Stress-Free Wedding Day | Virginia Wedding Photographer

Hermitage Hills Farm Wedding Virginia

I’ve always been a lists person. When I was little, I used to make lists of what I would need to pack for Hogwarts when my letter came (thank you J.K. Rowling for making my 11th birthday the most disappointing of my life). As an adult, I have todo lists, goal lists and bucket lists -- among others.

Yes, I’m a little Type A. But I also believe that if you have a plan, you know where you’re going. Of course, plans must be adaptable – and we’ll change them  as needed  – but a plan gives you the structure to know if something is possible. And that’s super important when it comes to weddings.

So, today, I want to go over the basic pieces of your wedding day and how much time you should think about allotting for each. This is just to give you a place to start. I’ll help you fine tune this schedule so that your day fits your priorities. But here’s the goal: on your special day, we’ll have a plan in place to make everything go smoothly. And when things DO inevitably run over (almost never does something go short), we will know how to adjust so that you have the best day ever with the best pictures possible.

In general, plan to leave 10-15 minutes on either side of each “item” in case something runs over. For instance, although you might want to go into family photos right after the ceremony, guests will waylay you with congratulations, key family members will disappear like socks out of the dryer, and a bridesmaid will want to fix her lipstick.

Detail Shots, 60-90 minutes

When I first get to your wedding, I’ll come say hi to you and your fiance. I’ll then grab all of your details --  your wedding dress or outfits, rings, jewelry, shoes, invitation suite, flowers, boutonnières, something blue, and any heirloom special items you are including in your day. I usually take them somewhere quiet and well-lit to photograph.

I’ll also take pictures of your ceremony and reception space before your guests arrive, including flowers, decorations and cake. The more time you allot for detail photos, the more creative I can be.

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Getting-Ready Photos, 30-60 minutes

Unless you want all of getting-ready captured, I usually arrive toward the end of hair and makeup. I highly recommend that the bride gets made up last so I can capture the finishing touches of hairspray, lipstick and mascara applications. During this time, I’ll also get candid photos of members of the wedding party.

Guys don’t typically take a long time to get ready. But I’ll take candids of the guys getting dressed, tying their shoelaces, putting on ties, etc. Then I always try and get a few individual, classic groom portraits before the wedding.

West Virginia Wedding Photographer

For the bride, I’ll capture getting in the dress or outfit. Many of my brides are also choosing to do a first look with bridesmaids and first look with dad.

First Look at a West Virginia wedding

First Look, 20-30 minutes

I highly recommend all of my couples consider doing a first look. There are a couple reasons for this that I’ll go into more in another post, but I find they are super special, and don’t detract at all from the emotion of seeing your partner at the altar. They also let you get more couple’s portraits!

JQ Dickenson Same-Sex Wedding

Wedding Party Portraits, 30-45 minutes

When you’re doing a first look, we’ll do your wedding party portraits before the ceremony. If you’re not, we’ll do these after the family photos

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Ceremony, 15-30 minutes

I’ve photographed ceremonies as short as 5 minutes and as long as an hour, but the sweet spot seems to be around 10-20 minutes for all of the essential bits.

Crosskeys Vineyard Wedding

Family Photos and Guest Cocktail Hour, 45-60 minutes

This is the only time when I’ll need to work from a shot list...which is basically “bride+mom” “groom+mom+grandma,” etc. I recommend keeping your family photo list to the essentials rather than every combination possible, so your guests aren’t waiting uber long for you to get to your reception. In general, expect 2-3 extra minutes per combination.

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Post Ceremony Couples Photos, 15-30 minutes

After family photos, I’ll grab a few more couples photos before heading into your reception.

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Reception, 3-4 Hours
During your reception, I’ll document first dances, games, toasts, and cake cutting and then I’ll slip away to set up your night photography shot. You don’t actually need all of the dancing covered -- generally the first 30-45 minutes of dancing is enough.


Pre-sunset Photos, 20-30 Minutes

If this is a late afternoon, non-winter event (as is typical), about 15 minutes before the sun sets, I’ll pull you outside for some beautiful golden light couple’s portraits. These are almost always the ones that get framed and featured as full-page spreads in albums.

Crosskeys Vineyard Wedding Photographer

Night Photos, 10 Minutes

If it’s dark at the end of your reception, I give all of my couples the option for a night photo. I’ll set it up before I grab you, we’ll take a few epic shots, and then you’re back on the dance floor.

West Virginia Backyard Wedding

Final Exit, 10 Minutes

Sparkler, bubble, confetti, rice -- you name it -- if you want to go out of your reception and into married life with a bang, I can document it for you.

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Hopefully this gives you a good place to start! A couple things that could impact this timeline are:

  • Family or cultural traditions

  • The size of your bridal party (eight bridesmaids and groomsmen will take longer to corral than two, for instance)

  • The size of your family (for family photos)

  • Weather (on rainy days, we may have to be flexible and run out between showers)

  • The distance driving from one location to the next. If everything is in one place, this isn’t an issue, but if you are getting ready at a hotel, driving to a church for your ceremony, and then somewhere else for your reception, that all needs to be factored in.

Want to see what your own day might look like? Download a free sample wedding day timeline here!