ElainePalladinoPhotography_WeddingDayTimeline_26Timelines. It’s the least glamorous part of weddings, but it’s the glue that holds the whole thing together. When we first started shooting weddings, we were almost always left out of the timeline planning process and it made for a more stressful day. We found that time for portraits was often an afterthought and we were left scrambling for enough time.

During weddings, I’m like a duck calm on the surface but kicking like crazy underneath. In my mind, the clock is ticking. I know, even without looking at a clock, how much time I have left before we have to head back or move on to the next thing. If the makeup runs late, I’m the one who has to make magic with a fraction of the time that I used to have. If the timeline is mess or doesn’t have any wiggle room then any delay or problem can throw a wrench into the whole day.

Here, then, is a list of tips and things to consider with regards to photography that will help the day run smoothly:

  • The timeline is a guide, a living document that needs to be flexible. The only things set in stone, typically are the ceremony start time and the end time of the reception.
  • Always include your photographer in the timeline planning process. We will know what’s the best time for portraits, how long things will take. Use our expertise to your benefit.
  • Think about how you want your day to unfold. It’s easy to get caught up in all the details when there are so many to worry about in a wedding day, but think of the big picture: the experience that you want your guests to have and that you want to have with your significant other.
  • Always overestimate how long things will take by about 10 minutes. That way each event has a built in time cushion. Things run late, the weather takes a turn for the worse; you need to have some flexibility so that you can make adjustments if and when something unexpected comes up.
  • Work backwards. Take the ceremony time and work backwards from there to figure out when you need to have transportation pick you up, when you have to make makeup and hair done, when you need to be dressed and ready to go, etc.
  • Finishing touches take a while. Getting in to your dress, putting on jewelry, the veil, etc. takes about 20/25 minutes. You don’t want to rush this part of the day. We like to take portraits during this time before the chaos so try to make it so that this is a calm moment instead of a rushed blur.
  • Make sure you let us know about the other events of the evening: Introductions, First Dance, cake cutting, sparkler sendoff, etc. so that we can be ready and so that nothing is missed.
  • Feed us. We are all day photographers so we are with you every step of the way and most days our only real meal is dinner. We make get fed at every wedding but most times, the timing of when can be an issue. If possible, we like to eat when the couple eats so that when the toasts, or dancing starts, we are ready and raring to go.
  • Communicate. Don’t be afraid to tell us of important moments or things that you want to photograph. One example is a bride of ours who designed her own invitations. Of course, we were going to shoot the invitations but knowing that she made them made it more of a priority. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. The more we know, the better.
  • Know the rules. Though we like to make sure of it myself, it always helps when our couples let us know of the venue or church rules ahead of time. Yes, it’s our job to do my due diligence to make sure that we are not violating any rules when we are shooting, it helps when our couples give us a heads up if they are aware of any rules.

How long do things take?

Getting Ready: It typically takes about 20/25 minutes to get into your dress and put on the finishing touches. We like to show up about an hour and a half to two hours before we have to leave for the ceremony or first look. Know what time you want to be at the ceremony and then work backwards from there.


Pre-Ceremony Pictures: These include individual portraits, bridesmaids and groomsmen pictures as well as individual pictures of couple with their respective parents. This takes about 20/30 minutes. This can happen after the first look but if you are not having a first look then these portraits happen after you are dressed and before you head to the ceremony.


First Look: I talk about first looks in THIS post. If the ceremony starts or ends at night, then a first look is a great option so that you can make the most of natural light during portraits. From our experience, weddings with a ceremony at night leave the least amount of time for portraits (if the couple doesn’t do a first look) since it only leaves about an hour (typically during the cocktail hour) for portraits including family, wedding party and the couple portraits. A first look helps bypass the stress and gives the couple time to either join cocktail hour or spend some downtime together before the reception. I like to allocate 15/20 minutes for the first look. The actual seeing each other doesn’t take long but coordinating getting to the first look location can take a little while.


Couple’s Portraits: Portrait time varies by wedding and whether couples will see each other before the ceremony during a first look. I like to have at minimum 30 minutes for just the couple, though I average about 45 minutes. Try not to cut this time short. This is one of the only times where you will be alone during the wedding day so don’t rush it. Enjoy this time together and give us the chance to take pictures that will last beyond a lifetime. We also like to scout locations beforehand so we know where to go and don’t waste time trying to find good locations.

ElainePalladinoPhotography_WeddingDayTimeline_19ElainePalladinoPhotography_WeddingDayTimeline_09ElainePalladinoPhotography_WeddingDayTimeline_03Family Portraits: We insist on getting a family group list in advance of the wedding day so that we can ensure no one is forgotten. We like to keep this to about 20/25 minutes. One way we do that is to keep it to 6-8 groupings if possible. For extended family, we recommend combined, larger groups instead of small individual groups. You want to keep this short and enjoyable so that guests can move on to the rest of the celebration. We also recommend you inform the guests who will be photographed where they need to be and when they need to be there.


Wedding Party: This depends on the size of the group but usually we keep this to 20 minutes. If bridesmaids and groomsmen pictures happen before the ceremony, then this time is just for the whole group together. Be sure to include flower girls and ring bearers.


What can be gleaned from all this information? The more you communicate with us, the more that you are aware of what it’s going to take to make your day run smoothly, the easier our jobs will be to tell your story.

Need more help planning your timeline? THIS is a great place to get started and THIS is a wonderful resource.

Currently Listening to: Twister because my love of disaster movies knows no bounds.

Love, e


* I posted this years ago when First Looks were rare. At the time I could count in one hand how many clients took part. I wanted to give some insight into what my past couples thought of their First Look and why a First Look is a great option. Now, First Looks are a part of the narrative of the day more often than not. We have been fortunate to take part in some beautifully intimate moments. In light of that, I’ve gone back to a few more couples to ask them what their thought of their First Look and included them into the original post.*


Maybe I’m spoiled. The first time that I ever took part in a First Look as a photographer was during the wedding of one of my best friends. There, under the tall North Carolina trees blowing in the soft breeze I witnessed Scott see his bride, Laura, for the first time. It was one of the sweetest moments I have ever experienced as a photographer. I cried to the point that I couldn’t see through the viewfinder. As a friend, it was an absolute honor to be able to witness something so beautifully intimate. As a photographer, it was pure gold. You can’t orchestrate moments like that; it would be disingenuous of me if I even tired. So when I get asked by clients whether I think a First Look is a good idea, it’s all I can do to not pounce with an emphatic and resounding “YES!”

I could list all the practical reasons why a First Look is the way to go:

  • There is more time for portraits
  • Depending on your timeline, the portraits could take place in natural light as opposed to night portraits
  • You’ll be relaxed and be able to enjoy cocktail hour
  • We won’t have to cram family, wedding party and couple portraits into 30 or 40 minutes

These are very valid reasons that the professional photographer me wants you to do a First Look. The hopeless romantic and artistic photographer me wants you to do a First Look because of just how wonderful they are. It is intimate in a way that most of your wedding won’t be. It’s a moment between the two of you completely separate from the rest of hoopla that accompanies any wedding, big or small.

But what do I know? I’m just the girl wielding the camera. I’ll let the pictures and my past couples speak for themselves.

Lindsey & Ryan

Check out this fun gif I made of the moment…


Lindsey: I am exceptionally traditional in most areas of my life, and was convinced I’d never do a first look, but when we decided to time the cocktail hour so that it was during the Kentucky Derby, we knew if we wanted to see it, we’d have to do pictures beforehand. It was a good thing we did, because as soon as I was dressed, all I could think about was getting to Ryan. If I had to wait until the ceremony, I might have gone crazy! It was just us for those few moments, and it was fantastic. Well, it was supposed to be just us, until I saw the pictures later of the entire wedding party watching from inside the hotel.

Christine & Rey:
ElainePalladino015ElainePalladino017ElainePalladino016Christine: We decided to take our First Look photos at our venue because we wanted to take advantage of how gorgeous the space is when it’s empty.  We included our parents because the 6 of us have such a great bond and we also wanted to take formal portraits with them that weren’t standing at the altar of the church.  The logistics of getting us all from the hotel to the venue and then to the church were nerve wracking… I clearly remember the butterflies being in the brides room of the Cruz Building… having my dress fluffed by my mom and mother in law… waiting to see my husband.. and then came that loooong walk up to him.  Even though our parents were watching, in that moment we were the only ones in the room…. until we turned around to find the four of them hugging and smiling with tears in their eyes!!!  It was the best wedding day decision we made (2nd only to hiring Elaine and Mike)… and because we did the First Look, we were able to enjoy every single second of our cocktail hour and got to take fun, casual photos with our guests.

Dean & Kaio


Dean: The wait; the wonder… What does he look like?  The last time I saw my husband in our wedding attire was at our fittings.  I was crazy-excited!  (Note: We, as well as groomsmen all wore bubblegum pink Converse Star Players.  You would have died to see it all together, too!). I wanted this moment to be memorialized.  It was really important to me.  I knew that Elaine and Mike would capture this visceral reaction we both would have for each other. I was really nervous!

Then I could hear him.  I gripped my own hands in anticipation to finally look and kiss him; and kiss him with quite possibly the greatest smooshy-faced kiss!

And when the days come and go, and we easily get lost in the daily life events and the changes that happen to us, coming back to the kiss of the first look brings everything back to that most amazing day of my life.

Erica & Adam:


Erica: I loved our first look! From a logistical perspective, I was happy we did that and all of our photos before the ceremony so that we were able to enjoy the cocktail our with our guests.  I loved the moments leading up to the first look as well. The whole weekend was full of emotions and I really feel like they were culminating in two main events: the first look and the ceremony. For me, the first look was one of the most emotional parts of the weekend. You spend the whole day apart, getting ready, and by the time the first look comes around you are giddy with excitement (or at least I was). I particularly loved being back to back with Adam (although because of the dress we weren’t technically back to back, but rather hand to hand).  I was also REALLY happy we did a private first look without our friends/family around, to really take it all in and enjoy the moment just us.

Laura & Jeremy:


Laura: Getting ready was exciting but of course, I was rushing to stay on schedule.  Going into the first look, I was certainly feeling the stress of the BIG day and the anxiety of hurrying to be on schedule.  But the instant I saw Jeremy, that all melted away.  In the whirlwind of wedding day activity, it was a moment where time stopped.  It was a moment to focus just on each other.  It was very calming to have that moment with him and it was incredibly special to have a few minutes of private time to ourselves. I left the first look feeling more relaxed yet filled with excitement at the same time. In addition, since our ceremony was at a different location, it gave us the opportunity to get a few photos with our beautiful hotel as the backdrop.

Laura & Scott:

 Scott: Looking back, I am really happy we decided to do the first look. It gave us a very intimate moment together; a “calm before the storm”. We were able to really enjoy the moment as we began the journey of becoming husband and wife.

 Laura: The First Look was without a doubt one of the best decisions we made during this journey. I didn’t want to do one initially, but thought about two things, the first obviously being how amazing it would be to see my sweetheart for a few minutes before the ceremony started. The second reason I wanted to do one, was because Scott and I had the good fortune to have photographers who are equal parts amazing photographers and amazing friends. I felt completely comfortable with them being there, and honestly didn’t really notice their presence at all I was so focused on Scott. Also, I knew that I would get some amazing photographs from the session, which was very important to me, because I knew that the picture-taking time post ceremony would be a fast moving hectic time. The First Look was a perfect way to get some beautiful photographs and spend a few moments together

Lisa & Lamar

Lisa: Lamar and I decided to do a first look at the hotel where I was staying and the moments that Elaine and her husband captured right before the ceremony were priceless. Getting a chance to look at him and feel like we were the only people on the planet reassured me in that moment — this is the perfect thing to do. Elaine and Mike were great and managed to capture every detail of our emotions during that time from the intensity of our love for each other to the goofball sense of humor that we share. Furthermore, they were super flexible, photographing us at multiple sites and ultimately letting me pile into the back of their car when the limo company didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. By the time the ceremony came around, I was relaxed and happy knowing that we already had hundreds of great shots and we could now focus on being captured with the 150 family and friends that came from all over the country to share our day with us. After seeing the photographs, I can truly say that Elaine and Mike did amazing work that I’ll treasure forever.

 Currently Listening to: The sounds of Super 8 playing on the T.V.

Love, e