How To Plan the Perfect Wedding Timeline

First off, I’ll start by saying that there are really two main ways to schedule your day: Golden Hour and First Look. If that makes absolutely no sense right now, don’t worry because it will soon.

Golden Hour

For a Golden Hour schedule, the couple does not see each other before the
ceremony. The this more traditional timeline ensures that the first time you see one another will be at the ceremony just before you join together as one. All of your loved ones will be there to witness this truly
emotional moment.

The reason I call it the golden hour timeline is because the majority of your
portraits together will likely take place later in the day when the sun is lower in
the sky providing the most beautiful, golden light for your photographs.
The Golden Hour schedule is pretty common but has some issues that will need
to be addressed. Prior to the ceremony, only photos of the bridesmaids and
groomsmen separately will be taken. This does include all of the “getting ready” and candid shots that we all love to document though!

After the ceremony, family portraits will immediately take place. We then gather the entire bridal party for a few group shots, and then the couple
has their portrait session. In most situations, this is all happening during the
cocktail hour. We then head directly to the reception.
There are some pros & cons to doing the Golden Hour timeline.


– It’s the classic route. You may be that person that has always envisioned coming
down the aisle to your fiance seeing you for the first time and if that’s the case, then this is the perfect schedule for you!

– That light! The ideal time for photographs is 1-2 hours before sunset. The sun
is lower and and the light is softer. Choosing the golden hour route allows for
shooting later in the day. For Winter weddings, be aware that the timeline may
need to be adjusted due to the sun setting much earlier. The ceremony should be set 2 hours before sunset time at the absolute latest.
Simply Google “Sunset dd/mm/yyyy in your location” and the exact sunset time for your
wedding date will pop up.

– No more stress! The wedding is over; the hard part is finished. Let’s go enjoy
our time together and take some portraits. Couples love the idea of the
“anticipation” being over and are able to and fully relax!


– The biggest con is scheduling. Some weddings only allow for an hour in
between the ceremony and reception. This means that family formals, wedding
party, and your portrait session all happen in 1 hour. This is very doable as
long as you are ok staying at one location and understand that you won’t have
an overabundance of portraits with just the two of you.

– If cocktail hour is something you value and you only have 1 hour, chances are that you won’t be able to attend much or any of it if you are going with the golden hour timeline. However, if you have more time in between the ceremony and the reception you will be a-ok to enjoy the merriment!

– We would suggest not to do a receiving line with the Golden Hour timeline.
Receiving lines can take upwards to an hour. Again, you will need as much time
as you can get after the ceremony to take all the photographs you need!

First Look.

Father sees his daughter for the first time on her wedding day and cries with joy.

So what exactly is the first look?

Simply put – it’s when you spend some time before the ceremony (yes, before) in
a private moment where we get to capture the intimacy of you two seeing each
other for the first time on the wedding day.
Typically, I’ll scout out a spot that is remote, romantic, and away from guests.
From there, my team and I guide you two towards a secret rendezvous just for you. Not
only does this make for some amazing memories and photographs, but you get
to share in a private moment just between the two of you! We only step in when you’re ready to start taking portraits.


– You get to spend a lot more time with your soon to be husband/wife! Many
past couples have mentioned that seeing each other prior to the ceremony helps
calm nerves as well.

– From the photography side of things, you will have much more time which allows us to be more creative and gives you time to relax before the ceremony.

– The time between the ceremony and reception doesn’t have to drag out.
Because most of the photographs are completed, the reception can start much
quicker or you can join in on your own cocktail hour!

– Winter weddings! Because it gets dark out much earlier it may make sense to
do a first look so that you can take photographs while it’s still light outside!


– Days typically start earlier. Due to most of the photographs being before the
ceremony, everyone has to get ready earlier in the day. A 6AM wake-up time definitely isn’t unheard of for large parties who need hair and makeup.

– Quality of light may not be as good. First off, this can totally depend on
weather and the season of your wedding. Like we talked about earlier, shooting
as close to sunset is the ideal situation.

– Tradition. Many couples want to follow standard wedding traditions, and
that’s ok! But, if a first look is always what you dreamed of, then do it! It’s your
wedding day! You only get one!

Things to Consider

The Logistics

Getting Ready Close to One Another
We highly recommend for our couples to get ready as close as possible! We have
had it happen in the past that the couple were over 30 minutes away from each
other. This may cause some troubles in the timeline as we may have to spend a
lot of time driving instead of capturing moments!

Hotel vs. Home
There are some pros and cons to getting ready at a Hotel vs Home.
Let’s start with getting ready in a hotel. First off, there is going to be less clutter
in a hotel room! When there’s less clutter, it’s easier to find good, clean light. It’s
one thing for us to move a chair in a hotel vs. a chair, some decor and 3 picture
frames that would be in your home. Another big pro is that everyone is in one
spot. This easily allows for us to go back and forth between the guys and girls
capturing far more moments.
The biggest reason for getting ready at home is for storytelling. If you have always
dreamed of walking down your grand staircase to dad seeing you for the first
time, then do it!

Receiving Lines
What starts out as a really nice cushion of time for photographs is suddenly
whittled down to 15 minutes because no one ever realizes how long a receiving
line takes until they’re actually in one. As a good rule of thumb, you’ll need to
allow about 15 seconds for each guest. So if you have around 100 guests, now
you’re looking at 20-30 minutes of just standing in a line. Consider visiting the
guests at their table at the reception instead, or dismissing guests by row at the

Natural Light
It is the biggest point of photography – lighting. It creates each photo, gives a
uniqueness like no other, and makes everything better! Natural lighting is not
only flattering, it’s all around fabulous! And for the most important day of your
life, you want to be sure and incorporate as much of it as you can into your
schedule, especially for photographs. Wedding party, family, and your portraits
are best taken in natural light because it creates the best aesthetic for the
photographs. What you love about our photos is the natural-ness… and lighting
plays a huge part of that! So, can you still have a candlelight dinner reception or
a sunset ceremony? Totally! Just make sure we work together to create a
schedule that allows plenty of time to capture your important photos ahead of

The Important Stuff

Consider a Reveal With the People Who Matter Most
Do you love the idea of doing a first look, but you don’t want your love to see
you before walking down the aisle? Consider doing a first look with your
bridesmaids, dad or anyone else who holds a special place in your heart!

Be You!
When I hand you your wedding album at the end of this, I want you to say,
“WOW!” Not because these photos are gorgeous (which they will be) but a
“WOW!” from the story it tells. If you want to get ready at home because that’s
what is meaningful to you, let’s make it happen. If you decide to not have a
creative session and go see your grandma at the nursing home instead, then
let’s please make it happen! If you and your fiance had your first date at a tiny
little ice cream place and it means the world to you two, then by all means, let’s
go take some photographs there! Many people worry about where they want to
take photos, rather than thinking of WHY you want to have photographs
taken at a certain location. I challenge you to dig deep and together, let’s
come up with a location that will tell your story perfectly.

Don’t Sweat It
Murphy’s law tells us that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. While we
refuse to live our entire lives awaiting the pending bad luck headed our way, it’s
a good reminder that sometimes we have to let go. On your wedding day, this is
even more important! What time the cake arrives, your uncle who is running
behind, that darn button that just broke on your dress… all of these things will
seem so large at the time, but they’re really very small and have happened to thousands of other couples. And guess what? You’re
getting married!!! Yes, today is that day and it’s all about you! We can’t tell
you how many times we’ve said,
“The [church/guests/officiant/band/servers/you fill in the blank] will wait for
you. You’re the main event and the day can’t go on until you’re ready.”
It’s so true because not everything will go as planned and we promise that it
won’t matter to you later! So remember, no matter what it is, just say this:
“It’s just a _. It’s not going to ruin my day!”

If this all seems like a little too much, no worries! All Zack Bradley Photography clients get timeline creation as part of the process to make it ridiculously simple! I also suggest hiring an amazing wedding coordinator to help with all of the setup/breakdown and to manage the flow of the day. We will work together to make sure that your wedding day flows smoothly and you have peace of mind knowing that every little detail is taken care of.