Walk through the typical wedding day

June 7, 2024

A Day in the Life of a Wedding Photographer: Capturing Magic Every Moment

As a wedding photographer, my job is to capture the magic and emotions of one of the most important days in a couple’s life. From the quiet moments of getting ready to the exuberant celebrations of the reception, I focus on different aspects to ensure every memory is beautifully preserved. Here’s a walk through a typical wedding day, highlighting what I focus on during each part of the day to create timeless and meaningful photographs.

Plan Your Perfect Day

Creating a detailed timeline is key to ensuring your wedding day runs smoothly and that every special moment is captured. I invite you to check out my article on crafting the perfect wedding day timeline. It’s filled with tips and insights to help you plan every detail, from the first look to the last dance. This guide will help you make the most of your special day and ensure that your wedding photos are everything you’ve dreamed of.

Discover My Approach

Curious about what I focus on at different parts of the wedding day? Read on to learn more about how I capture each special moment, from the excitement of getting ready to the joy of the reception. Discover how my attention to detail ensures that your wedding photos are a beautiful reflection of your unforgettable day. Using a wedding planner can also greatly help in organizing everything smoothly, making sure no precious moment is missed. Feel free to check out Kristen from Everlasting Impressions for expert planning assistance.

DETAILS

Walk through the typical wedding day

(about 45 minutes – 1 hour )

WHAT: Photos of your rings, shoes, perfume & cologne bottle, special items, layflats of your invitations and other paper products, bouquet, boutonnières, gifts, etc. 

WHEN: Usually the details are the very first thing I photograph, so this will be the first item on the timeline. (Usually the florals should be delivered before this so they can be included in the details!) 

WHERE: Bride’s getting ready location.

PREPARATION: Place all your detail items in a bag or box (your fiancé’s too) and have them ready for me when I arrive. I will send a list of items to remember before the wedding! 

NOTE: A good photographer will make anywhere work, but when you’re choosing where to get ready remember that choosing a place with good natural light and ample space to spread out will make the most fab photos! 


BRIDE & GROOM PREP 

(about 30 minutes – 1 hour)

WHAT: Photos of hair and makeup, hanging out with wedding party, champagne popping, bourbon toasts, groom getting dressed, etc. 

WHEN: This is generally the second thing I do, right after details. Ideally beginning with the girls about halfway through the bride’s makeup! 

WHERE: Bride’s getting ready location. If your fiancé is getting ready at the same location, we’ll almost always do groom prep too. If he’s at a different location, we’ll discuss whether or not we’ll have the time/ ability to go to him as we finalize your timeline together! 

PREPARATION: While I’m photographing details, I’ll ask for the getting ready are to be cleaned up just a bit (i.e. tossing trash that’s laying around & straightening up bags). If we’re photographing the guys too, the same will apply to their getting ready space. 

NOTE: Same as with details, choosing a place with ample natural light will make the most rad getting ready photos. Some venues really struggle in this area, so consider finding a cute AirBNB or hotel suite if possible! 

** FOR THE GUYS: If we are photographing the guys getting ready, the groom and his fellas should all be done showering, shaving, doing their hair and dressed to pants, socks and shirts by the time their prep photo time is scheduled to begin. The groom especially should wait on vest, tie, cuff links, shoes, watch, etc until the photographer has arrived. Photographing the groom’s prep will take about 15-20 minutes. 


BRIDE GETTING DRESSED 

(about 20 – 30 minutes)

WHAT: Bride putting on her dress, jewelry, garter, shoes and veil.

WHEN: After everybody’s hair and makeup is done, but not too early in the day! We’ll base this on later events like first look, bridal portraits or bridal party photos. 

WHERE: Bride’s getting ready location. Ideally in a space near natural light, with a clean background. Sometimes we do venture outside the bridal suite to find a great spot, if it’s practical at the location! 

PREPARATION: Your mom (or whoever is helping you get your dress on) and your bridesmaids should be dressed and ready by the time you put your dress on. 

NOTE: Allowing 30 minutes to put your dress on may seem like overkill, but if we run into any issues you’ll be so glad there was a little time. If everything runs smooth and quick, we’ll just be ahead of schedule! (P.S. You may also want to add “bridesmaids first look” or “dad first look” right after this on the time- line, which would each take about 10 minutes.) 


GIFTS/LETTERS  

(about 10 – 15 minutes each)

WHAT: Gifts between bride and groom or to parents.

WHEN: After the persons involved are dressed and ready (including moms & dads). If the bride and groom want to give each other gifts in person, this obviously must be after the first look. 

WHERE: Usually at the getting ready location, but can also take place at the venue. This is quite flexible. 

PREPARATION: If possible, use a gift bag and tissue paper (rather than wrapping paper & tape) so I can sneak meaningful gifts into the details photos earlier in the day and put them back into their packaging! 

NOTE: If you’re not doing a first look (or just don’t want to give these in person), appoint a brides- maid and groomsman to be the gift deliverers. 


FIRST LOOK 

(about 15 – 30 minutes)

WHAT: Bride & groom seeing each other for the first time before the ceremony takes place (or an alternative that may go here in the timeline is holding hands around a door, blindfolding the groom for a prayer together, first look with dad, etc.) 

WHEN: Usually as early in the day as possible, at least 3 hours before the ceremony.

WHERE: Usually at the venue, but really anywhere that is pretty and shaded. Large porches, gardens, 
under large, full trees, etc all work great. 

PREPARATION: Florals delivered by the time this is happening, & the groom’s boutonnière pinned on. 

NOTE: There really is more to this decision than just tradition (as hard as I know that is to hear), and while it is definitely your choice, I strongly believe you need to see all sides before deciding. You need to know what you might be sacrificing – like natural light Bride & Groom portraits – especially in the Winter months. Read the factors below; this decision can make a big difference in your timeline! 

The first look decision

Guest wait time: Without a first look, after the ceremony we’ll have to do Family Photos, Bridal Party photos, and your Bride & Groom portraits before you enter the reception. This usually takes about two hours, which can be a little long to make your guests wait at cocktail hour. With a first look we’ll generally get all these photos done before the ceremony and you can go almost directly from your ceremony to your reception (with the exception of things like grabbing a few photos with the grandmas that couldn’t be there earlier or a photo with the officiant, etc). 

Light: If your wedding is in a month when sunset is much earlier,  you should heavily consider a first look unless your ceremony is early in the day (like 3pm). Why? If the sunset on your wedding day is at 6pm and your ceremony is at 5pm, skipping the first look means that after the ceremony we only will have 30-45 minutes of sunlight to do all your family photos, bridal party photos, & bride and groom portraits (which is really about 2 hours worth of work).
Now, I can shoot these things with flash after sunset. But if you are in love with my natural light style, portraits after dark with flash will not be what you’re hoping for. 


INDIVIDUAL PORTRAITS 

(about 15 – 20 minutes)

WHAT: Photos of just the bride and just the groom separately. 

WHEN: As soon as each person is completely ready. 

WHERE: Usually at the venue, but really anywhere that is pretty and shaded. Large porches, gardens, under large, full trees, etc all work great. 

PREPARATION: Your florals should be delivered by the time this is happening, groom’s boutonnière pinned on. 

NOTE: This can be done before or after a first look, but I generally recommend before the first look if time allows so you’re fresh! 


COUPLES PORTRAITS 

Romantic portraits of the bride and groom

(about 30-45 minutes)

WHAT: Couples portraits.

WHEN: First look – immediately after first look 
No first look – immediately after bridal party photos after ceremony

WHERE: Usually at the venue, but traveling off-site is great if desired and if time allows. 

PREPARATION: Your florals should be delivered by the time this is happening, groom’s boutonnière pinned on. 

NOTE: This can be done before or after a first look, but I generally recommend before the first look if time allows so you’re fresh! 


WEDDING PARTY 

wedding party portraits, bridal party porraits

(about 30 minutes – 1 hour)

WHAT: Group shots of bride, groom, bridesmaids, groomsmen, & other wedding attendants. 

WHEN: First look – immediately after B&G portraits
No first look – immediately after family photos after ceremony (guys and girls separate group photos earlier in the day, if possible) 

WHERE: Usually at the venue, but traveling off-site is great if desired and if time allows. 

PREPARATION: The groomsmen’s boutonnières should be pinned by this time. 

NOTE: If you’re not doing a first look and time allows, we can plan to do the bride(smaid)/groom(smen) photos separately before the ceremony to save us a little time after the ceremony. Then all we’ll have to do is take the big group shots with everybody! 


FORMAL FAMILY PORTRAITS

formal family portraits

(3-5 mins per grouping, average about 40 mins)

WHAT: Group photos of close & important family members. 

WHEN: First look – at least two hours before ceremony 
No first look – immediately after ceremony 

WHERE: Usually at the ceremony venue.

PREPARATION: Send me a detailed list of the family groupings you’d like (I’ll send a questionnaire to help) and appoint a person who is familiar with their side of the family to help me coordinate! 

NOTE: If you’re doing a first look, we’ll try to wait as late in the day as possible (while still allowing you to “hide” an hour before the ceremony begins) so everybody in the family has the most time possible to get ready and get there. If there’s no first look, we’ll do them as quickly as possible after the ceremony so they can move on to the reception. Especially for the sake of the grandmas, grandpas and kids! 


CEREMONY DETAILS 

(about 20 – 30 minutes)

WHAT: Photos of the inside and sometimes outside of the ceremony venue, details of altar, aisle, arch, guestbook table, floral arrangements and other ceremony decor. 

WHEN: At least an hour before the ceremony starts, before guests start arriving. 

PREPARATION: The ceremony space must be finished being set up by the time this is happening. 

ceremony decor details

NOTE: Guests can start arriving as early as an hour before the ceremony begins, and we want to be sure to get photos of the space without anybody in it. Work with your planner/vendors to find out what time is reasonable for the space to be done and plan accordingly! 


RECEPTION DETAILS 

Walk through the typical wedding day reception details

(about 20 – 30 minutes)

WHAT: Photos of the inside and sometimes outside of the reception venue, table arrangements, cakes, florals, food, bar, gift table, and other reception decor. 

WHEN: Before guests enter the space, ideally before the ceremony.

WHERE: Reception venue.

PREPARATION: The reception space must be finished being set up by the time this is happening. 


GOLDEN HOUR PORTRAITS 

(about 15 – 30 minutes)

WHAT: Couples portraits during the best glowy golden light of the day!

WHEN: The last hour of the day before sunset.

WHERE: Usually at the venue, but traveling off-site is great if desired and if time allows. 

Walk through the typical wedding day

NOTE: Check sunset time on your wedding day and schedule these portraits about 45 minutes before sunset. In the months with longer days, this will likely mean you’ll be sneaking out of the reception for a little bit but I promise, nobody will even notice (and it will be worth it)! 

Oh and one other thing, some venues that are in valleys or otherwise blocked from seeing much sunset/horizon may actually have ideal light before golden hour technically starts. Check with me about this and we’ll work together to figure out when would be best to put this on the timeline (and maybe be a little flexible on the day of)! 


RECEPTION

reception pictures

(usually 3 hours+)

WHAT: Party time! Common reception events & approximate durations are: – read below:

WHEN: Usually after the ceremony (but we’re seeing intriguing “reverse weddings” trend)!

PREPARATION: Make sure to talk to your caterer about feeding your vendors, and talk to your DJ for the best advice for how to run the reception! 

NOTE: Most of the time your DJ will help you make a separate reception timeline (and I’m flexible to follow whatever he thinks is best during this time). But a couple things to think about for the timeline’s sake are: 

• Dinner: do you want to eat in private before you enter the reception (meaning your vendors will eat before you enter too)? 
• Do you want to do a faux formal exit before your reception actually ends? (More about this in the next section) 

HERE ARE SOME OF THE USUAL RECEPTION EVENTS AND HOW LONG THEY TAKE, ON AVERAGE! 

• Formal introduction (5 min)
• Dad/daughter dance (5 min)
• Dinner (45 min – 1 hour)
• Dancing (1 hour+)
• Bouquet/garter toss (5-10 min) 

• Couples first dance (5 min)
• Mom/son dance (5 min)
• Toasts (10-30 min)
• Golden hour portrait session (30 min)
• Private last dance (5 min) 


FORMAL EXIT 

(about 15 – 20 minutes)

WHAT: Sparklers, petals, confetti, bird seed, bubbles, streamers, ribbons, lanterns, balloons, cell phone flashlights, etc. 

WHEN: Usually after the ceremony (but we’re seeing intriguing “reverse weddings” trend)!

WHERE: Outside the reception venue, along a sidewalk or street to the getaway car, across a field, etc. 

PREPARATION: If you’re doing sparklers, make sure you get smokeless sparklers (sometimes called “wedding sparklers”) and don’t forget to have plenty of grill lighters (the long ones) on hand (and a bucket for used sparklers to be deposited in)! 

Walk through the typical wedding day sparklers exit

NOTE: There are a lot of reasons to love faux exits, and they’re pretty popular. But its your choice, and I want you to have a good idea of your options! So in true Gilmore Girls style, behold my pro/con list: 

PROS OF DOING A FAUX FORMAL EXIT: 

  • You’ll have more people there to participate, since a lot of your older guests and guests with kids will start to trickle out sometime after the cake and toasts, before the reception ends. 
    Non-glowy exit items like petals, confetti, etc will look the most amazing if we do them while we still have a little sunlight left. And for that matter, sparklers also look gorgeous right at dusk with some light left in the sky! The formal exit can indicate the end of photo coverage (though it definitely doesn’t have to), so I can arrive earlier in the day if I’m leaving before the end of your reception. That means more time for things like getting ready photos and portraits. 

CONS OF DOING A FAUX FORMAL EXIT: 

  • Some of your guests will leave after the faux exit, no matter when it is. That can definitely effect the energy of the reception after the exit, but if you have a group of really fun friends and family that you know will stay this might not be an issue! 
  • You won’t have an official marker of the end of the reception like you would if you did the exit as your real exit (like, get in your car and drive away)! 


REMEMBER: TRAVEL TIME 

As you’re building your timeline, don’t forget about the travel time between your locations!! The times I’ve listed in each section apply to actual shooting time. 

REGARDING: EXTRA TIME

If you find yourself with extra time, DO NOT try to fill it. I promise you’ll be glad to have some unassigned buffer time, just in case! 


BONUS: CEREMONY TIME/POSITION TIPS

If you’ve already chosen your ceremony time and you’re locked in, don’t worry! Pro wedding photogra- phers are super used to working with established ceremony times and everything will be just fine. But if you haven’t sent your invitations out yet, you still have time to consider a couple things for your plan- ning! As with everything else, reach out to me for help if needed. I can tell you where the sun will be! 

1. First Look or No First Look: 
If you’re not doing a first look, remember that your family photos, wedding party photos and couples portraits will have to be done after the ceremony (and ideally before sunset, to take advantage of my usual natural light style). What time is sunset on your wedding day? If your ceremony is too late, we’ll end up shooting in the dark using flash! 

2. If you’re planning an outdoor ceremony:
Time of day: Depending on the time of the year, sunset may be anywhere from 5pm to 8:30pm and 
the position of the sun will play a big part in the softness or harshness of the lighting. The best light is generally in the last 2 hours of the day (weather permitting, of course) which may or may not be feasible for a ceremony time for your date. But just keep in mind that the later in the day you schedule it, the softer the light will be. 

Direction of your ceremony: If you have the option to face your ceremony a certain way, try to position it in such a way that will put the sun behind the altar/arch. If I’m standing at the back of the aisle taking photos of you guys at the altar, it’s best if the sun is somewhere in the 30-60 degree range from my position on either the left or the right side. This way, the side of your faces that my camera can see will be in the shade, instead of a situation where one of your faces is brightly lit and the other isn’t! 
Check out: Tips for Getting the Best Outdoor Ceremony Photos


Every Wedding is Unique

Every wedding is different, and your special day will be designed exactly how you want it. When you hire me as your wedding photographer, I help all my couples create their timeline and plan for the day to make sure we get the most out of every picture. Reach out to learn more about my approach to your wedding day. I’m looking forward to capturing your beautiful wedding moments and turning them into timeless memories. You can get in touch with me through my website for more information.


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Est. 2013 | © 2020 Bozena Voytko Photography
Chicago + Suburbs + Illinois + Wisconsin

Est. 2013 | © 2023 Bozena Voytko Photography  |  Chicago + Suburbs + Illinois + Wisconsin

Wedding & branding Photographer in Chicago, IL   

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