Hi there, I'm Manali! A wedding & portrait photographer serving DC, VA & Worldwide. Click through for all my favorites from recent sessions, adventures and travels, as well as tips & tricks for clients! Grab a cup of coffee, relax, and feel free to connect with me elsewhere as well! Cheers to you!

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Crafting a Stress-Free Wedding Day Timeline

April 21, 2020


After years of photographing weddings of all different kinds, I’ve come to realize that there’s one VERY important thing that really does affect what a wedding day feels like for the bride & groom as well as their family and bridal party! People are always surprised to hear that I work with my couples to help them craft a wedding day timeline right after they book me! Why would a photographer worry about the timeline for the day?

Well as the person that’s with you from when you’re stepping into your dress to getting to your first look or to your ceremony to taking all the pictures before you head off to your cocktail hour or reception, photographers are a BIG part of the day! I think we can absolutely help a day go smoothly and stay on track with the timeline. Although a bride’s mom might think it’ll only take 15 minutes MAX to get into a wedding day dress, your photographer has seen all the hiccups before and knows that realistically you should allot 30 minutes for this. To the common person this might seem like a lot of time for a simple task but we’ve seen how sometimes you need to snip a spare thread, need multiple people to give you a hand lacing up the tiny buttons, or in my latest case, help get a tiny worm out of the tulle! This tiny worm would not budge but we got it eventually!!

We’ve really seen it all know realistically how long you should give yourself for each part of the day! My biggest recommendation to brides is to give yourself enough time and margin for each part of the day so that you’re not stressed running late for your wedding day. A bride is never late but it sure does help your nerves when you’re not scrambling to get to the next part of your day! Extra breathing room in your timeline gives you the space to MAKE all those memories you’ve been dreaming of for months and months!

Here are my best tips to craft a wedding day timeline that WORKS for your day!

Start your photography coverage at least 2 hours before your ceremony

Your photography coverage should start about 30-45 minutes before your hair & makeup is complete as the last person! This gives your photographer about 30-45 minutes to capture all of your details like your jewelry, invitation suites, your dress & shoes, etc before you start climbing into it!

Make sure to have your florist deliver your bouquet and the bridesmaids bouquets to where you’re getting ready so we can use that for your detail pictures! This helps tie in all the details together and is what I recommend especially for your wedding day album!

Starting two hours before makes sure that you have all the big moments like your bridesmaids seeing your hair & makeup complete and your mom seeing you step into your dress for the first time, etc all covered! It also gives you a ton of time to do a first look whether that’s with your soon to be spouse or even your dad or your grandma!

Give yourself at least 30 minutes to get into your dress

I covered this a little bit above but this is always one of the parts of the day that’s not given enough time! It’s very common for hair & makeup to be done a little later than you initially thought or to take more time zipping into your dress so I always suggest padding the timeline here! It’ll give you a chance to really breathe and soak into the fact that you’re in your WEDDING day dress! Extra time to give your mom or dad a huge hug, to hang with your girlfriends, to sip on a mimosa or celebrate with some confetti. I promise you, you won’t regret extra time during this part of the day!

Travel Time

If you’re traveling from one place to another, I always recommend giving yourself DOUBLE the amount of time that Google Maps tells you it’ll take. Trust me, I’ve seen last-minute rallies happening in DC, crazy traffic in Annapolis, someone forgetting a tie and having to double back for it, etc. If you find yourself with a little bit of extra time once you arrive, you can hang out for a bit! Or this extra pocket of time might be useful later in the day if something else runs behind! You’ll never regret that but arriving late due to traffic and letting that make you stressed on your wedding day is something we don’t want to happen!

First Look or Bride & Groom Portraits

I always recommend giving yourself 30 minutes for each part of your portraits. Chances are your first look or your bride & groom portraits won’t HAVE to take up all thirty minutes but it’s nice to have that time built in so you’re not rushed with each other! This is the SWEETEST part of the day. It’s just the two of you getting to be with each other after all the anticipation being built up. Make sure you have enough time to really soak it in, be present and not worried about needing to immediately get to your venue or get your bridal party pictures taken or getting to cocktail hour with enough time left! Carving out time for the two of you on YOUR wedding day is so important!

Family Formals & Bridal Party Portraits

I always recommend setting aside 30 minutes for a basic set of family portraits where both of your sides of the family are covered. If you don’t have a long list or a big family, I STILL recommend 30 minutes because often times we have to track someone down before we can begin! I always have your list of pictures to take in hand so we can fly through the combinations but jus to err on the safe side, I always recommend at least 30 minutes. If you have a lot of family combinations that you want taken with extended family then we’ll build in anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to get through them!

Again, this is just buffer time! Often times we’ll get to the family portraits portion of the day and be behind on the overall day’s timeline but I’m able to get through the family portraits efficiently and lovingly and get us back on track! However, if we don’t have that initial time built in for the portraits, it’s impossible to get us back on track with the overall timeline for the day!

Same thing goes for your bridal party portraits! Often times in a pinch we can get these taken in 10 minutes MAX if the entire group is focused! We’ll take the group shots quickly and get a huge variety (while still making sure we don’t have anyone blinking in the photo!) and then break into the guys with my second photographer and the girls with me! I do build in AT LEAST 20 minutes for these though because I try to get a picture of you with each of your bridesmaids and your fiancé with all of his groomsmen individually!

Keeping everyone on the same page

Another really big tip is to communicate the timeline with your bridal party & your family! Make sure that they have the schedule before the wedding day so everyone is aware of what needs to happen when. I always recommend that your parents, siblings and bridal party are dressed or start to get dressed around the time that your photographer arrives! This gives them about 30-45 minutes to do so so that they’re looking their very best in the pictures to help you get ready!

Also, designate one person (your maid of honor is a great pick!) that will be the person in charge of keeping everyone else running on time! Don’t try to take this upon yourself, you should be able to sit back and relax and not have to worry about the logistical side of things on your wedding day! This could also be a sibling or someone that knows your family fairly well and can help track down your family as needed later on for family portraits as well.


No matter what happens, ENJOY your day! It can be stressful when you get behind but things happen and the goal is to soak in the day as much as you can as it unfolds. Leave gathering & corralling people up to the ones around you and your photographer so you can be at peace and sending your time on what matters most on one of the most important days of your life!


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If you enjoyed this post check these posts out as well:
The Manali Photography Wedding Experience
Best of 2019 Weddings
Intimate Spring Reston Wedding at the Lakehouse

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