Wedding Day Timeline Advice

A Couple Exiting the Carolina Yacht Club

I can not stress enough that every wedding is unique and it should reflect your personality’s and your family traditions. I am not a cheerleader for a first look; I am a traditionalist. I love that classic chic-flick moment when the groom lights up as he sees the bride walking down the aisle for the first time. My heart skips a beat just thinking about it. However, there are plenty of advantages to a having a first look lighting and photography wise so would never discourage a first look if it fits your personalities. 

Assuming you are not doing a first look a good rule of thumb is to plan the ceremony two hours before sunset. That way you have plenty of time for family portraits and couples portraits following the ceremony. Your guest will get to enjoy the sunset during cocktail hour and just as the sun sets you will be starting your reception. When the lighting gets low guest will hit the dance floor!! 

Here is a sample wedding day timeline for a TRADITIONAL May wedding with a 7:30 sunset. 

2:30 Photographer arrives

3:30 Hair and makeup are complete bride steps into her wedding dress

4:00 Bride, bridesmaids, and brides family take portraits outdoors

4:00 The groom, groomsmen, and grooms family meet the second photographer at the ceremony site for portraits

4:45 The bride is tucked away in the church and groomsmen start escorting the guest to their seats 

5:30 Ceremony begins

6:00 Ceremony ends

6:15 Family portraits begin

6:30 Cocktail hour begins

6:30 Couples portraits begin

7:00 The family and the couple join cocktail hour

7:30 SUNSET

7:30 The reception begins with a first dance

8:00 Dinner is served 

9:00 Toast, cake cutting, father daughter and mother son dances

11:30 Exit


Here is a sample wedding day timeline for a May wedding with a FIRST LOOK and a 7:30 sunset. 

2:00 Photographer arrives

3:00 Hair and makeup are complete bride steps into her wedding dress

3:30 First Look with Bride and Groom

3:45 Bridal party portraits / Bride and groom portraits

4:15 Family Photos

4:45 The bride is tucked away in the church and groomsmen start escorting the guest to their seats 

5:30 Ceremony begins

6:00 Ceremony ends

6:30 Cocktail hour begins

7:15 Couples portraits at sunset

7:30 SUNSET

7:30 The reception begins with a first dance

8:00 Dinner is served 

9:00 Toast, cake cutting, father daughter and mother son dances

11:30 Exit

Charleston Engagement Portrait Tips

I can’t recommend booking an engagement session with your wedding photographer enough. It’s an excellent opportunity to get to know your photographer, who you will be spending a ton of time with on your wedding day. 

I love walking couples around finding inspiring backdrops for photos and chatting about their backgrounds and relationship. We also talk about their wedding day plans, and I learn so much about what aspects of their wedding day they are most excited about. Oh yeah, we also get some great photos!

Engaged couple kissing at the College of Charleston

A Downtown Setting

The biggest tip I can give you is mornings rule! Whether you are planning your engagement season in Downton Charleston or another city, the best time of day is always first thing in the morning. The streets are clear of pedestrians and cars. You will have a clean backdrop for your portraits without tourist or delivery drivers walking through the background. There will be fewer cars on the street; how romantic is it to kiss in the middle of a charming, sunlit and empty street! It is even better with a little privacy. So mornings are ideal especially so on Saturdays and Sundays. When the majority of people are sleeping in or enjoying a leisurely morning at home. 

Engaged couple walking in the French Quarter, Chalreston, SC

The Beach

I’m a beach girl through, and through so naturally this is one of my favorite locations for an engagement session. The biggest tip here is to plan around the sun. The lighting is softer, more colorful and most importantly flattering at sunrise and sunset. If you are both morning people sunrise is a great option. Usually, it is less windy in the mornings so your hair will look it’s best and depending on the time of year you will avoid the crowds. Random beachgoers in bathing suits are not as prevalent early in the morning. If your not morning people don’t fret, there are several beach locations around Charleston that are secluded I can suggest. 

Couple running on Folly Beach
Engaged couple on Folly Beach

A Park or Plantation

FWI most parks and outdoor venues in the Charleston area charge a fee to use the property for an engagement session unless your ceremony will be on site. The property coordinators usually like a few weeks notice and often require that you photograph your engagement portraits on a weekday or first thing in the morning on the weekends to avoid running into an actual bride and groom or another wedding party on the property. With a park or plantation setting, there is more flexibility on lighting. The trees provide shade and even lighting for several hours but usually within two or three hours of sunset or sunrise is ideal light. That's when you see the sunlight spill through oak trees or dapple the background of a couple embracing.

Engaged couple kissing at the College of Chalreston

Make it Personal

Engagement portraits are all about documenting a time in your life when you are coming together as a new family. What is unique about your relationship? Do you like to go sailing together, do you both fish, do you love to eat tacos or ice cream? Is there a fun, unique setting that can be incorporated into your engagement portraits that will make them uniquely yours? If you have a dog that means the world to you and your fiancé bring them along. You can ask a friend to pick up or take your dog for a walk halfway through the portraits so you can get a few with and without your furry friend. Finally, outfit changes are welcome. Bring on the fashion! 

engagement portrait historic Charleston

Candid Wedding Photographer

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What is a candid wedding photographer you might ask? My background is in photojournalism. I graduated from the College of Charleston with a BA in Mass Media. I worked for a daily newspaper for two years as a staff photographer before I opened Captured by Kate Photography LLC on Archdale Street in Downton Charleston, SC in 2004. Yes, I have been at it a long time, and I still love every wedding because they are filled with emotion and action (as well as fashion and design, but that's a bit off subject).

I also freelance for national newspapers. The New York Times is one of my biggest clients. I have been their Charleston stringer for 12 years.

Here are a few recent articles I photographed. 

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/29/business/a-vibrant-turnaround-for-a-neglected-charleston-neighborhood.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/03/style/tile-mosaic-design.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/25/jobs/garden-gun-magazine-office-design.html

I also have a marketing and editorial website www.katethorntonphotography.com

Back to candid wedding photography, I do direct you a bit. For couple shots before or after the wedding, I will put you in an ideal backdrop and ask you to hang out. I might also suggest you hold hands, walk along a scenic path, stop and kiss, wrap your arms around each other and talk. Yes, you will need a little prompting. But I’m also looking for the in-between, true moments when the wind takes the veil, or the groom is holding the brides' bouquet while she fluffs her dress. 

Group and family photos are not candid, but they do have sweet moments to look out for: the ring-bearer being silly, the grandmother congratulating the couple. I do speak up and direct the family photos quite a bit. The goal is to get them done as swiftly as possible. Think large groups. Smaller groups like the brides family or the bride and each of the bridesmaids can be photographed before the ceremony. 

The most important thing about candid photos is, they are timeless. You are going to enjoy looking at them for generations, and they will tell the real personalities of your family and friends. 

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