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How to Design Your Wedding Day Timeline

Most future brides and grooms have never married before and thus have no experience designing wedding timelines. The goal of this article is to help you design your perfect timeline, depending on what you want to do. Thus, it will also give you the number of hours of photography coverage you need.

The more time you have, the less stress you will experience, the more relaxed you will be, the better you will enjoy your day, and the better the pictures will be!
As a wedding photographer, I have been to more than 300 weddings. Each wedding (and schedule) differs, but there are some common patterns. It may not be the perfect fit for your wedding, but it should be a great tool to help you design the perfect timeline.
Also, when I help the bride and groom set up the perfect timeline, I have noticed that some questions always come up. What time should the photographer start taking pictures?
How much time before the ceremony should the bride be ready?
I have compiled a list of common questions you may face and some popular misconceptions about certain moments during the wedding. Let’s dig into that and differentiate the true from the false.

Design a Stress-Free Schedule

First, there is no secret: you cannot extend the time. Well, I know it is technically possible under certain circumstances (you would have to fly on board a spaceship and accelerate to the speed of light, which would require too many years). All joking aside, it’s better for your wedding to design a good timeline.
Second, every wedding runs a bit late, so you should plan for buffer time.
If you start running late on your wedding day, you will probably cut some of the photographer’s time, and we don’t want that.
So, I will help you create a timeline including all unexpected events and enough buffer time between each event. As a result, you won’t be stressed on your wedding day (hopefully).

Common pitfall: pack too much in a too-short timeline

Your photography package offers you a limited number of hours. Of course, you will try to fit every picture you want in your timeline. If you try to compress too many things in a short period, you will be exposed to a high risk of running all day long. No need to say you will not enjoy your wedding day this way. Scheduling too many things in a small time window would be a bad idea. In photography, I want to create amazing pictures you will be proud of. For that to happen, I need time! Like every creative field, and especially for creative photographs, time is required.
That is also the reason why I have designed my photography package to offer you a LOT of hours for your wedding day (and this, starting from my smaller package, so you don’t have to run).
On your wedding day, I am there for you to help you complete a good job.
Also, when creating your wedding timeline, if you realize you will run out of time, remember you can still upgrade to a bigger package or add some additional hours.

Bricks to Design Your Wedding Timeline

Here is a list of the popular moments of the day and the time you will need. It may seem long on the paper, but actually, it is not. Your wedding day will fly by, and you won’t even notice it. If you plan too much time, the worst that can happen is that you have too many photos and you enjoy too much time with your friends and family. So, not a big deal!

Details of your wedding attire

What: the gown, earrings, wedding and engagement rings, shoes, necklace, garter, bouquet, save the date, and other stationery.
Where: in the venue, hotel room, in the garden.
How long: 30 minutes (inside)-60 minutes (if there is a nice venue to use)

The photographer usually starts with detailed pictures while the bride has her hair done. Detailed pictures can take time, especially for creative pictures that involve camera flashes. That’s why 30-45 min is great. Furthermore, for any unfortunate circumstance, if your photographer is late, the detailed pictures may be the less important ones, and that would not impact the rest of your wedding day. Usually, pictures will be taken inside the getting-ready room, but for some pictures, it can be worth going outside (taking advantage of the venue, the hotel lobby, or a sunny day). Also, sometimes, the getting-ready room is crowded, and the photographer takes the entire bride’s attire somewhere else. For great-detail pictures, natural light is mandatory. Make sure you have all your attire unpacked and ready for the pictures.
You may also want a picture with the stationary, with something old, something blue or else.

Bride Getting ready

Who: bride, bridesmaid, and relatives
Where: at the hotel suite, at the venue, or your home
How long: 2-4 hours

The best place for preparation is a spacious room with bright walls and many windows. The time to get ready varies depending on the number of women who need to have hair and makeup done, but also on the number of makeup artists and hair stylists you have. If you have a large bridal party, hire several makeup artists and hair stylists. Indeed, it will not only reduce the average getting-ready time but also avoid any butterfly effect on the timeline. For instance, the professional will be stuck with one bridesmaid (if something is not working as wished), and all the other bridesmaids will be delayed.

Makeup for the bride usually takes 30-90 min, and 30-45 min for the bridesmaid. Hair takes 45-90 minutes for the bride and 30-45 minutes for the bridesmaids. Don’t be surprised if the hair and makeup take slightly longer on your wedding day than during the test. Indeed, the makeup artist and hairstylist will work harder to ensure you are gorgeous. And like every artist looking for perfection, they may use more time. That’s normal; don’t blame them. Just know that it’s pretty usual, and that hair and makeup artists also have difficulty giving you the right estimation for a huge bridal party simply because each lady requires different needs.
Finally, the bride should start to have her hair done first, even before the makeup, for three reasons:
1. When the photographer is done with the detailed pictures, he will start taking pictures of the bride, and a bride with her hair done (or almost done) is better for the pictures. He can also take pictures during the bride’s makeup session;
2. you can easily ruin your makeup while doing the hair, but the opposite is not true (you won’t ruin the hair by doing the makeup);
3. The makeup should enhance natural beauty, play with volume and curves, and integrate the hairstyle.

Other micro-events during the getting ready.

  • The bride and bridesmaid in their robe/pajama: 5-10min.
  • The bride opens the bottle of champagne: 10 min.
  • The bride reveals her dress to her bridesmaids: 10 min.
  • The bride offers gifts: 10 min.
  • The bride discovers the bouquet: 5 min.
  • The bride reads the groom’s letter and receives his gift: 5 min.
  • The dressing of the gown could take 5 min to 15 min for a dress with lace on the back or buttons. Your photographer comes as soon as you let him enter. For your reminder, he is French and used to working in the fashion industry, so don’t be afraid to shock him, you won’t.

Bride individual pictures

Who: bride
Where: at the hotel suite, at the venue, or your home
How long: 5-10 min

When you discover your partner, you will probably constantly want his hands around you. So, this 5-10 minute period is a great opportunity to catch a great picture of the bride alone.
We will choose a nice room in a hotel with a large window.

First looks with parents

Who: the father of the bride and the bride
Where: anywhere with nice light.
How long: 10 min.

It’s usually the first look with the father and the bride, but it could be done with the groom and his mother.
I recommend a shaded place or an indoor location with soft and natural light. This could be when the father offers the bride a gift (like a necklace, bracelet, or pendant).
Grandparents and other family members can be included. It’s usually a strong emotional moment.

Groom Getting ready

Who: Groom, Groomsmen, and close family
Where: at the hotel suite, at the venue, or your home
How long: 45 min – 1h Depending

The groom’s pictures can take place after all the girls are set or during the bridesmaids’ getting ready if it’s a large bridal party. One hour may seem long, but it is not when considering the detailed photos. All the details will be taken first: suits, collared shirt, tie or bootie, tie clip, boutonniere, socks, rings, watch. Make sure to unpack everything before the photographer comes.
The photographer usually starts taking pictures after the groom takes his shower and has his pants on him. The shaving moment could also be a funny moment for pictures.
It’s great if the best man or other relatives help the groom to get dressed.
During the preparation, the groom and groomsmen can share a glass of champagne or whisky to celebrate the day. The groom can also offer gifts to his groomsmen and receive gifts/letters from the bride.

Other micro-events during the groom preparation.

  • Share a beer or glass of refined whisky: 5-10min.
  • Having mother (or someone else) pining for the boutonniere: 5 min.
  • Reading the bride’s letter: 5 min.
  • Grooms and groomsmen playing gay, such as beer pong: 10min.


Groom individual pictures

Who: groom
Where: at the hotel suite, at the venue, or your home
How long: 5-10 min

The same idea applies to the bride’s pictures: a large window.

First looks with the bride and groom

Who: the two lovers
Where: anywhere with nice light
How long: 10 min

If you plan on a first look before the ceremony (I will discuss this detail later), plan 10 min for it. I recommend keeping it private so that you can have a romantic moment together. It’s always an emotional moment. Most of the time, the bride and the groom haven’t seen each other since the groom’s dinner the day before. Pick a place in the shade, large enough so the photographer can turn around you and catch both the bride’s and groom’s emotions. Sometimes, the groom uses this to offer the bride her bouquet. It’s also a chance to offer each other a letter and or a gift.

Bride and groom photo session

Who: The two lovers
How long: 1 hour – 1h30 (or more)
Where: hotel, venue, park

The bride and groom’s photo session requires at least 1 hour. It’s time for you to relax in front of the camera and to create pictures in which you look natural. You can decide on several locations (inside and outside). You can also plan some backup options in case of rain. The photo session before the ceremony will avoid leaving your guests during the cocktail.
In addition to this session, you should also schedule a sunset session and a night getaway.

Optional micro events

  • Kids if you have any: 5-10 min
  • Dog: 5-10 min
  • Car or other vehicule: 5-10 min

Individual Pictures of Bride and Bridesmaids, and Groom and Groomsmen

Who: Brides and bridesmaids, groom and groomsmen
Where: at the hotel, the venue, or at home
How long: 20 min

A great way to save time is to take the bride and bridesmaid pictures before the groom and groomsmen and the ceremony.
Depending on your getting-ready location, you can do them in the continuity of the getting-ready. But we must wait for all the girls to be ready before taking the pictures. So it can be done after the bride and bridesmaid pictures and the groom’s getting ready (or the opposite).
An ideal place to take those pictures is an indoor space with a nice backdrop offering a seating option, such as a hotel lobby with luxurious chairs and tables to play with. Outside shaded locations work too, when you bring chairs/small stools/boxes to sit on and compose the pictures.

Bridal Party Pictures

Who: the entire bridal party and the lovers (ushers and personal attendants are welcome)
Where: anywhere with a seating option
How long: 10-20 min

This session is an opportunity to create a living painting. We can make formal and funnier pictures using props (a glass of whisky, sunglasses, toys, whatever) and stage funny situations.

If you have a flower girl, ring bearer, usher, or personal intendant, don’t forget to take a picture with them!
For the Bridal Party Pictures, I ask for a place offering a nice background and several seating options. It’s better if there are small chairs, high chairs, stools, etc., to compose a dynamic picture.
An outside shaded location can work, too.

Family Pictures

Who: Family
Where: anywhere with a seating option
How long: 3 min to 5 min per group.

The family photo time depends, of course, on your family, the number of pictures, and the combinations you want. I usually ask for 3 min for small groups and 5 min for groups bigger than 8 people.
Write down a list and give it to your attendant or relative to ensure you don’t forget any pictures.
Family pictures can be taken before the ceremony. However, for a large family, I recommend taking them after the ceremony (read below why).

Relaxing time before the ceremony

Who: everyone
Where: at the ceremony location
How long: 20 min to 1 hour

You need to be at your ceremony location at least 20 min before your ceremony. You will hide from your guests and adjust the last touch of your makeup. You will also discuss the last details with your officiant.
It’s also when you can enjoy a prayer, be alone, or relax with the bridal party. This time is also a buffer that will help adjust any unexpected delay.

Wedding Ceremony

Who: everyone
Where: at the venue or the church
How long: 20 min to 1 hour

Depending on your culture and tradition, your ceremony will last around 20 min to one hour. Sometimes, it can last even longer for Catholic ceremonies, including communion. If you plan for an outside ceremony, pick a place in the shades, or try to have the sun in front of your guests or on their backs, but not coming from the side.
If you decide on one friend as your officiant, make sure the ceremony is not less than 15 min.

Optional micro events

  • Symbolic ceremony: 5min
  • Communion: 5-10 min.
  • Signature of the Marriage certificate: 5min


Cocktail hour

Who: everyone
Where: at the venue
How long: 1-2 hours

The cocktail hour is when your photographer will take many candid shots of your guests. It’s also the time you can have a portrait taken with some of your guests, and your guests can ask to have their portrait taken. It’s especially worth it when a large family is gathered for your wedding. Regarding the sunset time, it could also be when you enjoy some sunset pictures.
The bride and groom sometimes like to escape into bars downtown with their bridal party to have crazy moments before joining their guests for dinner.

Optional micro events

  • Receiving line: it can take some time!
  • More group pictures with friends or Family.
  • Big group picture of everyone:10min.

Decoration details

Who: photographer
Where: the diner room
How long: 10 min

These are the pictures of the venue, including details of the table’s centerpiece, candles lit up, and all the decorations you have carefully selected. Your photographer usually escapes during the cocktail hour to take a snapshot of the diner room ready.

Venue first look

Who: bride and groom
Where: at the venue
How long: 5 min

When you design an event at every single detail for several months, it could be pretty rewarding to enjoy discovering it finalized. Also, before all the guests enter the dining room, the bride and the groom (and the wedding planner) will enter for a first look.


Who: everyone
Where: at the venue
How long: 1-2 hours

The dinner length varies depending on your venue and caterer (if you have a buffet or many dishes). Toasts can also add time to the dinner.
Your photographer may kidnap you for a few sunset or night pictures during the dinner.
You may want to get from table to table to take a picture with your guests. The dinner ends with the cake cutting or the first dance.

Micro events during the diner

  • Grand Entrance: 5min
  • Bride and Groom Thank you speech: 5 min.
  • Blessing: 5 min
  • Guest Taost: 5 min by speech
  • Slideshow/surprise video: 10-20min
  • Sunset pictures (weather permitting):10 min
  • First Dance Bride and groom: 5 min
  • First Dance Father-Daughter:3 min
  • First Dance Mother-Son: 3min
  • Special Dances: $dance, Married couple dance:5min
  • Bouquet Toss: 5 min
  • Boutoniere Toss: 3 min
  • Game (shoe game, twelve-month game):10-20min
  • Fireworks: 10-15min

The party

Who: everyone
Where: at the venue
How long: until the middle of the night

Your photographer recommends staying at least 30 min after the first dance to have pictures of your friends dancing. Also, if you are planning a grand exit and any special event, such as a bouquet toss (or Garter toss), or a special dance, you may want your photographer to capture this moment.

Late night, the last pictures

Who: Bride and groom
Where: at the venue
How long: 20 min

I like to set up some artistic pictures during the party. It’s usually the pictures that close your book. Depending on your venue, you may have several of those!

Grand Exit

Who: Every Body
Where: at the venue
How long: 10 min

It can be done with sparklers, bubbles, or ribbons. It can be done at the very end of the wedding, and the couple leaves after. Or it can be done 30 min after the first dance in a way that gives the oldest guest the green light to leave.

Some Up of the Bricks

Now, you have all the bricks to build your perfect timeline. So, to sum up (and add a few extra ones).

  • Details (Dress, Jewels, etc.): 20-40 min
  • Makeup and hair: 2-3 hours for the, more for the bridal party (45-90 for hair and 30-90min for makeup)
  • Reveal the Dress with bridesmaids: 5-10 min
  • Champagne toast: 5-10 min
  • Gown Dressing: 10-20 min
  • Individual photo shoot of the bride: 5-10 min
  • Pictures with the bridesmaids and individual shoots: 20-30 min
  • First look with the parents: 10 min
  • Getting ready for the groom (including details): 45-60 min
  • Individual photo shoot of the groom: 5-10 min
  • Pictures with the groomsmen and individuals: 20-30 min
  • First look bride and groom: 10 min
  • Bridal Party: 20-30 min
  • Bride and groom session: 1 hour or more if you want to visit several locations.
  • Relax time before the ceremony: 30 minutes to 1 hour
  • Ceremony: 30-60 min
  • Family (depending on how many people): 20-50 min (3 min for small groups, 5 min for groups with more than 8 people)
  • Cocktail hour: 1-2 hours
  • Details of the venue: 10 min
  • Venue first look (discovery of the venue’s dinner room before the guests enter): 5 min
  • Sneak away for sunset pictures: 20 min
  • Escape for night pictures: 20-30 min
  • Cigar & whisky time pictures: 15 min
  • Diner and Party: totally up to you!


10 hours wedding timeline for the most essential

For most people, 10 hours would cover the essentials.

The typical wedding looks like this :

  • 10:30 am Preparation (3h00)
  • 1:30 pm Bride and Groom (1h00)
  • 2:30 pm Group (1h00)
  • 3:30 pm Buffer time (30 min)
  • 4:00 pm Ceremony (30 min)
  • 4:30 pm Cocktail hour (1h30)
  • 6:00 pm Dinner (2h30)
  • 8:30 pm End of coverage

Typical full-day wedding schedule

Now, if you have a lot of people in your bridal party and want full coverage of the crazy party during the evening, you might need more than 10 hours of wedding coverage.

This is an example of a wedding day with a lot of events and a lot of buffer time. It’s a relaxed wedding day where everything happens in the same location

  • 9:00 Bride Starts Hair, and Photographer starts Detail Pictures
  • 10:00 Bride Starts Makeup
  • 10:50 Groom getting ready
  • 11:40 Individual shoot of the groom
  • 11:50 Groom and groomsmen
  • 12:15 Bride dressing
  • 12:30 Bride and Bridesmaids
  • 12:50 Individual shoot of the bride
  • 1:05 First look with the father of the bride
  • 1:15 First look followed by bride and groom pictures
  • 2:40 Bridal Party Pictures
  • 3:00 Relax time
  • 3:45 Ceremony Starts
  • 4:20 End of the ceremony
  • 4:30 Cocktail starting and family pictures
  • 5:00 Family pictures done
  • 6:30 Details of the reception room
  • 6:50 First look at the reception room
  • 7:00 Doors open, starting
  • 7:10 Grand Entrance
  • 7:20 Blessings and Toasts
  • 7:50 Escape for Sunset pictures (depending on the sunset time)
  • 8:15 Cake cutting
  • 8: 30 Escape for Sunset pictures (depending on the sunset time)
  • 9:00 Bouquet & Garter Toss
  • 9:10 First Dance
  • 10:00 Escape for pictures at night
  • 11:00 Grand exit

Buffer time is the secret:

The real secret is that every wedding turns late at one point. So, when planning your schedule, add 5 minutes between each element.
Also, don’t forget the time to pack up all the stuff.
If you need to drive somewhere, look at the time recommended by Google and multiply it by two to make sure.

Find some examples of timelines on our website.

How do you estimate what time You should start getting ready?

To estimate when you should start getting ready, I would recommend you make a list of all the moments of your wedding day. Then, help yourself with what’s explained above and define the required time. Add numbers (don’t forget the buffer time), and discover when you should start to get ready.
Another method I don’t recommend is to take the last moment you want your photographer to take pictures of and deduct your photography coverage time (10 hours or longer). You will discover then the time your photographer can start taking pictures. To be sure it matches what you expect, make a time estimation for each moment you want and add the numbers. If you have 30 minutes left, then you are all good! If you don’t have 30 min left, then you probably need to add an extra hour.

Should You do a first look? Should you do the bride and groom pictures before the ceremony?

Doing the first look before the ceremony offers the couple an intimate moment together before the ceremony. It’s a moment to share, it’s your moment. Some people are shy and don’t especially want to share this with 300 pairs of eyes staring at them.
Also, a common misconception is that some people are afraid of the first look because they think that afterward, walking down the aisle would be faded and insipid. It’s just not true. Even if you had a first look, when you walk down the aisle, this will still be a strong and emotional moment. These are two different things. I have seen many grooms (and brides) in tears during the walking down the aisle moment, even if they had done a first look before. After their wedding, they shared with me how both moments were strong. Discovering your loved one wearing his suit/dress and realizing you are getting married for real (when the bride walks down the aisle) are two complimentary emotions. So, if you decide on a first look, be reassured you won’t miss anything.
From a timeline perspective, the first look allows the bride, the groom, and the bridal party to take pictures before the ceremony. This is extremely convenient! It means you won’t need to leave your guests, and you will have more time to enjoy them during the cocktail hour.
That being said, this choice is totally up to you. The tradition of discovering each other at the church has a romantic and symbolic aspect, which I understand and respect. Your wedding is yours, and you decide what is important to you first.

How long before the ceremony should the bride be ready?

If nothing is planned in between (no pictures and no travel required; you get ready at the venue), the bride should be completely ready to get married at least 30 minutes before the ceremony. In such a situation, 1 hour is even more secure.

Should you do the family photos before or after the ceremony?

What you should understand about family photos is that it takes time because of the human factor. Indeed, what’s time-consuming is to gather all the people. There is always someone late or someone missing for any reason. They are not ready, they don’t have their bouquet, they don’t find the location, they don’t find a parking slot, the kids are dirty and need to be changed, they need to go to the bathroom, they are watching the football game outside, etc. The major issue with a large family is managing to gather them.
That’s why I usually recommend doing the family pictures after the ceremony. Indeed, even if some people are late and miss the beginning of your ceremony, it’s very unlikely they will miss your entire ceremony. So, let them know that just after the ceremony, they should not leave anywhere and that we will do the family pictures.

I strongly recommend you write down a list of all the pictures you want. You don’t give the list to your photographer (because he doesn’t know who is who and won’t be able to discipline everyone), but you give it to someone with a lot of energy and a powerful voice. Name each person clearly (or each family), so there is no ambiguity if they should stay or not. For instance, “close family” doesn’t mean anything. Are your uncles in this circle? Are their girlfriends and children included? What about their parents-in-law? Therefore, be precise.

Should we take small group family pictures before the ceremony, with only one family at a time?

For instance, the bride and her family are first, followed by the groom and his family.
Honestly, making each side’s family sessions before the ceremony and another session with the bride and the groom together after the ceremony won’t help you save time. It is natural that if it’s your close family (parents, grandparents, brother, sister), you will want pictures with and without your husband/wife. So, if you do only one family session after the ceremony and ask him/her to step aside for one picture, it will take only 20 sec.
Again, what takes time is gathering everyone for one picture and staging each person. So, if we have family sessions before and after the ceremony, it may be even more confusing for them. Some may be thinking they are all good with the first small family photo and go enjoy the cocktail while you wait for them for the second large family session after the ceremony.

How to save time during your wedding day

To save time during the preparation:

First, unpack everything so the photographer can start taking pictures when he arrives. Then, take the dress out of its bag and hang it on a nice hanger.

Try to pack all the events together (as much as possible) so the photographer can take all events next to each other. Avoid him continuously going back and forth from the groom’s room to another bride’s room. First, it is time-consuming (time to pack up all photography material each time). Second, and above all, it may result in a situation where one side is late (let’s say the guys are late), which will affect the rest of the schedule. That’s why it is better if the photographer can focus mostly on one side and then on the other side—but not switching all the time.

Examples to AVOID:

  • I took pictures of the bride until she had her hair and makeup done.
  • Taking pictures of the groom and groomsmen while all the bridesmaids have their makeup done and dressed up.
  • Taking individual pictures of the groom and groomsmen
  • Taking pictures of the bride dressing surrounded by the bridesmaids
  • Taking individual pictures of the bride and bridesmaids
  • First look
  • Bride and groom pictures
  • Bride and groom and bridal party pictures

To save time for the bride and groom session

If you have to move to other places, pick only the very best locations, and try to select them in the same area. Ask someone to be your driver, so you don’t lose time parking.
You can ask your attendant to ensure you have your bouquet and anything required for photos.

Save time on the group pictures.

Do all the group pictures one at a time at the same location so the photographer doesn’t need to set up different lighting every time.
Pick an easy and obvious location to gather people so they know where to go (even if we need to move the entire group after).

General recommendations to have a smooth-flowing day, a list of common senses.

  • Check if there is any popular event happening on the day of your wedding date, and plan your itinerary accordingly. For example, you get married in front of a football stadium, and there will be a famous game that day or a festival taking place one street above your venue.
  • Check if there is any road construction on your itinerary.
  • Multiply your time travel by a factor of 2.
  • Ensure you have a secure parking spot, and advise your guests where to park if it’s difficult.
  • Be aware that makeup and hair stylist will probably be late on their schedule.
  • Have an emergency kit, with at least a sewing kit and bandages. Check out the perfect Survival Wedding Kit.

Don’t Over Plan

I am sure you have already heard about the freak control bride (AKA Bridezilla) who overplans her wedding minute by minute. Having a good timeline is mandatory, but having a precise timeline simply won’t work because there are always unexpected things happening. It’s life.
So, plan using 15-minute periods.

Use our wedding timeline calculator.

We have designed a wedding timeline calculator for photography to help you build your perfect wedding schedule.

Need an example of a 10-hour timeline?

Find an example of a 10-hour timeline (with and without a first look). Of course, it needs to be adjusted regarding your wedding!

Black and White Portrait of Alexandre Mayeur, photographer at French-Touch-Photography

Born and raised in Paris, I am now a proud Wedding Photographer in Rochester, MN, serving MPLS.

I don’t only capture emotions in candid pictures, I also create timeless images and artful photographs.
Recognized as one of the best photographers in the Twin Cities.

I serve Duluth and also far beyond the 10,000 Lakes State (Wisconsin, Iowa, and destination). I am more than happy to discover beautiful landscapes and new horizons.

Have a look at my previous publications to learn more. As an experienced professional photographer, I don’t limit my field to lifestyle, family, or event photography! I invite you to visit my portfolio and discover my photography and work out of the studio.