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Snapshot: Cocktail Hour | Virginia Wedding Photographer

Wedding Tips

Welcome to my journal post series, Snapshot! In each Snapshot post, I’ll break down my hot takes and advice about different aspects of the wedding day, as well as dive into my approach to capturing your memories during each one. From Getting Ready to the Final Exit, Snapshot gives you an insider’s view on how our team makes magic happen to produce the awe-inspiring photos you’ll come to cherish in your final wedding gallery. Keep reading to learn all about how we capture the cocktail hour.

The string quartet is in place, and the bartender is shaking up your signature tonics — welcome to the wedding cocktail hour! Though you’ve been making wedding day memories since early in the morning, your guests only see a small portion of your hard planning unfold. The cocktail hour is just a piece of that experience.

But the expectations couples have around cocktail hour from a timeline and photography perspective can vary. For example, some couples expect to be involved in their entire cocktail hour, while others expect they will miss most if not the entire thing. Wherever you land on that spectrum, we can make your vision possible through careful planning and setting the right expectations.

How to Fit Cocktail Hour Into Your Wedding Day Timeline

If You Want to Attend…

This is possible! If you would value being a part of cocktail hour, we will need to start earlier in the day to fit in as many portraits as we can pre-ceremony. This means you may need to opt for a First Look. Being able to see your spouse-to-be before the ceremony opens a lot of flexibility for knocking out photos and not having to hold you back from attending cocktail hour.

We can tackle your bride and groom portraits, bridal party photos, AND even family formals… all before the ceremony begins. This can save a lot of time and ensure your entire group of loved ones get to immediately go celebrate with you after the ceremony ends.

If you want to attend the entire cocktail hour immediately after your ceremony, a sample pre-ceremony timeline might look like this:

  • Getting Ready – 1.5-2 hours (includes details, bridesmaid robe shot, final touches of hair & makeup, getting in the dress, dad’s first look, bridesmaids’ first look, etc.)
  • Your First Look & Portraits – 30-40 min
  • Bridal Party Photos – 15-20 min
  • Family Formals – 15-20 min (or approx. 2-3 min per grouping)

Example: A 5pm ceremony would need a 1:30-2:30pm start time, if travel time from getting ready location to ceremony location is not a factor.

If starting up to 3.5 hours before your ceremony is out of the question, you can still attend most of your cocktail hour by fitting in as many of these photos pre-ceremony as possible. For example, you may not find it feasible to have all of your family arrive early enough for family formals. No stress! We can still get your First Look, Portraits, and Bridal Party photos out of the way, so we ONLY have to tackle family formals after the ceremony. You’d be at your cocktail hour for the latter half of it, no problem. But by seeing the sample timeline above, you can see why a First Look makes all of this so much easier to accomplish.

Need more convincing? Check out this post I wrote a few years back on why a First Look is a huge value add to your overall wedding day experience, rather than a net negative like many believe.

If You Don’t Want to Attend…

Congrats! You’re about to have a much less rushed pre-ceremony timeline. Attending cocktail hour can be a lot of fun, but many couples don’t mind missing it. They’d rather soak up alone time as husband and wife and get stunning portraits in their newlywed glow.

If you’re one of those people, you are joined by about 80% of my couples. Most couples opt for a timeline like this, but the variable is whether they’d still like a First Look or not. First Looks can increase your portrait volume significantly, so if you want TONS of photos of the two of you, don’t skip it!! It’s a great way to shake off nerves with each other before the ceremony, too.

Also, you can decide if you want to do bridal party photos before or after your ceremony. There’s plenty of pros to either decision, so it’s really up to you.

Here’s a sample timeline WITH a First Look, but no attendance of cocktail hour:

  • Getting Ready – 1.5-2 hours (includes details, bridesmaid robe shot, final touches of hair & makeup, getting in the dress, dad’s first look, bridesmaids’ first look, etc.)
  • Your First Look & Portraits – 30-40 min
  • Bridal Party Photos – 15-20 min
  • Ceremony – 30-60 min (depending on type of ceremony)
  • Family Formals – 15-20 min (or approx. 2-3 min per grouping)
  • Just Married Portraits – 40-45 min
  • TOTAL PRE-CEREMONY COVERAGE = 2-3 hours (depending on if you place bridal party photos before or after ceremony)

Keep in mind, both of these timelines are just samples! Be sure to consult with me before your wedding day to talk through specifics about your wedding and what fits best for you.

What You’re Missing At Your Wedding Cocktail Hour

If you’re curious what happens at your cocktail hour, here’s what I typically see. Guests are usually ushered to a separate room or part of your venue from both the ceremony and reception space. They are sometimes greeted with champagne or an open bar. And your DJ, band, or live musicians set the tone with light music.

Guests will often be seen mingling, meeting your family or significant other’s family for the first time. Or you may have many old friends reconnecting for the first time in ages! It can certainly be a sweet time, so I don’t blame any couple for wanting to attend the cocktail hour.

If you are not planning to attend, we will make sure to give you a glimpse through photos. This is why a second shooter post-ceremony is so helpful! They usually attend to grab candid moments, grip-n-grins (my little term for quick, smile-at-the-camera portraits of groups and couples who were found chatting together), and photos of the food and drinks being served.

For planning purposes, you may want to consider a mix of cocktail tables and seated tables. This ensures options for elderly and disabled guests or guests with children. If you’re planning an outdoor cocktail hour, make sure to consider a rain plan with your venue! It is not advised to let your guests enjoy cocktail hour in the same room as your reception. Often, this means they will begin to place personal items at the table before your media team is able to capture the decor and room as “untouched.”

You may also want to be thoughtful about what you serve. Your catering lead can help guide you on the proper amount of hors d’oeuvres and beverages for your guest count.

The ENP Approach to Capturing Cocktail Hour Photos

This is a very optional part of your wedding photography experience. But we’re here to make it work according to your vision! If you’re someone who will miss, but wants to feel like you were there, a second shooter is a must!

Typically my second shooter will go to your cocktail hour while I’m finishing photos with you post-ceremony. I’ll instruct them to capture everything from decor/details, food, drinks, candids, and grip-n-grins. If you’d like a formal photo of each guest, we recommend organizing a “photo booth” line! This adds a fun experience for guests. It also gives you the ability to gift your guests with a professional portrait after the wedding day. Just plan to place signage and a backdrop to instruct guests where to line up. From there, my team will manage grabbing their portraits for you.

We also love honoring the ways your guests show up for you!! This means capturing photos of wedding guest fashion. If you have a crew that went all out, you deserve to commemorate it! Below are a few examples of cocktail hour photos that really paint the picture of a great time had by all.

Did you find this helpful? There’s lots more where that came from! Check out my other journal posts sharing insider tips and tricks for wedding planning.

And if you’re looking to book a wedding photographer for your special day, I would love to be considered! Inquire with me HERE to check on my availability for your date.

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