How to Make Your Wedding Day Timeline!

June 13, 2019

If you’re reading this post then congratulations! You must be getting close to your wedding and the bulk of the planning is DONE! Making a timeline is an essential part to your wedding day, and unless you have a wedding planner then the responsibility for this is most likely going to fall on the soon-to-be married couple. Your DJ, photographer, videographer, day of coordinator, caterer, baker, and venue are all going to be relying on the timeline on your wedding day, so it’s important to put in the work ahead of time to assure everything goes as planned. I know it feels like a lot of pressure, but don’t panic! If you follow this guide I can assure you that you will have a timeline that is simple, straightforward, and sure to get you through the day as smoothly as possible!

Every couples day is unique, and therefore there is no “one size fits all” approach for wedding timelines. The timeline below will serve as an example as to how long traditional wedding day events take place, but by all means you should add/remove/move around things as you see fit! A good rule of thumb is that you’re better off giving yourself more time than necessary than to not have enough time. One thing that is for sure on any wedding day is that things are going to run behind. But as long as you have built “cushion” time into your timeline, there is no reason to worry!

Sample Timeline:

9:15am: Bride and bridesmaids (if applicable) arrive to venue bridal suite at 111 Wedding Avenue

9:30am: Hair stylist and makeup artist arrive and begin bridesmaid and brides hair and makeup

10:30am: Groom and groomsmen (if applicable) arrive to grooms dad’s house at 222 Fairfax Rd

11:30am: Vendors arrive at venue at 111 Wedding Avenue to begin setup, photographer and videographer arrive and head to bridal suite

12:30pm: Everyone is dressed and ready, groomsmen head to wedding venue

1pm: First look and couples portraits

1:45pm: Wedding party photos

2:30pm: Family photos

3:30pm: Guests begin to arrive

4:00pm: Ceremony start time on invitations

4:15pm: Ceremony starts

4:45pm: Cocktail hour begins

4:45pm-5:15pm: More couples portraits

5:45pm: Reception begins

5:50pm: Wedding party/newlyweds introduction

6:00pm: First dance/father daughter dance/mother son dance

6:15pm: Toasts

6:30pm: Dinner served

8:30pm: Cake cutting

8:45pm: Garter toss/bouquet toss

10:00pm: Newlyweds exit

Common Timeline Questions:

Should I do a first look?

Deciding on whether you should do a first look is entirely a personal preference, but as a photographer, I would always suggest it, especially if you are running on a tight schedule for the day. The first look allows time for the couple to have a few uninterrupted moments together before the craziness of the day ensues, and it also allows for some sweet moments to be photographed! Additionally, by doing a first look you are given the opportunity to do your couples portraits, wedding party photos, and family photos before the ceremony. By doing this, the rest of your evening will be free to spend with family and friends! See below for more specifics on why a first look is helpful.

How long should I book my photographer and/or videographer for?

When deciding how long you want your photographer/videographer to be present for, you will want to be honest with yourself about what aspects of your day are most important for you and your soon-to-be spouse – and also to consider that these visuals are going to be all you have to remember your day by for the rest of your life! But I’m not here to convince you one way or another – I’m simply going to lay out the facts!

Oftentimes when couples think of getting ready photos, they think of the staged photos of the bride getting her makeup done and the groom lacing up his shoes – and while these photos are important, there is so much more that goes into those “getting ready” moments. This is the time where the detail shots happen (think the lace on your dress, the earrings your grandma gave you, your shiny new wedding rings, etc.!), when your mom is going to zip up your dress, when your bridesmaids are going to toast, and when the groomsmen are going to do shots! These moments collectively help tell the true story of your wedding day.

Reception coverage is something which some couples value the most of all, and others could care less about. While it’s true that at a certain point, there’s only so much “dancing” you can capture, there are unforeseen events at a reception that you may want to remember forever! Whether it’s your friends parading you on chairs around the dance floor, your uncle doing the worm, or your mom and dad slow dancing next to you, there is value in having a photographer there to assure no moments are forgotten! Another thing to consider is whether or not you will be doing a special exit. Whether that is with sparklers, glow sticks, or confetti, you might find it worth it to have your photographer stick it out for the very end just to photograph it!

So I know what you may be thinking… What if you just simply don’t want the photographer there for a full 10+ hours? I definitely understand this and in this case I have a few suggestions! When it comes to getting ready, have your photographer arrive at least an hour before your ceremony (or at least 2 hours before if you’re doing a first look!). This will allow for at least a few detail shots, and the mimicking of moments such as the dress being zipped up, or your bridal party doing a toast. As for the reception, you will find it helpful to get the important moments out of the way at the beginning (toasts, father/daughter dances, cake cutting) so that your photographer will capture those moments!

When should I do first dances/toasts/garter and/or bouquet toss/cake cutting?

As I mentioned above, the timing of these events will depend largely on when your photographer and videographer are present. If you have booked a shorter package, then you will find it makes most sense to do these things at the beginning of the reception! But even if you have your photographer for your full day, it still may be worth it to get these things out of the way early so the rest of the night can be spent dancing without worrying about a timeline. Ultimately, this is where it’s up to you and your soon-to-be spouse to decide what works best for you, and to think back on previous weddings you have been to and how you’ve felt about the flow of their receptions!

When should my ceremony be?

Your ceremony time should be determined largely by the time of year you’re getting married and the sunset time as a result. You’ll find that during winter months, the sun can set as early as 5:25pm, while in the summer the sun will set as late as 8:30pm! As a basic rule, the best light for photos is the hour before sunset. So let’s look at two scenarios:

  • If you’re doing a first look: When doing a first look, you will want the first look to occur approximately 2-2.5 hours before the ceremony begins. For example. if your wedding is happening in the winter when the sun sets at 5:30pm, you would want to do your first look at about 1pm, with couples photos happening at 1:15, wedding party photos happening at 2, family photos happening at 2:45, and then concluding at 3:15 with time to spare for makeup/hair touch-ups and time to chill and hide before guests arrive. The ceremony would want to occur at 4:30-5, and during the cocktail hour some more couples photos could be done to capture the “golden hour” light.
  • If you’re not doing a first look: Again lets assume your wedding is during the winter and the sun is setting at 5:30pm. Without a first look, ideally both sides of wedding party’s photos can occur before the ceremony, with only full wedding party, family photos, and couples photos remaining after. An example timeline for this would be ceremony at 3:30pm, family photos at 4pm, wedding party photos at 4:30pm, and couples photos at 4:45pm. You can see how while this can be done, it begins to cut into the time that the couple may want to spend celebrating with family and friends!

I know this was a lot of information, but I trust that it was helpful for you! As always, I seek to be open and honest with my couples about the reality of a wedding day! But the truth is – whether you book me for 6 hours or for 12, I am so excited and honored to spend your wedding day with you. Don’t fret about whether or not to do a first look or when you want to have your cake cutting – go with what feels right for you and your soon-to-be spouse and don’t worry about the opinions of others. I’m here to give you the “technically right” answers, but ultimately no matter what time we do your portraits at – I promise I know how to make the lighting look gorgeous and soft, and even if I don’t capture the whole reception, you’re still going to adore your gallery! (After all, that’s one of the reasons why my couples hire me!) Happy wedding planning and as always feel free to call or email with any questions! I’m happy to help as you prepare your timeline for your day!

With love,

Kenna Schott