How to Create a Stress Free Wedding Day Timeline!
Having an easy to follow timeline for your wedding day is one of the most important things you can do
to ensure your day goes exactly the way you’ve dreamed it would.
With all of the moving parts to a wedding day however, it can get overwhelming. Having shot nearly a
hundred weddings, I’ve put together a timeline of what I think will help you take the stress out of the
day and capture the moments you will want to remember.
Let’s get started!
I like to start by visualizing how to capture the day across seven Big Events. You might have more or less
depending on what you have planned, but these are typically the requests I receive the most for
Big Event #1: Getting Ready Shots (1-1.5 Hours)
Big Event #2: Bridal Party Portraits (1.5-2 Hours)
Big Event #3: The Ceremony (1-2.5 Hours)
Big Event #4: Family Photos (30-60 Minutes)
Big Event #5: Golden Hour Portraits(15-20 Minutes)
Big Event #6: Reception Room Details (20-30 minutes)
Big Event #7: The Reception (30-90 Minutes)
It’s often easiest to start your timeline with the least flexible Big Events (like ceremony or reception start
time). If you have certain parts of your day set in stone, those will have the biggest impact on where and
when the other Big Events will fall.
And don’t forget to account for travel time! It’s common to have the ceremony and reception in
different locations, or a special spot planned for bridal party photos, so make sure you keep that in mind
when you are planning.
Key Event #1: -Getting Ready Shots (1-1.5 Hours)
I like to arrive at least an hour before the bride is ready to put on the dress. This is usually the right time where hair and makeup are almost finished and we can get candid shots of final details.
I recommend having the maid of honor, or a trusted friend or relative, in charge of the “details box” while you are getting ready. This can be the shoe box for your bridal shoes or another decorative box you fill with all of the important small details that you want photographed - rings, invitations, shoes, perfume, jewelry, something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, etc.
How I organize Getting Ready shots:
The Bride’s room:
Bridesmaids together in robes (5-10 minutes).
Details and candid shots (20 minutes).
Putting on the dress and the finishing touches (25 minutes).
Wait to put on earrings, jewelry and shoes until after you’re dressed.
First look with Dad (5-15 minutes).
The Groom’s room:
Groomsmen putting on jackets (5 minutes).
Tying ties, adjusting pocket squares, pinning boutonnieres (5 minutes).
Details and candid shots (10 minutes).
If we have two photographers that day, the groom shots will be photographed at the same time as the bride. If we have one photographer, I usually prioritize more time in the bride’s room and we can wait to put boutonnieres on until the buffer time before the ceremony begins. Another thing to consider is whether you are using a salon for hair and makeup. Along with travel time between locations, work with them to figure out how much time they usually take. I recommend adding in at least 30-60 minutes of buffer time on top of that, since it’s very common for hair and makeup to run late.
Key Event #2: -Bridal Party and Couple Portraits (1-2 Hours)
Generally, there are seven basic combinations that I aim for with bridal party and couple portraits.
The bride alone (5-15 minutes).
The bride with each bridesmaid (5-15 minutes).
The bride with all bridesmaids (10 minutes).
The groom alone (5-15 minutes).
The groom with each groomsman (5-15 minutes).
The groom with all groomsman (10 minutes).
The full wedding party (10-15 minutes).
The big decision for you here depends on if you are planning on having a “First Look” or whether you will wait to see each other at the aisle.
For couples having a first look, plan for an extra half hour to coordinate and take some time to enjoy this
moment. Also, the timing of this sometimes means that the sun will be high in the sky, so we need to make sure that the locations we choose have open shade.
You’ll want to discuss your one or two must-have locations for these photos, along with nice to have locations if we have extra time. Also, it’s worth considering back-up locations in case of rain. I recommend only one location per major grouping above. The exception, of course, is bride and groom portraits, which can be in each location.
There are three basic ways to break out when bridal party and couple portraits will happen. We
will work together to figure out which of these will work best for your day.
Before the Ceremony: If you plan on a first look and we can coordinate the entire bridal party together before the ceremony.
After the Ceremony: If you don’t plan on a first look, the most common time to takethese photos is just after family photos following the ceremony.
Best of both: Many couples will get the first six group combinations listed above donebefore the ceremony and then get the full wedding party and bride/groom photos afterthe ceremony and family photos.
A second photographer can be extremely helpful here during portraits. This makes it possible to take separate photos with the bridesmaids and groomsmen at the same time.
Key Event #3: - The Ceremony (1-2.5 Hours)
Generally, you won’t want to schedule any specific photos in the half hour before the ceremony begins. This is your buffer time to breathe and relax as guests begin to arrive. This is also a great time for candid photos and for me to make sure I have everything setup set for the ceremony photos.
As soon as the ceremony ends, plan for a few extra minutes for everyone to clear out. This is especially true if you are planning on a receiving line, which can take up to a half hour or longer.
It’s also common for couples to take exit photos where guests will see them off from the church or other ceremony location. Here’s the trick: you’ll make your grand exit, but you’ll actually circle back to sign your marriage license and take family photos while guests head on to the next event. Or, if family photos are happening somewhere else, simply head on over to that location. Plan for around 15 minutes for a formal exit to give your guests time to leave their seats and line up.
Key Event #4: -Family Photos (30-60 Minutes)
Family photos are an important category of their own. They can either happen before the ceremony (if you have a first look) or right after.
You’ll want to carefully plan out exactly which groupings of family members you want beforehand. A rule of thumb is that it will take about five minutes per major grouping to get everyone in and out and about three minutes per smaller group (2-4 people).
Once the list is created, share it with a key person who knows the family members and can help coordinate and get everyone in place.
Make sure that everyone who will be in these photos is aware of it ahead of time. If you have more groupings than you can get to, prioritize which photos you want at the ceremony and which photos can be in another location, like at the reception.
Key Event #5: -Golden Hour Portraits (15-20 Minutes)
I always take the bride and groom out for at least 15 minutes of “golden hour” photos in the final hour before the sun sets. This is when you’ll have the most amazing light for photographs, and it also gives you a chance to have a small quiet moment together during your wedding day.
Many couples will schedule their events around golden hour. If possible, it’s ideal to schedule your day so that the golden hour falls:
Just before your reception begins (during regularly scheduled portrait time.
30 minutes into dinner (this way, you’ll have plenty of time to eat your own dinner, then you can sneak away for photos while your guests finish eating).
Key Event #6: -Reception Room Details (20-30 minutes)
If you know that you want photos of the reception room before guests enter, plan for around 20-30 minutes for these photos. There are two main ways to accomplish these photos:
Before Getting Ready Shots: If your room will be photo ready early in the day and you are getting ready close by, we might be able to have these photos done at the very beginning of the day. It’s likely that the cake won’t be out yet, so you may still want to set aside a few extra minutes before the cake cutting.
During Cocktail Hour: If we are using a second photographer, cocktail hour can be a good time to get these photos. At this point, the room should be completely ready and they can photograph the room, cake, and decorations.
Key Event #6: The Reception (Through 30-90 Minutes of Dancing)
As your photographer, I know that I play a big role in keeping things running on time from the moment I arrive until the reception starts. Once the reception begins, you’ll work with your DJ or band to plan out the rest of the schedule. I always meet up with them as soon as I arrive at the reception to make sure that we’re working closely together throughout the evening just in case anything needs to change.
At this point, I take candid photos of the evening, but I also make a point to have the bride, groom and parents tell me if there are any other casual group photographs of friends who they would like to get together. If you want a large group photo (all of your high school or college friends, for example), I recommend having the DJ or band leader call everyone over to the dance floor for the photo at the end of dinner. Once the group is there and paying attention, it’s the perfect time to segue into the first dances and the rest of the evening.
When dancing gets going, I usually recommend about 30-90 minutes of dancing and reception photos. The larger your guest list, the more time you might allow here, but in general, make sure that you’ve scheduled enough time to capture the major events and traditions of the evening. With enough time, we could also sneak out of the reception for some night time shots under the stars.
There you have it!
I hope that you find this helpful. I love working with couples to make sure that everything is ready to go before the wedding day begins so that it’s a fun, relaxing experience for everyone. This is a celebration, after all.