How To Timeline Your Wedding Day
Wedding Day Timelines Aren’t Hard . . .
. . . said no one ever.
We all want our wedding to be perfect and stress-free, but having everything prepped and every contingency planned ahead of time can seem like a significant task. Setting a schedule is a key step in ensuring your day goes off without issue, and that's why I created this simple, no-BS guide to help you out.
As a photographer, the advice here is based on real-life experience from doing 30-40 weddings each year, not just one or two weddings a year like some wedding bloggers. So to show you what works, what doesn't, and why, let's cut out the confusing, unhelpful tips given by many Pinterest boards, wedding magazines, and those people who think they know what's best for your day and get to the good stuff.
START WITH A ROUGH PLAN
I always like to catch up early with my couples to run through a draft timeline early in the planning process. Nothing has to be set in stone, but doing this ensures they have a guide that gets them thinking about how their day timed out. Some timeline items that are often forgotten include:
When to start prep
When to get into your dress or suit
When to kick off the ceremony
How long you'll need for family photos
How long to allow for Bridal Party photos
To get started, determine when you want your ceremony to begin. From this, it's super easy to figure out when you'll need to start prep and then leave prep to arrive on time for the ceremony. But, of course, it'll also dictate the times for everything that follows after. Then, if all still seems overwhelming, a little guidance from your photographer can steer you in the right direction.
ALLOW FOR EXTRA TIME
As you build out your schedule, be sure to allow more time than you think you'll need for each timeline item. While your goal is to plan everything perfectly, many factors (such as the weather and travel times) are beyond your control. Because of this, your wedding day timeline mustn't be too tightly scheduled. Be sure to allow a buffer between those critical moments in case something unexpected occurs.
I've found that the best spot to throw in a few additional minutes is the time between the end of the ceremony and when you head off for your bridal party photos. Usually, 30-45 minutes is the ideal amount of time to allow for family photos and a bit of a buffer. The benefits are simple: if your hair and makeup runs behind, the groom's suit gets misplaced, or anything else happens that may delay your arrival, you will have time to shuffle the ceremony start time back a bit. In turn, this won't then affect the rest of the day. You will still have ample time for family photos and bridal party photos, and you will arrive at your reception on time. Trust me; this is a good thing—no one wants to upset the chef or caterers.
How long it takes for the bride and groom to get dressed and prepared for the ceremony can vary, but often an hour per partner is ideal, even if you are getting prep photos. Most men don't take that long to get ready, usually throwing on a suit, tie, and shoes in 10 to 15 minutes. Bride's attire, however, can be a little more involved. So it's always a good idea to allow a little more time than you think you'll need to get into that dress. Also, a good start is to ask your hair & makeup crew to be finished up 1 hour before you plan on leaving for the ceremony. I aim for my couples to be dressed 30 minutes before they leave so we have time to get a few portraits with their bridal party and the family who may be getting ready.
TRAVELLING TO THE CEREMONY
My biggest tip for this is always to allow extra time to travel on the wedding day. You never know when you'll get caught in road work or need to make an unexpected detour. Also, if you hire cars, whether they be limos or vintage cars, chances are they won't be as quick on the road as a standard car. So always allow more time than you think you'd need.
YOUR WEDDING CEREMONY
Most wedding ceremonies last about 30 minutes, but some that incorporate certain religious or cultural practices may go longer. Ask your celebrant to give you an idea of the duration of the ceremony. Doing this will allow you to allocate the right amount of time within the timeline.
An unplugged ceremony can also be a great idea; smartphones, tablets, and other devices can stand out like a sore thumb in your photos and ruin shots. Chances are, the images they capture will be blurry and grainy anyway. Have your celebrant ask your guests to put their phones away so we photographers can do what we do best.
Another helpful little tip is to ask that your celebrant take a step to the side when announcing you as married. For example, asking your celebrant to move rather than having them standing awkwardly behind you in your photos as you and your partner kiss. Of course, no one wants a love triangle.
POST-CEREMONY HUGS AND KISSES
Once you walk down the aisle with your partner, take time to embrace those who you love. Guests will want to hug you and offer you congratulations. These are easily the best photos of the day—they're genuine and candid. With the emotions running high, you don't want to cut this short. Allow about 10 minutes, so you have time to get around to most people.
GROUP AND FAMILY PHOTOS
Once you've gotten through the ceremony and had a chance to get around and hug it out, save time to get everyone together for one huge group shot. It is much easier to get everyone together at this point of the day rather than chasing people down later.
From here, I often roll on into the family photos. But if you choose to make time for family photos, don't make it the be-all and end-all. For example, when I've attended weddings as a guest, family photo time is where I've seen things fall apart. The key is to keep it simple. Make a shortlist of the essential family members, designate one of the bridesmaids or groomsmen as "the chaser" who'll round up people if they runoff.
To keep it simple, here's a list of people you might want to have in pictures with the bride/s and groom/s:
Bride's extended family
Bride's parents, siblings, and grandparents
Bride's parents and siblings
Both sets of parents
Groom's extended family
Groom's parents, siblings & Grandparents
Groom's parents and siblings
BRIDAL PARTY PHOTOS
Bridal Party photos are where you get to hang out with your friends, eat and drink, create some great images, and have fun. Bridal party shots aren't what they used to be, at least not for us. We like to keep things moving and ensure everyone's enjoying themselves.
1 to 1.5 hours is the ideal amount of time for bridal party photos. If there's a bit of travel between the ceremony and reception locations, allow for this. My approach for this part of the day is to focus on the bridal party group photos first. I am then concentrating more on the two of you for the second half of this time.
Sunset photos are always the most epic, golden lit, intimate moments of a couple. So setting aside some time, even if it's only 10-15 minutes around sunset, is something that I always highly recommend. It's that portion of the day when the lighting looks most flattering, unique and it also gives you a few minutes away from everyone to be together as newlyweds and reflect on the day.
These photos are the ones that'll get people talking and most likely be the images that'll end up on your wall. The only time I wouldn't push for a sunset shoot is if it was raining or just unpleasant outside. But even then, rain can make some gorgeous images! See our Instagram feed for inspiration.
YOUR WEDDING RECEPTION
The reception is when you get to party and have fun with your friends and family. Many wedding reception venues will give you a timeline layout to plan off and tailor to suit your needs. When planning the timeline, the main thing is just working with the wedding coordinator to ensure the catering and everything else works seamlessly.
If you have multiple speeches, consider splitting them into separate sections. Often either side of meals or perhaps a few when you first enter your reception and the rest later in the evening.
My general approach to the reception is to document this in a more discreet, candid way, capturing photos of people interacting, chatting and enjoying themselves. I roam & capture photos of people at tables throughout the night, jumping up on the dance floor and capturing some of that action up close so you can relive the dynamic atmosphere of it all.
One thing we have experienced with a few wedding receptions if held outdoors is inadequate lighting. Being mindful of this and bringing in additional lighting if required helps your guests navigate the venue safely and see what's going on, especially those pivotal moments, like speeches, the first dance, and cake cutting.
Also, nothing beats a good nighttime photo! Whether a photo outside the venue capturing the clear night sky with the two of you illuminated or a sparkler tunnel shot like the one below, I will often steal my couples from the reception for 5-10 mins to create some epic late-night shots.
So there it is; if you use the advice in this article, figuring out your wedding timeline should be much simpler and make the rest of the planning process more fun.
If you have any other questions, I would love to meet up for a chat to answer any questions you may have, discuss what you want for your wedding day and show you some more examples of my work in both digital and print form. So let's grab a coffee!