Wedding Day Timeline Tips

So you're engaged, you've got your date set and your venue locked in and you're starting to look at your other vendors. And as you do, maybe you're starting to get asked more specific questions. Not like "what day are you wanting to get married?" but "what time do you want to start on makeup?" or "do you want to do your first dance as soon as you enter the reception or after dinner?" or "what time do you want to do the grand exit?"and maybe your head starts spinning a little realizing that as the couple getting married, your wedding day timeline is kind of up to you to approve and set in stone. If you're planning on hiring a full service wedding coordinator, chuck this ball into their court and relax for the rest of the planning period. However, I know most of my clients are at least a little bit DIY and usually have at least one or two friends or family members helping them shoulder the stress of wedding planning. For the self directed celebrants out there, I'm here to help with the tips I always offer my couples when planning out their timelines.



Let me first say - there's no right or wrong way to get married. It's the 90s y'all, you can freestyle and customize your wedding day as much as you want and as long as the right paperwork gets signed, it's all the same amount of legit. My first tip for couples is to sit down and think about what traditions you do and don't want. Wanna hang out all day? Plan an early first look or even get ready together! Don't feel like having a garter toss? Cut it for a special dance, game, or anniversary dance. Add Karaoke! Have donuts instead of cake! Change your clothes into bedazzles tracksuits when the dance floor opens. Want to keep the traditions alive and well? Traditions have sticking power for a reason! They're fun and tons of people look forward to the bouquet tosses and first looks down the aisle. Remembering that there aren't any hard and fast rules for wedding days and you're the wedding day boss is the first step for customizing your day.



Tip #1 - Round up when budgeting time for events. If you think it'll take 15 minutes to get dressed? Budget for 30. You need everyone ready to walk into the ceremony at 5:55? Tell them to be there at 5:45. Adding those bumper times to your big events will keep the timeline flowing smoothly even if there are little snags here and there.



Tip #2 - Consider doing a first look. I've got a whole blog post about the pros and cons of first looks in the works, but for now just know the choice to have a first look or not is one of the biggest influences on how the photo timeline will shake out on the wedding day. Seeing each other pre ceremony opens the first half of the day up to finishing up 90% of your group photos before you even walk down the aisle and that flexibility can come in handy!



Tip #3 - Share your timeline with everyyyyyyybodyyyyyy. Screen cap your notes app, design up a cute graphic, take a photo of a sticky note and text it to everyone who needs to be on time so that everyone is getting the plan from you but they don't have to text you all day asking where and when they're supposed to be.


Image Second Shot for Photography and Design by Lauren.

Tip #4 - Err on the side of too much time as opposed to just enough. When working on your timeline, if 8 hours feels a little snug getting all your needs checked off - opt to add an hour or two. You only get to live through this day once and if you're rushing to get through the photo checklist, visit with all your guests, and all your favorite songs and games, the fun will just pass you by. Add an extra hour around dinner. Sit and visit with your friends. Make sure that you give yourself a long time so you can have good time!



Tip #5 - Remember to account for sunset time on the day of the wedding! Keeping sunset in mind is handy for a couple reasons - you'll want to make sure any and all outdoor poses and settings you want photos of or with are done by the time night falls and you for sure want to get those gorgeous glowy golden hour portraits in the sunset of your first day married. Bonus tip for this tip - if your date is close to a time change - make sure you're planning by the available daylight, not just a random time.


Tip #6 - Related to sunset times - this is a tip for planning a special exit. If you're planning on hanging with the party until closing time, planning your exit for earlier in the evening can have three benefits. More folk to participate in the exit, more ambient light from the tail end of the setting sun, and more sober hands to light sparklers and hand out glow sticks. My suggestion for early exits is to have the "exit" be the end of formal festivities before opening the dance floor up for the party to really begin. Anyone who wants to say good night will get the chance to away from the bumpin music and everyone who's staying will be super jazzed to start the party off right.



With all these tips in mind - here's some rough estimates for how long each portion of a standard wedding day takes to photograph so you can plug these elements in when deciding on how long your timeline needs to be!


  • Getting ready - Allow approximately 1 hour per person getting hair and makeup done. I know this seems excessive but the beginning of the day is the best time to be running ahead of schedule so if the math is wrong - guess what - you get to look hot and ready while chilling with your pals and sipping mimosas. I always shoot with a second shooter - so during this time we'll be split up covering the getting ready time for both sides simultaneously. This is also usually when we get details like the dress, rings, invites, accessories, shoes - whatever you want documented! Pro tip- have all those goodies in one spot for your photographer so that you aren't losing time to tracking down a missing ring bearer.

  • Solo Portraits - Usually taken immediately after your finishing touches have been added these shots will usually take 15-20 minutes. It's an oft forgotten part of the day but if you're going to be looking the hottest you've ever been, you gotta get pics to commemorate the occasion!

  • Wedding Party Photos - 30-45 minutes is usually the range we're working with for party photos. If everyone is cooperative and where they're supposed to be - these photos are usually tons of fun and go by super quick.

  • Ceremony - I've seen anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour+ depending on your ceremony specifics. Obviously a full mass will last longer than a quick and easy non denominational ceremony. Talk with your officiant about their plans for the wedding ceremony and an approximate timeline. Make sure to tell your photographer about any special readings, songs, ceremonies or add ons that you choose to include!

  • Family Formals - This can get a little trickier to lock in, since there are different levels of family that will need to be in different amounts of photos at different times during the day, but the traditional post ceremony formal family poses can usually get wrapped up in 30 minutes or so. The best way to expedite this process is to have your desired poses and grouping written out by name so we can roll call and get things done fast!

  • Your Portraits - This is going to be the portion of the day that's the most customized to your specific wedding plan. First look or no, sunset or no, on location, multiple locations, that's totally up to you. Aim for 30 minutes to an hour at least.

  • Reception Highlights -

  • Entrance - 5-10 minutes to dance, schmooze, and find your way to your table or the dance floor depending on your timeline preference

  • Dinner - 45 minutes! Have someone make your plates ahead for you so you don't have to work your way into line with the rest of us peasants.

  • First Dance - How long is your song?

  • Parent Dances - How long are these songs?

  • Cake Cutting - I encourage folk to combine cake and toasts and speeches into one segment of the day. Cutting the cake and serving it up will take about 10 minutes.

  • Speeches - Another 10 minutes or so. Remember to remind your speech givers that they'll need to have something to say when their big moment arrives!

  • Dance Floor Opens - The rest of the night! Tear up the dance floor until your dancing shoes wear out!

There's a lot of information here and the best people to go over your specific timeline with will be your vendors and friends. If the role of photographer hasn't been filled for your yet, or if you just have a question about anything I've written here - shoot me an email! I'm always down to hop on a call and try and parse out a solution for whatever might ail you in the planning process!