Tips for Your Wedding Day Timeline

July 13, 2019

You might be freaking out with all of your to-do lists because, chances are, you are planning your wedding on your own! More power to ya! Well, lucky for you, I kind of double as a wedding planner, especially in the major category of the timeline – it’s one of my photographer superpowers. A lot of couples haven’t thought through some very important details that have the power to make a smooth, stress-free day, or a complete mess of your wedding day! Here is a list to help guide you in creating the structure of your day, including common timeline mistakes and things to be sure to organize up front.

1. First, answer these questions with your partner

  • Are you doing a “first look”?
  • Are you getting ready at a salon or at the venue?
  • Do you want photos with your entire extended family, or just immediate family?
  • Are you doing a receiving line?
  • Will you be offering a cocktail hour?
  • Are you having a grand entrance?
  • Is your dinner buffet style or plated?
  •  Do you want to sneak away during the reception for sunset photos?

All of these questions will help determine the structure of the day and the timing to account for. Let’s take the first question for example: First Look or At the Aisle? Here’s my input. From a photographer’s perspective, it’s helpful for the couple to see each other before the ceremony – that way we can do the bulk of the group photos prior. But from a romantic & traditional perspective, I love the idea of the couple first seeing each other when she walks down the aisle. If you choose this route, just note that we will have to create space after the ceremony for all the group photos. Let me break it down for you…

2. Consider the 3 Main Categories of Group Photos:

  • The Couple of the Hour (romance session + may include First Look)
  • The Wedding Party (formals + candids)
  • The Family (formals + candids)

I like to account for 30-45 minutes for each, depending on the size of the group. Usually the first two categories involve walking from location to location, whether that means around the grounds of the venue or if it’s a city location, it adds a fun variety to walk around downtown. So together, these total 1.5-2.25 hours. Typically, it’s hard to carve out that much space after the ceremony. Not to mention that most couples go into party mode as soon as they sign the license!

3. Sunset to Determine Start Time

When deciding what time the ceremony should start, follow the sun! Photographers are obsessed with golden hour, which is the 1-2 hour block right before sunset. If you are planning an outdoor ceremony with a first look, consider the start time to be approximately 60 minutes before sunset. To determine the sunset time, just google “sunset time, {Wedding City} {Wedding Date}”. (Or check out this nifty sunset calculator.) The lighting will be pure magic and your photos ultimately dreamy! *If you are not doing a first look, your ceremony will have to be earlier so that all the group photos happening post-ceremony will still be lit up.

4. Factor in time to Get Flawless!

We all know that the bridesmaids are going to take way more time than the groomsmen in the getting ready process. But how much time? Typically, a bride + her bride tribe take about 2-3 hours for hair, makeup, dresses + accessories. If your party is large, allot for extra time. This is why it’s smart to have more than one hair stylist + makeup artist. Also, be sure that all of your ladies know what hair style/makeup look they want before your big day, so they aren’t searching Pinterest last minute when they should be ready for group photos! For groomsmen, the time-eating details are not hair and makeup of course, but tuxedo malfunctions (so try it on after your alterations before your wedding day), forgetting to bring black socks + running to Walmart last minute (remember, they don’t come with your tux rental or shoes!), and having to iron/steam the suits last minute! All of these things can be prevented if thought of before the wedding day.

5. Bouquets & Boutonnieres

I have had too many wedding parties who are fully ready for taking group photos except that we are all still waiting for the bouquets & boutonnieres to arrive. Have one person delegated who is in charge of this task – coordinating the pickup or drop off, keeping them refrigerated, and distributing them at the appropriate times to the wedding party. We don’t want to start without them, and we don’t want wilty petals in your photos! Most importantly, practice how to pin! Many groomsmen turn to the photographer for help in pinning their boutonniere, and although we know how because we have seen it a thousand times, we want to be behind our camera for this moment! So be sure to watch some tutorials in advance, and I would even suggest sending this one out to your groomsmen or mother of the groom. The cutest photos are when mom pins it for her son!

6. Your Superhero Time-keeper

There is a natural, built-in team of people who are timeline-conscious on your big day, and it mostly consists of your vendors: photographer, videographer, DJ, wedding planner, venue coordinator, hair+makeup, florist, caterers, officiant, and the list goes on. For the vendors, you want to make sure that they are all on the same page up front. You can send them an email collectively with all of your details, which also gives them the chance to reach out to each other on their own. But in addition to the vendors, it is highly advised to delegate one person in your own squad who will act as the liaison between YOU, your wedding party & family, and all the vendors. Why? If you don’t, everyone will be coming to you on your wedding day, bothering you with questions about who is supposed to be where at what time. This is one of the biggest mistakes because it leads to STRESS! And my job as your photographer (in addition to taking bomb photos of course) is to make sure that everyone knows who they can go to with all their questions so that you can just enjoy the magic of the day. This superhero role would be most fitting for a personal attendant or a hired day-of-coordinator. It’s a person who is detail oriented & a quick problem solver. They will be handling the potential mishaps that I mentioned above, like tuxedo & dress issues, boutonniere pinning, carrying deodorant + mints which you forgot, bringing you flats when your heels are killing your feet, and rallying the necessary people during group photos. If you choose an attendant instead of a hired coordinator, it’s helpful when this person is already on the “in” with family and friends so they can direct people by name. Just don’t assign this role to a bridesmaid or relative who should be there to enjoy the day! Your superhero should have the entire timeline and phone numbers of vendors, and the vendors should have her/his number as well. I cannot stress how important this role is to ensuring that everything flows according to the timeline!

7. Plan in enough cushion time…

Extra time = less stress. The most common stress that I see overtaking brides is getting behind schedule. Well, if you try to cram a thousand moving pieces into 6 hours, it will likely happen, just because it’s not realistic to fit in. If, on the other hand, you have a 10 hour timeline blocked out, you have just problem solved in advance. You have built in enough time to account for all the potentials. For example, one thing you might not be thinking of is the time it takes to rally all your extended family for a few shots. Uncle Frank will meander over to the bar and little Emma will have to pee. On that note, when Bride has to use the ladies room, remember that it takes double the time because she has 2 bridesmaids with her to help hold up her dress! Another area to be sure to build in cushion for: transitions! One of the most common mistakes I see is not planning enough time for travel between venues. If your ceremony and reception venue are 15 minutes apart, build in 30 minutes, because in reality it will take the wedding party and guests time to get to their cars (remember, it’s a reunion – everyone is excitedly distracted), and then you’ll have traffic. If you’ve rented a limo or party bus for the wedding party, you gotta sort out the details of the ice + the drinks in advance so people aren’t running to the store last minute! Finally, you want to add a few extra minutes to the Toasts section of your timeline. Your guests truly love you, and their toasts to you may turn emotional… and long…

8. Timeline Template

With all of these tips in mind, let me share with you a standard timeline foundation that can be easily customized. *If you are celebrating more than one culture in your marriage, this timeline may reflect just one of your days, and an additional one may be created to reflect your unique cultural traditions.

  • 9:00 – Access to Venue
  • 10:00 – Wedding Party Getting Ready
  • 12:00 – Photographer Coverage Begins
  • 1:15 – First Look/Couples Romance Session
  • 2:00 – Wedding Party Photos
  • 2:45 – Family Formals
  • 3:30 – Chill before ceremony
  • 4:00 – Ceremony
  • 4:45 – sign marriage license
  • 5:00 – Receiving Line
  • 5:30 – Cocktail Hour
  • 5:45 – Travel to Reception Venue
  • 6:15 – Grand Entrance
  • 6:30 – Dinner (plated)
  • 7:15 – Toasts
  • 7:45 – Cake Cutting
  • 8:15 – Sneak away for Sunset Photos
  • 8:45 – First Dance
  • 8:50 – Father/Daughter & Mother/Son Dance or Special Choreographed dance
  • 9:00 – Open Dance Floor
  • 11:30 – Sparkler Send off
  • 12:00AM – Venue End
  • 12:00AM – Photographer Coverage Ends

This provides 12 hours of photography coverage, which would fall under my Gold Package. I love shooting the entire story from beginning to end, and all of this cushion in the timeline allows us to document your day very freely! If you need help constructing your timeline and talking through any part of your wedding day, I’m here to help! I’ve shot hundreds of weddings so I know how they go. 😉

9. BE FREE!

Most importantly, try to relax, and just be free! If you’ve thought through all these details ahead of time, you’re on your way to a super stress-free day! Besides, if things get done earlier than expected, well, more time for champagne and dancing, am I right?!

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