Creating Your Ideal Wedding Day Timeline

Creating Your Ideal Wedding Day Timeline

As a wedding photographer serving many brides without hired wedding planners, I tend to play a dual role of photographer-planner.  It's one part of working with my couples that I love being a big part in.  I'm a total OCD planner by nature, so I welcome tons of questions from my brides and grooms.  Whether you're not sure about what time you need to have your hair and makeup finished or what order your reception events should fall in, ask me!  Even if it's something that doesn't concern the photography coverage of your day, I've attended my share of weddings so I've seen it all and I'm happy to help.  After all, it's most likely your first time doing this wedding thing and you have no clue what's "normal".

Creating Your Wedding Day Timeline

Having a good timeline for the wedding day is essential to keep the stress level down for all involved.  I have a required step in working with every couple where I meet with them in person (or hold a Skype session or phone call if they're long distance) within the last 2 weeks before their big day.  During this chat, we go over the details of their wedding day and we build their final timeline together, from getting ready all the way through the end of the reception.  I always aim to pack in some extra space where we can to consider any possible (inevitable) delays that may affect things.  Below are some tips, from my own experiences, on what is an ideal wedding day timeline...

Some Things to Consider When Building your timeline

There are so many factors that go into planning your perfect wedding day, making each and every wedding unique in its own way.  Same goes for the outline of your day.  Things like the locations, transportation time in between the ceremony, reception and any photo spots, sunset time (this is a BIG one I can't stress enough!) all play a role.  Even getting ready is a much bigger feat than any other day of your life.  I ask all of my brides to have hair and makeup done at least 40 minutes prior to when they need to be out the door.  This allows them to soak in the moment of getting into their dress and not rush the process.  Not to mention, some of those dresses take forevvvvver to get into girls!

In my opinion, the biggest factor you should plan your day around is the sun, specifically the time it's setting on your exact wedding day.  I learned that lesson while preparing for one of my first big weddings (I usually tell the story at my wedding consults), and ever since, it's the first thing I look up when I start to build a timeline with my clients.  It's so important, my booking app even tells me when it is as soon as I schedule my clients' wedding day.

For example, if you are looking to hold an outdoor wedding ceremony at sunset, you'll want to plan your portrait time prior to the ceremony and opt for a first look (see more on that below), as the natural light is important for portraits.

Beach Haven LBI Wedding Ceremony

Do You Want to Do a "First Look"?

For those who may not know what a "first look" is, it's when the bride and groom opt to see each other prior to the ceremony and photograph the moment, often followed by the rest of their portraits and photos with their bridal party.  It's a more modern approach to the wedding day that many couples choose to take part in for a variety of reasons including: lessening the nerves come ceremony time, capturing the private moment together alone, or being able to join in with their guests at cocktail hour.  

If you're unsure about whether or not you want to do a first look, you can check out what a few of my past brides have said about their first look experience.  I personally prefer first looks in the grand scheme of things, although I by no means require my couples to do a first look.  As touched on above, here are a few of the pros for involving a "first look" in the wedding day timeline:

  • You get a private moment together before the craziness begins - Capturing a first look sometimes brings out the emotions you're experiencing seeing each other for the first time on such an important day, where you can interact more than during your ceremony.
  • You have more flexibility in planning out your portrait time - There's no rushing to squeeze in your portraits during cocktail hour, and no limitations on the locations you need to use for your bridal party portraits.
  • Your bridal party isn't itching to go party... yet - You can knock out all of your formal portrait time with each other, your bridal party, and even family portraits (optional) in advance of the ceremony, while everyone is looking (and behaving) their best.
  • You're a little less anxious come ceremony time - You can get all the jitters out nice and early so you can spend more time during your wedding ceremony soaking it in.
  • You can run off to your cocktail hour with your guests - If all of your portraits are held prior to your ceremony, you don't need to be pulled from your guests' arms for photo time.  You can enjoy all the good food you paid for while chatting with your guests during cocktail hour, which also means less "table time" during your reception (bonus!).
First Look

 

Below are two timelines for a typical wedding with both options, with or without a first look.  These both assume a ceremony time of 5:00pm and a ceremony and reception taking place at the same venue. 

Sample Wedding Day Timeline WithOUT a First Look

  • 1:30 PHOTOGRAPHERS ARRIVE AT PREP LOCATION(S)
  • 3:00 BRIDE & GROOM EACH BEGIN TO GET DRESSED
  • 4:00/4:15 TRAVEL TO VENUE SEPARATELY
  • 4:30 CEREMONY AND RECEPTION DETAIL SHOTS AS BRIDAL PARTY GETS READY
  • 5:00 CEREMONY (30 MINUTES)
  • 5:30 FAMILY PHOTOS (DURING COCKTAIL HOUR)
  • 5:45-6:30 BRIDE & GROOM/BRIDAL PARTY PORTRAITS (DURING COCKTAIL HOUR)
  • 6:30 RECEPTION
    • Grand Entrance
    • First Dance/Parent Dances
    • Toasts/Blessing
    • Dinner
    • Open Dancing
    • Cake Cutting
    • More Dancing

Sample Wedding Day Timeline With a First Look

  • 11:30 PHOTOGRAPHERS ARRIVE AT PREP LOCATION(S)
  • 1:00 BRIDE & GROOM EACH BEGIN TO GET DRESSED
  • 2:00 TRAVEL TO FIRST LOOK LOCATION SEPARATELY
  • 2:15-2:30 FIRST LOOK
  • 2:30-4:00 BRIDE & GROOM/BRIDAL PARTY PORTRAITS
  • 4:00 FAMILY PHOTOS (OR AT START OF COCKTAIL HOUR)
  • 4:30 CEREMONY AND RECEPTION DETAIL SHOTS AS BRIDAL PARTY GETS READY
  • 5:00 CEREMONY (30 MINUTES)
  • 5:30 COCKTAIL HOUR
  • 6:30 RECEPTION
    • Grand Entrance
    • First Dance/Parent Dances
    • Toasts/Blessing
    • Dinner
    • Open Dancing
    • Cake Cutting
    • More Dancing

I always listen to what my brides and grooms are looking for in their wedding day, and can help mold any timeline based around those needs, while throwing in a little advice along the way.  I highly encourage that any bride take into account these things months in advance of their wedding day, most importantly before those invitations go out and you can't turn back!  Your wedding day will run smoothly if you have a plan in place... pinky promise.  I hope this was helpful to a few brides out there.  Feel free to leave comments and questions below!

Privacy Policy