Creating a Wedding Timeline

Creating a Wedding Timeline

When couples first sign on to work with me they always ask the same question, sometimes the only question.

How do I put together a wedding timeline?

This is always a critical question, because a good timeline will make the wedding day go a lot smoother for your family, guests and vendors. Making things go smooth for your vendors will help them really excel and be able to give you and all your guests a great wedding experience.

For my own wedding, we made sure that the photographer had enough time for our portraits and since we were away from the wedding at that time we worked closely with the DJ, knowing that he was going to be the man that was going to keep the party going while we were away.

A reasonable timeline also will give your photographer enough time to make sure they capture all the other details and moments that you want and even the ones you don’t know you want, but that you’ll need afterward to tell the story of your wedding day.

A sample wedding day timeline for photography.

The first step

So, what’s the first step of creating a timeline?

I always start off by first asking whether you’d want to do your first look before the ceremony or when you’re walking down the aisle.

Many people look forward to the first look, when the groom looks up from the altar and sees their bride walking down the aisle to meet them. The first look, beforehand, is basically recreating this moment.

This also changes when we can have your portrait session.

If a couple has a first look early in the day, then we can immediately start the portrait session, the wedding party portraits and even the family portraits. I recommend scheduling between 90 minutes to two and a half hours to do all these portraits comfortably.

Many couples think it’s more special to see each other for the first time when the bride walks down the aisle. In this case all the portraits would have to be after the ceremony.

This distinction may help you schedule the ceremony, either in the early afternoon or in the late afternoon. Couples that wait to walk down the aisle will typically have their ceremony around 1 or 2 pm and couples that do a first look will have their ceremony around 4 or 5 pm.

Working around the ceremony

Once you’ve decided on the time of your ceremony, you can start filling out the rest of the day. You can work forward and backward from here. 

Before the ceremony, you’ll first want to decide on when you want to put your wedding dress on. For most people, this is as late as possible. You can do this as late as 15 minutes before the ceremony or add more time if you want portraits of yourself with the bridesmaids and would like a first look with your father.

I recommend that I arrive at least an hour before putting the dress on. If everything is at the same place, I can spend 15-20 minutes with the groom and groomsmen and another 20 minutes taking photos of the bride and bridesmaids in their robes and more photos of everyone getting ready and a photo of the bride getting her makeup refreshed.

Before all this is the detail photos. It’s the first thing I can photograph when I arrive and it allows me to start taking photos while you still prepare yourself for the wedding. 

This includes the wedding dress on a hanger, the flowers, the rings and jewelry. This is another 15-30 minutes.

After the ceremony

I like to take the family portraits immediately after the ceremony. This is the most efficient time, since all the family will already be in the same place and it’s still early enough that everyone will still be looking sharp and fresh.

In our pre-wedding meetings I’ll be giving you a list of family combinations that you can choose. Each combination takes on average four minutes and I’ve found that the family portraits take about a half hour.

From here couples should schedule at least an hour for a portrait session, more if you’d like to drive to one or more nearby locations. At most, I’d recommend two hours including drive time. Anything longer than that and you’ll start to become tired and exhausted from the portraits and be ready to get back to your guests.

Some couples will shorten the portrait session to the hour so that they can grab a drink at the cocktail hour, because greeting each of their guests and spending time with them is important. For others, they can plan on arriving at the reception right before the grand march and the dinner.

At this point, couples like to ask about the cake cutting. The smoothest transition I’ve seen with cutting the cake is to do this immediately after the grand march, when the guests have a reason to keep their attention on you. Once the reception starts the DJ and the venue coordinators take charge and will keep the timeline moving. 

After the wedding party is done eating their dinner, the best man and maid of honor can do their speeches.

Sunset Session

It’s around this time of the day that most summer weddings will have the sunset. You should absolutely prioritize scheduling 15-20 minutes to walk outside and take portraits at this time. In the middle of the summer, our main portraits will be in the harshest light of the day. So we’ll be working against the light, but the sunset will give us some time to take absolutely spectacular photos that allow you to look as beautiful as you are.

Obviously, the sunset is a set time during the day and you have to seize the moment whenever it comes. During the winter the sunset will be right after the ceremony and it’ll meld into the main portrait session, but during the summer it may be right after the first dances, an ideal time to step away when everyone else is still having fun and dancing. 

In late October, this might be trickier and be right during the dinner. It’s still worth it. 

With one couple last year we had just finished the main session, walking a couple hundred yards each way to a nearby pond, getting back right before the reception. The couple was ready to eat.

However, they still came out for the sunset and we saw the most beautiful sky imaginable and got these incredibly romantic pictures. They were my favorite pictures of the whole day.

Hopefully this will get you started on your own timeline and if you have any fears, don’t worry, your guests are there to celebrate you, not to be entertained. The vendors will know how to make use of every moment whether it’s short or long. And, if anything does go wrong it’ll just add to the story years from now.

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